Pro labs are sticking to their core business but seek economical, versatile ways to deliver finished digital images
by Donna Rogers
Mounting and laminating shouldn't be a loss leader, it should be a value-added service," points out Dan Haan of Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc., Madison, WI. However, if a photo lab needs to print two prints to sell one, finishing services at your lab will probably be a losing proposition.
Unfortunately, the past 12 months have been topsy-turvy for suppliers of finishing films, as well as for pro labs, and the trend toward consolidation continues. "The economy in general is taking its toll on weaker photo finishers, but the strong are surviving," says Fran Lawrence, product manager at MACtac, Stow, OH.
One trend that can help photo labs stay competitive is that prices are coming down on film, adhesives and mounting boards. "As markets age, prices typically are lowered to reflect it," observes Jerry Hill, sales manager with Drytac.
In these tough economic times, Lawrence says, many labs find the mounting and adhesive products they've been using of high caliber but "want the best of both worlds"-good product at lower prices. To respond to that need, just about all suppliers we spoke with have introduced economic alternatives. Often product goes over and above the purpose it needs to serve, and with quicker paced short term applications, thinner, less UV inhibited films are being introduced.
In addition, the lines are blurring between traditional photo labs, sign and print shops and others. "As a result their work is diversifying and they need to deliver different types of applications with the inventory they carry," explains John Placko, marketing manager, direct channels and commercial markets, Ilford Imaging, Paramus, NJ. Workflow issues also need to be smoothed out. To stay competitive, then, labs constantly need to improve, completing jobs faster, with more quality and with less waste.
MACtac's Lawrence attributes the success of photo processing leaders to the value-added service of finishing. Labs that are "actively selling it," she notes, fare much better than those that simply wait for the business to come to them. To slice costs further lab managers are better analyzing internal costs and are pricing work accordingly. In addition, they are providing customers with more realistic expectations to avoid costly redos later, she says.
Among MACtac's (www.mactac.com) versatile solutions are products that serve multiple purposes, such as IP 5000 mounting foam that can be used for rollable graphics as well as rigid applications. It has also just introduced an optically clear mounting film into its PermaTrans line, called IP4000, that can be used for lenticular as well as touchscreen applications. It lays flat without kinking or bowing. Because of its coloration, white on one side and grey on the other, it offers opacity without diminishing the color, says Lawrence. It doesn't contain a carrier, alleviating the possibility of air pockets and making it ideal for mounting to irregular surfaces.
MACtac's ThermaColor TL6100 overlaminating film also appeals to customers because it has the look of a more expensive polycarbonate in a textured vinyl product. This economical Lustex-finished vinyl film has a consistent texture and offers good lay flat characteristics. It is available in 38- and 51-inch widths.
Quality Mounting and Laminating (www.qmls.com) is offering a trio of new products at PMA 2003. First up is new Front Print Backlit film. This 7 mil film provides high color saturation, brilliant colors and an extremely durable coating. The advantages of Front Print Backlit film include high ink load retention, high resolution and quick dry times. Colors are brilliant with dye-based inks for long lasting images.
Quality is introducing Admount, a double coated ultra-thin, totally opaque mounting adhesive.
This unique pressure sensitive adhesive is completely opaque. Laminate it over a mounted print and apply a new print to the surface. Admount is designed to allow the multiple reuse of mounting boards in one step by recoating existing prints. Admount is also used when two prints need to be mounted back to back. The opaque carrier prevents image transmission from one print to the other.
The company is also showing Exhibit Shield, a textured co-polymer film with a finish that looks and feels like polycarbonate or Lexan. Exhibit Shield UV provides the quality, durability and visibility your trade show and photographic materials demand. Roll and transport your displays without fear of tunneling or delamination. Available in 5, 10 or 15 mil thickness in sizes up to 61-inches.
Coda, Inc. (www.codamount.com) of Mahwah, NJ will be showing in Las Vegas, their CodaPro series of professional laminators. The CodaPro is the latest addition to Coda's line of finishing equipment and supplies. The CodaPro laminators are available in a range of models to meet various production needs. The CodaPro64HE (64-inch width) and the CodaPro44HE (44-inch width) will perform a variety of functions from heat encapsulation to pressure sensitive mounting. These two models will accept thermal or pressure sensitive materials. Other models will perform heat activated, heat assist or pressure sensitive tasks.