PRIMA & PMI merger puts Eco-Solvent vs Latex and Toner vs Electroink in spotlight

PRIMA – part of the US/UK photobook, wall décor and personalised products giant District Photo, is buying PMI Pty Ltd, Chris Zapris’ similar business established with the help of Vic. Govt. Government funding in 2012. The two previously fierce competitors use different production technologies – which ones will win out?

DistrictPhoto Indigos
Parent District Photo in the USA has fleets of HP Indigos


District Photo was once a network of film processing laboratories. It was founded in 1949 by Merv Cohen. Today, District Photo is a global e-commerce group that includes digital print imaging businesses. They can put photos and designs on almost any item, including Mugs. T-Shirts. Canvas wall art. Other textiles. And of course Photobooks. PRIMA Printing is a subsidiary from District Photo, and was founded in Australia in 2016.

The Cohen Family still controls District Photo, with the founder’s heirs Neil and Keith Cohen managing the investments. They teamed up with Apollo Private Equity in 2019 to become minority shareholders in the merged Snapfish online photo business and Shutterfly. Snapfish was renamed after the UK acquisition of TruPrint/Harrier Group.

Interesting connection to Snapfish is that PMI was originally established as the Australian production center for Snapfish by HP. However – HP sold off Snapfish in 2015 to – wait for it – District Photo, who had originally sold Snapfish to HP in 2005, for US$300 million. Do you want to follow this?

District Photo set up PRIMA Printing Australia in 2016. Snapfish was also purchased by them. Both PRIMA and PMI offer production services to major retailers like Woolworths, Coles and OfficeWorks. Now, the two will come together – but what of the production equipment?

Two differing imaging approaches

Prima Banner.png

Prima Printing is currently in operation in Noble Park, Vic

8 Ricoh 9210 A3 Printers for Photobooks

5 x Epson Surecolor 60600 Ecosolvent wide format printers, for Canvas, Wall Art, etc

16 x Epson Surecolor F7200 dye-subs for home décor, soft signage etc

2 x Kornit Atlas DTG printers for T-Shirts, Tote Bags etc

PMI LogoColPMI in Melbourne and Brunswick differ in the fact that they are currently running:

5 x HP Indigo Electroink presses

8 x HP Large Format Printers

Both operations use Horizon PUR binding. PMI, District Photo USA and District Photo USA also have silver-halide production capabilities. This is a reflection of the group’s photolab origins.

What will happen to 4 distinct production technologies when these two ex-fierce competitors come together? In the short term, it probably won’t make any difference. Both companies are nearing their busiest season for personalized gifting and phtobooks. Orders come in online from a variety of sources – both organisations operate multiple websites and deal with multiple outlets in order fulfillment.

Customers may continue to notice the difference over time, much in the same manner that they comment on KodakFujifilmAgfa differences during photochemical imaging days. ‘Fuji is contrasty and has brighter greens…Agfa is warmer and great for autumn shots’ they would say. Eco-solvent tends to have brighter colours, and lasts longer outside. Ricoh, a dry toner process, is used for photobooks. It is considered mature technology. To overcome the inkjet challenge, all toner manufacturers have invested time and effort into improving quality, resolution, and colour.

While Indigo has been the preferred photo-quality press for a number of years, is built ‘like a press’ for higher duty cycles and has extensive extra colour capability with IndiChrome; many customers can no longer tell the difference in the end results.

District Photo USA, a US-based photo agency, uses Indigos as well as inkjet. PRIMA Ricohs are an exceptional member of the group.

It’s a fascinating conundrum now that Australia’s two largest photobook, canvas and other wall art and photo-gifting are merging. PMI Imageworks was founded as a competitor of Glenn Innes (NSW-based wholesale fulfillment company Photo Create), who created the entire personalised print game. Rob Tolmie, a former executive at Photo Create, assisted in the creation of PMI.

PMI was granted a $2.6 million government boost in 2012, from a fund set up to create jobs following the closure of the Ford plant in Broadmeadows, boosting manufacturing employment in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

In the digital print imaging realm, things can change quickly. In the end it will probably come down to dollars and cents and if the ‘value proposition’ suits customer expectations.

These two successful print businesses have shown how to adapt to the digital shift in analogue to digital and to the rise of e-commerce. This is a lesson for printers of any size.


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