Merry Photo!

Print shops of all sizes can consider gearing up now to take advantage of the 2012 photobook/calendar glut. After all, the holiday shopping season is only nine months away, at most, and the creation and production of on-demand photo imaging products is growing by leaps and pages. Research shows that there’s ample market share for printers to grab.

“Attracting more first-time buyers into the photo merchandise market will be essential to success,” explains David Haueter, an InfoTrends associate director. While statistics are not yet available for 2011, “InfoTrends consumer research data shows that, in 2010, only 32 percent of survey respondents had purchased any type of photo merchandise in the past year. This was an increase over 2009 numbers (25 percent), but there is still nearly 70 percent of the population that [had] not purchased photo merchandise in the last year.”

So, why is there such explosive photobook growth, even among younger people, in the age of downloads and hard drives? Facebook albums aside, “We need to impose order on our sprawling digital collections,” a 30-year-old told me.

Publicly traded Shutterfly, founded in 1999 and based in Redwood City, CA, posted revenues of more than $480 million last year. In the third quarter alone, prior to the holiday rush, some $56 million was attributed to what the firm calls “personalized products and services”—a 73 percent increase over 2010. With manufacturing facilities in Phoenix, AZ, and Charlotte, NC, its revenues from commercial print were slightly south of $4 million for Q3 2011.

 

So just how big is photo

printing?

InfoTrends forecasts that the photo publishing and merchandise market will surpass $14 billion in retail sales by 2014. “Our forecast tracks the direct-to-consumer market (think Shutterfly, Snapfish, Pinhole Press, Walmart Photo) and the photo-intensive, business-to-business market (portfolio books, brochures, postcards, etc.),” explains Matthew Rees, senior consultant of InfoTrends’ Photo Publishing and Merchandise Business Development Strategies Service. Rees offers the following breakdown for each market: the B2B market will reach $12 billion in 2014, while the consumer side is projected to hit $2.2 billion.

As the inaugural combined PMA@CES tradeshow and DIMA conference wrap up in Vegas mid-month, I’m reminded of just how large the photo imaging business is becoming for printers—big enough to warrant its own pavilion this coming October at Graph Expo 2012. Tied to the Photo Marketing Association (PMA), the Photo Imaging Pavilion will feature both output and finishing equipment. “Over the past two to three years, GASC has seen consistent growth in the attendance of photo imaging professionals at Graph Expo and Print shows,” notes Chris Price, VP of GASC. “This happened without a concerted marketing effort.” Last fall’s show hosted a co-located event by the Independent Photo Imagers, which will be repeated this year.

“The output space is…represented by the manufacturers/exhibitors at Graph Expo and Print shows,” Price continues. “This has helped attract the photo imagers looking for new digital printing equipment. Dry mini-labs, which dominated the shops of photo imagers and retailers, have lost popularity to the new faster, higher quality color digital output printers available today.”

Indeed, open publisher Lulu.com is among those employing durable HP Indigo digital presses for its customers’ photobook printing needs. (See sidebar.) Apple Computer reportedly uses some place in Oregon and/or Northern California (they ship from Elk Grove, near Sacramento) to print its iPhoto products, which are quite gorgeous, offering full-bleed wraps around hardcover photobooks. Some divisions within Consolidated Graphics are big into HP Indigo-printed photobooks, and many printing franchises, including some in the Allegra Network, now offer related services for this niche.

 

Going Pro

Even professionals see the lure and potential of photobooks. Wedding photographer Michelle Wotkun, co-founder of Tampa-based Jamie and Michelle Photography, has been using sites such as Snapfish to create photobooks, both for her own family and her customers, since 2008. “I really liked the look of the photos being printed on the page,” says Wotkun, who resides in Chicago. “You can set up your own layout, you can have a lot more photos on a page, and it’s a lot more compact than a photo album with actual prints. And, it’s easy.”

Wotkun says Snapfish’s easy-to-use layout, which allows users to upload photos then adjust how they will appear once they’re printed in the final book, was a big reason she used the site originally. She has since moved on to using sites like Blurb.com and Mpix.com which, she says, offer higher quality pages—something that’s important to her as a pro photographer. “I’ve found that they have better print quality, they’re less grainy, the color prints a bit better on the pages. Even the pages themselves are thicker,” Wotkun observes.

