Finding a competitive advantage and maintaining profitability are two of the issues facing lab owners today. Paul Cheng, owner of PC Colour Lab (www.pccolour.com) in Los Angeles, has found the answer to these problems in Fujifilm's StudioMaster PRO workflow software. "Photographers have many good labs to choose from," he says. "We must offer products they can't find at other labs, but deliver them at competitive prices to be profitable. The custom templates we offer for Studio-Master PRO and the productivity that StudioMaster PRO provides the lab enable us to do both."
Offering innovative and unique products is nothing new to Cheng. His lab was the first to develop and offer "sloppy border" machine prints, all done optically, over 15 years ago. Providing that service brought the lab clients from all over the country. "That was really the major achievement in our lab's history," he says. "We still do it optically, but digital services make this so much easier, now everybody can do it."
PC Colour Lab offers a wide variety of custom templates for StudioMaster PRO to attract and keep customers. "We are a small lab, but we are always trying to improve our services and create new services," he adds. When Cheng first saw the software in action, he immediately saw the opportunity to use it to develop innovative products for his clients: "StudioMaster PRO's open architecture lets us design special products. We design new templates ourselves and make them available to our clients on our website. We have over 500 of them there. Customers download the templates and use them to lay out their album pages."
From Soup to Nuts: A Turnkey Solution
The software is designed so that the photographer can do everything, from editing the shoot to viewing the client's final order summary, in the program. The software accepts both digital and film input, either directly from a digital camera or from film scanned by the lab. While many photographers are entering the digital arena, Cheng says many of his photographers are still using film: "We scan and color-correct each frame of the photographer's film so they never have to worry about color correction," he says. "The Fujifilm Frontier film scanner is the best scanner I have ever seen for scanning negatives."
Once the images are loaded into the software, the photographer can edit the images by viewing them individually or side by side. Laying out album pages is as simple as dragging image thumbnails into the desired position on a template. While cropping can be done manually, sizing is done automatically, and all of the associated image information is automatically recorded in the order. Converting a color image to black and white is as simple as right-clicking and selecting "Black and White" from the drop-down menu.
Even as the photographer assembles the album, Studio-Master PRO is creating an electronic order for the lab. Once the photographer completes the album, the software "packages" it, and the photographer can write the order to CD for delivery to the lab or upload it to the lab's website. A summary of the order, including which images were used, the number and sizes of prints ordered, and the total price of the order, is available to the photographer.
Workflow in Action
It is the efficiency of this workflow that attracted people photographer John Solano, with studios in Beverly Hills and San Fernando Valley, to Fuji's workflow software. Early in his career, working in other photo studios, Solano became proficient with the traditional manual workflow. When he went out on his own in 1998, he began developing his own website (www.imagemaker.com) to market his services and allow clients to order his event (wedding, bar mitzvah, etc.) images. Solano began using PC Colour Lab to scan his film for the site, and Cheng suggested he try StudioMaster PRO. "I immediately saw it would fit my need to streamline my workflow while providing a top-quality product to my clients," says the photographer.
Solano prefers to shoot with film and then complete the production 100 percent digitally. "I shoot about 120 events a year," he observes. "Right now, I have 68 album orders in various states of production. If I weren't using this software, I'd need to add one or one-and-a-half more people to my staff to process and track this work."
PC Colour processes Solano's film and delivers a set of hard-copy photographic proof prints along with the scanned, color-corrected images on CD to him. Solano delivers the proofs and low-resolution files to his client or uploads low-resolution files to his website. After working with the client to select proofs, he suggests the type of album that he feels will work best with the selected images and the client's taste. "About half of the albums I sell now are template albums in StudioMaster PRO. I love the ability to just drag and drop images into the template and have the software take care of the sizing. I also love the ability to crop quickly, even with a border album. But the best part is knowing that what I create on my screen will be exactly what the lab will deliver back to me, because there is no lab intervention on the other end."
Before the order goes to PC Colour for output, Solano proofs it with the client to receive final approval. Whenever possible, he uses PC Colour templates for flush albums and binds the final pages in custom Leather Craftsmen books. "Studio-Master PRO has streamlined my workflow so much, I really couldn't do what I'm doing now without it," declares Solano.
While he is currently using the latest StudioMaster PRO software, version 2.5, Solano is looking forward to features that he hopes will be included in version 3.0: "I would really like to see a networking version, so I can pack an order on one computer and send it off to another. That way I could transfer it to my laptop and take it to the client." Next month Fujifilm will release StudioMaster PRO 3.0, and the software will indeed feature the network functionality that Solano is looking for. He'll also like the self-extracting slideshow of the final album that will be a feature of the new version, especially since it can be e-mailed to the client or burned to a CD and sold to clients.
But he would like additional features for it. "The way it is now, there is no way for the clients to provide feedback about what they like or don't like," he explains. "And it really needs to be able to show double-page spreads. "And finally, while it's not an issue for him, a lot of photographers he knows wish there were a Mac version of the software.
According to Fujifilm, other StudioMaster PRO 3.0 enhancements will include streamlined editing features, archival features and a completely redesigned slideshow. And the double-page spreads? Fujifilm will solve that need with what they call "Book View," which displays the left and right sides of an album layout in either the image editing screen or the slideshow.
On the Horizon
"It's this close connection to the pro community-the feedback from users like John Solano and Paul Cheng-that really enables us to design products that meet the specific challenges they face," says Tom Curley, director of marketing, Photo Imaging Division. While Solano is eager for some of the added features of Studio-Master PRO 3.0, the current version is so robust that some elements go unused. For example, since all of his events are captured on film, Solano doesn't use the tethered support feature for digital cameras. And since he prefers the look of prints on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper for his final output, he doesn't use the latest version's functionality to print directly to a Fujifilm Pictrography printer. But for those that would benefit from these features, StudioMaster PRO is the perfect solution.