By May you should be able to buy the first fruits of Kodak's $500 million three and a half year project to develop brand new, proprietary ink-jet photo and document printing solutions for the home and small business users.
Cost of ownership is key
After researching the market carved out by its formidable competitors, Kodak has singled out cost of ownership as their primary weakness. So Kodak is promising bottom line photo printing costs that are at least half that of its cheapest rivals. Ink cartridges will not cost more than $20 or UK£10 and the printing capacity of each cartridge is greater than that of rivals.
This is Jaime Cohen Szulc, an Eastman Kodak vice president and general manager for consumer products in Europe, Middle East and Africa, posing for DPNow during his presentation at the launch of Kodak's new ink-jet printer business, today. The product in front of him is the new Kodak EasyShare 5300 all-in-one ink-jet printer/scanner copier.
Key Kodak launch bullet points:
Launch products will be all-in-one printer/scanner/copier and (top model) fax capable, with PC-connected or stand alone photo and plain paper document printing, up to A4 paper size. US pricing is $199 for the basic model (without fax). Both feature a good-sized, tilting colour screen.
Halved cost per print compared with cheapest competitor (at least as little as 7p per 6x4 print).
Only two ink tanks; black (£6.99) and colour (five ink colours - £9.99).
Pigmented ink with 'nano' particle pigment particles and smart gloss optimiser that only covers areas not printed in colour or black.
Print head has just under 4,000 nozzles and drop sizes are as small as 2.5pl. Both plain paper and photo printing are respectably fast.
Front loading HP-style for paper.
Available from around May.
This three quarter view is quite anonymous. The Kodak EasyShare 5300 could easily be mistaken for an HP Photosmart model.
With fade-resistance in mind, Kodak has opted for pigmented inks rather than dyes. Kodak says it has refined the manufacturing process behind its pigment inks, resulting in super-fine pigment particles that give the inks properties not dissimilar to dyes in some respect. A colour gamut exceeding traditional silver halide colour photos is claimed.
The Kodak EasyShare 5300 has a HP-style front paper feed and separate 6x4 inch media tray. There are two card slots covering all the popular digital camera formats and below are two USB ports.
The familiar weaknesses of pigmented inks; slow drying, poor water resistance and uneven surface shine, have been addressed by Kodak. Print demos showed that the prints were virtually dry straight out of the printer. A makeshift water splash test confirmed their resistance to smudging and the prints were certainly free from uneven shine, thanks to a gloss optimiser that prints over the areas of a photo print that have not received any colour ink mainly in light areas.
Here is a close-up of the Kodak EasyShare 5300 control panel. The screen is a generously-sized three inch panel.
However, although lustre-finish prints looked very good, with rich colours and very good control of bronzing, the glossy samples we saw were definitely not as shiny glossy as typical dye-based photo prints. The jury remains out, though, as production sample printers won't be available for several weeks.
Print head and cartridges
A modified thermal ink-jet print head technology, developed in-house by Kodak, is used. Canon-style, the print head must be initially installed by the user and should last the life of the printer, though if it does need replacing, its a simple DIY operation.
Only two ink cartridges are required, one for black plain paper printing and one for colour photo and document printing.
Only two ink cartridges are used, so rejecting the perceived value of single colour ink tanks. Kodak says that as its ink is so cheap, you don't need to be reassured that every last drop of ink is being used. The colour tank is physically quite large compared with others of this type and contains five photo colour inks. The single ink black cartridge for plain paper text printing is priced in the UK at £6.99. The photo colour cartridge is £9.99. For US pricing, the rough calculation is to double these numbers.
The two cartridges are seen here in-situ, with the scanner unit raised up for access. Underneath is a user-replaceable print head.
Support for Kodak's relatively new Ultra microporous papers is standard. However, the paper selection options and optimisation for non-Kodak branded papers are, Lexmark-style, minimal. This means you won't be able to use custom ICC/ICM profiles.
To start with, Kodak will rely on two all-in-one printer/scanner/copier models, the EasyShare 5300, which was shown to us, and a premium version with fax functionality. The 5300 will sell in the US for around $199, or we calculate around £125, including VAT, if UK buyers don't get a bad deal on the exchange rate conversion.
Kodak will be introducing their new offerings to the printer trade at PMA and CeBIT during March and we're told that first customer shipments will be in May. We're told that magazine review samples will be available in around a month's time.
Although only two models will be featured to start with and we were not given any firm plans for future variants, we were told that plenty of variants were in the pipeline. There was guarded admission by Jaime Cohen Szulc, Kodak's consumer business boss in Europe, that the future for Kodak's dye-sub printer technology in the 6x4 home printer category might be compromised by the incoming Kodak ink-jet offering. So don't be surprised to see HP-style 6x4 compact printers with camera docks at some stage.
The business model
The evolution of the consumer ink-jet printer market has been driven by unit sales of printers, meaning that printers are often sold at ridiculously low prices, with sales of expensive ink making up the revenue shortfall over the life of the printer. Kodak is saying that's all wrong. It's also saying that it can sell cheap printers and still keep ink costs low. I asked Cohen Szulc if that business model relied on the low cost of Kodak inks inspiring Kodak printer users to print more and so buy more ink. He says not. He suggests there is plenty of slack in the cost structure of his competitors. The rest of the industry will certainly have to take notice of Kodak pulls this one off.