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”
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many posts, only to have circumstances change in such a way that the information for the blog would be erroneous or out of date.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:
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.”
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.
Inkjet 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.
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: 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.
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.
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 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.
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.