Most commercial lab owners are noticing that customers are demanding even faster turnaround times on jobs. Labs must be able to print, mount and ship the same day or the customer might look elsewhere. Deciding which new technology to invest in and what direction meets these needs is still a challenge. Those who equip themselves to offer these services, and aggressively promote them, will find the venture a practical and profitable complement to existing services. In the highly competitive imaging marketplace, offering wide-format services can serve as a strategic move which makes your company a one-stop-shop for all your clients' imaging needs.
We polled a number of wide-format manufacturers and asked them if they could pick one product in their line that is essential to a photo lab's business, what would it be and why? The following is what the ones that responded had to say.
"Our PressVu UV 200/600 UV-curing flatbed and roll-to-roll printer would be an ideal addition to any photo lab business. It's designed specifically for the production of high-end image quality and greater productivity and is priced affordably, starting at only $199,000. Since it offers the versatility of printing on both sheet-feed and roll-to-roll substrates, photo labs can expand their capabilities into profitable new applications like POP displays, floor graphics, and outdoor banners and signs. We've loaded it with features you would expect to find on more expensive printers - like four-color, six-color and four-color plus white, 600 dpi capabilities that deliver photographic color and crisp text reproduction. It uses durable UV-curing inks so you can print directly to both flexible and rigid substrates, eliminating the time and expense of some finishing steps like mounting and lamination."
--Jane Cedrone, advertising and public relations manager at VUTEk Inc
"An essential component for photo labs today is Canon's new imagePROGRAF W6400 large format printer. The W6400 large format pigment printer engine combines high-speed output performance with fine art image quality for today's most demanding professionals. Coupled with a suite of software solutions for large format printing applications, this printer allows photo labs to quickly and easily produce high-impact, borderless prints in a range of large format sizes.
The high quality prints provided by the imagePROGRAF W6400 will not only impress customers, but the software programs will help businesses grow into new markets including poster, signage, and promotional material creation. The software bundled with the W6400 provides shops with pre-installed templates, layout designs, and stock images, for an easy-to-use large format printing solution. The business possibilities offered by the new imagePROGRAF W6400 and its software are limited only by the imagination, and are certain to greatly expand and enhance the services of any photo lab."
--Amit Bagchi, director, Wide Format Sales, Canon U.S.A. Inc.
"Our DisplayMaker 72UVR is a high-speed, low-cost hybrid UV-curable inkjet printer designed for printing high quality graphics on inexpensive rigid or flexible roll materials. A high percentage of all wide-format inkjet output done by a lab must be mounted to a rigid substrate. Up until now, unless you have ponied up somewhere between $200,000 to $750,000 for a flatbed printer, you are likely having to print your graphics to a roll-fed stock, then mounting the graphics to a rigid substrate. Depending on the printer and the materials used, you may also be overlaminating the mounted graphic as well. These materials, the labor, the waste, the remakes due to mistakes along the way, all subtract from your profits and add to your turn around time. It also makes it more difficult to compete with those who have ponied up for a flatbed printer. But, what if you didn't have to spend that much for a flatbed UV-curable inkjet printer?
The DisplayMaker 72UVR, priced at just $74,995, has quickly become the fastest selling UV printer in the world. Its flexible design allows you to print directly onto nearly any roll-fed or rigid substrate eliminating the cost and labor associated with mounting prints to display boards. Winner of the 2005 DIMA Flatbed Printer Shoot-out, the 600-dpi DisplayMaker 72UVR offers top quality even at fast production speeds."
--Bruce Butler, director, Marketing, MacDermid ColorSpan
"The Chromira line of printers offers several strategic advantages that have made them the leading large-format printer in the industry. Chromira printers affordably offer the most efficient workflow and proven reliability. They also deliver state-of-the-art, "knock-your-socks-off" RA-4 quality prints that inkjet printers just can't match. The new Chromira 5x printers are the only printers that can affordably image on either True Black & White digital or RA-4 paper. The Chromira offers everything that a lab needs to keep and attract new business. The Chromira 5x 30, with an RA-4 imaging speed of 25 IPM, a B&W imaging speed of 10 IPM and a production capacity of about 600 color 8 x 10's per hour is the fastest 30-inch LED printer in the world, and perfect for portrait/social and custom labs that need high quality with high productivity. However, lab owner Mark J. Lukes of Fine Print Imaging in Fort Collins, CO says it better: ‘We purchased our first Chromira is 1999, realizing that, as a fine art printer, it was time to begin moving our customers from analog to digital printing. The Chromira worked very well - almost too well. Seeing the quality of output from the Chromira, customers began moving their images over to digital at a much faster rate than we had anticipated. We needed either another printer or a faster one. Enter the Chromira 5x. We upgraded as soon as the first machine became available, and were pleased to discover that not only were we now able to keep up with production - time consuming tasks like testing and creating proofs for customers went faster. Along with increased productivity came increased profitability, and within one year, the 5x paid for itself.' His story tells it all."
-- Tim Sexton, VP, Marketing, ZBE Inc.
"The advent of digital imaging has brought amazing flexibility and profitability to the photo lab. The introduction of direct-to-paper photo printers in the mid 90's has further proven that digital imaging and workflow are here to stay. Any size photo lab can benefit from the speed, quality, ease of use and low consumable cost of an Océ LightJet digital photoprinter.
Due to its exceptional image quality combined with the ability to nest and add cut marks for automated XY cutters, small images can be just as profitable than the large format prints the Océ LightJet printer can produce. This versatility means the Océ LightJet photoprinter can satisfy the needs of large or small labs requiring large or small output."
--Randy Paar, product manager, Wide Format Printing Systems, Oce North America, Inc.
" More labs are leveraging digital imaging to get more out of their existing photo equipment. And they're adding different imaging technologies to extend their applications reach. A facility that once was a people lab is now doing trade show displays. A commercial lab that once strictly handled the POP market is now producing environmental graphics. Transitioning markets and this need to constantly reinvent oneself make it hard to pick a single piece of equipment as being the most essential to a photo lab's success. Ten years ago I would've recommended the Durst Lambda Digital Laser Imager, which became the cornerstone of so many successful lab operations and continues to make huge contributions because of its image quality, versatility and upgradeability. Today, keeping in mind what clients will demand in the months and years to come - and assuming many labs already own a Lambda (there are over 1,000 and counting worldwide) - I'd suggest a new Durst Rho 600 Large-Format Flatbed UV Inkjet Printer. That's because the Rho 600 bridges the gap between speed and quality that professional imagers have always faced. Durst's Quadro Array print head technology means labs don't have to compromise anymore; they get 600-dpi quality at speeds up to 1,600 sf/hr. And its versatility - that is, its ability to print white ink, special-effect varnish and spot color in a variety of ways onto virtually any media - as well as its upgradeability mean labs can take on any new imaging application, including ones that haven't been dreamt up yet. "
--Ryan Fosegan, director, Marketing, Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC