Picture It First?

Jim Miller

SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Forum Donor
Founding Member
Nov 5, 1997
Suburban Central Ohio
Picture it First software was introduced at the WCAF-Las Vegas show in January, and I thought it was quite a good idea. With the introductory price offered there, I now think I should have bought it on the spot.

I would like to hear opinions from Grumblers who have installed this software. Is it really as user-friendly and sales-effective as it seems?

Also, advice about cameras and other hardware would be helpful. I plan to hang the camera from our 12 ft. ceiling, and snap the photo via computer keyboard.

For those unfamiliar, Picture It First involves photographing the art and frame design samples laid out on the design table. The software automatically duplicates the mat and moulding samples all the way around the art, and displays what the finished project would look like on a computer screen.

Unlike previous framing imaging systems, this one photographs what is on the table; it does not rely on images loaded into the program.

A framing friend and I agree that this could be the most important new framing product to come along in quite a while.
Jim, if you haven't already, order the evaluation copy. It's fully functional, I believe, but gives you a limited number of images to process.

Of course, you'd need the camera, or at least, some kind of digital camera. The recommended Canon with the 10X optical zoom sounds like a great camera for the software.

I have the evaluation copy but haven't set it up yet. For someone like myself without a showroom and mostly doing house calls and email business, it seems like a logical choice.

I think I should move this to the geek forum. What do you think?
Jim, I have spent the better part of today setting up my PIF system.

As to cameras, you need to use Canons. they have a remote shooting feature on most of there digitals. the software is called ez-browser. I am using it with a Canon A70 that i bought on ebay. The A400 will also work well. PIF suggests the Canon S1-IS with a 10x zoom. this is over kill for most situations, but for Jim's 12' high ceilings it might be helpfull.

When looking at cameras you need to look for optical zoom. digital zoom is just about worthless.

Other things that you will need include, AC power supply, USB extension with repeater, and a ceiling camera mount.

At PIF current price the total cost for a complete set-up could end up being as much as 2k.

Jim, if your interested I have a brand new Canon S1-IS for sale, it's $349 that is what Dell is selling it for. I bought this before I relized that it was over kill for my shop.
No I don't think you should Ron. This software is revolutionary in what it can do for the 21 century frame shop.
We use it for almost every client and it really helps to close the sales. It's fairly simple to operate and the clients appreciate it.

The new demo was recently released, which lets you take real pictures with your own camera and includes 4 samples.

http://www.lifesaversoft.com/ and click on PIF. Note: It's a big file ~18mb, so if you're on dialup it's probably best to ask them to mail it.
Talking to LifeSaver at the last few trade shows, I shared my feelings that similar ventures had been done before, and I wasn't really sure how much I needed this technology. Keep in mind that our shop has already embraced technology: We've had six networked computers in our shop with a POS system since 1999 (Specialty Soft) and a own a CMC as well (Fletcher F-6100).

I just felt that you'd loose some of the warm, "touchy-feely" aspect of the framing sales process with this contraption. And for most customers, I think this is still a true statment.

However, just two weeks ago, our website draws a customer who lives about 3 hours away. He had Googled "framed stamps" and found us. Ends up driving to visit and drops a $1,000+ order. Last week, he emails, requesting that we send him image attachments of the designs. :D Picture It First would have made life easier.

Questions: When you save and send images, is there control on file size? Can it handle multiple opening designs?

I can definitely see that this will probably be something we will add this year.

OK Mike,

I've already downloaded the demo software, and can see that this is pretty easy & intuitive for staff to work and learn. That's good. :D

I like the option of creating wall color for the customer.

  • The Demo version doesn't appear to have any outside moulding to design with? So the inventory of moulding and matting is whatever you shoot in the image. Any way to reference the selections?</font>
  • What is the recommended lighting configuration for best results on image quality, glare issues and true color rendition?</font>
  • Does the purchase price include any upgrades? Any upgrades being planned or considered?</font>
  • I don't see any multiple opening capabilities from the demo....has this been discussed?</font>

Good morning John,

I have to admit, I approached this sheepishly at first and felt the same way. When asked my opinion prior to the release, I was less than enthusiastic. However!
After using it and seeing the reaction from clients, I've done a 360 and wouldn't have it any other way.

