When I googled the word “custom” this is what I found:

cus·tom /ˈkəstəm/ noun: A traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time. Synonyms: tradition, practice, usage, observance, way, convention

adjective: Made or done to order for a particular customer.

At FotoTechnika the noun would be used like this:

“The age old custom at FotoTechnika is offering excellent quality and service.”

and the adjective, like this:

“a custom print”


Analog Enlargers

In my last blog, Last Lab Standing, I mentioned that I have started many posts, only to have circumstances change in such a way that the information for the blog would be erroneous or out of date. As I was looking back through my missives I noticed a common thread – the fact that almost everything we do is – and always has been – “custom.”

When we opened our doors in the late 1980s, one-hour labs were just coming into vogue. The more automation you could acquire the better, but there was a trade off – expensive equipment required less personnel but gave less options for operator control. The changes that could be made were large – no fine tuning. Many settings were preset and required considerable expertise to work around. That (and the fact that the first minilabs weren’t exactly mini size-wise or price-wise) is why we opted for custom equipment.

A lot has changed since then. Most of the products we offer today are based on adaptations of analog skills we developed long ago. When we finally acquired “one-hour” equipment, it was digital, not analog, and the fact that it was digital actually allowed more flexibility – aka “custom” purposes. And the fact that we acquired minilab equipment never meant we would offer one-hour services – that notion just never married well to our definition of “custom.”

Even though we use complex equipment and software, we approach our work like craftsmen, not technicians, and these days, we often receive very little training from the manufacturer. That’s just the way the world is these days – most manufacturers figure training is just as good on youtubes created by someone else, not to mention it costs them less if they don’t have to provide training on site or at a regional office. From our past experience, maybe that’s okay, because most trainers we have had were only equipped to create “commercially acceptable” results, which is not always acceptable enough for our requirements.

Our List of Services rack card further illustrates our “custom”-ness:02 List of Services Rack Card 0316


Film Processing

Traditional Lab Services (In-house Film Developing): Our color negative film is machine-processed in a Richcolor processor, and our black & white film is processed by hand. Both film processes are done by the “dip-and-dunk” method in deep tanks. In both cases we load film onto reels, and the reels onto a spindle in total darkness, and at the end of the process, we pull the film out wet and hang it in a film drying cabinet. Most other film processing labs still use leader card machines that are 95% automated. I think one could make the case for our film processing being “custom.”


Printing on the Noritsu minilab

Traditional Lab Services (Prints on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper): This may be the most automated process in our shop, but even the prints we receive over the internet are evaluated for color and density as we print (unless “as is” is specifically requested). And we are constantly creating “custom” sizes of prints, when the standard sizes don’t meet the needs of our customers.

GicleeInkjet Prints and Giclees: Most of our inkjet prints are “custom,” period. With today’s software we don’t have to make as many tests to achieve correct color as we did when we used enlargers in a darkroom, but we can still make tests to make sure everything is spot on, if the standard profiles don’t meet our standards. Prints are sized individually, and trimmed per the customer’s request.


Digital Capture



Converting Images to Digital: This topic was originally going to be the focus of this blog post until I realized that much of what I wanted to impart about scanning and digital capture has already been covered in other blogs (see “Thanks for the Memories”). Our scanning department fits well with our “custom” mindset. Even though we have special batch pricing for most of our scanning services and discounted prices for “bulk” orders, there is still much custom handling required, even if it’s just in the preparatory stage, when we organize which type of scanners to use based on the materials we are to scan. And you don’t get more custom than handling fragile antique prints and film.


Creative Services

Creative Services: As a follow-up service to the above “Converting Images to Digital,” we can use Photoshop for digital restoration of scanned images, and we often create custom arrangements or collages if desired. Some shops send out their restoration, others hire free-lancers, some even use ready-made templates. Our strength is that we do all creative work in house. Of course, some customers like DYI opportunities, and we are glad to print from their supplied digital files, but even then we check to make sure everything looks right before we run it.

