photo booth: printers, bill readers

I've got offers of donation of a G4 tower and an iSight camera, so the photo booth seems to be coming together rather painlessly. The one remaining question is whether to have it make prints in addition to posting them online. Prints would be cool, of course, but it's more stuff that will break, not to mention, ink isn't cheap.

So my questions for you, dear Lazyweb:

  • What's a cheap, fast printer that I could use for this? Assume I want to print a strip of 4 small photos, say 2"×1.5", on either 2"×6" (preferable) or 4"x3" paper. Cost-per-print and printing speed are more important than quality.
  • Assuming I can't keep the cost of the ink low enough for it to be practical to do this for free, I guess I could try to make a bill reader work... There seem to be a few USB bill readers out there. Do any of you have experience with them?

I wrote the software for it the other night; give it a try if you are so moved. (MacOS 10.4 or newer.) It shows a live video preview, and when you click the mouse, it takes four pictures, with a 3 second countdown before each; then it briefly shows all four pictures, and goes back to idle.

Though I'm not sure whether that's obvious enough behavior; it'll probably need signage or on-screen text.

Suggestions for a better countdown animation? I like the look of the classic "Universal Film Leader" countdown, but those never have a "1" (they only count down to "2", then go black).

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45 Responses:

  1. baconmonkey says:

    what did you think of the DNA film leader I dent you?

    • jwz says:

      That's what's in there right now (thanks!) It's good, but I want to see if other folks have suggestions...

      • cacepi says:

        That's what's in there right now (thanks!) It's good, but I want to see if other folks have suggestions...

        I took a quick stab at one just before leaving work. Tell me what you think: here's the video.

        • jwz says:

          Cute, thanks! Can you make a version of that that counts all the way down to 1 instead of going black after 2?

          • cacepi says:

            Can you make a version of that that counts all the way down to 1 instead of going black after 2?

            I can try! Heck, even if I do it by hand, it'll finally give me a chance to justify the purchase order for Adobe Creative Suite I put in.

            I'll take a crack at it tomorrow and mail you if I strike gold.

            • cacepi says:

              I'll take a crack at it tomorrow and mail you if I strike gold.

              Or I can just reply here. This one counts down to 1 with a one second tag at the end that says "Say 'cheese!' now."

              I've also uploaded the uncompressed version so you can futz around with in iMovie if you don't like the end tag and fake dirt/scratches in the first one.


              • jwz says:

                What did you use to make that, anyway? By which I really mean, "is iMovie as monumentally useless as I think it is"?

                • cacepi says:

                  I used Photoshop to do the sweep animation - one layer for each frame - and loaded it into Final Cut Express, overlaying the numbers individually for each sweep. Took about 90 minutes from start to finish.

                  Pretty all that iMovie is good for is joining up a bunch of videos end to end or making your fishing trip look like a Ken Burns documentary.

  2. paisleychick says:

    Scuze me if I'm dumb, but why not just use PhotoBooth, if you're using a mac?

  3. ramses0 says:

    halftone filter + old business laser printer == good cost per print and arguably high reliability.

    One page per print, full screen == 4 sheets per session ... or print it four-up, one picture in each of the four corners (probably better b/c you go from a ream of paper a day to a ream of paper a week).

    Something that costs money (no matter how nice it makes prints) will kill people using it. Now, make your thingy email thumbnails to user-specified email address and something like integrate flickr / shutterfly / Target prints and then do the whole affiliate thing...

    1- Black / White, Half-Tone, Laser, Toner == reliable, cheap, replaceable
    ...stick user-URL at the bottom (

    2- Color thumbnails to email address == moichendizing, be careful re: spam.

    3- Affiliate / web store for prints == outsourced, high reliability, easy to use? (see google ad's for following search)'s get a halftone image, and it being free encourages people to use it. Reserve two blocks of space for your own use (1- the "buy-a-print" URL, 2- print like a banner ad or schedules or upcoming shows so it's minor advertising if people drop it or staple it to a wall or something). don't have to worry about people trying to rip open your tricked out g4 with i-sight to get at the money box.

    ...people who really do want actual prints (rather than just wanting to kill some time or kiss a hot girl) are able to get good prints from an online place.

    ...put some signage up that says: "you get your photo taken here, you might end up on the DNA-lounge website ... if you don't like it get your own damned camera" and then have some sort of scroller / marquee on the dna-lounge homepage, or randomly spammed out via network to different screens or whatever around the club.


  4. ubiquity75 says:

    Take that film leader, pop into iMovie, add a screen that reads "SAY 'CHEESE'" for your last second (or whatever you want it to say), save and export. Voilà.

  5. endquote says:

    The app seems to be intel-only.

    • jwz says:

      Grab it again, it's universal now.

      • endquote says:

        Neat. I made a movie of mine. It's going to be running on a donated XP box with a touch screen and a regular webcam (oddly, the highest-res one around seems to be made by MS and is much better than the iSight, which is what's used for everything in the movie).

        We're punting on printing for now (how do you deal with consumables, moving parts, and payments without driving some poor human crazy? if we're posting to flickr does that make it stupid to charge for prints?) but I'll be interested to see how you end up doing it and how it works for you. It's one of the many ideas for v2.

  6. lars_larsen says:

    The only home-made photo booth I've ever seen just had a run of the mill inkjet printer with 2"x6" paper in it. The biggest problem was paper jams. It required constant babysitting. "real" photobooth printers are $2000+ and use expensive dye/paper so you'd definitely need a bill reader.

