If you are a camera specialty dealer looking to enter the wide-format business, and you think inkjet is the only way to go, there is another solution. You might want to consider purchasing a digital photo printer.
Units from Durst, ZBE, Fuji Hunt, and Noritsu offer photographic output options, which differ vastly from inkjet. The basic method of printing for some of these products is a different printing process that features a proprietary Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology instead of lasers. A new printer from Noritsu offers silver halide technology with a laser engine.
The benefits of these photo printers include improved image sharpness, high density and color uniformity, the same image quality over the entire imaging surface, and a longer archival ability by utilizing a photographic process.
At this year’s PMA, some of these printers were being showcased for the first time. At first glance you might assume they would be for the prolab only—but on further review, you’ll find that some of these products are also ideal digital output options for the retail minilab market. As the prices have come down on many of these “prolab”-type products, their price points are dropping below some of the digital minilab equipment on the market, making them an ideal addition to a minilab establishment looking to provide new wide-format output services.
Durst Theta 76: Built for Speed
One such product is from Durst Image Technology US LLC, which was showcasing its Durst Theta 76 HS 30-Inch Multi-Format Lab System. The company touts this printer as a “large-format minilab” that outputs digital images from 2.5x13 feet down to 2-up wallets at speeds approaching 550 8x10-inch prints per hour (300 sf/hr).
The unit offers an in-line processor and Durst’s proprietary fiber-optic LED technology. The unit is capable of satisfying a very wide range of imaging demands, from portrait packages and panoramics to restorative prints and high-quality backlit large-format display images—all at very high productivity levels, and all with laserlike image sharpness.
“Our Theta 76 is as productive as a standard minilab designed for speed,” says A. Ron Waters, president and CEO of Durst Image Technology. “It is an excellent choice for the photo retailer who wants to offer higher-margin specialty photo products—such as panoramics, metallic prints, and restorations—as well as for the professional lab looking for versatile photo output and also ‘back-up’ during peak production times.”
Waters points out that the Theta 76 HS brings “Lambda Lab” capabilities in a multitask printer that’s well within reach of the most cost-conscious photo labs and virtually any photo retailer—pricing is comparable to or lower than standard minilabs—as well as larger studios and the departments of larger labs. “It is a complete digital imaging system designed for continuous printing on roll media from 8- to 30-inches wide at speeds up to 26-linear inches per minute, or 300 square feet per hour,” he adds. “Its daylight-loading media cassette, built-in cutter/sorter, and linked RA-4 paper processor combine to offer minilab performance with ready-to-ship dry image output.”
New York Camera and Video
One retailer who is singing the praises of the Durst Theta 76 is Scott Cundari, general manager of New York Camera and Video in Southhampton, PA. The camera specialty store/minilab is located about 25 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Cundari says they installed the Theta 76 about six months ago and planned to use it as an enlarger “for 16x20s and up.” Most of the store’s general printing is done on their Noritsu minilabs.
“As the imaging industry continues to transition away from film, the challenge facing today’s professional and commercial digital labs is the expansion and capitalization of high-production, high-quality digital equipment,” he says. “But getting the ROI back on that equipment was another problem. That, in turn, caused many of these labs to close up shop. We’ve seen most of the prolabs in our area go out of business. The loss of that market left many photographers in our vicinity without many options.
Once they found out we had the Theta 76, they came in asking us to print Duratrans applications for cityscapes and posters, as well as other types of packages. Word began to spread, and today, many commercial and wedding photographers in our area are using us to print most of their jobs.”
Cundari really likes the unit’s versatility. “It is a super-versatile machine,” he adds. “We can produce so many different types of jobs on it. The volume of work we’re doing has been incredible. One day last week we did about 60 enlargements on it alone. It’s the kind of thing where we sometimes get a bit overwhelmed with the amount of orders. But that’s a good problem to have. The quality of the machine is great. LED output looks as good as laser. I can’t believe how sharp the images are.”
Cundari says that the prolabs going out in the area was a gain for their business. “With the lack of prolabs around, many minilabs are picking up some of this business,” he concludes. “It was the perfect decision for us to add the Theta 76.”
Sally Wen of Flashback Photo, Los Angeles, CA, is another retail location that has been having success with the Theta 76. “We’ve had the machine in the store for a little over six months,” she says. “It complements our minilab equipment nicely. We mainly use it for portrait work, as well as some backlit jobs. The color is really sharp.”