The Future of Digital Labs
I recently visited a local digital lab, and I've seen the future. The lab in question is located in the trendy and newly renovated Distillery District of downtown Toronto. Its name is Pikto, and it's more than a lab. Pikto is a photographic gallery, cafe, bookstore, digital service bureau and photographer's community center. While likely not unique in the world, I believe that it nevertheless points the way to the future, and thus is worth a visit, either in person if you live in Toronto, Canada, or a virtual visit — as provided below.
The founders and owners of Pikto are André Souroujon and Saul Lederman. Saul is a long time computer techy, and André a professional photographer of many years. Their dream, brought to life in June of 2003, was a next-generation photo lab — a place where professionals as well as amateur photographers could find access to image processing tools and output options that would otherwise be unavailable, and at affordable prices.
What You Get
The ground floor is a photo gallery, with frequently changing exhibitions. There is also a coffee bar, as well as photo books and magazines for sale. The reception counter will accept film for processing (C41, colour neg only) as well as digital files, and there is also a digital printing station for self-service orders of almost any size with simple image manipulation. Files may also be FTP'd to Pikto and C prints will be shipped anywhere in the world.
On the second floor are two area — a digital minilab manned by professional operators, and also a couple of comprehensively equipped digital workstations that are available for public use. These rent for $35 / hour and feed directly into the labs $250,000 Agfa DLab 2 machine, which can produce C Type prints of up to 12 X 18" from digital files. You basically bring your files in on CD, convert to the Agfa's provided profile and then put them in the printing queue. Walk around to the next room where the Agfa processor is located and pick up your prints. It's that fast and easy. 12" X 18" prints cost $6 each and 8X10" prints are $2.75 (All prices mentioned are in Canadian dollars).
These are not inkjet prints. These are traditional chemical prints reproduced directly from your digital files. The Agfa machine is similar in operation to a Lightjet or Lamda printer. The big difference here though is that you are able to do the image prep yourself, and send the files directly to the printing machine. Bypassing the need for a technician's involvement is part of the secret of their low prices. The working environment of the rental workstations is also a pleasure, with subdued lighting and a relaxed and helpful atmosphere.
Inkjet prints are also available. Pikto has an Epson 9600 printer using Ultrachrome inks attached to these workstations, and you can make prints up to 48" wide by any length. Saul or André will work with you to produce some test prints and then you can go for lunch while the long process of producing giant prints is running. (There are some very good restaurants and art galleries in the Distillery complex).
In addition to Mac workstations with calibrated screens there are also film scanners available, including an Imacon 848 which is capable of scanning 35mm film at up to 8,000 PPI. A Nikon Coolscan 8000 is also available. There is an additional charge for the use of these high-end scanners.
I think that the reason why this lab and concept appeals to me is that it directly addresses the needs of the contemporary photographer. If you still use film (and many do), then facilities are available for developing and scanning. If you work with a DSLR you can simply bring your files in and output them at any size, either as Type C chromogenic or giant inkjet prints.
If it sounds like I'm enthusiastic about Pikto, it's because I definitely am. The owners have a vision and they're bringing it to life. Though it's a service that mostly Toronto-based photographers will be able to available themselves of, I'm pleased to make a world-wide audience aware of what this innovative shop is doing because inevitably good ideas get around, and it likely won't be long before other cities have labs offering similar services in equally pleasant surroundings (if they don't already).
And, in the interest of full disclosure (and hopefully to get you to drop in and visit), Pikto will be hosting a large-scale exhibition of my recent photography in the main floor gallery from February 19th through March 14th, 2004. The opening reception is on Thursday, Feb. 19th from 6pm to 9pm. The public is codially invited.
55 Mill Street, The Distillery District
Toronto, Ontario, Canada