How is RA-4 Done at Photo Centers?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by RedSun, Nov 7, 2012.

  1. RedSun

    RedSun Member

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    Say at Costco photo center. How do they make color prints? I just see they have a large machine, like a larger Xerox machine and color prints come out like a real Xerox. I do not see the machine is connected to any sink or water source.

    I understand that most of the commercial color prints are printed by the printers. There is a laser enlarger inside. It projects the optical image onto the RA-4 paper, like Fuji or Kodak. The image is also auto analyzed by the analyzer. Then the prints were cut and processed in a roller machine. All the chemicals are recycled and it uses a standard wash/rinse, instead of water rinse. Then the prints were dried and packaged. Operators are only needed to feed the negative and collect the prints and occasionally chemical replenishment.

    Then I think with the same machine, you can project digital images onto the color paper too. Then the paper is processed the same way and there is no difference between analog vs digital. RA-4 photo prints do look better than the inkjet prints.

    Is the above correct?
     
  2. jbrubaker

    jbrubaker Member

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    I don't know for sure about Costco, but I did operate a Noritsu printer for a few years. The RA4 paper is first cut to the proper size from a roll, then exposed not by laser but by a complex light matrix using a quartz lamp. The paper sheets then go through a roller transport processor with a drier at the end. The operator needs to add water and fresh chemicals when prompted by the machine. There is no need to have direct water hookup, just electricity. The whole process is run by a computer using Windows and proprietary software. Prints can be made either by scanning film, or directly from customer image files. Either way, an operator can adjust color and density before the image gets printed (my job). I also directed big prints to a large format Epson printer for inkjet printing. The inkjet prints and RA4 prints were similar enough to mix in the same customer order. If you have additional questions, just ask ---john.
     
  3. RedSun

    RedSun Member

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    So for both film and digital image files, you project the image through the quartz lamp? It does not make a lot of sense since it sends a digital image to a continuous tone analog chemical paper. It is better through an optical enlarger, analog to analog. You can just project the film image directly at the paper, as what the enlarge does.

    Do they do this for lower running cost, or for the compatibility with digital files?
     
  4. Bob-D659

    Bob-D659 Member

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    Here is a writeup on one of the laser type printer processors.

    http://minilab.com.ua/en/description/noritsu/qss32/

    Optical projection minilab printers went away a long time ago, just as wet lab RA4 laser printers are being replaced by drylab inkjet printers today.
     
  5. jbrubaker

    jbrubaker Member

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    The image is not projected as in an enlarger. The exposure onto paper is done through a complicated computer controlled chamber with a quartz lamp providing the light source. I never did understand just how the thing worked, but it worked well when everything was set up properly. Every morning, the printer got calibrated using control strips to keep the output consistent. The advantage to the digital system is that customers could send image files through the internet, we could view them, and correct them, then print then without ever being in a darkroom. My job was to sit at a computer screen and send pictures to the Noritsu printer which was in another room. Previously, the lab used optical printers that projected onto paper in the traditional fashion. The digital method produces better prints quicker with less waste. Personally, I still shoot with film, but I often print with an inkjet printer, rather than getting out the chemicals. I spent 25 years printing color in a commercial lab, using color enlargers, so I do know what a good print looks like! ---john.
     
  6. RedSun

    RedSun Member

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    Yes, it is the optical printer that I'm talking about. I figure I'm still outdated by now.

    Is that how the Fujimoto roller printer works?
     
  7. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I think Costco still operates an optical printer here. Once in awhile my wife drops off snapshot film
    from her little 35mm Point n' shoot and it comes back in the traditional look. The other method basically contact prints LED's onto the RA4 film, which comes out a lot different color-wise. They also offer cheap digital printing from digital files, but not with the same machine, but rather some
    kind of automated inkjet system. I haven't paid much attention because I do my own RA4 printing, mostly large format.
     
  8. RedSun

    RedSun Member

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    Yes, same here. I believe they have at least two or three photo printers, along with a large format inkjet, like the Epson 7800. They do process film and take on digital prints too. I just do not see them spending a lot of time in front of computer working on digital files. Thanks are very automate and they just put in the film and send the digital files to printers.

    I may ask them next time to see what machines they use. I'm not sure if they know or care about....
     
  9. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

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    I print with a Frontier and a Fujimoto SHP5080 20 inch wide printer at work.. the Fujimoto has an LED array.. and that needs a uniformity test chart that needs scanning and running through the software at work, to correct the LED array so there are no lines in the print (uniform exposure), Frontier doesn't have that problem.

    LEDs are not different colour-wise, all these printers are calibrated, and a Kodak and Fuji paper will essentially look the same if they have the same surface type (ie: it's all about the calibration), under optical enlarging they have completely different response (eg Fuji CAII Lustre paper will have a grey scale (prior to gamma curves being applied to each red, green and blue) on the test chart that isn't neutral but goes from cold one end to warm on the other, while Kodak does not etc).

    The Fujimoto in particular uses both density and gamma correction curves for each colour channel to provide a neutral grey strip. Then you can also print and scan several Xrite colour charts with a Xrite densitometer if you wish to make an ICC profile. It also has the function to be matched to another printer.

    In regards to printing this way instead of enlarging from the film.. because paper changes over time, you have to calibrate it a minimum of every 10 days on the Frontier, and then there is different aged paper stocks, different papers, etc, as well as chemistry condition. It's printed this way for consistency, it's both highly consistent, and high volume printing, neither of which.


    You can even make this printer look the same as an enlarger output, if you photograph the (calibrated versions) of the test charts, and print them the same as how you like optically printing your images, they can be used as the sample reference to calibrate to.

    Anyway, when comparing things like from the Frontier, RA-4 prints do indeed beat inkjet prints, because small inkjet prints come off low end printers. High end inkjet with multiple shades of the same ink colour, and high end inks is really good, though you still cant wash the print, but the paper white is generally whiter.

    I've done a test with the Frontier, it's 300 dpi input, and on the paper, you can 300 dpi down to perfectly sharp razor edges down to 300 dpi.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 7, 2012
  10. RedSun

    RedSun Member

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    I was at my local Costco photo center. They use a Noritsu 3111, a smaller Noritsu and an Epson (7800?). The photo paper can go up to 12x18 and the inkjet can print up to 20x30 prints. The prices are good. But you do not have a lot of control on what can be printed.