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Retailer: ‘Dry quality trumps wet labs’

October 6, 2011: When Paul Clarke (Carindale Camera Centre, Qld) bit the bullet and placed an order for his new Noritsu D1005 HR inkjet minilab, he thought that customers wouldn’t notice the difference between its output and that of the Noritsu 3000 series lab it replaced.

He was wrong – but to his immense relief, those customers who did detect the change actually liked what they saw!

And the more familiar he and his staff and customers have become with what the Noritsu can achieve – especially when running in 1440dpi high resolution mode – the more confident he is in declaring that it is superior to the output of a high quality wet lab.

This is the first installation of a Noritsu D1005HR in Australia or New Zealand, and Paul Clarke has kindly volunteered some first impressions to Photo Counter readers. First some basic specs: The D1005HR prints up to 12-inches with an output capacity of 950 prints per hour (3800 prints without changing paper). It will duplex print, and maximum resolution is 1440dpi. ‘Standard’ res is 720dpi.

Although Mr Clarke has been running Carindale Camera Centre for just two years, a long background in the printing industry has given him a discerning eye for print quality.

‘At 5×7-inch and above, and printing at 1440dpi, it is clearly better than, and different to, a wet lab,’ he said. ‘A Noritsu 3001 puts out a beautiful 8 x10. To say the Noritsu HR is better is saying something,’ he said.

He said the high-res inkjet prints were particularly appealing to younger customers

‘I don’t think inkjet was quite there until HR came out. It’s like HDTV compared to a standard TV picture, and it’s digital-to-digital rather than back to analog. It’s a slightly different look to a wet lab.

‘Prints are very pleasing to the eye. Younger people chose the HR print all the time. With older people it’s closer to fifty-fifty.’

He said that so far – the new machine has only been operating for a little over a week – there has been no ‘pushback’ from customers, and not one customer complaint.

Assessing the options

Mr Clarke decided to upgrade his minilab equipment prior to a move to new premises next year and decided ‘dry was the way to go’ – while having some misgivings around print quality. He looked at the Kodak, HP and Noritsu options.

He said the Kodak Apex system – based on thermal print output – was fairly quickly eliminated

‘There’s too many gaps [in functionality] in the Kodak Apex system, even though the quality is pretty good.’

He said the Apex system was too limiting for the production of photo books and enlargements in particular.

The choice between HP and Noritsu technology was a closer run race.

He said that the full integration of the HP system from the kiosk to software to the various output components was appealing, but ‘it came down to what was a better fit for us’. Commissioning an HP system would, for instance, have meant that Carindale had to replace its kiosks as well as printing equipment. On the other hand, he feels he may have been able to generate more income from an HP system because of the extra services such a fully-integrated system is capable of.

He said that from an output quality point of view, there was not a lot in it (‘especially since HP has fixed up its blacks’), but overall he felt that Noritsu has just slightly better print quality.

Since he’s had the new Noritsu, he said, ‘tests and comparisons we’ve done prove the Noritsu is putting out better images.’

He said that with HP running a six-colour inkset and Noritsu only four colours this is unexpected, ‘but it is Epson printing technology and it does clearly put out equal or better quality than the HP’.

The ‘better’ quality is delivered when the D1005HR is running in high-res mode, and only becomes apparent in larger prints, according to Mr Clarke.

Consequently, he still uses an old workhorse Noritsu for 6×4-inch prints – especially for large orders – and may continue to run the old wet lab in his new store to split costs.

He says that though there are ‘swings and roundabouts’ when trying to assess total costs of ownership, a 6×4 print costs more to produce on the Noritsu dry lab than a wet lab, with the inkjet print costing around 12 cents and the silver print 8 cents.

Stacked against raw consumables costs are advantages like near-immediate start up and shut down – adding around 90 minutes per day in up-time – and lower electricity consumption (which is certain to be a more critical factor in the equation into the future).

Wastage is low at around 25 – 40 prints per day (‘mostly operator error’) from daily throughput of 2000 – 3000.

‘-But yeah, it costs more per print,’ he conceded, further noting that the HP was possibly slightly cheaper to run on a per print basis than the Noritsu.

But with a wet lab pushing out relatively low-margin 6x4s (Carindale charges from 45 to 15 cents for prints) and the Noritsu dry lab outputting higher-margin, high-quality enlargements and photo books up to 12 x 12-inches, the consumables costs becomes less of an issue.

He said that at 1440dpi the printer didn’t consume any more ink than at 720dpi, and neither was it significantly slower.

Added versatility

A benefit of dry technology not often highlighted is the added versatility it adds to workflow in a minilab operation.

Not only is it easier and faster to handle a mixed order, it’s much easier to interrupt an order to squeeze in something urgent. Mr Clarke gave a real life example of someone coming in to have a passport photo urgently done after the original had been rejected at the Post Office.

He said it became particularly useful to have the ability to ‘keeping the squeaky wheels oiled’ when for whatever reason, things started to fall behind.

So – so far, so good for Australasia’s first working Noritsu D1005HR.

The installation itself was ‘seamless’, and overall Paul Clarke has only one small gripe – he wants the Noritsu tech to make the back-printing stronger when he next visits!

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