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Going to buy a new Minilab - How do you choose?


fastlabuk
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This is not a plug, I am interested in finding out what operators are looking for when deciding to buy a new digital Minilab.

For example why would you pay £65,000 when you could buy one for £20,000 and it could do the same job and where perhaps quality of print was also better?

Is it size of print that dictates or print speed or the cost?

Is it preference of manufacturer and why?

Is it the "China" tag that puts you off?

Is it the warranty or the service contract costs?

Is it the actual physical size that dictates what you can buy?

Obviously there are many more possible scenarios and I would like to hear all of them should you have time to reply.

:-/

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After buying my first minilab 21 years ago we've been through 15 machines across different sites. In the past those machines were bought through our relationship with the paper and chemistry suppliers. Often their financial assistance was the deciding factor.

These days it's a different story with initial cost, ongoing maintenance costs and support being the most important issues. Really it's all about profit but peace of mind is also a biggie. You don't want the supplier to fall over or not be able to source parts down the track so their stability is crucial. Furthermore, their relationship with the manufacturer comes into play. For some of the newer suppliers this will be harder to convince customers of.

If I was in the market now, I'd be looking for a cheap machine that doesn't have expensive componentry - such as lasers. If the trade-off was a slight difference in quality I'd live with it - solely because you don't need the stress or cost  of major parts failure.

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Is it size of print that dictates or print speed or the cost?

Larger print sizes are a bonus, not a requirement, upto 12*8 standard 10*15 nice, 12*18 better

Is it preference of manufacturer and why?

Preference for manufacturer is due to track records, the salemen tell you the machine will do everything, everything can be fixed etc, but if the company pulls out for what ever reason and you are left with a lab with no reliable support then things become costly.  Everyone likes Noritsu as they only make minilabs and are robust.  troble is you can not always afford one, epecially when the maintenance contract is added in.

Is it the "China" tag that puts you off?

Nothing wrong with China, what is not made in China these days.  Are Photo-Me having machine made in China?  But what is the UK engineer support structure like, even Fuji and Noritsu have troble covering all the UK according to some.

Is it the warranty or the service contract costs?

These are a big part of the cost these days?  What are the service contract cost on a £20000 machine?  Does the £20000 machine print from negs?

Is it the actual physical size that dictates what you can buy?

Again smaller is better.

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Hi Photosave and Nick, many thanks for your postings and I apologise in advance for my own remarks because it definitely sounds like a plug because my examples quoted are in relation to our kit, so may I first start with Photosave's comments: I totally agree that you would not want your supplier to cease their business but unfortunately this does not depend upon you being an established long term company or big name player as none are exempt and maybe the newer players (mine is 16years) have better chances of longevity as compared to the massive overheads of established companies as we all know are now amalgamating to cut costs, you would also normally obtain a much closer relationship with a smaller company at least you would for sure with Fastlab!

Regarding laser and expense, to me laser would mean high service and maintenance costs especially with most of those kit out there at present. I too are going to introduce a laser lab but are waiting until the trials and costs of replacement lasers have been proven affordable, this hopefully will be within the next few months.

Hi Nick, totally in agreement with sizes, Noritsu are with out doubt good working machines but regarding print quality, Fastlab is better as our Dima award showed. We have even purchase brand new Noritsu machines from the Noritsu factory in Shanghai, China in analogue form and fit our digital contact printing engine inside so that tells you that we think highly of the Noritsu mechanics. China? I think you know already that most machines are made in China now, even Noritsu models.

Service costs for example on our D26 (26 series Noritsu with contact printing head) would be maximum £3,000 and any replacement costs for the total (yes total) head would be around £1000, however we have not had to replace one due to failure since introducing it in early 2004. This machine also prints from negs via an independent film scanner.

Size? Again I also find it appears to be smaller physical sized machines are proffered and that is why we carefully choose the machines for our portfolio, our smallest one has only 0.67 sqm footprint and is supposed to be the smallest minilab in the world but still can produce prints up to 12x8.

Many thanks again for your input, it really helps us to focus on what is really important to buyers, please keep the feeds coming in.

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Interesting thread... OK if I was (and no I am not) was looking to purchase.... well first thing would be a trade in, or to get a decent price for any existing equipment. I would also look at a long served manufacturer, so prob a name that had done the rounds for many years. I would also want to see a working lab in situ, and get the demo done on my own.