Digital 2

Printing on KM C6000

Small- to Medium-Run Digital Printing: We really move away from the norm here. We are fanatics about the color reproduction of our Konica Minolta C6000 digital press, even though it is highly automated. Where we make it “custom” is that we push the quality capabilities far beyond what is “commercially acceptable” (or generally expected). Shortly after we received the press we printed our 25th Anniversary magazine on it. Our salesperson was so impressed with what we achieved, she took samples to show to her office and the Konica Minolta people were surprised to see the quality of the booklets produced by their machine. Recently one of the owners of a local bindery, which uses similar equipment for on-demand publishing, commented that no one in town matches the quality of our machine’s digital output — he told us that we are in a class by ourselves. Maybe that’s because we are “accustomed” to producing continuous tone prints and we aren’t satisfied with anything less.

Digital 1

Digital Press Products

Photo Gifts: This is the one product we outsource at present, but we hope to eventually acquire our own equipment so we can produce personalized gift items in-house. Yes, that’s a byproduct of being control freaks.



Photo Gifts

Photo Books: In January and February we purchased and installed equipment so that we will no longer have to outsource our photo books. We are tired of paying for mistakes that could have been easily avoided if we were printing the books ourselves. You just don’t get more “custom” than photo books – every book is a one-of-a-kind creation.


Photo Book Samples

Being a shop that offers custom products presents some real challenges aside from the special attention it requires. How do you sell “custom” to the masses? Some people are actually hesitant to break out of a mold, feeling more comfortable doing what everyone else does; but all people and families are unique — preserving memories shouldn’t be cookie cutter. Hopefully the fact that you have been willing to read this blog will encourage you to use our highly individualized services if you haven’t already. Many assume that “custom” means expensive – we like to think that FotoTechnika’s “custom” (noun & adjective) translates to excellent value.

It’s About Time

Yes, it’s about time, but it is also about time management. I’m well aware my last blog was all the way back in June, but things have been really crazy in the Howard household, and I just haven’t had opportunity to write. Unlike my daughter Sarah, I can’t just pop out a blog on demand, especially when I am mentally and physically drained. Hopefully I have pulled my wits together enough to give you an intelligible update, so prepare yourself for an information barrage.

First, have you seen our new signs? It took a year to select the right person to do the job, but we are very happy with the results. Grant Thornton, a mural artist who paints signs between mural commissions, painted them for us. We discovered Grant during a conversation with a former (and favorite) server at the Fox Restaurant. He did a great job, don’t you think?

Signs collage

Next, let me update you regarding previous posts:

Rack Card DisplayBack in June I blogged about our newest marketing tools – rack cards that highlight all of our services. We finished our rack card display and are adding new cards as we continue to expand our services, so drop by to browse through them.

In June I also created a post about Saundra’s and my involvement in choral music. Our series of summer choral concerts went extremely well. The River City Men’s and Women’s Choruses raised over $10,000 for the Dreams Come True organization. We are also well into our fall season with the Don Thompson Chorale, and several friends we made this summer have joined us. This spring the Don Thompson Chorale will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Sometimes it seems like yesterday when Saundra and I helped form the group, but when I think about how many risers I have lugged around and how much artwork Saundra has designed, sometimes it feels like our 50th. As our avocation and our passion, choral music provides the balance we need to do what we do at FotoTechnika. We both hope you will have opportunity to attend a concert this season.

Choral Collage

Now for more recent happenings:

Saundra and I have taken on another responsibility; we have moved in with my 85-year-old mother because she needs someone in her house overnight. That’s right, we have moved our residence again, and let me tell you, we are reminded daily of our age. Now do you understand why I haven’t had much time to create new blogs?

The Howard Family Mini Warehouse

The Howard Family Mini Warehouse

To facilitate our move, we have turned my mom’s garage into a storage unit by building four floor-to-ceiling, 12-foot long shelves to hold all our stuff.

