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These tech innovations will keep photo prints alive

Why it matters to you

The decline in print sales likely means photographers will be seeing new products and new software as print labs look to innovate.

A photograph is no longer always a physical product — they often exist only as megabytes on a smartphone or files on social media. While the number of photos snapped daily is increasing, the number of photos being printed is quickly dropping. But as the printing industry shifts toward digital dominance, Nations Photo Lab founder and CEO Ryan Millman suggests innovation will shift the dynamics of the industry, keeping printed photographs alive.

Nations began as a photography lab founded by photographers in 2005, launched from the then-owners of a college event photography business, Millman and Jon Weinstock. But over the last decade or so, the industry has changed just as much, as cameras have moved past Millman’s first professional camera, the 3.3-megapixel Canon G1 from 1999.

“Certainly, the shift to mobile cameras has been huge,” Millman told Digital Trends. “More photos are being taken than ever before, but there’s a downward shift in outward categories like print. They are taking photos and archiving them, but not necessarily producing the physical product they used to.”

Millman says innovation in two key areas will prove critical for the photo printing industry as trends shift: technology and products. From a technology standpoint, that means mobile ordering platforms. While desktop users traditionally order more photos, the growth of smartphone customers suggests mobile will be a big part of the industry’s future.

Nations Photo Lab uses a web-based platform with a version that caters to mobile users without an app download, but an update-in-progress will help advance that avenue even more, Millman suggests. The company’s next update is expected to streamline the album design process by laying out the photos in an optimal way, not just in a random or chronological order, and will turn a thirty-minute process into a two-minute one. The system also factors in the original file’s aspect ratio, so images aren’t oddly cropped.

Software powered by artificial intelligence will be part of future releases, working to continue streamlining the ordering process, particularly in album design.

Innovation from a product standpoint will also be critical, Millman says. While individual print sales have declined, wall art and larger print products are growing in popularity. Every photograph is no longer being printed, but favorite photos are being printed larger and on a variety of wall decor products.

One of Nation’s newest products is a wood wrap where the entire image wraps around the wood, including the sides. The company currently has about half a dozen new products in development, from a softer matte paper to cards made with wood.

“Innovation is really going to be the critical piece for those that are serving the markets of the future,” Millman said. “It’s not just innovation, [but] innovation in everything.”