Epson software matches up cameras, printers

Seiko Epson has introduced a digital photography technology that provides a link between digital cameras and photo printers to produce consistent photographic prints from capture to output.

Epson is hoping that its Print Image Matching (PIM) will become a standard technology used in all future digital cameras. The technology has already gained the support of major manufacturers of digital still cameras, such as Sony, Kyocera, Konica, Minolta, Olympus, Ricoh, Toshiba, Asahi Optical, Sanyo Electric, and Nikon.

"PIM is expected to push the boundaries of digital photography and overcome previously associated limitations," said Toshio Kimura, senior managing director and chief executive of imaging and information products of Epson. Epson executives explained that with PIM, the captured image on a digital camera is guaranteed to match the image quality of its print output.

They added that the current technology used in digital photography has difficulty in reproducing accurate digital images. Although digital cameras have the capability to capture a wider range of colors, devices for processing the captured image, such as PCs and printers, are only characterised by sRGB color values. Those sRGB color values are limited and do not generate all colors in the visible range. (For example, they do not produce some shades of green.) The image is printed according to the color parameters of the printer, thereby losing the original aspects of the captured image.

PRINT IMAGE MATCHING

PIM, developed by Epson, is software embedded in the digital camera or photo printer. PIM has the ability to reproduce colors outside the sRGB color space as captured by the digital camera. Print images are printed with the correct colors as defined by the digital camera, bypassing the printer's parameters.

When a photo is taken, image-specific settings are stored in the digital camera as print commands and are saved in an EXIF header -- a JPEG header that can contain camera-related information. Other image parameters such as reference color, light and shade value, saturation and balance, brightness, and contrast can be written into this header. Once a PIM-enabled printer receives this file, the utility software automatically processes the image. It gets the command parameters set by the digital camera, resulting in a print output that accurately matches the image characteristics of the captured image.

The first printing device developed to support PIM is the Epson Stylus Photo 895. A key feature of this printer is its direct printing capability. It has a PC card slot that supports different memory formats such as CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and others. The memory card from the digital camera is inserted into the printer's PC card slot, enabling the printer to process and print images without PC intervention. The Epson PhotoPC 3100Z digital camera complements this PIM-enabled printer. Both products will be available in the Philippines by July.

Siew Jin Kiat, product marketing manager of Epson Singapore, said that in Asia-Pacific last year, Epson sold two million inkjet printers, 5 percent of which were photo printers. By next year, Epson expects that 15 percent of its total inkjet printers sold will be PIM-enabled photo printers. Epson also expects that by the end of 2001, 50 percent of digital still cameras will be PIM-enabled.

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