Photographers like Wotkun, looking for a more professional touch for their photobooks, can also consider printing on Kodak’s new line of Endura EP-D and EP-L photo-quality, digital papers highlighted at Graph Expo last fall. Each premium, 18x12-inch sheet is double-sided and suitable for reproduction on either dry ink/toner digital presses that use liquid ink and toner. Endura EP allows pros to complement and intermix traditional print products with digital press products, such as albums, event books, cards, and other fully customizable offerings—all with the same look and feel of silver halide (AgX) color negative papers and display materials.

The aforementioned Mpix, with large labs in Kansas and Missouri, features six Kodak NexPresses. It is a division of Miller’s Professional Imaging (the biggest pro lab in the US) and runs special effects such as hi-def inks. “Light black simulates continuous tones,” notes Ken Marks, national sales manager of Kodak’s Imaging Specialty Retail Printing Solutions. Marks adds that the fifth imaging unit on the NexPress can be a true differentiator for new products.

 

More High-end Output

Speaking of higher quality, 10 months ago Canon announced the firm’s inaugural entry into the production photo printing market with the launch of the DreamLabo 5000 production inkjet printer. The technology delivers a new performance level combining high-quality photo/text reproduction with high productivity, offering the retail photo printing and the high-end, print-on-demand markets a new alternative to traditional silver halide processing technology.

Canon’s FINE (Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering) printhead technology makes it possible to simultaneously achieve high image quality and high productivity. The system achieves color representation rivaling that of conventional processing, delivering high-speed printing of high-quality photos and detailed text to support a variety of value-added output.

The DreamLabo’s high-density printhead enables printing of output up to 12 inches wide. The new printhead additionally delivers high-speed, one-pass printing—requiring only a single pass of the printing paper—while the printhead remains in a fixed position. When used in combination with the automatic, double-sided printing function, a standard feature, the DreamLabo 5000 is capable of printing the contents of a 20-page A4-size (8.27x11.69 inch) photo album in only 72 seconds. The system also realizes high productivity by enabling paper and ink tank replacement during printing, supporting the extended, uninterrupted operation times required for production printers.

Its seven-color, dye-based ink system adds photo cyan, photo magenta, and gray to CMYK to realize smooth gradations and tonality, especially in the highlight and shadow areas of images. The printer employs image processing technology that makes use of the full range of Canon’s large inkjet color gamut for imaging performance that effectively integrates the strengths of conventional silver halide processing into the advantages of inkjet printing.

Additionally, the ink-receiving layer of Canon inkjet paper employs alumina as the key material. Compared with conventional photo paper, alumina quickly absorbs ink solvent, affixing only the dye component near the surface of the ink-receiving layer to make possible high-density and vivid color reproduction. A lineup of single- and double-sided, glossy and semi-glossy papers in a variety of widths also has been prepared. The DreamLabo 5000 production inkjet printer is expected to be available soon (in early 2012), according to the company.

 

Entry Level Finishing

Of course, every job must be finished, so On Demand Machinery (ODM) offers the Sticker XXL for casing-in and Smasher XXL for building-in, which are self-adjusting and require no make-ready. They can produce 100-300 covers per hour and are ideal for entry-level hard cover bookbinding production.

Sticker XXL produces cased-in 4x4-inch up to 18x18-inch books up to ½-inch thick. It features three-position blade height control and removable glue stations for fast clean up. Operators place the book on the wing while the machine is in the home position. After the book is loaded, the operator depresses a foot switch that drops the wing below the glue rollers. A servomotor brings the two glue stations in contact with the book while the wing travels upward, applying a uniform coating of adhesive to the end papers. As the book emerges from the glue pots the operator places the cover in position with a cover guide and removes the book from the wing.

The operator then places the cased-in book in the Smasher XXL and depresses a foot pedal that brings the top joint iron in contact with the book to accurately find the book’s joint area. Next, dual buttons are depressed that activate the hydraulic system that raises the bottom steel platen and clamps the book with 10 tons of pressure. The Smasher XXL has an adjustable dwell timer that controls how long the book remains under pressure. The heated joint irons have a thermostat for varying the degree of temperature.

Of course, there are many companies that provide media, inks and toners, output devices, and finishing equipment that will allow printers to dip their toes in the photo printing waters. Those mentioned in this article are just a sampling of the types of products available. Whether you choose to dive in for yourself or to outsource the products, this is a fast growing potential profit center that could keep you happily humming throughout 2012.

Former Printing News intern Brandon Campbell contributed to this report.

 

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