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Wednesday, 21 March 2012


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Fascinating, but in hindsight not surprising.

People also predicted the paperless office when computers displaced typewriters. Yet, we seem to be printing more than ever before, since it's so much simpler...

I note however, that this article has been written by a photo printer. As in you, Ctein ;)

So my question to you then Ctein is: What if the world tomorrow can view prints BETTER on a screen than on paper (and indeed everyone wants to view things on a screen). What would you do?


I think you are quite right about the printing side of photofinishing. However, I am much less sanguine about the film processing side of things. As one who occasionally likes to run some 120 thru a Pentax 67, I find it more and more difficult to get convenient film development. Here in the D.C. area we used to have Penn Camera, but Penn Camera is no more. True, I still have my roll film tank for regular B&W film, but for anything involving color it seems mail order is all that's left. Whether transparency or negative, I sure don't intend to install a color line for less than 20 rolls of film a year (even if I had room...) So it becomes a vicious spiral-less processing, less film,less processing, less...etc.

Whodathunk indeed. It's a pity that quality control is still a problem, as I found out this afternoon. From a 35mm colour neg film, some were too dark, some too light, a few too contrasty. White and black spots.

I wouldn't usually go on about this here, but It's only just happened. I shall be taking them back. The same shop, part of a much bigger chain that also sells DSLRs, sometimes messes up prints from digital files too. You would think they'd know better.

The growth such as it is in photofinishing/printing is all at the low end, small volume segment of the market. Self-printed calendars and note cards, rather than thousands of prints per day through a big lab. And it's self-evidently a lot harder for any company to make large amounts of money servicing this minutely segmented market than the masses of amateur photographers with their print film circa 1970s.

It kind of reminds me of what happened to the steel business. I grew up near Lackawanna NY, home to a colossal Bethehem Steel plant. The factory complex occupied literally several miles of Lake Erie waterfront. Coal and iron ore poured out of giant lake freighters at one end; giant steel ingots and girders came out glowing red at the other end. But the entire gigantic apparatus served a homogenized industrial market that fragmented again and again from the 1950s onward. The giant blast furnaces went dark one after another as smaller, more modern, more nimble steel 'mini-mills' took over and delivered smaller volumes of 'just in time' custom product. Now the site of Bethlehem Steel is a vast brownfield. And most of Kodak's vast industrial plant is heading the same way.

I love the cheap n' cheerful prints I get from Snappy Snaps (UK).

Fingers crossed that they manage to survive as I am a die-hard enthusiast for putting prints into albums (A3 size artist sketch books in my case). I'm onto volume number 58.

The cloud doesn't figure in my schemes.

Very interesting. I've often wondered if the volume of photo prints is increasing and couldn't come up with a good way to guestimate an answer.

What is the volume of photo finishing and how is it being measured?

Easy to figure out what's going on. Percentage of people who make prints has dropped over the years, as has the importance of prints, but the total number of people shooting pictures, and the total number of pictures, has probably increased by a factor of a hundred, at least. Riding the wave of big numbers.

It would be helpful to provide some supporting evidence to the claim:

"Photofinishing as a whole is currently a growth industry, especially the totally digital side of it."

I've owned a lab for more than 30 years. We print more photos than ever, but with much less labor. We also have fewer competitors. So you could argue your point in either direction. I have some trend insights and I can say that small format inkjet is not growing at the rate most of us in the trade expected and silver-halide wet process is really hanging in there. That may change as energy cost go up and silver stays expensive. Silver-halide still has a substantial cost advantage, but it is eroding. Also, folks really like the look of trad papers and they trust the longevity.
The key is to stay on top of technology. We have 10 kiosks in our store, 3 online order systems as well as an iOS app. We are working on a system in our lab for iOS that allows airprint through an auto-discovery / auto-provisioning print server.
Keep moving forward or die.

Please correct the famous marketing slogan to: "You Press the button, we do the rest."
Thanks, NMG

"Please correct the famous marketing slogan to read: 'You PRESS the button....'"

...You know, I thought there was something amiss with that, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Thanks. Fixed now.


Will color laser printers have any place in the future for printing photographs?