I just felt that you'd loose some of the warm, "touchy-feely" aspect of the framing sales process with this contraption. And for most customers, I think this is still a true statment.
It's pretty much business as usual, with the same workflow and personal touch. If they have a perplexed look on their face, turning their head at the design counter, or if they try to stand on the stool and look down..... That's when you can potentially save the sale... "I can give you a better idea of how it will look framed, or even a slide show of the various choices you had." A minute later, they'll be wow'ed with the outcome. It's difficult to visualize with just a corner sample. We marketed this in our recent newsletter, and several folks have come in specifically to check it out. The ability to email designs has been super, too, especially for our corporate clients.

This is only the initial version of the product, and I know they have some exciting improvements in the works. I never asked these questions, so i'm not able to answer on their behalf, but i'm pretty sure upgrades are free for the time being. (I would guess at least for a year, but that's pure speculation)

It takes a picture of what's on the design counter, without a database. By referencing do you mean printing the moulding number(s) on the screen? Putting an optional text comment on the image may be a feature they can add, and they're always looking for ideas. Having it optionally export a lower resolution image suitable for emailing to dialup users may be worthy of consideration. The output files aren't huge, but if attaching several it could become an issue. I'm sure they will see this thread and give it consideration.

Lighting depends on the digital camera's abilities. There are very few situations where lighting will be an issue, because today's cameras are so adaptable and automatic. I've taken pictures in pitch dark, and with full sunlight, with similar results. The flash is automatic, only when needed. The pictures you saw in the new demo were actually taken from our design counter (Andy's pastel and my parent's wedding photo), in full sunlight. (We have too much sun in our shop)

The camera can be ceiling mounted, and requires 2 wires. One for a/c power to eliminate batteries, and the other is a USB cable that goes to the host PC. The host PC controls every aspect of the camera including the zoom, shutter, settings, etc. You'll want a Canon camera, usb extension cable (staples) or repeater if over 16', ceiling bracket (LSS has em), and a pc. We're using our regular Lifesaver workstation for both. The product doesn't require LifeSaver's POS system and is a standalone program. There are additional bits of info in the above referenced link to a recent thread about this topic.

Have a great weekend!
I may be alone but the price is a major consideration for me. It’s a great program at $500. At a $1000 it’s a bit inflated. The asking price of $1500 is laughable. Especially when you consider that the software is just the beginning. Do you need another computer and/or monitors, camera, cables........ From start to finish you could easily end up spending $2000 or more to get it running. How do we figure value of equipment that does nothing to increase production?

As companies tweak and perfect this technology a bit, the software overall will become better and drastically cheaper. I'm gonna wait a bit.

Over all, I can see this type of software being as common as v-nailers in shops. Customers aren’t the only ones being WOW’d by it. I’m having a blast messing with it.
Well, I spent $16,000 on this type of package in 1996 along with POS software for framing. Customers loved it for the few months it worked. $1500 does seem high considering what some software goes for now, but consider that the developer put a lot of time and skill in producing this product and it will be sold to a limited market. There are only so many picture framers, and there are much less who embrace technology.

Anyway, I got burned beyond belief in 1996. It looks like this system doesn't have one major thing that doomed my previous buy-in: the reliance on the developer to keep programming in new mouldings.

I plan on trying this one out.
For those of you who have it... how big of a monitor do you think it would look good on? If I wanted to hang a 30" or 45" flat panel on the wall would the image look good?
Jay I do agree with you, but I must say I disagree more. Now I shall admit that I do not own this.

I would think that $1500 seems high, but the name of the game is sales in this case and not production. This is a sales tool that helps to make the customer more comfortable with thier choice. So I think anything that can help you turn a walker into a buyer is something to look at.

I have read these threads before and shrugged them off myself. This one seems to have peaked my interest. I can see this being very valuable asset. Heck if you can email this to a corporate client...that would be great. If you are dealing with a designer and they come in and say well if I had something to show the higher ups...it helps complete the sale. I see this as being a good step forward, I think people like michaels might even look at this. And since they are not right now, step infront of them and offer something new and unique.

Patrick Leeland
Johnny that would look FANTASTIC...

