SILVER HALIDE SUPPLY CHAIN STRUGGLES
It’s no secret that silver halide photo paper is experiencing unprecedented shortages and leaving photofinishers in difficult situations all over the globe. In the past, photofinishers could source silver halide paper from their pick of manufacturers and had somewhere to turn if prices rose or lead times became drawn out. As of 2022, only two companies still distribute silver halide paper at volumes that make them a viable supplier, a situation resulting in high demand with a stunted supply chain in an economy that is already suffering from skyrocketing inflation. Fujifilm Imaging Systems Co. has seen increases as high as 60% for their photo films alongside lesser but still significant hikes for other processing materials. The distributor of Kodak silver paper, Sino Promise Inc., left photo labs scrambling in the last quarter of 2021 as they withdrew their standard terms of trade, in some instances requiring customers to pay in full in advance on top of covering shipping.
While most photofinishers are feeling the effects of these pricing changes, the damage to labs that specialize in school photos is particularly severe. Missed shipments and order shortages have broad-reaching effects in an industry with limited supplier options and tight turnaround times. No photofinisher wants to tell a customer that they can’t deliver graduation photos on time because their spring shipment of photo paper still hasn’t arrived despite being paid in full and ordered a year in advance.
Photofinishers who have been negatively impacted by the current silver halide market may start looking for other options that promise high-quality photos without the supply chain stress and financial strain of traditional photo paper. Few alternatives are available, but one solution from the Nobelus® catalog has been gaining popularity with photofinishers for several years due to its ability to replicate the quality of silver halide at high volumes without the threat of shortages.
WHAT IS SILVER HALIDE REPLACEMENT?
Silver halide replacement, abbreviated as SHR™, is a photofinishing method that uses digital printing technology and thermal lamination to produce high-quality photographs that can mimic the look, weight, and feel of traditional silver halide photos. SHR Laminate, which is available exclusively through Nobelus, is a 1.6 mil OPP laminate made specifically to maintain the quality and appeal of traditional silver halide photo prints. Although the SHR process is far from new, many photofinishers are unaware of its existence due to the overwhelming popularity of silver halide photo paper. Historically, silver halide has been seen as the obvious choice for professional photos due to its nuanced tonality, impressive durability, and memorable stippled texture that conveys a sense of authenticity. However, advancements in digital printing technology have made SHR a viable alternative to conventional chemical photo developing.
AN INVISIBLE TRANSITION
By adding the capacity to digitally print and laminate photos to their operation, photofinishers can supplement production in times of duress or begin the move to a fully digital setup to avoid dependence on silver halide photo paper. The true beauty of SHR is that you can’t tell the difference when switching from silver halide. Felix Schoeller Group’s photo paper, the existence of which can be credited to HP® seeking out a digital press-friendly alternative for photo production, makes use of a specialty backing that replicates the look and feel of the emulsion backing on silver halide paper perfectly. The signature silver halide luster is preserved through the use of a matte finish on the laminate.
With this innovative technology, SHR photos can be so similar to traditional silver halide photos that industry experts find it difficult to spot the difference. Nobelus has worked with several photofinishers that have already seen the benefits of SHR in their processes, and we anticipate many more operations will begin adding it into their workflow in the coming months to ensure they can meet demand in peak seasons without sacrificing quality. Despite conventional wisdom, there are even a few areas where digital systems are superior to silver halide.
SHR Laminate costs 20-40% less than silver halide supplies, and because the laminate is made of plastic, it can be produced in high quantities without threat of supply chain shortages. After an initial equipment investment, SHR consumables are more affordable and easier to manufacture than silver halide paper, which means production can be increased to meet demand as needed. Whether a photo lab is small enough to print on-demand or large enough to fill large-volume orders for an entire school system, SHR provides an excellent return on investment compared to the ever-rising costs of silver halide.
SHR Laminate’s plastic construction eliminates several of the more environmentally harmful aspects of silver halide paper. Although thermally laminated digital photos are not without their environmental impact, they don’t necessitate the use of chemical developers or fixers that will be flushed into wastewater systems. Additionally, plastic laminates can be recycled in the correct conditions, further reducing the ecological impacts of SHR. Because no baths or solutions need to be drained, eco-conscious photofinishers should find that laminated digital photos support easy cleanup without concern for how to responsibly dispose of several different chemicals.
While the gradual tone shifts of silver halide may be ideal for portrait photos and wildlife, they often leave text-rich images blurry. Because no colors in a digital photo will bleed into one another, images come out looking sharper with far more clarity in delicate details. Photographs highlighting text, architecture, and landscapes will benefit greatly from the defined borders of digital inks. Unlike silver halide paper, which is limited by how much light any particular particle can absorb, digital prints can record extremely dark and light hues without jeopardizing the clarity of the image. This more dynamic range can be especially helpful for statement photographs making use of high-contrast lighting.
Digital inks are far more fragile than the chemicals that are part of the photo paper itself in silver halide, but the addition of a laminate makes the softness of digital inks irrelevant. Because it’s made of a thin but durable biaxially oriented polypropylene, SHR Laminate prevents digital inks from scratching and smearing even with regular use. It also provides protection from humidity and moisture and can be wiped clean when oil or grease are transferred to the photo. With the introduction of a laminate, colors are far less likely to fade over time, even with sun exposure, and some accidental bending or creasing will not result in cracks that ruin the photo.
Flexibility for New Markets
Silver halide photopaper is just that: paper. It serves a single purpose well, but anyone who wants to expand their product offerings will have to look elsewhere. By using a digital press for SHR, photofinishers open the door to a whole host of applications beyond simple photographs. Bookmarks featuring beloved relatives and pets, buttons for campaigns, calendars highlighting stunning landscapes – even small photofinishing operations can offer their customers a whole host of end products with the introduction of a digital press. In an age where most general commercial printers are branching out to capture more of the market, photofinishers can make themselves a tempting choice by offering a range of services superior to that of the competition.
TIME TO MAKE A CHANGE?
We understand that moving away from silver halide is a monumental and unsettling change for most photofinishers. However, if you have experienced hardship due to the current silver halide market, SHR can offer supply chain security and financial savings while enhancing your photo production process in a variety of ways. The Nobelus team is ready to offer help in any way we can, from providing high-quality SHR Laminate and lamination equipment to connecting photofinishers with digital press manufacturers and post-lamination equipment suppliers. Our client care team and industry experts are ready to hear about your unique operation and equip you to produce beautiful, sustainable, and economical photo prints.