Understanding how your Prints are made
I print my photos in different creative ways in my off grid lab and darkroom immersed a forest.
I normally offer complete and finished products, without leaving the client having to choose, for instance, for the type of paper or finish. I prefer to choose everything, according to the characteristics of the specific work and to my vision.
In this page I explain the different methods and materials I use for printing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Gelatine Silver Prints
- Ink Jet Prints
- Alternative Process Prints on FB paper
- A guide to paper finish
1. Gelatine Silver Prints
To get a good gelatine silver print you need a well equipped darkroom, constantly fresh chemicals and a long experience. Incredibly longer than that needed for ink jets.
These days there are very few photographers offering silver gelatin prints, because of the other easier methods available. But as anything else in life, the easiest ways don’t always lead to better or more creative results. And this is particularly true with traditional printing.
Working in the darkroom is the final stage of the traditional photographic process. There you give life to a negative that otherwise would remain only a potential image that could be processed in an incredible number of alternative ways.
All the darkroom processing issues that ink jet technology solves today, become for me a series of opportunities to get creative and obtain unique results that really make every single print a truly hand made and unique product.
RESIN COATED (RC) PRINTS
Resin coated papers are easy to handle. Some are very good quality and heavy weight. I personally print RC prints mainly to reduce the final cost of certain edition/products so to make my darkroom work accessible to anyone. RC papers may be appreciated by the nostalgic for their vintage look (but modern back then) of the lab “plasticky” prints from the ’60s on.
FIBER BASED (FB) BARYTA PAPERS
FB paper is a heavy weight paper which has exceptional qualities and is used for archival purposes and museum exhibitions. Being the emulsion kind of soaked in the paper fibers, the picture tends to inherit the qualities and texture of the paper. The image looks then embedded in the paper itself instead of being just coated on the surface.
On the other hand, FB paper is not easy to handle. It is very delicate and fragile when wet and it needs much longer washing time and additional chemical cycles to make it stable and lightfast. Eventually it needs to be dried carefully and then flattened. A single fb print cycle can take hours and there’s inevitably a higher discard rate.
The final result, as opposed to RC prints, is more artisanal and non clinically perfect: To give you just one of many examples, prints don’t really lay completely dead flat (you can always glue or dry mount them, even though once matted it will be a non issue). Prints are quite more delicate, so you need more care handling them. If you ask me, FB prints, with all their hassles still make a lot of sense and the results are simply superior to any other printing paper.
These are some of the reasons why FB prints have a higher price.
2. Ink jet prints
Ink jet prints (sometimes called with the fancy name giclée prints) are the most common print method used worldwide to produce exhibition quality prints. They offer a wide range of advantages for fine art prints for a small production of copies. They basically by-pass all the most demanding tasks of traditional printing.
Understanding the wide variety of available papers on the market can be sometime disorientating.
- I use heavy weight, neutral white paper with satin or matte finish. Canson or Hahnemühle are the brands that I use more frequently.
- I use pigment inks which are considered archival (they don’t fade or get stained over time).
- For my color printing workflow I use only ink jet technology.
I can print both film and digital photography with ink jet. And the other way around. I choose from time to time the best suitable method for a particular print.
Ink jet is the most practical and readily available printing method for my archive since once you set everything up, you get both reproducibility and operating speed to get good results.
Talking about reproducibility, I number ink jet prints but rarely limit them, never artificially at least. I only limit the number of certain edition* of prints that can’t be really reproduced later.
*an edition can be created on a particular anniversary with a unique, hand made packaging. If it is a collection of photos, the selection will also be unique.
3. Alternative Process Prints on FB paper
I also print on custom fb paper which I previously coat with a customized emulsion that spans from traditional gelatine silver to platinum and palladium to salt (salt printing and other alternative processes).
While maintaining all the qualities of the fb papers, these papers add one o more layers of customization and flexibility. The final result can be more artistic and interpreted, depending on the way and the tools used to coat the emulsion.
I use alternative processes on fb paper only on selected print series.
ALL DARKROOM B&W PRINTING PROCESSES CAN BE USED ALSO FOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS. I CREATE A NEGATIVE MATRIX FROM THE FILE TO BE USED AND HANDLED AS A TRADITIONAL NEGATIVE. I PRINT DIGITAL FILES IN THE DARKROOM MAINLY FOR OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS AS A SERVICE.
A guide to paper finish
Different brands could use different names for the finish of the paper coating. As often the names can be confusing and even misleading in some cases, here I try to define here a scale from a completely matte surface to a hi-gloss one.
- Matte (or matt) -> A completely opaque, non reflecting surface. Contrast and blacks are smoother. Completely immune from parasite reflections from the ambient light.
- Semi matte (or semi matt) -> It is much more similar to the regular matte than one may expect: it is just a slightly less matte surface.
- Satin / Semi gloss / Pearl / Natural Gloss -> These papers have a similar sheen which lies in the middle between completely matte and Hi-Gloss. Every brand uses a different name. Satin and Pearl particularly may have a peculiar texture. Contrast and blacks are well defined.
- Glossy / Hi-Gloss -> Shiny and glossy surface. Excellent contrast and deepest blacks, but prone to reflect ambient light. Better suited to be exhibited in controlled lighting environments