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Service Bureaus Still Have Importance

gcspThere are two ways to generate a 35mm slide from a graphics program: Take the job into your own hands by transmitting slide data directly to a film recorder or send your graphics files to a graphics service bureau. Each method has its trade-offs.

As service bureaus get easier to use, they appeal to users anxious to cash in on high-quality output without the headaches and expenses of 35mm slide production. “It’s like getting first-class vacation accommodations on a time-sharing plan,” said Herb Getzler, president of Magicorp, an Elmsford, N.Y., service bureau. “You don’t have to buy the facility you need only once in a while.”

According to startup business data tracking site, although there are not very many service bureaus in the United States, there is a lot of room for a dominant player.

Traditionally, film recorders have been expensive and finicky pieces of hardware. But that may be changing as the cost of personal film recorders decreases, and the quality and ease of use climbs. Magicorp’s Celco machines cost $250,000 apiece; the user pays roughly $12 a slide. Today, a variety of desktop film recorders are available for between $5,000 and $10,000. After purchasing the machine, the user pays only the cost of processing the film.

With affordable pricing available from both service bureaus and the film-recorder makers, the deciding factors are the time, labor and volume of slides produced.

“Many of our customers have their own film recorders and use us for overflow, some recognize the difference in quality with our high-end film recorders vs. their in-house recorders, and others have never used a slide before but are hooked once they try it,” said Karl Lautman, vice president of marketing and sales for Magicorp. “Our appeal is probably strongest with the low-volume users who do $2,000 to $3,000 a year.”

Service bureaus fall into two general categories. Nationwide bureaus tend to focus on the “click” aspect of the job, re-creating the customer’s image with no editing or customization. Local shops often provide custom services in addition to film-recorder processing.

Graphics-software packages support most local bureaus by outputting files that meet graphics standards such as Computer Graphics Metafile (.CGM) and .SCDL.

Many software packages are also beginning to include direct support for specific national service bureaus. The user sends the data via modem or disk to the bureau, where it is output to a high-resolution film recorder. On the PC, for example, Harvard Graphics, from Software Publishing Corp., offers a built-in link to Autographix Inc. service bureaus; Xerox Corp.’s Xerox Presents includes a module to send files to Autographix as well.

Freelance, from Lotus Development Corp., offers support for both Autographix and Magicorp, although the link is not built directly into the program; the user contacts the service bureau and receives a free transmission utility.

On the Macintosh side, Aldus Corp.’s Persuasion has a link to Autographix; PowerPoint, from Microsoft Corp., has a link to Genigraphics Corp. of Liverpool, N.Y.

One of the best-known local service bureaus is Brilliant Image Inc. in New York, which supports imaging from more than 20 different PC and Mac graphics products, said President Jerry Cahn. Besides custom design and imaging, Brilliant Image offers attractions such as a screen-capture program that prepares a graphics screen from any program for slide output.

The company also markets a “word processing to slides” program that takes ordinary text from a word processor and enhances it for slide production.

Kinetic Presentations Inc., of Louisville, Ky., provides a graphics package with a direct link to its own on-premises service bureau. “A disadvantage of working with a dedicated package and service is that you’re tied to one bureau. On the other hand, the bureau you work with knows their package very well,” said Sharon LeWinter, administrative assistant for chemicals maker Ciba Geigy Corp., in Ardsley, N.Y. Her group uses Kinetic Graphics to produce slide productions for management.

In an ambitious attempt to make service bureaus easier to use, Micrografx Inc. of Richardson, Texas, is about to introduce in the first quarter of 1990 a dedicated driver called Telegrafx, which will be bundled with Designer 3.0. The Telegrafx driver, a company spokesperson said, will let users prepare a file for production and will transmit the file to a supported service bureau. Initially, Micrografx will support SlideMasters Inc., in Dallas, and Magicorp.

Service-Bureau Technology

Because service bureaus are comfortable with high volumes and quick turnarounds, they have much to teach corporate users looking for streamlined in-house production. Autographix, for one, currently sells its service-bureau technology directly. “Most corporations use a generic driver like the .SCDL,” said Ken Coleman, vice president of marketing at Autographix in Waltham, Mass. “Our approach has been to enter into a co-development and testing program with the software manufacturer to create a specific driver for a specific product.”

The biggest rub about service bureaus is that the image is out of the user’s control when it is out of house. Some users find it less troublesome to keep production in-house. At Engelhard Corp., film recorders are nearly as plentiful as copiers.

“We standardized on Harvard Graphics and have four or five Matrix [Instruments Inc.] PCR cameras,” said Michele Grembowicz, a systems analyst for the presentation and decision support group at Engelhard, a precious-metals manufacturing plant in Edison, N.J. “Each user is taught how to use Harvard to create the requisite .SCDL file for the Matrix camera. Next, they take the file to one of the film recorders and load the camera and software. They literally walk away from the machine with a roll of film for processing.

“We used to use a service bureau,” Grembowicz said, “but this way offers much lower cost and less delay.”

At Norfolk Southern Co., a holding company based in Roanoke, Va., users transmit the slides they create using Ashton-Tate’s Draw Applause to a central creative-services office for imaging. Although Ashton-Tate has its own service bureau, Penny Gooch, a senior consultant with Norfolk Southern, believes her company will save money by using Management Graphics Inc. communications software and a Matrix QCR at a central location.

Draw Applause suits her company’s needs perfectly, she said. “We wanted a true [what-you-see-is-what-you-get] program and one that was flexible enough to allow creativity. We felt the other contenders were lacking in these areas.”

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