We're very happy here with a 17" LCD, which is suspended at customer's eye level. While it's not running pif, it has a powerpoint type presentation that showcases optional services and treatments. (photo restoration, fabric mats, cmc cuts, museum glass, liebermans database, pif, etc)

Snapshot-1 Snapshot-2

Originally posted by johnny:
... how big of a monitor do you think it would look good on? If I wanted to hang a 30" or 45" flat panel on the wall would the image look good?
I don't have it yet, but I'll respond anyway. The flat-panel monitors I've seen are long but not tall. I think the panel's height would limit the size of the image.

If a large image on the wall is the goal, how about using a DLP data projector? Of course, the wall would need to be in low light for best results.
You two have some high tech ideas
I'd wait until Atlanta at least. I hear that Wizard is working on something similar. Even if not SOMEBODY will and I'll bet a beer at the Omini it will be less than $1000. I'll bet another that it will be an equally quality product.
Thank you for the insights! Mike, nice place! Thank you for the pics, they were very helpful. It looks like some great technology. I can't believe they draw around any frame you put on the table. Do the mat colors come out relatively consistent on screen or is it a "ballpark, get the feeling" kinda thing?

Jim, you got a good point about that screen. I really like the idea of the projector, but I'd have to shut blinds on the windows (4 of them 60 x 80 inches plus one more at a different angle). I have plans for dealing with that with the tv screen. On a side note, I really wanted to come to your mylar talk in Hudson, OH last Monday - couldn't get away that evening because of a family commitment. We'll catch ya someday!

I've got some time to think about it. We're repainting and redoing all the artwork and sample walls now. The screen was going to be the icing when we're done. I was also hoping to find a good CD or web based graphics cataloging system to put on it, so it will doubletask.
Since the PIF base image includes the art and the mats, if the color is off a bit it will be consistent throught out.
Two thoughts on this. Probably not popular but based on experience. Personally I like the small foot print a flat screen has but, the reality is that CRTs give noticably better color rendition. Especially compared to a low cost or uncalibrated flat screen. If you have the space (which most don't) I'd go with CRT. I just bought a 19" high res Viewsonic CRT at Fry's for $149. Hard to beat.

Second, try using a grey background for your table top. White goofs up the white balance and dulls the image. 18% grey will give you better colors.

But in the end, most color is close enough. The customer will get the point quite clearly with visualization.
Originally posted by jim@wiz:

But in the end, most color is close enough. The customer will get the point quite clearly with visualization.
And isn't that the whole idea?
One other thing about monitors.
We have a LCD flat Panel 19 inch for PIF. One thing nice about it is that it can "swivel up" for vertical viewing.
The reason this feature is nice is that some images are quite long when you "take the picture".
So consider a monitor that will turn up.

As you know, I am in the process of setting this system up. I want to have dual monitor - one facing me and one facing the customer. What extra components do I need to do this?? Lifesaver mentioned a dual head video card and an "altamon" program. Did you use these?? If so, where did you find them and what do you recommend. My searches are coming up with nothing or stuff that I'm not sure if it is correct.

Thanks - I'm almost there, just a couple of things to sort out - especially with the upgrade and the interface with the POS

Hi Elaine

The response to PIF has been amazing, and clients love it. It's so much easier to close a sale when they can "see" it framed.

Word spread that we were doing this here and some others wanted the same setup. It's very smooth and keeps our POS screen from customer view. After explaining it on the phone a few times, I started typing up instructions - but they're very basic at the moment. I apologize for this and will try to improve them soon.

You can do it with a high end video card that has support for dual monitors built in. If you are like most of us that have an economy PC with a built in video card, it's also possible to add a second card to accomodate the second monitor.

Ultramon is an optional shareware program that lets you easily manage multiple monitors, so you can assign a "hotkey" for toggling the image from one to the other. We hit F9 to send it to the customer's screen, and F9 to bring it back. It's also possible to just drag it to the other monitor, without Ultramon.

We suspended the "customer" monitor above the design counter, and have customized the wallpaper with some positively worded store policies. The customer monitor also has a slide show that runs (windows SLIDE SHOW screen saver) when we're not using the PC, showing about 60 marketing slides that explain optional treatments and services. Andy actually FRAMED the customer monitor with a wide Ambrosia frame, and it get's a lot of positive comments.

