Recent advancements and enhancements of color inkjet printing technology have helped the major players in consumer and professional inkjet technology strengthen their position in the professional large-format imaging market.
Over the past year, Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard have all released new wide-format color inkjet solutions which meet the demands for quality, speed, and image longevity on a variety of media. With this, prices for some equipment have become an affordable solution for anyone who wants digital color output at widths of 24-inches or greater.
"Photo labs can position themselves as delivering the highest quality large format output," based on their years of experience working with color, suggests Amit Bagchi, director of marketing for Canon U.S.A's printer division.
"And where they really have their niche is in the way that they can finish products, after the image is printed," he continues. "Every large-format image that goes out should be professionally finished. There aren't many other service providers with the equipment or expertise to do that." In fact, laminating and/or framing a large-format print can make the service a more profitable venture for the service provider.
Of course, profit with large-format is directly dependent on how much work moves through the lab. Bagchi says, in this regard, Canon has enabled its customers to make a great leap forward with the new print head launched in three wide-format ProGraf color printers introduced last fall. They include the $1,995 imageProGraf W2200, for prints up to 13 x 19 inches; imageProGraf W7250, which prints at widths up to 24-inches, $3,495; and the $5,495 W7200, with a maximum width of 36-inches.
Each of these six color printers feature's Canon's innovative new one-inch BubbleJet six-chip print head. According to Canon, by integrating the heater, circuits and nozzles on a single silicon wafer, it was able to develop a wider print head than previously possible. It contains a total of 7,680 nozzles, 1,280 for each of the six colors.
"By taking the head and expanding it out, we overcame the speed issues," says Bagchi. "We can now deliver true 600 x 1200 dpi at a rate of 128 square feet per hour, a remarkable accomplishment." He says the speed, quality and price of these printers make them attractive options for labs that have invested in other technology in the past.
In discussions with end users of wide-format digital solutions, he says it's clear that most of the work is being produced at 24- and 36-inches wide. "People have been buying 60- and 72-inch printers so they can do jobs two up, and get a faster speed," he notes. "Now they can have a 24-inch or 36 inch printer with the same speed, better quality, less real estate, and lower cost of entry."
It's an attractive combination that can help lab owners cultivate more sales from large format. "This is a real opportunity," says Bagchi. "Labs should make sure they have a high-end RIP, and market their services by showing customers all they can do with these digital devices."
Consider and promote the systems and their capabilities as part of the workflow that begins with the high-end digital cameras that professional photographers are using. "Input is the key to digital," he notes. "Photographers are taking better images with the newest digital cameras we've developed and they will bring those images to the photo lab," provided they are made aware of the quality and speed which can be attained with these new printers.
Insight on Opportunities At Epson America, Mark Radogna, senior product manager, professional graphics, suggests lab owners can look to their traditional business model for insights into how the latest color inkjet technology can spawn new service opportunities. Last year, the company introduced a pair of high resolution inkjet printers, the ProStylus 7600 and 9600. Both have been bought by labs and photographers to produce digital prints of photographic images.
The $2,995 Epson Stylus Pro 7600 can print images as wide as 24-inches, while the $4,995 Stylus Pro 9600 will print at widths up to 44-inches. Both units produce images at a maximum 2,880 x 1,440 dpi resolution. They feature an even color print engine which can be configured for use with the company's long live UltraChrome or Photographic Dye Inks at the time of purchase.
Radogna reports he's been fascinated by the level to which these printers have been embraced by photographers. He attributes that to the combination of quality, ease of use, and low price points of the units. "These are affordable solutions that meet photographic expectations, and many photographers have purchased them for use in their own studios," Radogna reports.
"There's always the photographer who isn't going to purchase their own equipment for printing, no matter what the technology." In fact, on that account, digital may be no different than the bright days of photography, when every photographer could build their own darkroom and print for themselves, but only a share did. "There's many who would rather spend their time capturing the best images," he says. "The opportunities for the digital lab are no different than in the days of the darkroom."