Thursday, August 13, 2015

So, is in-house printing for you?  

Is it time to move from the commercial labs?  Over my 20+ years using professional labs, I’ve used good ones, bad ones.  I’ve come close to getting into fist-fights with one lab owner.  Overall, you can get a “decent” job from most labs.  Problems arise as your understanding of your desires [of the printed image] get more defined and more is expected.  Often, communicating what you want is either, a) difficult, or b) not within the business model of the lab.  The choice to move to printing my own images came easy once I answered 3 basic questions—

1) Do I have the technical ability and equipment?
I had to determine if I had the monitors, computers, software and know-how to produce good-quality images, in a variety of lighting conditions.  Did the monitors in my office suffice, or, did I need to upgrade to high-end monitors?  Were the computers fast enough to handle the flow of info?  Did I understand color correction enough to adjust when needed?

With the help of my local photography vendor* I processed 6 images.  I took images from various lighting conditions, from various elements of my client base.  I processed them, sized them to 4x6, and took them to my vendor.  I had him lay them out on a 24x6 layout and print without any correction. 

Within a few minutes, the strip of images was being printed on an Epson 7880.  “Check.”  Images were not only “good” but stunning.  The color and density exceeded what I was getting from my labs by a good margin.

2) Could I justify the cost?
Unfortunately, I had no way of calculating the cost per print.  I knew what I was spending, yearly on lab bills. But, my only cost calculations, from in-house, came from my Kodak 8500 dye-sub printer.  It was easy because paper/ink sheets were sold as a unit.  With the Kodak, cost was about equal to the labs.  My vendor told me, it costs less with the Epson, but didn’t have specifics.  “Check…with caveats.”

As a follow up…8 years later.  I saved $10,000 on lab bills in my first year with the Epson 7880.  Yeah…I could justify the cost…with ease!

Did I do enough volume to prevent clogging?
Lehigh Valley Photo now has 2 Epson printers.  The 7880 is still going strong.  I added a 9900 three years ago for wider prints [up to 44”] as well as matte printing.  I run about (1) 100’ roll of Luster paper per month, per machine.  I also run some sheet material on each.  I have no issues with clogging.  Is that a lot of printing?  I don’t know…neither does Epson, as I have called [several times] to inquire.  Do I print every day?  No.  Do I print every week?  Yes.  There have been times when the machines have sat for 2 weeks [vacations and such].  At most, I will loose a nozzle here or there.  Simple, light cleanings clear any issue.  I leave my “auto-cleaning” off on both machines. If I think about it, during the day, I will run a nozzle check.  I can say the 7880 can sit dormant longer than the 9900 without loosing a nozzle.  
If you have “deep-pockets” should you go out and get a large format printer?  Depends on how deep and how deep you want to go.  Regardless of cost, these are “production” machines; “Production” being the operative word in the phrase.  These machines were designed to run.  If your business/hobby involves [primarily] digital imagery, and you have a small number of images printed, the cost of the machines is high.  The cost of running prints/tests, simply to get ink flowing through the machine on a continual basis will become high.  Ink cartridges run from $90 - $300.  The 7880 takes 8; the 9900, 10.  Needless to say, filling a 9900/7900 with 700ml carts will cost about $2400.

If a large part of your business is printing, strong arguments can be made to make the move.

Do your own analysis.  If you do not have a local vendor to do your test prints, drop me a line.  I can run them through a machine and send them back to you.