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Noritsu Ready to Introduce Lower-Priced Inkjet Lab


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Noritsu Model 3411

In a market where every minilab vendor seems to have a product pretty close to what the other guy has, give or take a few features, Noritsu has been riding one horse all by itself: the inkjet minilab.

The category has apparently been a successful one for the firm as it has now placed on retail beta test a new model, DP-100, that will carry a significantly lower price than its siblings. It becomes the third model in the inkjet lineup for Noritsu.

According to sources, the unit, DP-100, will sell for somewhat less than $20,000. It operates as a stand-alone digital dry printer and must receive its input from a kiosk, like the Noritsu CT-2, or some other third-party work station.

A spokesman for Noritsu would not comment on the new model.

Now on test at select retail locations, it is expected that the DP-100 will be formally introduced at PMA-Orlando in February. If past Noritsu practice is any indication, once a product is shown at PMA, it is usually available for immediate shipment.

It joins two other inkjets in the Noritsu line, dDP-421 and dDP-621—which, without OM-2 work stations (as is the DP-100), are listed at $24,995 and $36,595, respectively. With the OM-2, cost: $34,995 and $46,995.

The new DP-100 is expected to have an output capacity of about 100 3R/hr. This compares with about 400 on the dDP-421 and 580 on the dDP-621. With this low output it would appear that the unit is geared more for the nontraditional user than a retail environment, unless it were to be installed as a companion digital machine to an existing full lab setup. It's reported the new model outputs 40 8x10/hr.

The same Epson print engine used on the earlier Noritsu inkjets will be utilized on the DP-100, except that the new model will have a single print head instead of twin heads found on the step-up models. It incorporates seven pigment inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, red, violet, and clear. The clear ink gives a print finish to the white areas of an image.

Print cost for the paper and ink is said to be between 12 and 13 cents (somewhat higher than a silver halide print at about 5 to 7 cents each), and somewhat lower than a dye-sub print (at about 16 to 20 cents apiece).

In addition, the DP-100 has a built-in lamination system said to give the finished print a premium look and feel. Glossy and semi-gloss papers are available. The software package on the unit will output the usual digital products, including package prints, calendars, and scrapbook page layouts.

Noritsu introduced the inkjet concept into the minilab world about three years ago when it unveiled the dDP-411. At the time it was felt that the development of the product by Noritsu was the result of the positive buzz taking place over the Phogenix inkjet minilab, a joint venture of Kodak and HP. Even though R&D had been essentially completed, beta testing completed with encouraging results, and the manufacturing button already pushed, the two corporate giants decided to scuttle the program entirely. The trade was amazed at the abrupt decision and still wonders what really was the reason for the 11th-hour cancellation.

The Phogenix initiative lit the midnight oil in Japan, apparently, and shortly after the memorial service for Phogenix, Noritsu announced its dDP-410. With the OM-1 front end serving as an input station, it found a market in nontraditional installations. For the retail market it had its limitations, with low output of about 350 prints/hr., matte finish only.

However, the system did find a ready market in commercial environments where customers were used to dealing with inkjet rather than a chemical-based setup. Government, real estate, police, print shops, etc., were not so concerned with the smaller print output.

So far, it is judged that about 300 Noritsu inkjets are in use in this country. This is certainly a small number compared to wet systems, but to date Noritsu has the market to itself and it is apparently interesting enough of a segment to encourage the firm to continue to invest in R&D and bring out new models.

The DP-100 would not only appeal to this market but to the traditional minilab that has digital input capability via a kiosk or work station but not sufficient volume demand to justify the expense of a full-priced digital lab. As roll processing of film cranks down, inkjet, as well as dye-sub printing, could well take on an increasingly important solution for retail labs.

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