We decided that we needed a satellite Photoshop workstation that will allow us to spend more time with my mom and still stay on target with customer retouching and graphic art deadlines. So for Saundra’s 60th birthday, the family went all out and set her up with a fabulous Mac workstation. Since our daily trek takes us practically to Orange Park and we spend a fair amount of time in transit, we also opted for a beefed-up MacBook Pro so we could do work in the car, too.

New Home Workstation

New Home Workstation

Getting back to business:

The holiday season is looming, and we have some exciting new offerings this year. We are always improving our selection of greeting cards – they can be printed on our digital press or our digital minilab. We have ready-made templates if you want to drop by to select one, or you can do it yourself online: just click the Photo Factory tab on our website. Of course, our forte is custom cards, but you will need to get your orders in early.

Xmas Card Collage

8x8 Photo Book

8×8 Photo Book

We also have a wide selection of photo gifts available online, many produced by Fuji. We offer canvas prints, metal prints, puzzles, mugs, blankets, coasters, and much more, but the product that has us most excited is Fuji’s selection of lay-flat photo books printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. We have samples at the shop – the quality is excellent, and prices are very reasonable. The books are available in sizes 8×8, 8×11.25 and 12×12 with a minimum of 18 pages and a maximum of 72. If this sounds interesting, but you’re a little gun shy with regard to putting all the images together, never fear: we will be offering workshops over the next several months to turn you into an expert bookmaker.

And don’t forget our “Think Inside the Box” scanning and printing specials, and if you have some of those fragile family heirlooms that need scanning, please get them in early – these jobs take time.

Think Inside Box

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to work!


Redoubling Our Efforts

 frt window comp v3 3x7

I started our blog to communicate our business thoughts, creativity, crazy ideas, humor and even share some of our challenges. Right now our biggest challenge is to figure out what kind of marketing is the most effective for us. Sometimes it seems we meet ourselves coming and going trying to think of new ways to reach people. Recently we have doubled and even tripled our efforts, but even that’s not enough. At best marketing is a percentages game — if you present your message to a sufficiently large pool of people, and if your product is worthy, eventually you should find success. We know a lot of people, but not nearly as many as the collective YOU who read my blog and Facebook posts.

Our move to our new location in St. Nicholas in part was to make use of a more retail-friendly location. Although we have never turned down consumer business, the old house on Lomax Street was zoned for professional services, such as those for commercial shooters who primarily used slide and transparency film for publications. Not only have markets, demographics and buying patterns changed over the years, but technology has changed too, and there’s no going back to the kind of business we were before the 2008 recession. We needed to reinvent ourselves, taking the best of the old FotoTechnika while adding fresh, new services that are attractive to everyday people. We wanted a location that was more accessible, had good visibility with plenty of windows for signage, ample parking and a floor arrangement that is flexible and convenient for both customers and employees — all on one floor, with no stairs. We lucked into our location in the Mudville Grille plaza, which has the potential to be an ideal long-term home. We have a wonderful landlord and great neighbors, but we are about to enter the summer doldrums and we just can’t afford to wait for the holiday season to fill the coffers.

With the proliferation of social media and smart phones, folks aren’t using our signature service – photo printing – nearly as much as they once did. So we’ve broadened our services in order to be relevent to more people. We expect that you, your friends, colleagues, or your own business can use one or more of our services. Just take a look at the list; maybe there’s something you didn’t realize we do:

List of Services Rack Card

The counter card above is one of the many individualized cards we have created (and an example of our in-house graphic design), targeting specific products we can provide.

There are still so many who have never heard of us who could use our services, and we need to know where to find them. Here’s where you come in: we need your help with good ol’ word-of-mouth advertising. There aren’t many things that can bring a smile to our faces quicker than a customer bringing in a friend for introductions, but we also need business contacts. Saundra and I will be glad to present ourselves and our services to various groups and organizations, either at their location or ours. But the two of us are still very much involved in day-today production, so we need to make every visit count — specific contacts are what we need. So please continue to talk us up to your friends, but also think of contacts with businesses and organizations whom we can help with their more commercial needs. See our list of potential customer types – perhaps you can think of others.

