How expensive do you think it is to print a photo at home? While prices are coming down, far too many of us believe that printing from home is something that only the rich can afford.
“There’s been a shift from home printing into retail printing - either online or at a kiosk - and we think one of the reasons that’s happening is because getting a great photo from home is still too hard,” director and vice president of consumer inkjet Europe Bob Ohlweiler tells Pocket-lint. “It’s inconvenient and it’s expensive."
With $45bn each year spent in the inkjet printing industry, you can see why it's big business and a worry for companies, like Kodak, who make their living from us looking to store our memories physically rather than just on our computer or cloud services like Flickr.
That's not stopping Kodak though. The company has seen its share in the UK printing sector rise from 6 to 10.5 per cent in the last 2 years and has already started 2011 with figures of 14 per cent after it shifted its focus toward undercutting the rest of the market on ink prices over 2 years ago.
“We’ve seen a continual growth in digital picture prints,” said Ohlweiler at our meeting on the third floor of the Metropolitan Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
With the public perception of the high running costs of home printing still prevalent, though, the company has certainly got its work cut out.
“Dye is what you colour your clothes with, pigments are what you paint your car with,” Ohlweiler says explaining the company’s reasoning behind using nanoparticle pigment inks as opposed to dyes. “They’re more durable. They’ll last over 100 years.”
It's not just the ink that makes a difference. Another cost saving feature, says Ohlweiler, is the choice to stay away from multiple colour cartridges, instead opting for a single gang tank filled with everything you need sat separately to a black ink container.
"Customers were told for years that it’s cheaper if you go with individual cartridges but that's meant having a draw full of the things to make sure you're covered for all eventualities.”
While the market is still very much divided as to which approach to take, Ohlweiler admits Kodak’s approach does have its drawbacks:
“The disadvantage is that our tanks might not have completely run out of all inks when you have to change them.”
It’s something the company are trying to tackle without going to single ink cartridges:
“We waste very little, as we've plenty of data on which colours are used most and exactly how to fill them."
While the likes of HP and Canon push quality at all costs, Kodak is hoping the cost of ink will be consumers' first consideration when buying a printer especially in times of recession.
The latest tools in that fight are the Kodak ESP C310 and C110 all-in-ones, launched at CES 2011 and sitting at the side of our meeting room like a section cut out of the stand from the Las Vegas Convention Centre. The printers cost £89 and £69 respectively - the only difference being Wi-Fi.
While not obvious bargains next to £30 machines, they’re calculated to have a running cost of £68 per year based on printing four sheets a day. Ohlweiler assures us that that makes a very large difference.
“We aimed for a saving of £75 on yearly running costs when compared to our competition, but since everyone else has raised ink prices, it’s come out at even more than that.”
Of course, those ongoing expense figures include another important element other than those nanoparticle pigments, and it’s not an area where Kodak is offering to help out quite so readily.
“We have disruptive prices on ink but with paper we’re basically even,” admits Ohlweiler to Pocket-lint before claiming that Kodak's paper offering still maintains a technological edge amongst the competition like HP, Ilford and others.
“The neat thing about our paper is that they have barcodes on the back. They automatically configure your printer to work with whichever type you’ve bought without having to mess about with the settings on your computer.”
Interestingly, the paper from old Kodak prints, that we all got from retail photo labs back in the day, each contain a signature from the processing and it’s possible for the company to tell the exact date that they were made, and while that level of sophistication isn’t quite the same in the home printers of today, the idea of adding metadata in this way starts to boggle our host’s mind.
“That’s not in there at the moment. We never thought about that for inkjet but when there’s a service of scanning all your old pictures onto a digital form, that would be fantastic."
Looking to the future Ohlweiler outlines what could be possible:
"As it stands, there’s so much data we could add to a print. Pixels and drops are so small that you could put a pattern that wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. We could easily use digital watermarking."
For the minute, Kodak’s intentions in the inkjet space aren't so cutting edge. The company is trying to keep it as simple as possible. While 3D anaglyph (red/blue glasses 3D) printing is a gimmick the company has added to some of its recent ranges, the focus is far more grounded.
Printing over Wi-Fi from an iPhone, or iPad printing via the Kodak Pic Flick app is about as advanced as the features get, and before you ask - no, there is no support for Google’s cloud printing or Apple’s AirPrint systems as yet.
“In the future, we’ll be working on full cloud printing from any connected device and from anywhere. It’s a huge trend. Today people aren’t doing it a lot but we think it’s going to move to the predominant amount of content printed rather than off the PC. That’s a huge focus area for us.”
For 2011 though, the trick for Kodak is just to get customers to think about how much they spend on ink.
"Our message at the moment is simple. If you're printing at home, print with Kodak. It’ll cut your costs in half.”
Figures show that people are starting to buy into that message, however whether they still will if Kodak doesn’t keep up with key technology trends and shifts that are happening right now is something still to be seen.
Do you think Kodak offers good printing value and how do you rate the quality of its home prints? Or is there another inkjet manufacturer that you reckon is the business? Let us know in the comments.