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.

The portrait market, for one, recently jumped on the Noritsu dDP series big time. Picture People, a 325 store chain of portrait studios, recently announced that it was abandoning its wet San Marco systems in favor of the Noritsu inkjet in every store. John Johnson, VP of operations, expects the unit would cut his per sitting cost by 50%. Handsome savings.

The photo specialist has also bought into the possibility of inkjet. Scott Donovan is a second generation owner of Kenmore Camera, Kenmore, WA, a full service camera operation in a 4,000-sq. ft. free-standing building he runs by himself, with his brother and sister. In the rear of the store Scott has a Noritsu full size 2901 digital system. He added the dDP-421 about a year ago as part of his counter configuration along with a pair of Noritsu CTX terminals. “My customers are very pleased with the output,” he said.

Scott feels he picked the unit up at the right time as he is serving scrapbookers with 12x12 prints. His holiday output of greeting cards exceeded his best year, leaving his 2901 free for non-holiday orders. He prices an 8x10 at $3.95 and a 12x16 at $12.95.

Hewlett-Packard cannot be overlooked when we talk about inkjet labs. However, the Photosmart Studio that was introduced at PMA by HP focuses on the output of specialty products like posters, scrapbooks, calendars, etc. but does not offer a full back-counter solution, as it does not have a film scanner or output device for 4R prints. Stay tuned.

Cost Factors

The big bugaboo in any consideration of a dry solution is the cost of media. If anything gives a retailer pause it’s the fact that dye-sub and inkjet paper is considerably more expensive than silver halide. The paper and chemistry for a silver halide print can run about 4¢ to 5¢ apiece. This compares with prices ranging from about 12¢ to 20¢, depending on the seller—and the buyer—for a dye-sub sheet of 4x6. Inkjet paper also runs in the low teens.

HP, in announcing its Photo Studio, stated its mission to bring inkjet paper and ink to a cost competitive with silver halide. A time frame was not announced.

Prices like these make for tight retail margins when the going rate for a 4R print from digital media these days typically runs about 29¢ at most full service stores, to as low as 19¢ at Wal-Mart.

Pixel Magic’s David Oles, the dye-sub price leader with a list price of 15¢ for a 4x6 sheet, said that there is more to the cost equation than the price of the media itself. “You have to also consider the real-world problems of the handling of chemistry at retail with the potential of spillage and contamination along with the cost of silver recovery.”

The big unknown at present is what might happen to the cost of silver halide paper with Agfa and Konica out of the picture and the probability that Mitsubishi will follow. Kodak and Fuji remain the two key suppliers and who can tell what the future may bring. With such little competition and the need for profits at both companies, some in the trade expect prices for paper to drift upward.

They say everything photographic begins in Japan. A recent note in PMA Newsline quotes a publication, Photo Trade Express, as saying that the “cost of photo papers is too high so that minilabs are losing ground to inkjets and dye-sublimation printers in the digital print arena.”

If that trend reaches our shores, look for the gap between the cost of a silver halide print and that of either inkjet or dye-sub to close and the market for dry labs to open.