    You might want to just give up on printing. One of your arch enemies has done just that:

    • strangehours says:

      From the look of the photos from shine, you could fund your $2000+ printer and its ink with the money you receive from blackmail payments.

  7. wisedonkey says:

    Inkjets are too damned expensive. A year or so ago a 4x6 was $0.50 per print on cheap paper. Unless you decide to buy a minilab and run it full time as a minilab, it's a losing situation.

    If you want something that won't have to replaced every week, look at the Kodak 6850 printer. It's a dye sub, so the quality is good. Not to mention it's fairly fast. It costs about $2800. The media to print 4x6 prints runs about $190 for about 750 prints. Oh, and it can churn out those prints in 8 seconds.

  8. violentbloom says:

    How many times did you end up fixing the printer yourself anyway? (you know back when you had a job you actually had to go to and work for the man.)
    Printers still jam just the same. And ink is fairly pricy. Even if you're doing laserjet half tone black and white, cartridges are upwards of 45 bucks.

    Plus once you're paying for some asswipe who's using the machine for free and not letting anyone else use it, because they can and its free, I'm sure you'll get annoyed.

    In fact taking that into account, maybe you should have some sign in process (or payment) so that it at least makes it more difficult to someone sitting there all night hogging the photo booth.

  9. netik says:

    I'm willing to assist with construction of the booth itself and help get wood / supplies / etc. Say when. I have power tools.

  10. netik says:

    hey, is this a universal binary? I get "application not supproted on this architecture."

  11. dr_memory says:

    Printers == moving parts == pain and suffering. The email route -- especially if you're not planning on charging money -- strikes me as much less likely to make you tear your hair out.

    If you think your customers won't cope without hardcopy, I'd go one of two ways:

    1. the cheapest color inkjet you can find, and never, ever, ever try to repair it: just budget replacing it 3-4 times a year. Hell, some of the cheapest ones are cheaper than the ink refills -- just buy a new printer and give away the old one as a door prize.

    2. a 4-6 year old color laser printer (HP4500 the the like-- $150-250 on ebay) - the quality is only so-so, especially on standard paper, but it's much less likely to break, and the consumables cost is much lower per page than the inkjets.

    • baconmonkey says:

      new laser printers can be found for around $100 new these days, even from people like HP.
      Compusa has a Brother laser printer for $70 right now.

      Thermal-paper label printers can be found for $100, and most print up to 2.25" they are tiny, have negligible moving parts, and don't use ink or toner. they do fade eventually, and are low res black and white. The trick is finding paper, and not stickers.

      • gunsafety says:

        Stickers could be cool too though. A lot of the booths in Japantown and similar arcades are all stickers now.

        • jwz says:

          I see you're volunteering to scrape stickers off of every single surface in the building, then. Why don't you take care of the chewing gum while you're at it.

          • gunsafety says:

            While sitting and watching TV I thought about this whole printer situation, and thought exactly that. Stickers would be everywhere. Oh well, if only it was a perfect world.

  12. duskwuff says:

    A lot of arcade machines use bill acceptors; I haven't looked in detail, but you can likely get "replacements" pretty cheap. Standard interface appears to be "switch closes once per 25¢" or similar; it's probably going to be easiest to interface this with an old USB keyboard or mouse.

  13. Lasers are the only high reliability solution in my experience.

    Agreed with someone above. And the little HP ones are very good and ridiculously cheap.

  14. burma_sauce says:

    Your biggest problem will probably be the reliability of the printer.

    Tim Hunkin has built a photobooth, and according to his write-up he had loads of problems with it until he bought a professional dye-sub printer for it

    (read all of it, especially the "18 MONTHS LATER" bit near the bottom)

  15. benediktus says:

    how about an old dot matrix printer with tractor feed?
    you could even put greenish ink on the ribbon.
    reliable, inexpensive and oh-so-nerdy.

    • baconmonkey says:

      screw that.
      It's all about the Daisy Wheel, Baby!
      full-page printouts using different characters for different levels of shading.

      • benediktus says:

        have you played atari today?

        seriously: those seikosha high speed dot matrix printers really kicked it. and using
        aascii-art they were jotting it in no time (840 cps).... back in those days....

        i still use my commodore mps 1200 for stuff like this.

  16. cnoized says:

    Prints great inkjet 4x6 images. Should be able to handle 2x6 paper.
    4x6 prints are $24/100 including ink, you can buy paper separately at 100 for $12 of which the ink cartridge usually prints 50 extra so that's 20 cents per 4x6. The printer is < $200 and does arond 5000 prints, so that's an extra 4cents per print. Maybe 14 cents per 2x6 is reasonable.

    You'd still have to rig the paper feed and output for better volume.
    You would also have to change the ink every 300 prints... maybe not.

  17. lovingboth says:

    Too much hassle. Printers jam or run out of paper / ink / toner too often. People will moan about the quality of all but the very best results.

    If people can't print them off from the website themselves, offer a link to a site that will, and make sure you get an affilate kickback from them.

  18. jayrtfm says:
    Printpix NC-1000 Digital Photo Printer. This photo printing system utilizes a dry, clean printing process; one which uses no ink, toner or ribbon. Instead, it uses a special paper that generates its own colors when heated by the printer's thermal heads.... 80 seconds to print one 4" x 6" print, $0.21 per