This is how we did it: (to be improved soon)


Looking at your last url link. Does this software need to have the mouldings and colour mats already downloaded, or does it just pick up from the sample supplied in the cameras view finder?

The reason why this is important to me, is that so many of the software packages I look at are made overseas, and I am always worried if the metric measurement, moulding suppliers etc would make a different to how well they would work.
Mike, Looking at your last url link. Does this software need to have the mouldings and colour mats already downloaded, or does it just pick up from the sample supplied in the cameras view finder?

The reason why this is important to me, is that so many of the software packages I look at are made overseas, and I am always worried if the metric measurement, moulding suppliers etc would make a different to how well they would work.
Hi Dave

It's a unique concept, since it doesn't require a large database of mouldings or mats. It relies solely on a single digital picture of your design counter, with these items already laid out around the client's art.

It works with any pos system, or even for folks that don't yet have a pos system. It doesn't care if you are metric or not. The background/wall color can be changed to suit the client's tastes, and you can do a side by side comparison (or slide show) that contains multiple mat, filet, and moulding selections. Results can be exported to your screen, printer or email, when preparing proposals for clients.

Most folks turn the viewfinder off and remotely control the camera's zoom and shutter from the PC. We have our cam mounted to the ceiling.

There's a fully functioning demo available at http://www.lifesaversoft.com/ if you feel like trying it out. The demo will work with your camera, or you can try the included sample pictures. They give a full month to try it in a live environment, without obligation.

CMC's, POS, and Visualization systems are becoming "must have" items -- in my opinion.
For those considering a visualization system in Atlanta, here is a deal I found for the recommended camera:

$299.90 Canon S1 IS LINK
Less 25% off coupon 1MJ2FVWS811XST Exp Th 9/15 5:59am CT or after 4000 uses
Less stackable coupon $35 off $300+ Code: 64DW9D95?$T9S?
$189.93 with FREE SHIPPING (I believe MSRP is $399)

NOTE: To qualify for the $35 coupon, your order must reach $300. (so you need to add something worth at least 10 cents) If you don't wish to do so, you can apply a $20 off $150+ coupon instead BSKWNFLX$9B704
Possible items for padding: 50 pack of CDRs $16.96 LINK, USB 16' cable range extender $24.99 LINK

See you in Atlanta!
Originally posted by Mike-L@GTP:
...We have our cam mounted to the ceiling...

I appreciate the link to Dell for the Canon S1 Camera, but I'm also looking at slightly more expensive Canon's with more megapixels to accomplish this task, perhaps the A95 model?

Do you have a source for the ceiling mount, Mike?

And what did you do with AC power? Do you run an extension cord up or have an electrician provide you with a ceiling power box? (And avoid the wrath of the fire inspector's bi-annual inspections! :D

I'll be honest, that I'm more seriously looking at Wizard's version of Wizard's Integrated Framer. It appears to do a whole lot more, and is half the price!


John we ran a short cord ( with a plug on it)from our track light that is above counter. The cord is wired into a standard box that is used for a pendant light that hangs from a track system.

We already had the pendant light...just cut the cord really short and wired a plug. That way the plug is right there and no special wiring.

The s1 si is a great camera by the way ...
What we did for our show camera was to simply have someone splice in a piece of speaker wire into the camera DC power line. That's the camera side of the power supply. Its usually a very small wire. Since the camera is generally stationary, if the wire is soldered and taped or shrink wrapped properly, it is sturdy and reliable.

This way we could still use the manufacturer's plug in the camera and, we did not have to run AC above the table. Its simple to do and you can get everything you need at radio shack. The low voltage wire (usually 7-9VDC) has no significant safety issues, unlike the 120V AC. Just find someone who knows how to solder. Total cost is under $5.

Make sure you connect the positive to positive and negative to negative when you splice in the wire.
Caller, I’m going to go way out on a limb and assume that speaker wire is called “speaker” wire because its meant to be used specifically on speakers. Even if it’s safe to use speaker wire to carry this low current, it costs about 4 times more than current carrying conductors. That just doesn’t seem practical.

