recently reviewed the new Epson Pro 3800 A2 format, eight-colour inkjet printer. Who would have thought just two years ago that for around the same cost as a half-way decent black and white darkroom, we could purchase a printer with which we can, with a few mouse clicks, produce truly extraordinary, full-colour 42 x 60cm poster prints at home? Let alone have sub-$1000 cameras which can do justice to that size of enlargement!


If you think the digital imaging revolution is done and dusted, think again. While digital cameras have now, to most intents, surpassed the capabilities of their analog ancestors, new ways of using the digital imaging files delivered by those cameras are only just emerging. The real digital imaging revolution has only just begun.

For example, Margaret Brown recently reviewed the new Epson Pro 3800 A2 format, eight-colour inkjet printer. Who would have thought just two years ago that for around the same cost as a half-way decent black and white darkroom, we could purchase a printer with which we can, with a few mouse clicks, produce truly extraordinary, full-colour 42 x 60cm poster prints at home? Let alone have sub-$1000 cameras which can do justice to that size of enlargement!

But these are more or less incremental improvements in digital imaging technology. This year will see a major discontinuity in the way people share pictures. Mark Alderson, chairman of the Camera House retail chain, said recently that, ‘by next Christmas no-one will be making 6×4-inch prints’. While this might turn out to be a bum-biting Big Statement, he is certainly heading in the right direction.

The replacement technology for the 6×4 print coming down the digital superhighway is the ‘photo book’. ‘Old news’, you might think, if you are aware of the products available from Momento and other suppliers. But these are more oriented towards words and pictures, and a few hours at the computer on a lazy Sunday afternoon. (See “Online Options” below.)

But coming to a photo store, or even a PC, near you is the new low-cost, digitally produced photo album. These photo albums will come in small, soft cover “brag book” styles holding say, 15 to 20 pictures, right through to richly-bound and covered albums of 50 pages or more, holding hundreds of images.

(Just an aside on nomenclature at this point: In the rest of this article I intend to use the term ‘photo album’, rather than ‘photo book’. There’s a distinction – at least in my mind – between a text-rich photo book – a la Momento – and a product that is essentially a replacement technology for prints and albums. As far as I can see terminology hasn’t yet been bedded down in this new segment of imaging. So let’s make a start!)

To continue: Using a kiosk or alarmingly easy-to-use software provided free by your friendly local photo store on CD, or downloaded from the web, you can take a collection of 50 or 200 of your images, maybe mark some of your favourites for special prominence or size, upload the lot and have them sorted chronologically via the embedded EXIF data, or arrange them any other way you wish. Choose a pleasing background in which to set the pictures, add a title, captions if you want, review the look of the thing on screen, and place your order.

Larger photo shops may have the album finished and bound in a hard cover in an hour. More commonly, the order will be sent by broadband (Virtual Private Network, actually) to one of the ‘offsite fulfillment centres’ (aka wholesale labs) being set up around Australia. Want a copy to send to Aunt Vera in Blackpool? Order a second copy. She will probably be able to pick it up at the local Boots chemist.

Compare this to what happens now: Take your 200 prints to a kiosk, and pay, say, 30 cents per 6×4 print. That’s $60. Then buy a 200-print album for, say, $20. That’s $80 spent and then you need to find a few hours to sort the pictures and place them in the album. Hands up those who’ve got picture collections and albums purchased from two, three or five years ago which still haven’t been married up? And in these ‘time poor’ times, there’s little likelihood of them getting together any time soon!

The new ‘photo albuming’ products will cost no more (and most times less) than the current prints-plus-album combination, free of the assembly time. Once consumers ‘get’ the concept – which is usually not until they see a finished album – the 6×4 print may well be headed for redundancy, as Mark Alderson and others claim. The photo books I brought home from a recent sneak preview of the technology garnered rave reviews from everyone to whom I showed them – including that hard-to-impress demographic once known as teenagers, and now as ‘the youth of Australia’.