• small businesses and retailers
• manufacturers
• hospitals and clinics
• banks and lending institutions
• galleries
• retirement communities and assisted living facilities
• interior designers
• schools and colleges (especially art and photo departments)
• churches
• non-profit organizations (especially music and art)
• restaurants
• attorney’s, accountant’s and doctor’s offices
• architects
• funeral directors (especially for memorial portraits for display)
• genealogists
• historians and historical societies
• entertainment venues and attractions
• big box and chain stores (especially those that are eliminating photo services)
• dealerships of all sorts
• realtors and developers
• sports organizations
• corporate offices and regional headquarters

The rack cards that explain all of our services aren’t the only thing we are creating; we are installing window signage as quickly as we can come up with clever ideas. The internet is great as long as someone knows our name or does a Google search, but in some ways it hampers us because, no matter how hard we’ve tried, the old location info is still “out there.” In addition to finding new customers, we need to get the word out to customers who only use us occasionally that the empty house on Lomax Street does not mean we’ve gone out of business.

As the last independent lab in our area, we are unique. We have some great ideas for expanding our services, but we need to increase our volume substantially before we can purchase more equipment or inventory. Please continue to support us with your patronage, and help us expand our customer base. As you chat us up, don’t forget some of our new signature specials:

Think Inside the Box Rack Card

(Click here to read our Think Inside the Box blog)

Photo Gifts Rack Card

(Click here to read our Introducing… FotoTechnika’s Photo Factory blog)

We want to be slammed all summer. If that happens, we have a couple wonderfully talented folks who would love to become the next generation of our production team, and we would be thrilled to hire them. In order to do that, we must have enough business to support them. So start sharing the word that FotoTechnika is alive and ready for new creative projects and please share your contacts with us so we can reach out to them this summer.

We look forward to seeing or hearing from you soon.


Thanks for the Memories


A recurring theme in my musings is our passion for preserving history, whether for individuals or organizations. For FotoTechnika‘s first twenty years, our next-door neighbor was Dr. Wayne Wood, optometrist and North Florida historian. Wayne’s passion for history, architecture and his connections with the Jacksonville Historical Society and Riverside Avondale Preservation introduced us to some wonderful people who are passionate about Jacksonville and its history, which in turn sparked our desire to help others preserve their own heritage.


Every family has at least one person who squirrels away photos dating back to the Dark Ages, and unfortunately many people find out too late, when going through the family estate, that they have no idea who the people in those treasured photographs were. I know because my mom keeps boxes of our family’s photographic relics under her bed. We’ve organized them some over the years, but some are so old that even she doesn’t know who the subjects are.

Cake Shot Composite

We started scanning and printing historic images in 2002, so we’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years – the associated processes have become a very significant part of our business. We’ve slowly been working on our own personal projects – like reprinting my mom’s and my own wedding albums, so that the photos are no longer discolored and are now on archival materials. Last Labor Day, weeks before we finished moving the business from our old Lomax location, I emptied some old slide carousels from an estate my grandfather oversaw as executor. Lo and behold, the slides weren’t from the Slidesestate but were a treasure trove of slides taken when I was in my early teens. Scanning them will be a trip down memory lane. We have so many more of these kinds of projects to tackle, and if you have similar projects looming, we have some good news for you.

On May 26, 2014, Memorial Day, the day the U.S. government has set aside to remember those who died in our nation’s service, we want to thank you for allowing us to help you preserve your memories through photos. And for those of you who haven’t had opportunity to use our services, we have come up with several specials to motivate you to get the ball rolling. We decided that since we usually end up working on Memorial Day anyway, we might as well open up and offer some one-day specials for those of you who might have difficulty getting by during the work week. (Check our Facebook Event here.)

