Magazine Article


Lab Owners' Behind-Counter Choice: Is It To Be Wet or Dry?

KIS-Photo Me's DKS 1510
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 1510 is a silver halide system.
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 900
KIS-Photo Me's DKS 900 is a dye-sub system.
The Noritsu dDP-621
The Noritsu dDP-621 offers inkjet output.

James Park, owner of Colortek Image Shop, a 5-store operation in Manhattan, is no stranger to making decisions about what equipment is proper for a location. Four of the Colortek locations have full size minilabs, three DKS 1550 models, the largest in the Photo Me family, and two Noritsu opticals. All locations have Whitech kiosks, along with some Kodak G-3 kiosks.

For a small, 450-sq. ft. store James opened a year ago, he placed the dye-sub DKS 900, a choice mainly dictated by the small floor space available. “I didn’t need full minilabs in every location,” James explained, indicating that he has a route driver covering all stores (in Manhattan, no less) to carry specialty orders back and forth.

He said he was able to get into the location with a minimum investment. How do customers feel about the dye-sub product, James? “Quality is not an issue,” he indicated. He prices a 4x6 at between 34˘ and 49˘, depending on quantity. He acknowledges he is the highest in the area at that price but feels that dropping to 29˘ would not generate sufficient additional business.

Pixel Magic also has a behind-the-counter dye-sub offering, its Nexlab 1000. David Oles, chief technical officer, said that some major retailers are beginning to show interest in the system for installation into what he refers to as their ‘B’ and ‘C’ stores—those that wouldn’t generate enough photo volume to support a complete minilab setup.

The basic Nexlab 1000 includes a pair of 4-inch printers and an 8-inch printer that will output up to 8x12 prints, and the system can be scaled up to six printers. David said the unit was originally expected to be a companion to a silver halide lab but, that with an output of 700, 4R’s an hour and a film scanner it can now function as a free-standing, behind-the-counter system. Price ranges from $27,500 to $31,950, depending on configuration.

Nexlab 1000 has two interesting features: a patent-pending device that separates orders as the prints are completed by using a blank separator sheet cut slightly larger at 5x6; and, optionally, a CD burner with a spindle of 50 blank CDs that will automatically output CD’s with thumbnails of the images printed on the face of the disc.

“In today’s marketplace a retailer cannot rationalize the cost of a wet setup,” according to David. With the steep decline of roll processing, David sees “Wal-Mart and Walgreens as the last ones standing,” to serve this customer.

Kodak has since last year been espousing the concept that, except in high-volume locations, a retailer cannot cost-justify the expense of a full silver halide minilab. As a result, Kodak, once a dominant player through its now defunct Qualex on-site processing program, no longer sells any minilabs but still performs field service functions for customers. Their solution is the G-4 line of kiosks, some of which print onboard via dye-sub media with others connecting to behind-counter wet labs.

Kodak has taken the idea of dye-sub output equipment from the front of the counter to the other side of it with the Kodak Digital Picture System 900. This is a setup consisting of a work station with 17-inch monitor, a Pakon 135 film scanner, a pair of model 6850, 4-inch printers and an 8800, 8-inch printer. Price, about $21,000 according to Ed Deller, the unit’s worldwide product manager.

Ed said the system is in beta test in about six sites with a major retailer whom he would not name. My guess: CVS.

He feels that the DPS 900 “addresses that segment of retailer that is at the lower end of the volume spectrum,” and, that as rolls decline, retailers will want to stay in photo and are looking for an economical solution. What did you learn about the product at its first showing at PMA, Ed? “We hit the nail on the head.”

Ed expects the target market will be the mass merchant as most photo specialists are already equipped with digital minilabs. Shipments will probably begin this summer.

Inkjet As An Option

There is but one player in the behind-counter solution that offers inkjet: Noritsu.

Maybe prodded by the expected onslaught of the short-lived Phogenix program, Noritsu rushed into its own inkjet system with the assistance of Epson, the supplier of the print engine. A single model, dDP-411, was introduced about 3-4 years ago and this was superseded by the dDP-421, and a higher output dDP-621. At the recent PMA Noritsu added DP-100, a low-priced entry which its literature says will output 54, 4R/hr. More significantly, it will output 12x12 scrapbook pages and posters up to 12x36.

The early adopters of the Noritsu inkjet concept were government and municipal offices, police facilities, real estate offices, and the like, where volume was not the issue but convenience and ease of use was. More recently it has been attracting some attention in more traditional photo areas.