I’m thinking that an extension cord would be a much better option. I think this can be a DIY job but I would at least want the opinion of an electrician before I started cutting perfectly good power supplies into pieces.
Wizard also has a ceiling mount available for $45.00, which also includes a 10ft USB Extension Cable.
The four visualization products at the show were similar and each had their positive and negative points. One was only $99, but in that case it was obvious that you get what you pay for
PIF and WIF are both from top notch companies that are the leaders in their respective areas. I have tried both products, and have nothing but positive comments about each of them. They're both young products, and I feel they will continue to improve/evolve. In the 8 months we have had ours, Picture it First has probably paid for itself 10 times. The initial investment was minimal compared to the return.

Personally, I think 3.2 megapixels are more than sufficient. We have our (S1) lowered below the 3.2 (highest quality) setting. We also own an A80 and an A95 and found virtually no difference in the results. At the show I was very impressed with the A510 LifeSaver was showing at one of the stations, as an inexpensive alternative.

The optical zoom capability is likely a more important factor, especially if the ceilings are high. Digital zoom, in my opinion, isn't worth a dime.

Zooming in at close range produces a nice clear shot, and uses considerably less disk space and temporary ram. Being efficient is especially important when interfacing with your POS and/or storing the images.

CANON A95 $348
3x optical zoom

CANON A510 $167
4x optical zoom

CANON S1 IS $229
10x optical zoom

CANON S2 IS $424
12x optical zoom

I would suggest going with a camera that has been recommended by your vendor, tested with the product, and tested in the field for some time. You can't go wrong with a Canon in any case.

The vendor should also be able to provide a good source for brackets. Some brackets screw in, some clip to ceiling grids, some do both. It's important to get a bracket that has a long enough shaft, so the wires coming from the camera don't hit the ceiling.

In our case, we wired a switched power outlet above the drop ceiling as part of the original shop design. (for holiday lights) Luckily, it was only a couple feet from the location of the camera. I put an X10 device on the power supply and tied it into our shop automation system that controls the shop's other devices. (open signs, outdoor signs, perimeter lighting, compressor, vnailer, drymount press, coffee pot, security cameras, monitors, printers, digital music, etc) Some people have spliced/extended their power wire so it accompanies the USB cable and plugs in with the computer. Either way will do the job

Trying new technology is always fun and I give the same advice as POS systems: Try ALL the demos and see which "feels best" for your business and workflow. This is a "must have" technology that will likely change the industry, much like POS systems and CMCs have.

Best regards,
Yeah, for most people I talked to at the show, I recomended the S1 or the A95.. if you get on froogle.com (Google's search for prices), I've seen the A95 in the low $200s, such as this site for $217 Digital Cameras Netfirm, though you'll probably pay a little more at a well known retailer... I'd keep an eye on e-bay too.

The A510 is also a sweet deal and works very well.

I showed the S2 at the show with Integrated Framer and about the only difference people would notice is that it transfers images from the camera almost instantly, while the A95 takes about 3-4 seconds..
I received close to a dozen emails this week from people who bought this product or took advantage of the Tru-Vue/LifeSaver offering, shopping for an appropriate system deal. This is the message I promised. It's a decent configuration and deal for a POS and/or visualization system. I suggest upgrading to 1gb RAM and considering the 19" LCD upgrade for $80. The other items are fine:

The Dell Dimension 5150 is on sale for $499 after a $100 rebate Shipping and Handling is $24 + Tax LINK TO DEAL

Processor Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor 630 w/HT Technology (3.0GHz,800FSB) Operating System Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition
Operating System Backup & Recovery PC Restore recovery system Symantec
Memory 256MB DDR2 SDRAM at 400MHz (1x256M)
Limited Warranty, Services and Support Options 90 day On-Site parts and labor, 90 day phone technical support
Mail- In Rebate $100
Keyboard Dell USB Keyboard edit
Mouse Dell® 2-button USB mouse edit
17 inch E173FP Analog Flat Panel
80GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache

It comes with a Single Drive: 48x CD-ROM Drive, but an upgrade to Dual Drives: 16x DVD-ROM Drive + 48x CD-RW Drive is only $20. Also, the upgrade from the 17-inch to 19 inch E193FP Analog Flat Panel is only $80. 160gb Hard Drive upgrade is $40. 1gb ram upgrade is $100.

E-Value Code: 6W300 - 3d51h12a

0% interest 24 month lease available

Best regards