Dear Pak,

I'm not in the photofinishing business, though, any more than a jitney driver is in the long-haul truck driving business. I've built my business around an extremely elite high-end clientele. If you check out my website, you'll see the lowest-priced of my services is $85. A year and a half ago, I wouldn't talk to you for less than $400, and four years ago it was four times that. Seriously. What happens in the world of photofinishing has no impact on me.

I long ago looked at the possibility of screen images becoming better than paper ones, and I am positive it will happen, although I couldn't tell you how soon. I'm entirely prepared technically, psychologically, and artistically, to custom-print for the screen rather than for paper. Honestly, it's not a whole lot different. Actually it's just a tad easier, because what you see really is what you get.

Actually I do a bit of that already; my largest client needs high-quality digital files and web images as well as high-quality prints of their photographs.


Dear Geoff,

I agree, but this is not a new thing. The business started to fragment as minilabs came into play, first via the proliferation of one-hour labs in the late 80's and 1990's, followed quickly by the introduction of self-contained processor units into just about every drug store and supermarket in the country. The high-volume mass photofinishing companies have been in a process of consolidation for probably 20 years.

Fortunately, for Kodak, direct photofinishing stopped being a major part of their income stream quite a while ago. Their cash cow was selling photofinishing supplies and equipment to everyone else. Margins are very slim but volumes are huge. That's why they've tried to stay at the forefront of new papers and processes for decades. Inkjet is a logical step for them to take. It just may not prove successful.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Bruce,

Being a cheapskate, I'm not willing to buy the primary industry reports, which go into methodologies (they're expensive!); I only get the summary reports. With the business so fragmented and product lines so variegated these days, I'm not sure quite how to define a “print.” If I had to hazard a guess, I'd call it 100 billion print-equivalents per year. Maybe Larry Steiner can jump in with better numbers and breakdowns.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Because now you are in charge of the photofinishing - all the photo lab does is transfer it to paper. Once you have established a consistent workflow (soft proofing) with a lab you have confidence in - it seems to me that it's boom time for "photofinishing".

In addition we now have added options not available before such as face-bonded acrylic (if you like it) which many photo labs are offering.

@pak - I suppose there will come a time when you will just hang screens on a wall, but I still prefer prints....

Easy to figure out what's going on. Percentage of people who make prints has dropped over the years

On a forum a while ago someone asked "who still makes prints?". The overwhelming majority stated that they didn't make prints or have prints made but just looked at their pictures on their monitors or put them on websites. These were the same people who alwyas had to have the next, greatest, higher megapixel camera available.

Yesterday I visited the Frank Horvat exhibition 'A Trip Through a Mind' (The iPad Exhibition) in a Berlin gallery, spanning 50 years of his career.
Frank is at the peak of progress:The exhibition features two ipads where you can see pictures of Frank Horvat - if you know how to handle them, that is! I tried, but did not succeed. What a good luck that the artist had also beautiful framed prints made on Hahnemühle Baryta A 2 paper(no information about the printer and the inks) on the walls.
I liked the pictures very much. The gallery sells them in editions of 30 and wants 4650 Euros per print. Too expensive for me, unfortunately, and I would really like to know whether and how many they sell!

Printing of course, in the old days, primarily meant a pack of grotty 6X4s (if you were lucky) poorly processed and poorly cropped by some automated machine or work experience student at the local drug store. Enough to make you want to use slides.

However if you count the number of large scale prints (meaning A3 and larger) currently being produced it is probably orders of magnitude larger because it is way cheaper than it ever was (and even a cheap MFT camera can make amazing A3 prints).

Online printing shops are now plentiful and amazingly reasonable. I recently got a bunch of A3's back from mine I am delighted with. And in the UK you can walk into Snappy Snaps (awful name) and they will make some pretty large prints for you the same day (mounted as well).

I know one of their managers quite well and they have expanded their large print business considerably just as the small print business is declining.

Yes I can print at home (proof) but it's just cheaper to do large prints by outsourcing and less bothersome (once you find a good lab).

I am more amazed that anyone still makes little diddy prints, but I am assured many still do.

"Here in the D.C. area we used to have Penn Camera"


I don't know if it qualifies as the "DC area" but the Photography Center of Bethesda still processes C41 and E6. Turnaround is now about three days; I am so far happy with their work. No personal connection, other than trying to help keep a local business alive.