In a previous blog, I introduced our Think Inside the Box program to offer folks a variety of ways to preserve images. The box program is an ongoing promotion, but for this Memorial Day, we decided kick it up a notch by running a “Film Amnesty” special. This special allows those of you who, for whatever reason, have hung on to undeveloped color (C41) or B&W negative film over the years to go ahead and get those rolls processed for half our listed price. We have sweetened the pot even more by getting our partners over at Easy Edit Video to  Video Transferoffer a special on transferring VHS tapes to DVD. Easy Edit normally charges $25.00 per VHS tape to DVD, but on Memorial Day only, we will accept orders for transfers for $10.00 per tape as long as you order a minimum of three. This deal is only good if you bring those tapes to us on May 26th.

If you have followed our blog or used our services in the past, you know there are all sorts of other services we offer that can be used to preserve family photos. Our new gifting service (access it under the Photo Factory tab here) offers personalized cards, photo books, mugs, puzzles, clothing, jewelry and so much more.

Don’t let your family photos remain a mystery under the bed or in the attic or wherever it is you keep them – let FotoTechnika use our digital restoration know-how and fine art services to turn very average or even damaged photos into heirlooms that your great-grandchildren can enjoy generations from now.


Introducing… FotoTechnika’s Photo Factory

Photo Gifts (canvas prints)

Photo Gifts (canvas prints)

Many times over the years, we’ve received phone calls from people who wanted us to put their photos on t-shirts or mugs. I always scoffed at the idea. Puh-leeze. Go somewhere else for that. We print for real, good quality photos, man. But as one of my favorite fictional characters, Albus Dumbledore, says at the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “the best of us must sometimes eat our words.” I think it took me having children to realize that items with my favorite photos really aren’t so dorky after all. I have photo magnets on my fridge, and for Christmas, my husband received a travel mug with our elder son’s artwork printed on it. Everyone who sees that mug thinks it’s the coolest thing. In fact, they want to know where we got it, so they can do the same thing with their kids’ artwork. It would be silly not to take advantage of this kind of service, I thought. Especially if you consider that we have a top-notch partner in Fuji. So we at FotoTechnika have spent a lot of time choosing items that we know our customers will love, some of which are produced by Fuji, but many more of which we create in-house.

Custom Greeting Cards

Custom Greeting Cards

For years, we’ve printed greeting cards, usually for Christmas but occasionally for baby announcements or thank you cards. We have a number of ready-made templates available, but there’s so much more we can do with our imaginations and a little PhotoShop magic. Many of our fine art customers use this service to print their art on note cards, which they sell as sets or use for their own correspondence. But it doesn’t have to stop with artists. Do you want to create your own personal letterhead with a logo of your creation? Would you like to give monogrammed stationery to a couple who’s about to get married?

Custom Note Cards

Custom Note Cards

Or do you want something a little more permanent? Since everything has gone digital, fewer and fewer people actually print their photos, relying on smartphones and computers to view their images. “I need to get around to making one of those photo books,” you might say, but you don’t know where to start. Here it is – and you don’t even need to leave your house to check it out: the Photo Factory tab at www.fototechnika.com, where you will find several options. You can print a mini book (moms and grandmoms, this will fit in your purse and makes the perfect brag book) or a soft- or hardback photo book to set in a place of importance at home.

Flip Book

Flip Book

All of our other products are listed under the Photo Factory, including those t-shirts I used to scoff at. There’s a gift for every occasion, not to mention collages, canvas prints, and even Instagram-ready templates for your favorite Instagram pics. If you’re interested in something you don’t see, give us a shout. We’re always open to new ideas – even if it means eating our words. Creatively yours, Sarah

Think Inside the Box

"Think Inside the Box" Deals

“Think Inside the Box” Deals

Over the next several months, Sarah and I (and maybe Saundra) will write several blogs devoted to services and products we offer that will appeal to those of you who may think that we cater exclusively to professional photographers, artists, and business customers. The truth is we have never turned away consumer business; in fact, we enjoy serving individuals who just want excellent pictures printed by someone whose next task isn’t restocking diapers on Aisle 4.

