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Other Inkjets Follow HP Into the Minilab Market; Dye-Sub Could Take A Hit



Of course, there will be a lot of "ours is better than theirs" from both Noritsu and Phogenix camps as the two duke it out in the future. Noritsu: we use seven inks to their six; we plug into 115-volt, not 230-volt; we fit into less than three square feet compared to 15 sq. ft.; we produce 310-4R prints/hr. compared to their 250 prints. Phogenix: we use dye-base, not pigment ink, for less expensive print cost; with a laminate our prints will be more durable; we offer glossy and matte finish, they have only matte; we use standard Kodak paper, not specially created media that raises print cost. And so it will go.

The Noritsu-Phogenix war pits an oldie against a newbie. The winner will be judged by such things as: ability to respond to problems associated with a new method; sales clout; service backup; fulfillment of commitments for delivery of equipment and supplies; training and follow-up. The losers: dye-sub systems; chemical manufacturers; silver refiners; silver halide paper folks.

I was curious about the matter of dye based as opposed to pigment based inks. I'm told that dye inks, used by Phogenix, require a tiny transistor for heating the ink and vaporizing a minute bubble onto the paper. Because dye inks are water soluble, they need a plastic laminate layer as a protection from smearing, moisture, finger prints and ultraviolet light. The finished print is highly durable with good archive ability. Home inkjet printers typically have dye based ink and, without laminate, are easily damaged.

The Epson-Noritsu system uses a Piezo inkjet delivery system which employs an electric charge to shoot out a controlled droplet of ink, instead of heat, thus allowing this unit to be plugged into a 115-volt circuit. The system apparently uses a lot more ink for a print, maybe twice as much as dye ink, but I understand it has greater saturation. I'm told that pigment ink has greater light stability and is more durable than dye (unless the dye is laminate-protected) and is commonly used in wide format commercial applications. Both result in high quality prints.

The high media cost of dye-sub makes it vulnerable to other systems, as well, not just inkjet. At PMA-Orlando, Fuji introduced the Print Pix Digicam 1000. This system utilizes its own unique media, called Thermochrome, which, according to Joe Welch, Fuji director of marketing for digital systems, lists at .21-cents per 4R printhigher than inkjet but below dye-sub. Output is 330-4R's/hr. with the first print delivered in 80-seconds.

Joe said that Fuji showed a lower capacity unit, NC-400, at photokina, about 60 prints/hr., but no decision had been reach as yet to show it at the next PMA convention.

Another system introduced at photokina and scheduled for PMA is the Polaroid FastLane Digital Printing Kiosk being brought to market by Gretag. This unit utilizes the Opal technology developed by Polaroid. Like a dye-sub system, it uses donor and receiver materials, but through the use of 'frozen ink' technology is able to transfer the dyes to the 'paper' very quickly.

According the Dave Stawasz, marketing services manager, the unit will carry the brand names of both Polaroid and Gretag and will have a beta testing program beginning this month. Price is about $20,000 for a free-standing, self service unit, equipped with credit card swiper, digital input slots and the Opal printing system. Obviously, not geared for a minilab installation.

Dave said the cost to the retailer for a 4x6 print should be about .29 cents, again, higher than inkjet and silver halide, but below most dye-sub.

What does the future look like? Silver halide will remain the lowest cost and probably best quality print available. But inkjet, with its chemical free answer, slightly higher cost and excellent quality will begin to encroach on the higher cost dye-sub systems on one side and silver halide on the other as inkjet systems are incorporated into minilab-production machines. ptn


Al Metzke (r.), of Classic Images & Digital Imaging with Steve Roth. Metzke's store is the first to test out the Phogenix DFX inkjet minilab.

Phogenix:

Unit #1,

Dealer #1

I spoke with Al Metzke, owner of Classic Images & Digital Imaging, the site that has been conducting the retail test of the Phogenix DFX inkjet minilab since June. It's the first real-world installation of the system. His 14-year old lab is located in Rancho Bernardo, CA, only two miles from the Phogenix headquartersobviously the reason it was chosen for the test. He describes his store as a "mom and pop." It has a Fuji SFA-232 optical lab and a Digital Now system, and is located at a busy intersection.

His deal with Phogenix is that he does not touch the unit, other than for operational purposes, and that he pays only on a click arrangement for the prints he makes for sale.

"Any problems with the unit, Al?" He acknowledges that there have been a few times that the system went down for paper jams and that "the tech guys were here in 20 minutes." He describes the quality of the print as "phenomenal."


   







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