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Polaroid Unveils New Instant Digital Printing Technology

5/31/2001 11:38:00 AM Eastern

New York -- Polaroid unveiled two new instant digital printing here yesterday code named "Opal" for color and "Onyx" for black and white prints that can make prints from digital files of any size in seconds.

Polaroids open architecture print engine technology will begin rolling out in a number of configurations, and with a number of partners, in late 2001 and 2002. The first products will be "instant digital cameras," followed by stand-alone printers that can be tethered to computers and digital cameras, a retail kiosk and printers for cell phones. No partners were announced.

"We view this technology, this printing engine, as a real game changer from existing technologies and it will usher in a totally new category: instant digital printing," said Polaroid chairman and CEO Gary DiCamillo. "We're currently in discussion with a number of manufacturers in the photo industry, as well as cell phone manufacturers to work with them in rolling out this technology in various forms."

The technology produces prints using a thermal wax process that transfers dyes to the donor (media) sheet. Unlike inkjet, which uses ink droplets on top of media, or dye sublimation which diffuses dyes from the donor sheet, the thermal wax technology produces durable "photo quality" prints instantly, according to Samuel Liggero, Ph.D. and VP of media research and development for Polaroid.

In a digital camera or mobile printer, Opal or Onyx could produce a 4 x 6 inch print in under 30 seconds on any media, such as photo paper, stickers and removable tattoos. Since the size is variable, a printer powered by the Onyx or Opal engine could produce an "action strip" from a video clip captured by a digital camera.

In a retail kiosk solution, prints could be produced at the rate of 50 to 60 per minute. It is this kiosk market that Polaroid's chief marketing officer Sandra Lawrence, sees enormous potential for growth.

"I liken it to an ATM machine, it takes time to get use to the new technology but soon people will be using kiosks to get prints just as easily as they pull money out of an ATM," said Lawrence. "Kiosks and microlabs are already big in Europe and especially Japan, and we know that they are usually the forerunners in adopting this kind of technology."

"Of all the prints made last year, only two percent were from digital files," said DiCamillo. "Profit in photography has always come from the consumables, making prints, and right now few people are doing that with digital cameras. It looks more like your typical consumer electronics business and profits are falling because the prices of digital camera."

Evidence of this was found in a recent consumer survey commissioned by Polaroid. The survey, released last week, found that most consumers who own digital cameras seldom print their digital images. Participants claimed their printers do not produce quality images, that they prefer to share digital images electronically (via email) not in printed form and printing a digital image is seen as expensive and time-consuming.

Overall, study respondents claimed to have enjoyed the ability to email images, delete pictures, view images instantly and manipulate them to eliminate defects. However, respondents cited drawbacks, including grainy pictures that are inferior to 35mm prints, batteries that run out too soon, complex functions, and the high cost of memory cards, special inks and glossy paper used in printing.

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