Day 5: Charting Wide-Format Printing’s Course – Photo Printer Market

14 days of critical information to prepare your business for 2012.

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BPIC: Another interesting development: Durst US is no longer selling the Lambda photo printer. Coupled with the Lightjet’s demise a couple of years ago, that leaves just ZBE, I believe, in the wide-format photo printer market.

Marco Boer, I.T. Strategies: The end-of-life of photo writer technology was inevitable. Aside from the financial reasons why it no longer made sense to continue to develop (no pun intended) this technology, it’s a clear statement that inkjet technology is considered equal in output quality to the historical standard in print quality.

Tim Greene, InfoTrends: This is another example of the power that inkjet has in this industry. The Lambda, LightJet, and ZBE printers all offer excellent image quality, but have limitations that some inkjet technologies don’t have in terms of print media or substrates. I don’t mean to be flippant about it – but when we look at the history of inkjet it has pushed other technologies like pen plotters and electrostatic printers into obsolescence in the past, and it seems the same fate awaits the wide-format photoprinter technology. I know a lot of companies are still using these devices so I’m not trying to offend anyone. I think the quality from these devices has set the bar – especially for some applications like backlit prints – but the flexibility, economics, and ongoing development of inkjet technologies presents a much greater upside for inkjet.

Dan Marx, SGIA: To me, the demise of Lambda, LightJet, and other similar printers comes from the accepted reliability and image quality that inkjet can provide. I no longer hear discussion about “inkjet quality” versus “LightJet quality.” Imagers have opted for the technology that offers high-quality, high-resolution printing onto a diverse range of media types at a low operating cost, and that is inkjet. I think this serves to further blur the already blurry line between high-end photo labs and digital graphics shops. While the technology used is often the same, they still serve some differing markets.

Art Wynne, BERTL: Wide-format products such as the Canon imageProGraf and HP Designjet series produce photographic-quality output and offer roll-to-roll options on similar media as the Lambda or ZBE photo printers. Technology has caught up to the point where more cost-effective printers are able to produce equal photographic quality while being less expensive to run and maintain than printers such as the Lambda.

Peter Mayhew, Lyra: “Will the last one leaving please switch off the lights?” That’s a sign we do not expect to see on this market anytime soon. ZBE may be the last survivor, but there will always be an enthusiastic “purist” market for photographically based digital output, even if it’s a relatively small one. These markets tend to not be particularly price sensitive, meaning a lucrative niche will remain for both the hardware OEM and the photomedia coater alike.

The Big Picture has assembled five of the marketplace’s most informed analysts and consultants and asked them to help you evaluate the wide-format industry. Each day over the next two weeks, we’ll post a new, critical question from The Big Picture with invaluable answers from our panel – all designed to help you ensure that your company charts its best course for a prosperous year ahead.

Our 2011 panel participants include: Marco Boer, consulting partner, I.T. Strategies (www.it-strategies.com); Tim Greene, director, visual communication technologies consulting service, InfoTrends (www.infotrends.com); Dan Marx, vice president, markets & technologies, SGIA (www.sgia.org); Peter Mayhew, director, Lyra Research Europe (www.lyra.com); and Art Wynne, president, Business Equipment Research and Test Laboratories (BERTL, www.bertl.com).

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Click here for Day Four Q & A. Stay tuned for day six of Charting Wide Format's Course!


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