The $4,000 Digital Imaging Station
I had agonized about buying - or leasing - a Kodak
Copyprint Station. My dealer friends who had them said they were the
greatest thing since sliced bread. Real money machines. People were lined up at the
Holidays to use them, throwing hundred dollar bills at them like drunken sailors on leave.
Still, the cost to get one in the door started around $20,000. And running the total bill
up to $50,000 wasn't all that difficult. Our store is in the center of a depressed small
town, and traffic isn't that great.
I had enough experience with computers to think I could put one together myself, but
buying the printer was still going to cost a lot. Lowest pricing I could find on a Kodak
8650 series was over seven grand, and none of the other "photographic
quality" printers I had seen up to that time had really impressed me.
Then Fargo introduced the Primera Pro Elite
printer. A distributor had a deal that brought the price down under $1,400, and suddenly
the project made sense.
I already had a Nikon scanner that had cost under $300, complete with Adaptec SCSI adapter
board and some software. Sure, it's not a high-end unit - but I figured it would let me
get started and work until we could afford something better.
The computer chosen was a NEC Ready 9740. A Pentium 200, 24
megs of RAM, CD-rom, 2 gigabyte hard drive, and a scrawny 15" monitor. That was about
$1,700 then, perhaps would cost $1,200 four months later.
More memory was the first addition. We bumped it up to 128 MB. At the moment it's
I used the After Dark screen saver program to show a series
of promotional blurbs that run whenever we're not actually working with the equipment. The
actual images for the screen saver were generated in other programs, such as Harvard
Graphics, and saved into the directory.
Commercially-available digital imaging stations have a highly-polished interface. They
are much more "user-friendly" than the system I cobbled up. Most can actually be
used by customers, although dealers often don't let customers do it without a lot of
guidance. Products such as the Kodak Copy Print Station, Agfa
Innova, and Pixel Magic have touch screen
We generally do all projects - even straight print-to-print copies - in Adobe
Photoshop. As a stand-alone purchase, that's about $400 - but you can get
varying degrees in bundles when you buy a scanner. Our scanner included Photoshop LE,
which is enough for most projects.
The Fargo printer came bundled with Packagizer software,
which lets you print an image in the following combos:
- 1 - 8x10
- 2 - 5x7
- 4 - 3 1/2 x 5
- 4 - 4x5
- 8 - wallet
- 10 2x3.5 business card size
- 16 1 3/4x 2 1/2 "half wallets"
- 2 - 4x5 and 4 wallet
We spent a certain amount of time on the phone with Fargo's technical support people.
The biggest problem was configuring the printer port. In our case, it was essential that
the port be configured as a standard parallel port - not an ECP port - and that we choose
the option "print directly to printer" rather than using the included 32-bit
After assembling the working components, the next step was cabinetry. The best-looking
integrated system I had seen was the Afga Innova, but my cabinet-construction skills
aren't up to that level! One of the giant highway office "box stores" had a
computer desk for 99.99, and the speckled gray laminate countertop matched the countertops
in our store. Rickels Home Centers were in the process of going out of business and I
bought a small white bookcase for $22.97. The bookcase went on top of the computer desk.
A door to cover it was made with
supplies from our framing shop. The outside is a standard aluminum framing profile we use
for all the signs in the store (it also matches the counter tops.) The face is two layers
- one of foamcore mount board, for rigidity, and one of mat board. The cut-out for the
monitor can be made bigger if and when we buy a bigger monitor.
Signs were made on the computer, using PrintShop, and printed
on the Fargo. The big sign used three sheets of paper and the three small ones were done
on a single sheet.
Here's the final analysis of costs:
- $1,300 Fargo Primera Pro Elite Printer
- $277 Nikon Scantouch 110 (came with Photoshop LE)
- $1,699 NEC Ready 9740 Computer
- $396 Additional RAM
- $99 Computer desk
- $22.97 Bookcase used as hutch
- $50.00 Framing supplies, hinges, signage
Our results so far have been fantastic! While the basic charge for a print-to-print
copy is set at $11.99 (second sheet from the same image $9.99), the average retail per
sheet has been around $30! Since we are doing every image in Photoshop, we suggest
improvements to the customers. Staff members are having a ball with it, while they make
money for the store.
We also are doing a lot of scanning to disk for customers who want to send photos with
their e-mail, or set up web pages. And we offer high-quality prints from digital files,
though that hasn't been a big item so far.
Our way is certainly not the way for everyone. If you don't feel comfortable
taking the cover off a computer, you probably should not try to assemble a $4,000 digital
UPDATE AFTER NINE MONTHS:
We're becoming much more proficient with the system. Projects that took hours in the
beginning take fifteen minutes now. Our customers love what we do with their older photos.
The gross margin on sales from this system has completely amortized it more than two
times in the last nine months.
We upgraded from a 15" monitor to a 17" monitor recently - for about $250 -
and cut a slightly larger hole in the faceplate. We added an Olympus scanner for slides
and negatives to expand our capabilities.
Since I made this system, the price of almost everything digital has continued to
plunge - especially RAM. I recommend getting a much more capable computer and gobs of RAM
- preferably at least 256 MB.