Richard / Adrian,

Dodge Chrome in Washington DC also still processes film, though not sure if they do formats bigger than 35 mm, and I don't believe they make wet prints (but they do scan film and make some digital prints).

Dear John,

I'd be surprised if color laser establishes a position. After more than a decade of trying, the color is still way behind inkjet. The price/speed advantages largely disappear in mass-scale printing operations.

'Course, that could all change. But that's my guess and I'll stick to it for the nonce.

pax / Ctein

I've used a German firm CEWE/Pixum that delivers quite high quality cheaply and very quickly back to the UK. I've no connection except as an ordinary online customer.

They seem to be making a success of it, especially books and jigsaw puzzles aimed at the mass market. They're not new, a 50-year old firm that has grown. They sell direct via the web (as Pixum) and via camera stores and more general retailers.

They claim "With 12 highly-technological production operations and a staff of around 2,700 employees in 24 European countries, CEWE COLOR is represented on the market as the market and technological leader. The company supplied around 2.5 billion photos, more than 4.3 million CEWE PHOTO BOOKS and photo gift articles to more than 45,000 retail partners in 2010. Sales in 2010 amounted to 446.8 million euros."

That makes them only 2.5% of Ctein's guessed 100 billion volume.

Dear John,

Thanks for the data point! If that's one single large company, then 10^11 may not be a bad estimate. I was pretty sure it wasn't 10^12, but I was afraid I'd added a zero.

Maybe Larry will chime in.

pax / Ctein

This discssion raises another thought (sorry). The issure of archival storage. Hard copy, whether on paper, metal, glass, film or other substrate, properly done and cared for, can last for a century or more. File storage formats change over decades or less, and not all are backward compatible. How many users today still have a reader for floppy discs, or paper tape, or (barring certain special applications) magnetic tape.Without hard copy, much photographic knowledge and history are at risk.
Adrian and Ken. Thanks for the leads. There may still be hope....

Dear Richard,

That's the seductive theory, but the practice for the entire history of photography has been that storage is almost never properly done and the photographs are almost never properly cared for. And, if you're talking about history in the broad meaningful sense, and not merely a handful of important and famous photographs, there are whole decades that have already been effectively lost.

In effect, you're comparing an ideal for physical media with a real for digital. It's a bit of an apples and oranges comparison that creates the incorrect impression that the former is a more reliable guarantee of photographic preservation.

Talking in broad strokes, of course. Every particular individual's mileage will differ in this matter.

The important point being that nothing has really changed, it's really all the same, and this column doesn't really raise any new issues about it. Meet the new boss, etc.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I note the requests for comment. Look at Info-Trends and PMAI data if you can. They copyright their work so I wouldn't care to repeat it verbatim. I also know a couple hundred indy-labs in my buying group work. Many have tried small-format inkjet systems and are happy. There are many advantages: a $35,000 machine for inkjet instead if a $225,000 wet lab printer. The color gamut is bigger than silver-halide and the machine startup each morning is much less work - no densitometers, no control strips and no mystery puddles on the floor. No chloramine gas when someone cleans fixer with the wrong cleaning solution (you can die). But the materials cost disadvantage for small format inkjet persists and I think that has inhibited its growth - the public will accept it, I think.
I also know the CEWE folks. They are a supply partner for our book business. They have invested a lot in the photo book business, because they see the growth there outpacing any standard photo printing. It is hard to do book binding at home so that will remain a commercial product. We weren't willing to invest in it for our little 9 person lab.
On color laser (toner), it is not yet a replacement for silver-halide prints, or even inkjet. In Japan, I am told there are many convenience store kiosks that are used to print simple photos. We do over 500,000 square feet per year in our little lab in toner product for photo-centric items like holiday cards and business printing that is heavily photo-illustration dependent. From 5 feet you can't see the difference between it and silver-halide. On the other hand, if someone wants a really nice photo enlargement, our Epson Stylus Pro 7900 is hard to beat. There will be always be a place for labs that do good work. Not everyone wants to invest in mastering printing. I do think you will see a small decline in generic, cheap printing over time.

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