Dry Technology Expands Print Options

Dry Technology Expands Print Options

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It’s not only retailers who are feeling the effects of decreasing printing rates among consumers. Professional photographers around the world are also experiencing a sharp decline in the number of prints  they are selling.

Data from the Excel-based Syndicated Photo Market Forecasting Program produced by Photofinishing News, shown in Figure 1, shows that the decline in consumer print production, on a worldwide basis, should reverse next year, while the decrease in number of professional prints is forecast to continue.

Let’s look at the consumer printing business in more detail. The numbers shown include prints made at retail, online and at home, although the trends in various world regions are different (the Syndicated program tracks prints in 25 global countries, sub-regions and regions).

In part, the decline in consumer prints is being driven by a migration of consumer
output to personal photographic products, aided by continuing improvements in both quality and speed of “dry” output systems that do not require “wet” chemical processing, using inkjet, thermal and electrophotographic technologies. Whereas only a couple of years ago there was a distinctive difference between products made on wet (photographic/silver halide) or dry printers, most consumers today do not have a preference for one technology over another.

How has this transition affected the consumption of color photographic paper? The total amount of silver halide paper expected to be used during 2010 is a little more than half of the volume of photographic paper that was consumed in 2003, only seven years ago.  The decline varies by region although it is being mitigated slightly by “new” silver halide applications, such as the purePhoto high-speed photobook system from Imaging Solutions (PMA booth #3178) and the double-sided photographic paper minilab systems from Prismlab (PMA booth #3166-5) the enables simplified photobook production.

If the use of photographic media has dropped so much, which other technologies are expanding? “Thermal” encompasses not only dye-diffusion thermal transfer (dye sublimation) but also electrophotographic digital presses, which use heat to fuse the final prints. Photofinishing News's media analysis does not take into account the paper being used for photobooks, calendars and greeting cards. Large digital press manufacturers now feel that their equipment has reached the quality needed to mass produce portrait packages. At PMA, HP Indigo (PMA booth #3120) is introducing its high-speed WS6000p 6-color press, with in-line lamination, that is designed for photo printing (up to 4,800 8×10” prints/minute), which will begin shipping in July of this year.

At the same time, there are new onsite printing systems that offer higher throughput than earlier models. Three new inkjet minilabs are making their first appearance at PMA. The Noritsu (PMA Booth #3428) D1005 Duplex Minilab will produce a range of services and photo products in sizes up to 12-by-36 inches. It supports both roll paper and sheet paper, and has the ability to produce both single-sided and double-sided prints, opening the door for production of everything from standard prints to greeting cards, posters and photobooks. With a four ink color system, it has a 4×6-inch print throughput of up to 950 prints/hour and a capacity of up to 3,800 prints without changing paper.

The Fujifilm (PMA booth #3101) Frontier Dry Minilab DL450 is designed to handle a variety of print jobs big and small, with prints speeds of up to 950 4×6-inch prints/hour and print sizes of up to 12×36”.

Although introduced in late 2009, the HP (PMA booth #3120) Photosmart ML1000D Minilab can produce photobooks or calendars as large as 8.5×11- or 12×12-inches at a production rate of 335 sheets (equal to 670 pages)/hour.

We lament the exploding number of photos being uploaded to social Web sites, assuming that these images are for sharing and “lost” for printing. But over the past year several popular social networks, including Facebook, MySpace and Flickr, have begun working with online photofinishers and others to enable these photos to be printed.  Print-to-Retail has moved from a concept into a reality, revealing a new avenue for photo retailers to revive their print revenues. PMA provides an excellent opportunity for photo specialty dealers to investigate how they can take advantage of this development.

And, as “photo” retailers continue to utilize the capabilities of their digital printers, they are expanding their activities into “publishing,” offering many products that may not even contain a photo. While true photographic (silver halide) prints are still unsurpassed in quality and consumer acceptance, the paper is limited to two or three finishes. Most dry digital printing systems will print on a huge variety of media, opening up vast horizons for introducing new products.

The challenge for retailers has shifted from investigating new printers to exploring the different possibilities that the new media offers. A tour of the tradeshow floor must now include stops at the various media suppliers to determine which of their products will work best in your digital printers. At the same time, retailers need to research binding systems that could help them introduce new products. Individual 4×6” prints can be combined into a simple “memory book” that can be carried in a woman’s handbag.  Unibind (PMA booth #3153) is demonstrating a complete portfolio of book creation systems from home do-it-yourself kits, along with peel-and-stick booklets, up to in-plant machines that can assemble and finish 400 books/hr.

Only a couple of years ago, there seemed to be a mood of despair for stemming the loss of print business. Today the barrier is no longer technology or media; it has become the limitations of retailer’s imaginations and creativeness.

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