Instant printing of digital photos is the next frontier for Polaroid, the company's chairman and CEO Gary DiCamillo has revealed.

Polaroid will today unveil two digital-printing platforms – codenamed Onyx and Opal – that it hopes will revive its slumping sales, and position it as a key player in the emerging digital-imaging market.

The company's sales fell in the third quarter of 2000, and it posted a $38 million operating loss for the first quarter of 2001.

Opal and Onyx are designed to increase the quality and lower the cost of rapidly printed digital-images. Opal generates colour print-outs, and Onyx develops monochrome and black-&-white images. The systems utilize specially coated paper and a thermal process. Unlike traditional Polaroid instant photos, print-outs created with Onyx and Opal require no drying.

Speed merchant Polaroid plans to work with a wide array of third-party hardware manufacturers to extend Opal and Onyx to a diverse mix of devices, DiCamillo said. Consumers will be able to purchase home printers capable of generating finished 4-x-6-inch images in less than 30 seconds. Commercial printers will be able to create 50 to 60 images per minute, according to Polaroid.

Other devices in the works include: portable printers that will attach to mobile phones and handheld computers; cameras with built-in instant digital printers; and an assortment of teen-focused toys for printing stickers and temporary tattoos. Polaroid also hopes to introduce Opal and Onyx to corporate and academic markets.

Devices incorporating Onyx will hit the market by the end of 2001, DiCamillo said, and Opal devices will be available in 2002. Polaroid also hopes to introduce Opal and Onyx to corporate and academic markets.

Job cuts In a recent annual letter to shareholders, DiCamillo wrote that Polaroid expects the current economic gloom to last throughout the year. To compensate, the company is streamlining by cutting costs and 11 per cent of its workforce.

"Selling digital cameras is not a very profitable business. It looks like the PC business, like the consumer electronics business," he said, citing two sectors struggling with low margins and price warfare. "You have to use it as a bridging mechanism."

DiCamillo said the pricing of Opal- and Onyx-printed images will vary by product, and depend on hardware partners. He did say, however, that Polaroid expects the systems to be priced "very competitively" against rival technologies, including inkjet printing.