A breakthrough in low-cost digital printing
by John Henshall

A complete digital imaging system for under £500: the Fargo FotoFUN colour printer and Apple QuickTake 100 camera.

The problem with state-of-the-art digital imaging technology is that it is expensive; much more costly than comparative silver halide products. Sceptics believe that there is no chance of digital en-prints ever being cheap enough to be adopted as an alternative to high street mini-labs.

They are wrong, of course. To prove it, Fargo Electronics Incorporated has firmly hammered the first nails into the mini-lab coffin by introducing an incredible breakthrough in low-cost photographic quality printers: the FotoFUN. The list price is just under £350 and the street price may well be under £300.

Fargo are already firmly established as manufacturers of low-cost high quality digital printers. The PrimeraPRO is an A4 printer with 600 x 300 dpi resolution, while the Pictura 310 prints A3 with bleeds at 300 x 300 dpi. Both these printers can print either dye sublimation, for quality, or thermal wax, for speed and economy. They are relatively inexpensive, due in part to images being rasterised in the computer instead of in the printer. A new version of the Pictura, the 310e, includes Adobe PostScript level 2 and auto-switching between Macintosh and Windows. Colour management from Candela and Apple ColorSync 2.0 profiles are also included.

FotoFUN's footprint is only 24 x 19cm (9.5 x 7.5 inches), with a height of 11cm (4.25 inches) and a weight of about 3kg (7 lbs). The name FotoFUN perhaps gives the impression that the printer is a low resolution low quality tradeoff for domestic use. Don't you believe it. This 203 dpi 24-bit printer is no toy. Right from the first print we got superb photographic quality prints in beautiful colour, good enough to challenge the best dye sublimation printers from other manufacturers. The printer lays down a clear overlay to protect against the harmful effects of UV, fingerprints and offsetting from PVC sleeves. Maximum print size is 4 x 6 inch borderless en-print but this is the only limitation. FotoFUN is also available as the FotoPRO; the same printer but with Apple ColorSync, Microsoft Inter Color Manager (ICM) or Fargo's own FargoColor by Candela.

Consumables are available in 36 print packs, consisting of ribbon and paper. A standard kit costs £39; just over £1 per print. A version with 'Post Card' printed on the back costs £43, though the weight of the paper is hardly thick or stiff enough to withstand the rigours of the post. Print paper is 4 inches wide and, although it can be printed edge to edge across its narrower dimension, it is 1.7 inches longer than the printed area. This allows the print to be held in precise register inside the printer during each of the successive yellow, magenta and cyan printing passes. These two borders need to be trimmed off to give a completely borderless print.

Prints without the protective coating layer may be offset onto drinking mugs. A basic FotoMUG kit of four mugs, clamp, tape and instructions costs £39, with refills costing £32 for four or £63 for twelve mugs. Other fun applications such as stickers and badges are possible. Printing onto 2-mil adhesive vinyl enables mock-ups of bottle labels and new package designs to be produced easily and inexpensively.

Consumables are a little on the expensive side, though they do not compare too badly with the cost of instant film or 4 x 6 inch re-prints from Boots (60 pence each). Of course you can add text to your images before printing; something that is virtually impossible with traditional photographic prints. It would be easy to produce your own photographic Christmas cards or a one-off greetings card for a birthday or other special occasion.

A comparison of conventional and digital en-prints from the same negative. South Street Seaport, New York, photographed on Kodak Gold 200 film using a Pentax Espio 928 camera.

Above: A typical 4 x 6 inch glossy en-print, film and print processed by Boots in Wantage. Below: The same camera negative scanned on a Leafscan 45 transmissive scanner, printed using the Fargo FotoFUN printer. Both prints were scanned (using an Agfa Arcus II flatbed scanner) at the same size for comparative reproduction on this page.

Buy a FotoFUN for the family and you will end up hijacking it for professional use. So why not just buy one as your own inexpensive foot in the door of digital imaging? You could also buy a cheap digital camera, such as the Apple QuickTake 100. The quality of the FotoFUN exceeds that of the QuickTake 100 camera, though 4 x 6 inch prints from it are quite respectable. You can now buy a QuickTake 100 for £195, so it is possible to have both digital camera and printer for under £500. That has to be a bargain. FotoFUN is one of the sexiest digital imaging products I have seen. So what are you waiting for?

Fargo's FotoFUN can produce high quality photographic prints, create postcards and even decorate drinking mugs.

Bannerbridge plc are the sole UK agents for Fargo. The Bannerbridge website will be available soon - in the meantime you can telephone them at +44 1268 419101.
This review first appeared in "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" October 1995.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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