"Business is very promising, and we are looking for a good year," said Waden. But wait a minute, isn't his next statement contrary to what we believe? "We expect to sell double the number of 50 inch processors in 2005 over last year, all coming from new customers." How can this be?
The Durst Lambda, ZBE Chromira and Océ LightJet all qualify as digital enlargers, although few refer to them as 'enlargers'. Waden explains that the revitalization of RA4 paper processor sales is a result of clients' requests for digital photo backlit prints. Graphic shops that print wide format inkjet are being told by their customers that backlit inkjet is not good enough. As to how long digital photo will remain viable, Waden and other digital photo providers have the same answer – around three years, they hope, because photo output is still the best and most economical.
Waden has concerns about the commercial lab that has not found a niche market such as display. "Commercial photo labs lost a lot of their small format business. They are getting pressure from inkjet and small-format digital print shops. He sees the school and event business secure, and the border between custom and portrait printers going away, as has the gray line between graphic arts print shops, and digital printers. "Anybody can print digital files."
Like a number of other companies in digital photo imaging, Waden has gone to China to form symbiotic relationships with companies producing digital printers using traditional photographic media. "They create a need for Colex processors." In turn, Colex is using Chinese laser exposure devices in its Colex Tera 32 30 x 40 inch Laser Digital Printing/Processor System. "We will have a new image at PMA. Our new Tera 32 laser 20 x 30 and DigiPro 16 x 20 printers will get people excited."
A. Ron Waters watched photographic markets evolve during his years with Kodak, and now, as president and CEO of Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC. He too, has evolved with the times. Durst believes that the former dedicated photo lab that processed film and provided prints has evolved as a digital photo and inkjet printer continue to do what they do best. Waters adds, "They may have given up film processing, but they still have the expertise to manage the entire process of creating that final printed piece, and do it as consistently, as productively and as creatively as possible."
Most large-format commercial/industrial imagers think of Durst in connection with Lambda and Rho flatbed inkjets, but Waters also sees a growing need for the middle market imager and other print producers that are still involved in the photographic process. This covers volume producers, professional portrait, studios and wholesale. Fuji U.S. has put the Theta 76 in its wholesale labs.
At PMA, Durst will focus on hybrid photographic. They will demonstrate variable back printing, Digital Album software and finishing capability—folders and binders. Durst's primary market may remain professional/commercial, but Waters clarifies: "We are broadening our focus beyond professional/commercial."
MacDermid ColorSpan Inc. does not date back to 1965, but it holds the distinguished position of being first to market a wide-format color inkjet printer in 1993 with photo labs as its prime market. At that time, the company was LaserMaster. Bruce Butler, director of marketing, was around back then and reminisces about having the first bulk ink system, and living through the change of name to ColorSpan in 1997 when their Encad NovaJet printers returned to Encad for sales and distribution.
In 2000, ColorSpan was acquired by MacDermid Graphics and the Minneapolis company carried on manufacturing DisplayMaker aqueous printers. Butler knew that they too had to change, and last year the company launched their first ElonGator solvent ink flatbed printer, followed by a 72-inch UV version.
ColorSpan may be a relatively young company compared to Colex and Durst, but it is the exceptional "turnaround company." Butler, although a low-key marketing man, is very excited about their current sales and prospects. He talked about attending the recent sign franchise show and how well received the Gator 72-UV flatbed was because of simple things – no odor, no large footprint, no overlam, no transfer time, and a very affordable price point.
ColorSpan has evolved from the traditional photo lab as their number one client to a variety of print producers - sign shops, screen printers, and some former photo labs, now digital printers. When asked about solvent inks versus UV, Butler admitted that their UV Gator version is even more successful. However, he said you can't rule out solvent because it is less expensive and still the most effective solution for vehicle wraps and longevity outdoors.
As you can see, in the past 40 years we as an industry have witnessed many exciting technological advances. In the past, we covered all those changes as Photographic Processing. As we move forward, and turn the page so to speak, we will are now covering them as Imaging Business. It should be interesting to see how the next 40 plays out.
Changing With the Times
by A. Ron Waters, president and CEO of Durst Image Technology U.S., LLC.
The rise of the professional photo lab was mainly based on the need for consistent, high-quality images. That's still true today, but something else has changed. In the 1960s, the most critical expertise needed in the lab was good people who really understood what it took to produce consistently high-quality photographic prints - these people were true craftsmen - people made the difference. Now, in the digital age, the most critical expertise needed is again good people - but it's people who truly understand bits and bytes and digital workflow."
The ease of the photographic process and the speed and quality of today's digital printers, make print production the easy part. Today's craftsmen are people who have mastered digital infrastructure, image management, file formats and in-line digital color correction. Many of the more successful former photo labs turned digital printers with which we work with have well developed, active IT departments.