Independent Photographic Supplies (IPS) has installed 13 Epson SureLab SL-D3000 ‘dry’ inkjet minilabs at Academy School Photography and Production in Adelaide to handle the bulk of the photo printing requirements for the nationwide school photography business.
Academy School Photography has been in the business for over 30 years and has offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane as well as the Adelaide headquarters. It’s always been an innovator in the field, and was one of the first companies in the world to use digital technology in school photography.
A family owned and operated business, it prides itself on not relying on outside contractors, producing everything in-house.
In May last year ProCounter reported exclusively on another leading schools photography business, Arthur Reed Photography, which opted to replace its fleet of wet (silver halide) minlabs with a half a million bucks worth of Canon Dreamlabo inkjet ‘mega-printer’. Academy has opted for a diametrically-opposed wet lab replacement solution with considerably increased flexibility, throughput, and in-built redundancy.
The new minilabs have given Academy a substantial volume boost while retaining a quality that surpasses silver halide ‘wet’ technology, according to IPS. The main factors that led to the selection of the D3000 were quality of print, repeatability and consistency – and the efficiency of multiple labs running side by side rather than a single large machine.
‘IPS works to evaluate all emerging technologies and products so we can offer the best brands with the best tech support and value added services. We always had the highest respect for Epson and understood they were the market leader in wide format inkjet printing,’ said Rob Voysey, sales and technical director at IPS.
‘For the last eight years, IPS has been representing another manufacturer’s inkjet photo lab that has utilised Epson print head technology. However, we found that “traditional” dry lab printers were more suited to retail specialty photo and did not meet true professional photolab requirements.
‘That was until the Epson SL-D3000 arrived on the market with performance and quality that met these standards. With the history and knowledge that we have accumulated over time, it didn’t take long for us to realise that the SL-D3000 is the lab that we had been looking for, and more importantly it was the ideal solution for Academy in Adelaide.’
The SureLab D3000 is designed for volume production with high precision and output flexibility. It features an Epson Micro Piezo printhead that supports resolutions up to 1440 x 1440 dpi using six colours and ‘Variable Sized Droplet Technology’, for output with an outstanding gamut range and precise, adjustable colour density.
The printer will produce prints up to 12×48 inches on gloss, lustre, matte and metallic media. It operates at speeds up to 750 (6×4-inch) prints per hour, and offers a high production life backed with flexible warranty cover.
Inkset is 6-colour Epson UltraChrome D6 (dye based – C, M, Y, B, LC & LM). The printers incorporate a media output heater so prints exit dry with a quality gloss finish. Media rolls are easy to exchange in the single roll version, with a dual-roll model also available with automatic exchange.
The D3000 has a unique auto-head sensing technology which addresses the ‘white line’ issues associated with high volume dry lab printing which appear when a printhead blocks.
‘Other dry labs have been plagued with similar white line problems up until now, with labs claiming astronomical wastage because the operator found that a nozzle had blocked and a pile of prints had to be discarded. Thanks to the D3000’s auto-head sensing technology this is now a thing of the past. An operator can have a large number of printers in operation, feeding them paper and ink and taking the finished print off the back with no more white lines,’ said Rob.
The printer is designed for network connection and ships with an easy to use Windows driver. Optional Epson Job Control software can be used to drive one or more printers complete with costing/pricing, image editing, production management and scheduling. An optional Print Sorter can be also be added for efficient batch processing.
Rob said the six-colour ink system delivers a wide print gamut which surpasses silver halide photographs. And it’s also superior in printing consistency: ‘In one of our early tests we included running a set of test prints, then over a six week period we printed over 180 rolls of 10-inch paper – that’s three cubic pallets, or 90,000 8×10-inch prints! On reprinting the test prints the lab staff could not find any difference from the prints printed on day one,’ he said. ‘In that whole period the printer had not been recalibrated or missed a beat of any kind, not even a paper jam.’
In the final test he had several printers running side-by-side, and by making fine adjustments he said they were able to make identical prints off one – a problem in large production labs running a traditional AgX equipment.
‘Traditionally if a reprint has to be made from a long print run, it would only match if it was sent through on the same printer – this is now a thing of the past. When all was said and done our assessment of the SL-D3000 was that it produces professional, identical, beautiful prints that can consistently be printed from one day to the next with no major operator intervention.’
As one of the leading schools photography services in Australia, Academy has an efficient, state-of-the-art photo printing workflow. Only one operator is required to keep the printers ‘fed’ and print editors can test on one printer and print on another simultaneously, meaning that urgent jobs do not need to wait in any queue.
The clincher for Academy was perhaps the added value IPS bought to the deal via its proprietary workflow software, ‘Image Flow Manger’ (IPS IFM), that communicates with the Epson printer network.
‘One of the typical problems in the photo lab world is getting the captured image to the printer,’ explained Rob. ‘There are excellent software packages that take care of all the ‘front end’ and ‘in lab’ workflow but the final link to the printer generally falls short.
‘As a special project with Academy’s proposed installation, IPS’s technical managers scoped and flowcharted the lab’s requirements as to how they wanted the work sent to the SL-D3000 printers. The IPS technical managers wrote and tested the software and by the time the school photo year kicked off it was fully functional.
‘Now the lab can split a large order across any number of printers, direct orders based on utilisation and monitor a whole number of parameters on each printer from a central control hub. As a result we now have a complete solution for high production, high quality photo labs, with Epson as the ultimate print engine and IPS’ automated Image Flow Manger seamlessly delivering the prints as the organisation requires. This is a world first!’
The 13 Epson D3000 minilabs deliver an output capacity of over 2700 8×10-inch prints per hour. The increased production capacity means that work is returned to schools and families promptly. IPS said that these kind of volumes, coming off 13 printers printing identically and at such a high quality standard, is unprecedented in Australia and potentially anywhere in the world.
‘The fact that the same image can be printed on all of the 13 SL-D3000 printers then have the prints laid out on a viewing table and the lab staff can’t pick any visual difference between them is testament to the fact that we have a breakthrough product – a real gamechanger,’ said Rob.
IPS was established by Stuart Holmes and Rob Voysey in August 2003 with the aim of providing a specialist range of photographic services and equipment to photolab operators across Australia. It serves independent photo retailers, prolabs and photographic studios across Australia and New Zealand with ‘the best brands in imaging’.
‘As an independent photo specialty supplier, IPS have had to earn our position in the market the hard way. Epson treat us like a real partner. We are really pleased with the relationship. That relationship together with such a standout and unique product as the Epson SureLab SL-D3000 dry-film minilab is a real winning combination both in Australia and across the rest of the world.’
– With assistance from Epson Australia.