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SP&D 2002 Wide-Format, Digital & Niche Services Drive Today's Pro Labs



GUIDES & SUPPLEMENTS

With more and more photographers making the transition to digital imaging, labs have had to ramp up to digital just as quickly. Scanning negatives, digital retouching, burning images to CD-ROM, and posting digital files on the Internet are among the services that have become commonplace.
Novel niche services, such as printing on watercolor papers, which began with photographers who experimented on their own inkjet printers, are now often offered by labs that recognize the opportunity in providing these services on a large scale.
And wide-format printing, which seems to be eclipsing many other developments on the lab landscape, is, well, bigger than ever.

WIDE, WIDE WORLD OF WIDE-FORMAT
Jim Eby, business development manager of Photobition, Philadelphia, PA, has seen a decided increase in wide-format inkjet printing. "More of our wide-format customers are requesting the size and durability that inkjet can provide," says Eby.
"The inkjet market has changed for professional labs recently," explains Pat Ryan, vice president, World Wide Marketing for Encad, Inc. "The quality and versatility of products has vastly improved."
Professional labs, looking to diversify their businesses from traditional processing, have turned to the companies they have worked with, all along, for their digital printing needs.
For instance, many Gretag Imaging customers who own LightJet wide-format photo printers are also buying models from their Arizona product line, which are designed to produce outdoor-durable work. Gretag's director of marketing communications, Kelli Ramirez explains, "Outdoor work is a growing market, and many of our customers have been able to take advantage of that."
Encad's Ryan concurs, "For most labs, adding an inkjet printer is relatively inexpensive, and they can produce a wide range of sellable output."
The more services labs can provide for their customers, the more options photographers can offer their own clients. According to Roland's senior marketing manager Patrick Kersey, machines such as Roland's Hi-Fi Jet Pro wide-format inkjet printer, which have the ability to print fine-art photos or giclees, can also print banners, pop displays, and backlit film. "Now, with one machine, a lab can profitably handle just about any job that comes along," Kersey says. Roland recently developed a table-top extension system to their Hi-Fi Jet Pro, which facilitates printing directly onto thicker substrates, such as card stocks and fine-art sheets.
Encad's NovaJet 880 also can print on traditional roll-type media and more rigid materials like foamboard and thick canvas. This is a real boon to the labs, according to Ryan, because they can provide their customers with services they would have otherwise gone elsewhere for.

DIVERSITY IN A DIGITAL AGE
A number of labs throughout the United States specialize in B&W processing and printing. These labs exist within a niche whose demand has not decreased in the face of digital. So even though digital imaging has come of age, traditional processes, and the services needed to support them, remain an integral part of today's lab operations.
Some photographers have purchased inkjet or dye-sub printers to print in-house, but as Photobition's Eby points out, "They don't have the manpower to output large quantities of photographs, so labs are still the most convenient and cost-effective way to get the job done."
According to Darren Jackson, vice president of Full Color, Inc., "Digital is changing our business and the demands for new digital services is strong." Over the last five years, Full Color has worked hard to implement the infrastructure to allow for emerging technologies. "We were early adopters of digital retouch and output and continue to invest in the future of digital."
As the world of imaging grows, so do the services that labs provide. Printing on optical systems will coexist with scanning and digital output, mounting, and laminating of images. The same holds true for printing directly onto rigid print surfaces, just as B&W and hand-made papers are still used by traditionalists.

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