A second user machine would always be an option if it had a decent warranty

Made in china mnnn that just does not matter.....

Warranty and service cost yes yes.. this has to be a big one. As a small independent you want value for money. You do not want to go to bed with thoughts of *Yikes if my Laser goes, where will I find 20K from* One day a mini-lab supplier will put there money where there mouth is and offer a 5 years parts guarantee, but no one that I know of has had the balls to do this..... Why.. well either the equipment is not reliable enough for them to have the balls to offer it... or more likely ;) they are earning as much profit from the warranty as the actual sale of the equipment its self ;)

Size of a machine.... mnnn

With the ease and quality of large format inkjet, then I unless you are doings loads, and I mean loads of say 16x12 prints... then a lab that can do up to 12x8, working with a large format printer, will give what you want.

No mention of Kiosks on the original post... or indeed network capabilities..... this is a must must.. and no silly extra drivers or additional hardware

And, I think a lab should look nice... One day we will see a mini-lab that has been designed to look the mutz nutz in a shop... for the consumer and not the lab owner :)

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Thanks Neil, totally forgot about the wide format option which seems silly because that is what we have been advising prospective clients to do for the last 12 months. Why, you may ask is because I try to lead by our own example, early, early days many a moon ago we started and had quite a few shops in the D&P business and were great believers then in having 12 x 18 labs until 1 year ago when we took the nervous step of replacing our digital 12x18 lab with an 8x12  plus a wide format. Outcome is that our customers do not ask for 12x18 anymore, they ask for larger sizes and are more than very happy with these extra large prints so much so that canvas prints are the norm thing and gives us excellent profits. I could go on and on about this but for those out there as Neil is saying "unless you are doing loads don't worry because by adding a wide format printer you open far more revenue streams.

Now for those who think I may be plugging - I do not sell wide format printers!! But, I do sell 12 x18 RA4 printers and larger.

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Hi JP, yes I'm sorry my reply certainly sounds like a plug and probably is but my comparisons are with what I know best so I hope you don't hold it against me. :-/

My intention initially was quite clear, well it was to me at least! As a company offering minilabs to the industry I wanted to try and establish exactly what my clients look for which in many cases become conflicting when I try to compile and compare in some intelligent format.

For example the question of size 12x8 or 12x18 which Neil pointed out, I was a firm believer of having a 12x18 and obviously I can buy and install in my own shop at cost price, so it was not a decision driven by affordability it was purely on versatility and expansion of services to our clients and this was definitely the way to go forward in our particular case, others will possible be different of course.

It is this sort of info I am looking for to help us provide a minilab that may best suit and tick as many boxes as we can, unfortunately we cannot stand in the street and ask these questions and due to geographical restraints nor can we visit every D&P shop with this survey, but thank god I can post a thread on  mini-lab help.com pleading for help, many thanks to all. ;)

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Hi Neil, regarding the kiosk, quite right - quite a glaring omission!

Yes, I agree that when purchasing any lab or printing kit it is of paramount importance that you ensure the software is open to receive any type of kiosk and I would take that further that it should be open to allow you to use other software programs that you may have preferences for.

Regarding the beautiful looking lab: I am sure that there will be something out there that some day will suit most tastes and I think both the small new Noritsu and Fuji machines are now quite aesthetically pleasing - what do you think?

I recently viewed a new minilab which I thought had all these characteristics but then that's me, so it would be nice and perhaps humorous for your members to send in their sketches of a "Beautiful minilab"

By the way this lab I saw is a possible newcomer to our portfolio. ;)

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Yup, good call Neil.

Personaly, I feel that is important to offer up to 12x18 (or larger!) on silver halide. Why ? Everyone with a minilab can offer 12x8, I feel if you are trying to stand out, you need to offer that bit extra.

After saying that, our new lab will only be 12x8. The deciding factor is , as allways, cost vs. turnover.

The only way forward I can see is the web.

Looking at the technology of all the labs on offer, the processor sections on the whole seem to be getting better and better, but Noritsu still seem to lead the field . Lazers may be good, but grief, what a price for replacement parts! D-carriers seem expensive, and unless installed and used correctly, a pain in the butt. Contact printing looks good, seems to work well (yeah, yeah, Darryle, DIMA award) and reasonably priced replacement parts. Smallest number of moving parts seems good, one reason I'm a little 'toungue in cheek' about your 'analogue/digital' setup, but impressed enough to give it a go. We must get up to your showroom (didn't know you had one, did you) and play.

