By Jenni Whalen
Much has evolved within the photo printing market in the past decade. These changes hinge mostly on the shift to digital image capturing, sharing, and printing, which opens up the photo printing market to include more merchandise and product offerings than ever before.
“None of us can deny the ubiquitous nature of a photo today,” says Brian Segnit, Worldwide EPC product marketing manager, Graphic Communications, Xerox. “You use photos to communicate. Cameras are everywhere, even in our phones. Billions of photos are out there, so the challenge is to unlock that market.”
Greg Gresock, regional business manager/VP of electrophotographic printing solutions, Kodak, agrees. “There’s a desire for photography to be more than photos now,” he says, noting that this happened in Asia in the early 2000s, long before anything changed in the U.S. market. “We’re seeing a recapitalization of photo labs.”
Traditional Photo Printing
Traditionally, photo printing occurred using silver halide processing, which involved projecting a negative image of a photograph onto light sensitive paper.
Gresock notes that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, consumers wanted to combine information with photos—names on trading cards, for example. This was possible with silver halide printing, but difficult. At the time, photo processing was also seen as a completely different business from printing. “These were two different markets and they didn’t cross over,” says Mike Riebesehl, production workflow solutions, Graphic Communications, Xerox.
Eventually, photo labs began to purchase and produce work on digital presses, which presented a variety of substrate options as well as the ability to offer text and graphics on images. The two markets of printing and photo processing have since converged.
Digital Presses for Photo Output
Today’s digital presses are able to produce smooth flesh tones and bright skies, in addition to retaining details and sharpness on par with traditional photo prints at a print resolution at or above 300 dpi.
Digital presses require a large investment upfront, which is one of the biggest barriers for purchase. However, if used frequently enough, the investment can be leveraged, says Rolando Martinez, category project line manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Digital presses offer many advantages for photo printing. First, the individual unit cost of printing is typically lower than a traditional photo printer. Unlike traditional methods, there is no restriction to printing on photo paper. Instead, consumers choose from a variety of substrates and products.
Versatility is key. The photo business is incredibly seasonal, notes Paul Butterfield, iGen business manager, Graphic Communications, Xerox. It increases around the holidays and during the school year, but needs can be low at other times. With a digital press, it’s possible to print on different surfaces using various substrates. Companies with digital presses expand into bags, posters, calendars, blankets, mugs, t-shirts, photobooks, and greeting cards.
Production Photo Output
Several vendors produce digital printing solutions that serve the market in terms of versatility and efficiency. High-resolution capabilities are critical.
Canon offers its DreamLabo 5000, a dye-based inkjet photo production printer that produces high-quality photos and detailed text. The DreamLabo requires the Flatspread FS-500 as an accessory in order to attach a binding hinge to DreamLabo double-sided prints, producing photo albums.
The company also offers toner-based digital presses within the imagePRESS line, which are suited for photo imaging.
The photobook market has popularized HP’s Indigo press, according to Martinez. “Research shows that seven out of ten photobooks in the U.S. are now printed with HP Indigo,” he says. In addition to producing 4×6-inch prints, the HP Indigo press also outputs on thermal substrates, canvas, and vinyl, allowing for printing that transfers to mugs, t-shirts, posters, and bags. The presses also print cards.
Kodak’s Nexpress digital press produces photo-quality prints at high resolution, as well as many different types of merchandise. The press also allows for four-color work, and a fifth station adds versatility and dimension to a printed piece. “We have a solution for that fifth station that allows you to apply textured printing,” says Gresock. “In one straight through pass, you can make something look like linen or canvas, or add a soft satin look, and this is available as needed. Dimensional printing is a really important feature for our customers.”
The Xeikon 8000 series is frequently used for photobooks, book covers, murals, and wall calendars.
Xerox’s iGen presses are intended to be “the digital equivalent of offset presses,” says Butterfield. He notes that the iGen products focus on consistency in printing. “We’ve built automatic close loop process controls to maintain the consistency of color quality over time,” he says. “In almost every product, we have technology in place to ensure accuracy in colors.”
Xerox also produces the Color 800 series presses, which are meant for companies who require slightly lower rates of productivity.
Today’s Photo Printing Trends
Traditionally, the only way to experience photography was a physical print. Now, digital cameras and smartphones make it possible to see images immediately, alter them using photo editing applications (apps), and then choose which images to print. This has dramatically changed the photo printing industry, disrupting the photo film and processing markets.
“This revolution is based on behavioral transitions and technologies,” says Martinez. “Everyone uses digital cameras. Then they load these images onto their computers and print them from there.”
Several years ago, most photos were printed at local stores and businesses. Now, much of this printing occurs at kiosks or at home—but the rest happens on Web sites like Shutterfly or Snapfish, which allow consumers to directly upload chosen photos to a Web site before sending prints or other merchandise directly to the consumer’s home.
Martinez adds that the shift from print to digital photo capturing also brings on the desire to share photos as stories, both on social networks and in merchandise like photobooks, t-shirts, or other image-based products, rather than just 4×6-inch prints. The photo merchandise market has grown exponentially in the past five years, leading to a need for commercial digital printers that produce traditional-looking photos in high resolution, as well as a variety of image-based products.
This trend is largely credited to a desire for customization and personalization, comments Danny Mertens, director of segment marketing & business development document printing, Xeikon.
In a 2012 report, InfoTrends analysts predicted that by 2015, more than 80 percent of total net-to-mail revenue would come from custom photo gifts and merchandise. These analysts also predicted that in the future, most consumers would print images by uploading photos online, rather than printing at home or at a kiosk.
Employees at photo-based companies echo this prediction. Martinez expects improvements in the photo quality of merchandise products. “There’s still a lot of potential in the photobook market,” he says, noting the opportunity for substrates, inks, better placements for traditional photos, new products, and paper.
Mertens sees the need for customization and personalization, specifically in the decoration market. “We see a strong growth in the production of photo murals,” he says. “Professional photographers develop specialized pictures in high resolution that make wallcoverings look real—like a brick wall, for example.”
InfoTrends also highlighted room for growth in mobile photo apps, an area that will likely be explored heavily in the next five to ten years. Most major photo services have mobile apps that allow consumers to view online albums, upload new photos, and share them—but many don’t offer ordering capabilities.
Martinez predicts that companies like Shutterfly will work to leverage the cloud regarding this process, allowing consumers to manage content on a smartphone and easily turn it into a product—all with the click of a button on a personal device.
Photo Print Success
Photo-based output represents an opportunity for print providers. Digital presses enable expanded applications for photo applications, meaning more revenue potential with minimal investment. dps
Nov2014, DPS Magazine