The technology in question was of the new HP Photosmart Studio system, which creates all manner of photographic products including photo albums. It comprises a kiosk, a laser printer for books, a wide format inkjet for posters, a ‘back office’ workstation, a range of manual binding and finishing equipment, CD and label printers.

Image quality is pleasing from both the inkjet poster printer and the HP colour laser machine, and surprisingly consistent across both printing systems. From a consumer’s point of view, operation is surprisingly simple and fast given the range of options available. It took three to five minutes from loading pictures from a CD to hitting the ‘print’ button.

The various binding options which follow are easy but time-consuming – hence the one-hour wait in a ‘real life’ situation for the finished product. The end product has a premium look and feel which beats a conventional hand-made photo album, um, hands down. HP has over 200 of these units installed in the US and has commenced trials in Australia.

The spiral-bound calendars produced from the wide format inkjet – yet another way of presenting one’s image collection – should have Hallmark and John Sands deeply worried. At around the same cost as a store-bought, mass-produced calendar you can feature your own favourite shots – one for each month plus a cover – and even customise the calendar to highlight dates which are relevant to your family – birthdays and so on.

Another approach is the ‘Photobook Pro’ – a great coffin-like lump of a thing in its initial configuration (it will no doubt be refined over time) which takes sheets of conventional photo paper, sticks them together back to back to produce double-sided album pages, and binds the collected pages together to automatically produce soft cover photo books in around 2 to 3 minutes! Hard cover books require manual finishing with an optional hard cover binder.

The output from the Photobook Pro has the premium image quality and ‘snap’ of silver halide photography. The double-sided silver halide pages are thick – but not objectionably so – and don’t seem to suffer from curling or other obvious finish problems you might anticipate, except perhaps where crease marks from folding paper into pages cuts into the image area. Whether this solution will be taken up by local photo stores in large numbers remains to be seen, but it does have the attraction of keeping their existing digital minilab equipment gainfully employed.

Offsite alternatives

Meanwhile, somewhere in an industrial estate in the northern NSW country town of Glenn Innes, the first of Australia’s new-fangled ‘wholesale fulfillment centres’ is now up and running. The centerpiece of this is a piece of printing equipment called an Indigo 5000, commissioned by a new start-up company called Photo Create specifically for producing photo albums.

That’s the back end of the system. It’s been on hold for two or three months waiting for the front end – new kiosk software developed by Australian digital imaging software success story, Whitech Software Solutions. That software, Photo.Teller Creative, is now being made available to photo retailers with kiosks around Australia and the rest of the world. (Most Fuji and Kodak-branded kiosks in Australia currently use Whitech software.)

Among its other features, Photo.Teller Creative will do a similar job to the HP Photosmart Studio, in terms of producing photo albums and calendars, except in most cases, the order will be sent off digitally to the Photo Create lab, and return a few days later to the customer’s home or the store in which the order was made. (There’s a whole other category of products this new technology makes possible such as images on mugs, key rings, stubbie holders, drink coasters, knickers and the like, but I’m guessing these are perhaps of a lower level of interest to Photo Review readers.) In a few months, a ‘Home Ordering’ version of the new software will become available, so that the task of putting together a photo album or calendar or collage poster can be done in the comfort of the home and out of business hours.

Whitech is literally giving the software away (and in exchange picking up a nice percentage of the take on each order placed) to speed up its introduction and perhaps seduce retailers contemplating doing their own thing – say with the $80K+ Photosmart Studio – over to the offsite option. By following a few simple steps at the Photo.Teller kiosk, customers can create an entire picture book or even a themed story book album in a few minutes.

First a customer chooses from various set album sizes and from several types of covers. The customer then selects the type of page background or theme from a wide choice of solid colours and patterns. Then it’s off to Glenn Innes for ‘fulfillment’.

And they aren’t the only ones in the game. Rabbit Photo is already offering the aforementioned geegaws such as pictures on mugs, and is expected to begin offering photo albums just about now.