In days gone by, a lab owner was not only a photographic technician, but also a chemist, an electrician and an engineer.

Now you need to be none of these, just be able to afford the machinery, and the maintenance contract. That is why Tesco and all the others can do what they do, with staff that knew nothing of photography 'till they did their brief training course.

[simon gets off his soap box]

Unfortunately most people don't care about the quality, they just want to do everything under one roof.

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I disagree with you about what a lab owner/manager has to be.

If you want quality, and you want to keep quality product coming out of your lab, you need to be able to work with, and understand control strips. Telephone advice from support lines can be little help if your chemistry is stuffed.

You still need to be a basic technician in your own lab unless you want to incur large costs for s upport techs to come out, if they can even get to you in time.

you need to understand some of the complexities of windows and networking to get everything talking to everythitng else. and you need to be able to do this "on the fly" as things happen, rather than "waiting until later". you need to be a software "wizz" to help customers with dead memory cards, and find their lost files.

You also need to be a human relationship manager with your staff, and motivate themn to keep coming up with ideas and solutions to day to day issues.

In short, there are still lots of things to do!

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   Thank you Mr. Noritsu,

          

You made my point far more eloquently than I ever could.

So why are we all complaining about the likes of Tesco ? They may well, in large centers of population, have dedicated staff,

But certainly not in my part of the world. They relly totaly upon service contracts and manufacture suport.

They have an enviale turnover (certainly by my standards) in this field.

Those are the numbers that made me say 'most people don't care about the quality etc.'

We are reading from the same book , sir, I may be at the begining, and you a little way through (I have read many of your technical posts), My comments were meant to anoy, but not a man of your ilk, nor any other mini-lab owner.

So, how is your new lab, and what made you go down that road? did you look at any of the emerging technology ? Did you wonder about a dry lab ?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi guys, to me it has to be machine reliability, I started with a fuji 238 machine 8 years ago, they are so reliable and easy to use, hardy goes wrong, breakdown only once in few year, so I stick with fuji all the time now I have a frontier 350, very please with it.

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What to look for in a new lab?

Reliability, above all else. Service networks are bound to become more stretched and service calls more expensive.

I've been in this game for over 20 years and the basic reliability of the machine is by far the most important feature in any minilab - in my opinion.

Ask around and do your research. NEVER buy any lab that hasn't got a good number of machines on the market. Let someone else do the testing!

I DID buy the very first Noritsu 3001 about 6 years ago and have not regretted that choice but things were different then.

My personal choice of manufacturer - Noritsu.

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New Lab?

When we were looking about 2yrs ago it was more about an overall business package. Lab Quality-Price-Reliability-Service

After conversations with a few manufactures we went with FES ltd who sold us a recon R1 digital lab, kiosk, wide format, new shop signage (through Fotostop),

service backup, excellent retail rep, online gifts etc. Whole package a lot cheaper than  the price of a new digital lab.

Labs reliable. Parts are next day.

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Hi Charlie, please accept my apologies for the delay in replying to you.

Can you go to our site: www.fastlabuk.com  there on the opening page towards the top and in the middle, you have the Contact Printing logo, click on this and the explanation is there for you.

Also, go to www.labnetplus.com  and click on "Technology" where you will find more good info on the system.

Please let me know what you think.

Best regards

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Hello to All,

  Here are my thoughts on the issue of  buying a new printer.

Is it size of print that dictates or print speed or the cost?

# All the three items are equally important, Now say we have two printers "Brand A"  and "Brand B" they produce same sizes at same speed but "Brand B" is 30% lower in cost compared to compared to "Brand A". No one will choose "Brand A" unless he is from the other planet or something else apart from these three parameters.

Is it preference of manufacturer and why?

# Definitely the manufacturer reputation and name in the concerned  field in the market plays a important role. Just   say  I have  Manufactured a machine  which is much ,much better than Noritsu will  you buy it from me as on today.

Is it the "China" tag that puts you off?

#NO, does not matter the country of origin, as long as the machine is reliable and made as per the published specs sheet.

Is it the warranty or the service contract costs?

