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The Digital Professional: Labs Pace Digital Transition to Match Markets, Growth Strategies



LustreColor archives high-resolution copies of both scans and camera files indefinitely after receipt to accommodate both the initial print orders and any incremental orders that the photographer generates.

The lab has achieved impressive productivity gains through digital workflows, Wilson says. "We've cut our order turnaround times to as little as one business day," he says. But equally exciting is the lab's ability to create new products, like digital mattes. "Our photographers know that matting their images makes them more appealing and professional, but matting is expensive and time-consuming," Wilson says. "So we offer digital mattes that are incorporated right into the print. They're so good, you need to touch the image to tell for sure they're not real."

Another popular product offered by LustreColor is innovative compositing. For example, photographers can select an image of their choice as a background for a series of wedding images. LustreColor's customers drag and drop multiple images into pre-designed, easy-to-use templates. Print enhancements include black-and-white, sepia and semi-transparent images.

All of LustreColor's scanned and digital camera files are color-, density-and contrast/gamma-corrected using Kodak Professional Digital PrintProduction (DP2) Software and Bremson Wheelman correction stations.

"We give photographers an opportunity to be more creative," Wilson says. "They can offer brides albums that look nothing like their mothers' or grandmothers' albums did.

He attributes the lab's growth entirely to LustreColor's digital technology. "We believe there's still not enough capacity out there for digital lab services," he says. "Photographers are looking for labs that have what we offer. They find us, and it means new revenue for our lab."

A Question of ROI
Scott Robertson of CPQ Professional Imaging in Cleveland, TN, has also invested heavily in digital imaging technology over the past seven years. With each step, Robertson weighs the cost against the expected payback. "You need to realize a return in 18 to 24 months, or you won't have the cash for future investments," he says.

Jennifer McManus-Blaine prepares to digitize a film negative on the lab's Kodak Professional HR 500 Scanner.

To prevent missteps, he says, it's important to separate the "buzz" from reality. "Manufacturers tell labs we need to jump into the latest, greatest digital technology as soon as it's available," he says. "But that's not necessarily true. During the industry's transition, we need to look closely at what's best for our customer."

Last year, about 20 percent of CPQ's wedding and portrait work - the lab's core business - was digital, Robertson says. (The lab also does some school and sports photography.) The engine for this portion of the business is Kodak's ProShots system, which CPQ actively promotes to its customers, calling itself "America's leading Kodak ProShots lab."

"We place a high value on customer service," says Robertson, adding that he will spend about a quarter of his time this year visiting photographers' studios. "We believe if we're close to our customers, we can plan our business more intelligently. We can invest in technology that helps our photographers grow their businesses."

The ProShots system, he says, is an excellent example of that. "With the ProShots system, our customers don't spend as much time hand cropping negatives and taping them onto cropping cards," Robertson says. "That frees them up to concentrate on photography and sales." And that ultimately translates into more business for CPQ.

For ProShots system customers who originate on film and desire optical output, CPQ uses a ProShots Professional ICE II scanner. For printing, the lab uses a ColorFlex 7-crop printer. A hybrid of the ProShots system is available for those customers that desire digital printing and features such as retouching, black and white from color negatives, and other specialty services. These scans are handled by the lab's two HR 500 scanners equipped with the Kodak Professional Long Roll, AutoStrip Gate and AutoSlide accessories to handle negatives, cut negatives and slides. Digital output is then handled by a Kodak Professional LED II printer, a Durst Zeta printer and, for large-format prints, a Durst Lamba printer.

Using the ProShots system has enabled CPQ to produce new products for the lab's customers. One that is becoming popular is the digital proof album. "Photographers like the fact that they're not giving their customers individual proofs that they can scan and copy," Robertson says. The lab is also about to launch flush-mounted albums, which it will produce with the help of an album partner, White Glove First Edition Book. CPQ will be involved in the production of these books, which resemble coffee table books. As a result, the finished albums will be available 15 to 25 percent faster.


   







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