Dry Labs 101: Choosing the Best Option for Your Business

Dry Labs 101: Choosing the Best Option for Your Business


Today’s photo retailer is inundated with countless decisions each day ranging from sales promotions and marketing programs to staffing issues and inventory management challenges. Some decisions are minor or tactical while others are major, requiring time, research and review.

For example, purchasing a new piece of equipment is an assessment that requires substantial consideration, and these decisions have ramifications that last for years to come. More and more retailers are opting to install a ‘dry lab’ in their stores. Essentially, a dry lab is a printing system that uses no chemistry as part of the printing process. It is a clean, simple and high quality method of printing digital photographs in volume.

Choosing the right dry lab is one of those major decisions because it directly impacts the kind of services you can provide your customers and plays a role in the direct costs of employee staffing, materials expense and business growth.

By taking a look at where the industry stands today, what your customers expect and what your business goals are, a well-chosen dry lab can become an important partner in making these goals a reality.

Is Now the Right Time?

According to the Photo Marketing Association, the trend of consumers printing at home is declining while consumers printing in retail stores—either by ordering online or using equipment in the store—has remained steady or even increased (PMA 2003-2007 Camera/Camcorder Digital Imaging Surveys). Today’s digital photographers are online, plugged in and looking for new ways to enjoy digital photography and the countless creative outlets this technology provides.

Today’s dry labs are Web-enabled, allowing customers to upload orders from the comfort of home to be picked up at the store later in the day. This is also of great benefit to retailers as it expands the business’ reach by connecting customers to the store, providing services without the customer being physically at the counter.

Dry labs can also serve as a bridge between traditional (chemical) and digital services. For those customers still shooting with film, the dry lab with a film scanner offers high quality prints very quickly and color correction is done consistently and automatically. This saves lab employees time and ensures customers’ high expectations are properly met.

The Benefits of Change

The photo industry today is awash with change, opportunities and challenges. Some of these changes are to the retailer’s benefit. For example, advances in technology have allowed retail stores to purchase increasingly powerful equipment at prices unheard of only a few years ago. The ‘wet labs’ of the previous decades required specialized care (remember RA4 control strips and keeping chemistry constantly balanced?), an unwieldy amount of floor space and a monthly monetary commitment that rivaled a substantial mortgage payment.

As for today’s models? They barely resemble their predecessors. This new generation touts space-saving, sleek, modular, high quality printing systems designed to deliver stunning images that will delight customers and encourage them to keep ordering prints. Dry labs produce high quality prints day in and day out without the need for chemical maintenance.

Ink-Jet or Dye Sublimation?

One of the most important decisions to make involves which type of printing materials should be used when choosing a dry-lab model. Today’s designs use two primary media—ink jet and dye sublimation. With some variance, you’ll find that both designs offer fairly competitive prices in terms of actual media (the materials used to create the finished print). Some ink jet printers are capable of printing in sizes well beyond the 8×10 print, which can be useful for a very specialized kind of customer.

When considering a dye sublimation dry lab, an important consideration is that of modular design. A dry lab based on a printer array, or print ‘tower,’ offers the retailer printer redundancy as well as increased throughput. Dye sublimation models offer print sizes up to 8×12 and are fast and scalable due to using several digital printers in a modular configuration. Dye sublimation dry labs also offer the advantage of being extremely easy to maintain. If one printer is malfunctioning for some reason, there’s no need to wait on a technician to make an appointment and service the unit; the malfunctioning unit can be turned off and bypassed. Alternatively in dry labs of a modular design, printers can be rack-mounted and are ‘hot-swappable,’ meaning that a new unit can quickly be put into service.

The Importance of Growth Potential

Any photo retailer who has continued to make payments on obsolete equipment understands the importance of making sure that a new piece of technology purchased is scalable, adaptable and can grow as the business grows. For a business to be positioned for expansion, the equipment must already be capable of handling that growth when it happens. The dye sublimation dry labs of today are highly modular and designed specifically to be tailored to take into account a business’ current and future needs. A modular and scalable approach is a critical component to consider when purchasing a new dry lab.

The Valuable Influence of Employees

As is true with most issues related to your business, your employees play an important role in its success or failure. Top salespeople, support staff and other team members are expected to juggle a myriad of responsibilities without missing a step. Choosing the right dry lab can positively affect not only your employees’ attitude but can also be seen as a time saver and a powerful selling tool. A dry lab that is simple to maintain is more likely to be embraced by employees as they will extol the benefits of high quality printing to customers and will more enthusiastically promote digital photo printing services.

On the other hand, if the same employee is burdened with ongoing customer complaints or feels he doubles as a service technician, it’s doubtful that he will actively promote these services, no matter what management instructs him to do. He may even give customers a friendly inside scoop by discouraging them to use the new photo kiosk or upload pictures from home.

A dry lab that requires precious employee time to maintain may end up costing far more than simply the hours wasted getting the unit back online. It can turn customers away through the employees’ influence—customers who will search elsewhere to have their desired digital printing needs met.

The Printed Photograph is the Best Backup

According to the Photo Marketing Association, the average consumer has about 1,200 digital pictures – stored mostly on a computer hard drive – and this represents a few years of favorite memories. With so much confusion regarding the best back up methods for digital pictures and a substantial portion of consumers still not backing up pictures at all, the printed photograph becomes the ultimate back-up method. A high quality print won’t crash and won’t get lost in a technology transition where a format becomes obsolete (such as Beta video and the once-loved floppy disk). Today’s generation of dry labs can encourage customers to conduct the easiest back-up of all—having a trusted retailer print their digital pictures on high quality paper so that it can be enjoyed for years to come instead of having those memories held hostage on a hard drive.

While some may lament that the industry isn’t the way it used to be, others recognize that this is good news indeed. People who love taking pictures will continue to search for ways to do more with those memories, and with today’s dry lab solutions, your business will be ready to serve those customers and build bridges from their doors to yours. yy

Laura Janken is Marketing Manager for DNP Photo Imaging America Corp.