Snapfish, the giant worldwide online photo services company which launched in Australia just prior to Christmas, is also set to offer photo books in Australia in the first quarter of 2007. Snapfish is also owned by HP, which is having a tilt at being to imaging this century what Kodak was to photography last century.

Even Kodak, which seems to have lost its way over the past several years, is getting into the act, renewing flagging interest in the Kodak Express program and launching its own flavour of ‘Photo Gifting’ – which includes photo albums – under the Easyshare sub-brand, some time real soon. (‘We’ll get back to you on that’.)

Do it at home

Of course, you don’t have to wait until all this fancy infrastructure is in place to make your own high quality photo albums. With a photo quality A4 inkjet printer and some friendly software, you can start today. Prestige inkjet paper manufacturer Hahnemø¼hle is one of several manufacturers offering high-end ‘create-it-yourself’ photo albums. The elegantly-bound albums enable individual layouts to be produced on the home PC and an inkjet printer. The albums are available in A4 and A3 landscape size and contain 20 sheets of two-sided medium weight paper. The album kit also contains art proof sheets for trial prints, and refill packs are available. The pages are bound together with a concealed screw post placket. They are available in a range of colours and prices start at $78 for an A4 album.

There’s another upmarket Book Art Kit from Innova. Primarily aimed at professional studios, it could also be used by the discerning enthusiasts. It consists of a cover, with inserts of pre drilled and scored dual-sided inkjet media. The user simply feeds it through their inkjet printer to produce a very sophisticated, archival-quality, screw-bound custom album. It’s offered in Innova Softex inkjet paper as well as double-sided silk and cotton media versions.

Canon has had 5×7-inch and A4 Photo Album Kits in the market for some months now, consisting of heavy weight glossy double-sided inkjet paper with a hard album cover. Consumers can build an album progressively with extra packs of double-sided paper, which come in 10 sheets.

The Strathmore Photo Album is an A4 kit consisting of 15 sheets of two-sided acid and lignin-free inkjet paper, clear overlay, cover and back which are bound via an ‘easy-click’ spiral binding system. Price is $around $15.

The MyBook Photobook is an 8×12-inch album with 15-sheets and opaque protectors. The hard cover has a cut inset to feature a favourite picture. It even comes with software for creating album page collages. Two alternatives are offered – black linen or white pearl. The 15-sheet MyBook PhotoBook is available for around $20.

Photo books – as opposed to digital photo albums – are also available in Australia from a number of online providors. Among the leading names are Momento, MyReflections, MyPhotoFun, and AlbumLab.

The advantage of using one of these services is that you have more control over the ultimate look and feel of the finished product and they are more text-friendly.

The other side of the coin is that the process is less automated, so requires more input from the creator. While you can add simple titles and captions using one of the kiosk-based services, the desktop software from a MyReflections or MyPhotoFun is far more accommodating for adding blocks of text. So if it’s a real narrative, words-and-pictures coffee table-type book you are hankering to create, this may be a preferred option.

You’ll have to be prepared to spend a bit more time to get it right, and prepare you images exactly as you want them – rotating, cropping, etc – prior to bringing them into the book-creation application.

AlbumLab have the advantage of high-level photo editing tools buillt in. They also print directly onto the hardcover in sizes up to A3, and if you have a preference for the borderless look, photos can print to the edge of the page.
The MyReflections software is a relatively small download and once it’s on your computer it’s essentially a matter of choosing how many images to place on the page, dragging and dropping them across from the Image Viewer (similar to Windows Explorer) and add as much or as little text as you want. Then on to the next page.
Prices start at $29.95 for a small spiral-bound softcover MyReflections book, up to $99 for a 60-page, hardcover, 30x30cm “publication”.
MyPhotoFun prices are similar, while Momento could probably be categorized as a premium service.

A nice feature of MyReflections is that there is an active and responsive community forum section on the website at where users can go for advice and tips. The three-day turnaround is also appealing.