Our former Five Points lab was a destination location, a bit off the beaten path, and our zoning with the city didn’t allow for retail operations. With our move to 3119 Beach Boulevard last year, that all changed. With Curry Thomas Hardware right across the parking lot and the Mudville Grille just down the sidewalk, everyday folks walk past our windows all the time, and guess what? Unlike Lomax Street, most probably don’t have a problem finding a parking place.

Saundra and I are baby-boomers, and as such we have lived in both the analog and digital world. My mom, who’s 84, never really made the digital transition (except for recording soap operas on her DVR). She’s our only surviving parent, and after several recent extended stays in hospitals and rehab facilities, we have made a conscious effort to spend time with her and try to put our family history in order. Some of you have similar issues, and sadly, some of your parents may have already passed, leaving you with the task of sorting out the family images by yourself. Most of us have relatives who can help with genealogy, but it isn’t practical to send them boxes and boxes of photos… but what if those images were in a digital format?

Since we own a lab, we jumped on the scanning bandwagon, but it wasn’t until we started scanning images for the Jacksonville Historical Society that we developed a passion for preserving history. We started scanning and archiving our important family images years ago, but many of you don’t have that resource. Aha, maybe he’s finally getting to the point.

At FotoTechnika, we have quite an array of scanning devices. We don’t only do the high-resolution scans for those great big art prints and photos; we also have scanners that specialize in handling volumes of prints, slides and film. We know that quite a few of you have rather large family collections. Some may be in excellent condition, but I’m sure anyone as old or older than me has some photos or film that are changing color. It’s time to scan those images before they fade more, but it has always been so darn expensive. Well, we want to help you by offering several deals that can save you money and at the same time let you do a little of the organizing that so often falls to us. We’re thinking outside the box encouraging you to THINK INSIDE THE BOX.

We are offering two deals for scanning volumes of prints and slides:

Deal 1 – Print Scans

Shoebox Kit

Shoebox Kit

We will sell you a Shoebox Kit for $200. You fill the box with up to 1000 prints, from wallets to 8x10s. We will scan those prints and create 300-dpi jpeg files capable of producing prints the same size as the original photographs. We can save the images to a CD or to your USB thumb drive or external drive, and we will create an 8.5×11 booklet with thumbnails of the images. All you do is put the photos in the box.

The prints do need to be flexible enough to bend easily, and if you want them in a certain order you need to stack them accordingly. PLEASE, no badly torn photos or ones that have sticky stuff on them, unless you want us to scan those separately for an additional charge.

Deal 2 – Slide Scans

Slide Box Kit

Slide Box Kit

For $50, we will sell you a box that can hold up to 200 35mm slides. We will scan the slides at a resolution sufficient to make proof-size prints, and we will save jpegs to a CD or to your USB thumb drive and provide 5×5 index prints. (NOTE: This offer is only for 35mm slides. The square Instamatic and small 110 slides must be done on another device that is not designed for volume scanning.)

In both cases, you help us by sorting your images into the boxes we provide. Sure, we can scan from your scrapbooks or pull slides out of carousels, but then we are doing a lot of the sorting. When you put the slides or prints in boxes, you are rewarded with volume pricing. It works out to be $0.25 per slide and $0.20 per print – all scanned with the TLC FotoTechnika is famous for.

(If you have negative film, I’m sure we can work out some volume pricing, too, but finding the right box is harder than you might think.)

AND… for those of you who have already gone totally digital, we have made a box for you, too, just so you won’t feel left out. If you haven’t already figured it out, hard drives and smart phones crash – shoeboxes don’t! So you need to think about printing your more important files.

Bonus Deal – Digital Prints

Everything Goes Box

Everything Goes Box

For $75, we will sell you our “Everything Goes” box. Select your favorite images from your various CDs, DVDs, USB drives, camera cards and computer hard drive, save them on digital media, and bring it to us in the box. Make sure the media only contain files you want printed. We will fill the box with up to 300 proof-size prints on Fuji Crystal Archive photo paper. (NOTE: The quality of the image is dependent on the quality and resolution of the digital files you provide.)

These boxes make perfect Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduation gifts, so get them now, and let us help you preserve those family treasures.

Until next blog,


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