Whether printing a series of posters for a hair salon, wall portraits for a wedding, or signage for a trade show, today’s retail and wholesale photo labs are capitalizing on wide format printing.
"In general, while the vast majority of printers were in the professional and photo specialty channel, in the last year and a half there’s been significant growth in the retail channel, primarily in anticipation of market demand," states Joellyn Gray, director, customer marketing and research, imaging division, Fujifilm U.S.A.
"Retailers currently see success with posters," continues Gray. "But there are many other consumer products that can be made with photo lab equipment." For example, celebratory banners—Congratulations, Happy Birthday, or Happy Anniversary—where a template allows you to drop in text and photos.
"There’s also a potential for these retailers to expand into a business base," continues Gray. "Instead of a ‘Congratulations Johnny’ celebratory banner, print one for the grand opening of a store or to promote a sale. Large format essentially opens up a bigger market for these retailers."
Despite the resurgence in traditional photo lab processing, are Web to print applications a threat?
"Web to print hasn’t affected the wide format sector too much," states Tom Giglio, national sales support manager, Océ North America. "There’s so much data needed to print, even if you’re dealing with RGB images on the photo side and you want a 48x60-inch poster. You still have to deal with bandwidth that is somewhat cumbersome for the Web to deliver. I think the only time you’ll see the Web impacting business is if people have online libraries. It all depends on the size of the image and the turnaround time. People always want it now," he continues.
Gray agrees that it’s not happening in photo retail on a large scale yet. "I think the product forms themselves are almost too special for the consumer and they like the idea of talking to the lab clerk to make sure they’re getting the product they want because the occasion is so important."
However, average consumers will eventually become more comfortable with the idea. "It really depends on the product form," reiterates Gray. "I think consumers are comfortable with ordering posters online right now because the process is the same as ordering a 4x6-inch print. But when they get into something like a banner, they still need a little hand holding."
John Placko, senior product manager, wide format inkjet products, imaging division, Fujifilm U.S.A. does believe Web to print is fairly prevalent and growing in the fine art reproduction area. For artists that are Adobe PhotoShop experienced and can provide a proofed, original scan, it’s a model that’s very viable, he argues.
Placko continues, "I don’t think consumers quite understand how easy and how much of a value large format is. We often forget that consumers can log onto a national account’s Web site, order a poster, and pick it up on the way home from work."
According to Chris Howard, senior VP, sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US, LLC, Web to print is making an impact on the commercial sector. "Retail sites, trade show companies, end users are choosing files and placing project orders online. Usually, graphics and proofs are given, approved, and matched."
"Our Theta Digital Lab System customers all have online ordering and the machines are set up with hot folders that grab images and deposit them into a cue," explains Howard. "Customer orders are usually processed through some internal proprietary system that allows the printer to process and print—it’s an automated workflow."
A Growing Business
Equipment price is one reason for the upsurge in wide format output created by both retail and wholesale photo labs. The cost of digital printers versus the cost of replacing a traditional silver halide processing machine is inexpensive, some labs can buy several at a time.
With this boost, Gray sees growth in both sectors, with a marketplace differentiation between the two. The wholesale lab is focused on a higher end product, different media and finishes, and perhaps faster delivery times. On the retail side, she says, we’ll see more volume and more consumer-type products like the birthday party banners. Additionally, Gray sees business development in retail with signage and advertising as consumers discover retail quality is strong enough for them to shift their printing from a commercial lab.
According to Howard, it’s the commercial labs as a whole that are making the most of large format printers. "It’s amazing how much volume there is in large format. It’s a growing business, which is why so many people have gotten into it."
In next week’s Digital Queue look for a roundup on popular digital photo lab equipment.