With the transition to digital technology and declining sales in film processing and printing starting around 18 years ago, the photographic industry will never be the same.
The Australian industry has been even harder hit, with the cheapest 6×4 print prices in the world driven down by ‘loss leading’ marketing tactics by the likes of Big W and Harvey Norman, with the support of Fujifilm. Consequently, most local photo labs have closed their doors.
Facing this pending fate, husband and wife team, Frank Hoekstra and Marie Cosgrave realised they needed to look for an alternative use for skills they had honed over 20 years operating a retail photo lab in Prahran.
Via the internet, Marie found a small business in the USA that had taken what they had learnt in the trophy and awards industry and started to print images on metal under the brand name Chromaluxe. After a brief visit to San Francisco in early 2010 they brought home enough knowledge to get Print 2 Metal started.
The technique of printing images onto sleek thin sheets of aluminium, that didn’t require glass or a heavy frame, that were so vibrant and lightweight and could be easily cleaned, still leaves the first time viewer saying ‘wow’.
Seeing this response from their customers in the photo lab, they made the decision to sell the Prahan lab in 2011 and concentrate on metal printing.
‘We operated out of our backyard, purpose-built shed up until August 2014. I remember a supplier once asking “you don’t really live here?” as he walked through the house and all our supplies to the kitchen table where we held our meetings,’ explained Marie.
While digital photography has made screen viewing of images the norm, there is still clearly a desire for young and old to surround themselves with ‘physical’ photographic momentos and artwork. But they seek new options and formats.
‘The arrival of digital technology has ironically allowed us to extend our business beyond the retail setting. Based online, our clients come from all around Australia as well as New Zealand and a few other overseas countries. We send USA enquiries back to Tim Lutz from Magna Chrome, who taught us the ropes.
‘We are now not only a part of the photographic industry. Printing onto metal has also captured the attention of those in the design and architectural fields. We have been able to step into markets that we had never considered as photo lab owners.’
Print 2 Metal use a Monti Antonio heat press and Mimaki TS300 sublimation printer to manufacture their Chromaluxe prints.
The concept is still new and fairly unknown to consumers and even photographers. Educating the public about this new technology has been Print 2 Metal’s biggest challenge – Marie said they have excellent repeat business after a client’s first purchase.
The successful process of dye sublimation printing onto metal has now started to bring about new competitors and suppliers. Print 2 Metal uses Chromaluxe metal panels exclusively, as it’s the world’s leading brand of metal print media. It has changed for many the belief that the print is dead.
Print 2 Metal has increasingly gained the attention of professional photographers and keen amateurs, designers, artists and interior designers.
‘A highlight has been our support of the Head On Photo Festival in Sydney in 2017, printing approximately 470 photos. With the support of ChromaLuxe, we printed most of the images displayed onto metal, giving each photographic image an added dimensionality.’
In their continuing effort to differentiate their product Marie and Frank have taken a number of other initiatives, including the design and production of their own framing in a black, silver and white anodised aluminium.
Frank has gone back to school and completed his Certificate IV in Engineering, with an emphasis on welding. This has really helped extend the creative options to clients and addresses the challenges of working with aluminium.
The variations Print 2 Metal can now offer are attracting more photographers and artists who exhibit and sell their work through galleries, and has also won them awards.
‘Our business has a great future,’ said Marie.