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Large-Format Minilabs
Digital photo printers provide wider service options for retailers and labs


Noritsu
Noritsu
Durst
Durst
Carlos Rufino with Noritsu LPS-24PRO
Carlos Rufino, senior lab technician at Adorama, working on their Noritsu LPS-24PRO.
Zbe
Zbe

Photo retailers and photo labs looking to expand their capabilities as they expand their output horizons might find that the perfect solution lies in adding a large-format digital photo printer to their equipment arsenal. Until very recently, many of the creative images that digital makes a reality were being left largely to professional portrait, sports, and event output providers. Or they were treated as a "special order" item. That's because photo retailers had looked at their businesses as the place to buy 4x6 snapshots and the occasional 8x10—so they organized and equipped their stores accordingly. But now, photo shops and other photo retailers, with a change in their thinking and to their business models, are starting to tap into this lucrative incremental market.

"A large-format minilab that can produce these specialty photo products has been the missing piece of the puzzle," says A. Ron Waters, president and CEO of Durst Image Technology U.S. LLC, makers of the Durst Theta 76 HS. "Photo retailers understand digital workflow, they operate online ordering systems, they have regular contact with consumers who have at least heard about the new digital imaging options—and they've needed a way to overcome the overall reduction in prints being ordered."

"All that was needed was the right tool to produce these digital options," Waters adds. "Photo retailers have a primary need for the standard minilab. But when it's time to add a unit, they're starting to expand their capabilities as they expand their operations. A standard minilab pumps out 4x6s, while the large-format minilab can print out all the specialty images—from trendy metallic prints to 10-foot-long panoramas to restorations. During peak times, the large-format machine can pump out 4x6s as well at good productivity levels because of the wider media. Also, large-format minilabs can be quite a bit less expensive than the standard minilabs."

Adorama Keeps the Big Apple Printing

For more than 25 years, Adorama has been serving professionals as well as higher-end amateurs in the photographic, video, and digital imaging markets. Today Adorama has grown to fill a five-story building in the heart of Manhattan's photo district.

Adorama is also one of the nation's largest photographic retail and mail-order suppliers. "We've developed our online digital processing website (www.AdoramaPix.com) with extensive custom tools to meet the needs of demanding pros and quality-obsessed amateurs," says Herman Klein, director of lab facilities at Adorama.

"We have been printing all photographs using six Noritsu 31PRO digital printers designed for professional photofinishers, which are meticulously calibrated each morning. These large printers precisely encode and transmit your image using laser technology, which is then processed with a silver halide chemical, the same as that found in traditional photo labs. We also use high-quality Kodak and Ilford paper, so images look and feel great," Klein adds.

One of the newest additions to their location is the Noritsu LPS-24PRO, a 24-inch digital sliver halide large-format printer. The LPS-24PRO was built to meet the heavy-duty production and high-quality demands of portrait and commercial professional labs but is also fitting in at retail establishments. The unit features a silver halide printer and paper processor designed to print a variety of print sizes from 5x7 up to jumbo panorama size (24x36-inches).

"We have had the LPS-24PRO in-house for about one month, and it's been a hit so far. It's connected to 10 kiosks in the store where people can come in and make prints up to 16x20 and 20x30. The service has been generating huge interest from both pros and higher-end prosumers looking to do more with their images."

With the addition of optional equipment, prints up to 100-inches in length are also possible. Dual magazine capability allows both a 12- and 24-inch magazine to be loaded at the same time, enabling prints of various sizes to be made without changing magazines. Processing capacity ranges from approximately 27 prints per hour for a 24x36-inch print to approximately 51 prints per hour for a 12x18-inch print.

"I can see right away that the LPS-24PRO is offering us more revenue-generating opportunities with large-format prints," says Klein. "The printer is also ideal for portraits, photo albums, and professional photo work, where the margins are higher. With a laser engine, prints have a sharpness and clarity that customers love, and the cost per print is very reasonable. That enables us to be a little more aggressive with our pricing, which adds to our bottom-line profits."

In addition to walk-in business, the LPS-24PRO is also piped to their online service. "It provides us with two ways of taking orders," says Klein. "In the short time we have had the printer in the store, we are seeing more traffic order larger-sized prints off the website. Adoramapix.com is a very unique website that we designed and built ourselves. We are successfully competing with a lot of the big players out there like Shutterfly and Ofoto [Kodak EasyShare Gallery]. Our customers feel that we have done a nice job with it. The site is very intuitive, and the order process is very easy to use. We have been getting a great repeat order rate since the LPS-24PRO was installed. Once this service continues growing, I might add a few more printers to our mix. You just can't beat a silver halide print for overall quality."

Putting on the Ritz

ZBE's hybrid LED imaging technology has brought to the industry the state-of-the-art Chromira5x 30 and Chromira5x 50 printers, which have been mainstays in many labs across the country. Printing at 25-inches and 20-inches per minute, respectively, the Chromira5x 30 and Chromira5x 50 can image up to 563 and 750 8x10s per hour respectively. In addition, Resolution Enhancement Technology intensifies the Chromira's 300-ppi imaging resolution to create a visual resolution of 425 ppi.

Retail giant Ritz Camera is making the most of two Chromira printers that they purchased in 2005. "We have two Chromira5x 30 units in our central lab facility in Atlanta," says Rich Tranchida, executive VP at Ritz Camera Centers, headquartered in Beltsville, Maryland. "We use them for a lot of our large-format orders."

Ritz Camera has approximately 1,100 locations in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The chain of stores now includes Ritz Camera, Wolf Camera, Kits Camera, Inkley's, and The Camera Shop.

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