Elpical celebrates 25th Anniversary

The Dutch software developer is looking back proudly at the many milestones in its history of developing automated image optimization for the publishing industry.

In 1997 the world-renowned camera manufacture, Victor Hasselblad, sold off its digital imaging software division to the newly founded Elpical Software. Since then Elpical has experienced remarkable growth and development.

Claro is now used on a daily basis at the world’s most recognizable newspaper and magazine publishers in 59 countries.” Said John de Jong, CEO and owner of Elpical Software. “Along with traditional publishers, today Claro is in use by a wide range of customers including major retailers, photobook producers, web2print stores and many more.

A rich and colourful history

Although imaging software technology was still in its relatively early days in 1997, Elpical focused on delivering an application aimed at reducing the burden of manual image processing through Photoshop (version 4.0 was the current release), enabling the imaging operators to concentrate on the more creative parts of their craft.

Spector, Claro’s original name, was developed initially for the Sun SPARC system and, in 1999, had its first installation at the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper in Germany (who are still customers today). The production team had worked closely with the Elpical development group and were keen to harness the latest in technology to complement their image toning workflow.

Further development saw Claro run on all operating systems (today it also takes advantage of all that cloud technology offers) and, over the next few years with support from Elpical’s technology partners in Europe and the US, more and more publishers embraced the technology of Claro and what it delivered in terms of quality and cost savings.

DRUPA 2008 Exhibition

DRUPA 2008 in Dusseldörf, Germany was the turning point, when I appreciated the potential Claro had for publishers on a global level” de Jong fondly remembers “I was in the Innovation Hall and had groups of people queuing up to see a demonstration of Claro. It was so busy I didn’t even have time for lunch”.

Along with the excited publishers visiting DRUPA 2008 there were a number of technology providers that saw the opportunity to implement Claro into new markets.

“The exhibition was a catalyst for expanding Claro into regions we’d never considered previously. Africa, South America, South East Asia and Australasia all shared a growing interesting in Claro”. De Jong recalls.

It’s not only publishers – thinking outside the box

With the energy from DRUPA, the customer base grew steadily, with significant US, UK and European publishing houses adopting the Claro technology.

However, in addition to the publishers, Tools4Media Inc., a US based technology partner, saw an opportunity for Claro with two of the USA’s largest fashion retailers and, after comprehensive testing and due diligence, successfully implemented the software into their extensive marketing operations. Meanwhile in Europe, A&F Systems determined there were similar opportunities at supermarket organizations and successfully installed Claro at two major chains.

Needless to say, in the past few years the adoption of Claro has continued to spread outwards, away from Claro’s traditional space of newspapers and magazines. The development of internet platforms has given rise to new markets that demand high quality images for successful business transactions. What is quite different however today, is the vastly higher numbers of images to be processed on an hourly or daily basis.

Technology advancement

Image creation and capture has changed dramatically in the 25 years since Elpical first formed in 1997. For context, the very first photo taken and sent via a camera phone was in the same year. Philippe Kahn sent a photo to his family and friends of his newborn daughter on June 11,1997. https://petapixel.com/2017/06/14/first-camera-phone-photo-shot-20-years-ago/

Along with the first camera phone photo being taken, there were several pivotal technology news stories from 1997:

• Google.com is registered as a domain name

• Steve Jobs returns to run Apple Computers

• Netflix is founded

• NASA’s Mars Pathfinder lands on the surface of Mars

• IBM’s Deep Blue Defeats Kasparov

• Wi-fi routing 802.11 protocol created

• Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4 is released

• HTML 4.0 is published

• First e-reader created, the Rocketbook.

• MP3 players are launched

In the time since, we’ve witnessed incredible leaps forward in both technology and camera (phone) capabilities, putting cutting edge photography into the hands of users that are far removed from the traditional photographer, with a compacted range of photography knowledge.

This technology provides editors with a compromise in terms of quality and relevance – does the immediacy of the image outweigh the lack/reduction in quality that a mobile phone camera delivers? Clearly this is not a new issue but understanding image quality issues, inherent with mobile phone cameras, is key to the continuing relevancy of Claro in a news publishing environment.

Addressing this type of ever evolving issue lies at the heart of the development team of Claro. Along with a passion to generate the best-looking images possible, there is always a focus on what new technology is offered and potential issues it creates for Elpical’s customers. We see this most recently in Adobe’s support for the Webp file format in Photoshop. An excellent, yet under used image format that has been around for over 10 years, is now offered as a file output option from Photoshop and subsequently there’s a huge increase in the number of .webp files being created. Claro is being updated to be able to process these as well as other ‘new’ image formats.

Artificial Intelligence expands the role of image optimisation

In addition to the advances in image capture, the last 3 to 5 years have seen an explosion in the development, accuracy and use of AI to provide intelligence to the image. Computer Vision as the field is known, can now provide a solid understanding of the subject of the photo and label the image with appropriate keywords, giving rise to a whole range of possibilities for use. Additionally, generating GPS coordinates based on landmarks, reporting on logo usage and object identification means the potential for image optimisation is ever expanding.

One particularly interesting application of AI is in the highly accurate, automatic removal of image backgrounds. Traditionally, this manual process could consume many hours of Photoshop operator’s day. Now, with the advancements in AI, Claro reduces this task to mere seconds, enabling the PS team to focus on the subjective side of image manipulation. In feedback to Elpical, several newspaper and magazine publishers have reported ~90% successful cut-out rates.

The next 25

So, as we pass through the quarter of a century marker, there is still a great passion for developing Claro, making photos look the very best they can.

However, there’s more than just the development; there’s the vision for continually assessing new imaging technologies that can complement Claro’s core processes, bringing remarkable functionality to the spectrum of Elpical customers through a single application.

While Claro has always integrated well into editorial, content management and digital asset management systems today’s focus on cloud-based operations is also well supported. There are some extraordinary use cases of Claro being deployed across geographically diverse datacenters for multi-national organisations.

This all helps focus Claro on what’s important, empowering businesses with intelligent and powerful image optimization.

de Jong continues “These are very exciting times; we’ve seen huge advancements in the accuracy of AI as well as some very interesting initial attempts at resolving issues that have plagued photo editors and brand owners for decades. Who would have imagined 25 years ago, that Claro would be developing and harnessing cutting edge artificial intelligence for so many different clients around the globe?”

Closing, de Jong says “Truly, it’s been an amazing journey to this point, and I’m so thankful to all of our customers, technology partners and the Elpical team that have been such a key part of all of this. Here’s to the next 25…”