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The Voice of Fear Over Digital Prints Produced by One-Hour Labs
I first discovered the Fuji Frontier 370 printer at Costcoís in January 2002. It changed the way I had my prints made in that it they are conventionally produced ďCĒ type prints using Fuji chemistry and Crystal Archive paper but capable of being printed from my prepared digital files. In fact, weíve had such a good experience with the printer that we wrote an article on the Frontier printer for eDigitalPhoto Magazine and Fuji quoted us on a wall display over the Frontier printer in their booth at PMA 2003.

Iíve been selling my photography for over 30 years and have tried all methods of print process, from using a custom lab to printing my own in a chemical darkroom. In all those years Iíve never been able to match the consistency of quality output as I can now by doing my darkroom work on the computer and creating the digital negative from which my prints get made.

Admittedly, Iíve only worked with the Winter Park Fl. and Cranberry Pa. Costco, but it all comes down to how meticulously you prepare your digital files as to the quality you get. If youíre not getting the results you expect, color profiles for any Frontier or Noritsu processor can be downloaded from DryCreekPhoto.com. If they donít have the profile for the machine youíre working with, download the kit and have a print made to be profiled and add it to their database. Costco has been paying to have profiling done for all the processors in the chain. But first you need to start with a color-calibrated monitor to make sure that what you see is what you get. Another issue that might cause inconsistent results is that Samís and Wal-Martís are using Kodak paper and chemistry while Costco is using Fuji Crystal Archive paper and Fuji chemistry, which I feel is superior. Wal-Mart could be also be a problem as they guarantee the one-hour aspect of their business and put enlargements off until later in the day as filler to keep the employees busy. Investigate how your local lab runs its business and figure out how to tweak your needs to fit their business model.

Iíve never experienced a difference in quality because of the person running the mini lab as long as they donít try to tweak whatís on the CD that I bring in. What most people donít realize is that the custom Professional labs use the same processor but charge four to five times the price for the exact same print. If you prepare the file properly, the exact same quality print is available at both price points, no matter who runs the machine. In fact, my local Costco used to carry the larger Crystal Archive paper in luster finish for all the wedding labs that use them for proofs.

Occasionally someone will try and state the case for the professional custom lab that we, as professionals, shouldn't be using such inexpensively produced prints in our business. What if we needed larger prints, or had professional shooting assignments and needed to work with a pro lab. It seems to me that maybe the pro lab should change their business model so I can make a profit and not go out of business keeping them alive. With advances in technology, the educated (photographer) consumer can now get the same quality output at a fraction of the cost.

How it affects my business
My local Costco has recently changed their Frontier 370 with a 10x15 inch capability to a Noritsu 3100 series with a 12x18 inch capability. Theyíve kept the cost of a 12x18 at $2.99 as it was with the 10x15. But in changing my prepared files, I can now gang up two 8x10ís on a 12x18 for a per print cost of only $1.50, fifty cents less than getting an individual 8x10 printed. For the cost of a decent trimmer, Iíve been able to save hundreds of dollars in just two months. With sales at art shows being more difficult to make, Iíve always recommended finding ways to cut material costs and using one of these digital printers is a great time and money saver.
Links:
Costco
FujiFilm.com
DigitalCameraDeveloping.com
DryCreekPhoto.com
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