#A big YES, a lot depends on service support and service contract costs and i feel right now Noritsu service contract costs quite expensive.Whatever little money we are making  from their machines is going back to them in the form of service costs and we are left with nothing.And some times we have to put from our pockets  for exchanging to their new and latest models.What a pity!

Is it the actual physical size that dictates what you can buy?

# Does not matter much, Unless the machine is put in central city locations where every inch of space sucks your  pocket.

Apart from the above, as already  said by others, if it is digital machine the connectivity to kiosks and other third party front end systems, openness of software driver for firing prints from third party SW and compatibility to ICC color work flow, PDF printing capability, networking/ workgroup printing capability, etc .,are really,really ,very,very important.

KVS  

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Thanks AjantaKVS, your comments relate to my own thinking and that is why I initially posted this thread because we had this guy who paid £40,000 more than what we were offering - an absolutely brand new Noritsu lab from their China factory fitted with the "Contact printing technology" with 12 months warranty and full service contract thereafter (if required) for £3,500.

We are a small company, (been in the business for 16 yesrs) as compared to Fuji ( the lucky beneficiary of that extra £40,000) but our references are there to be checked.

Thanks again. ;)

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Hi Fastlab. Are your conversions done on brand new 2611's? Do Noritsu still make analogue labs in China, or are these new old stock. If they still make them, I would have to ask why & who would be buying them?

The contact printing sounds interesting and I have seen samples from a Sophia? lab which I believe uses the same technology, the quality seemed quite good, although the samples I saw were maybe not quite as good as laser lab quality.

For me if I were in a position to buy a new lab, print quality is paramount, along with reliability & service & support. I would probably be looking at a Noritsu mainly because I have always used Noritsu machines, over the last 20 years and every single one has been extremely reliable and well made.

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Hello Colopt, They can be done on used 2611's, where a client may already have one and therefore we will do the conversion at his site or, in the case of our D26 model this is a brand new machine from Noritsu China where I am told it is still being made for 3rd world countries.

Sophia were the first company to fit the "Labnet" (contact printing) technology to their new production machines and they have proven to be very reliable machines. they have now broke away from labnet and guess what, have copied it and are producing their own version of the contact printing module which I tested at photokina along with all the other machines available using the same images on all. Print quality wise my findings were that Sophia were the best Chinese manufacturer and were only equalled by the larger Fuji frontier model which cost another 150% more. Please note that my samples were shown to other dealers like myself  whom I am associated with around Europe and it was a joint assessment by all.

If you wish please send me some images and we will print them for your own inspection.

Should you require more info maybe it better to contact me by email otherwise certain members will be spitting again.

P.S. where did you see the Sophia samples?

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Well Well Well.

    

I took delivery of my NEW machine today.

Have been indulging in a bit of industrial espionage, as whenever you mention 'contact printing technology', people seem to shrug and find something realy interesting on their shoes, under their nails, over the street........

Maybe it's because it comes from Poland.

Maybe it's because it's been developed by software engineers.

Nah, who cares who makes it or designs it, when you discover it's half the price of the competitors and half as flaky. Then I discover two out of my three main competetors (whom were polled on this technology, and did the distracted bit) allready have these machines (in various incarnations) installed and minting.

It seems that this technology is one of the trades best kept secret.

    

   I have settled with the 26D (I am still loath to give up the ability to print 12x18-- but hey..). So here I am with one of the most respected small labs, brought bang up to date with some loverly hardware (upgradeable I dare say, as the technology advances ie. Epson's offering in the lcd direction) and some quite interesting software (that I still have to get my head around). I have kept my old 2611 to do my d&p and service a few of my 'die hard' pro's. All that needs is a new densitometer and it'll be as good as new.

  Grief ! last week it was hard drives, the week before card readers and graphic cards, the week before the USB hub, before that bonkers chemistry..........

The last time I had this much variety and excitement in my working day I was running a multi-disciplined hardware store, selling fishing tackle, machine tools and tooling (including lathes and mills), guns and ammunition, bicycles, horny, scalextric, modelling (inc. radio controll) etc. etc.

Unfortunately shops like that are no longer wanted...or are they?

Sorry, had a very busy day and now starting to ramble....... In short, if you are looking to upgrade or simply need a new machine, don't be put off by the 'sniffs', have a realy good look at what is on offer. You could save yourself the price of a new car, or a wide format printer and a years worth of consumables.

  If I find a down side, I will report it, but it's looking good so far.

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