Printing Process

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTES ON THE PRINTS

For more than a decade, during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, I made my own Ilford Cibachrome prints from color transparencies in my home darkroom, using a Durst 4×5-inch Laborator enlarger equipped with a dichroic color light source and an Ilford CAP40 tabletop Cibachrome processor. The Cibachrome chemicals were very toxic, and I had to teach myself to make complex “masks”, using black-and-white Pan Masking film, to control contrast in each color print. A single contrast mask could take an entire day to prepare. The CAP40 processor was limited to a maximum print size of 16×20-inches, so I contracted with KD Color Lab in Cleveland to make larger Cibachrome prints of my images, up to 40×50-inches in size, for many of my hospital, bank, and other corporate clients. One of the biggest problems was keeping particles of dust out of the glass negative carrier that held the color transparency and mask in the enlarger. Eight separate surfaces had to be kept dust-freeā€¦the tiniest particle of dust would show up as a black mark on the print.

During the mid-1990’s, Adobe introduced their image editor, Photoshop, and Cymbolic Sciences announced their Lightjet 5000, a laser-imaging color printer that worked well with Cibachrome (now renamed Ilfochrome). I sold my color darkroom equipment (to KD Color Lab) and began working with KD Color (then Envision Imaging) to digitally scan my color transparencies on a high-resolution drum scanner to make digital Ilfochrome prints up to 40×50-inches. Using Photoshop, it was much easier to control image contrast and color, and the finished prints were much sharper than their non-digital predecessors. Dust could easily be eliminated by zooming in to the image on a PC monitor screen and using Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool to retouch any areas with dust particles or other film imperfections. Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter, which was a sophisticated electronic version of the contrast masks I had labored to prepare in my home Cibachrome darkroom for years, allowed the images to be sharpened prior to making the final print on the Lightjet 5000. The resulting color prints were sharper, brighter, and had smoother tonal values than any prints I had ever had made from my color transparencies.

Some challenges remained, however. The Lightjet 5000 required frequent recalibration, and Envision Imaging, with their busy schedule, often needed 2-3 weeks to complete a print order. Each set of prints required three trips to Envision Imaging in Cleveland: one trip to deliver the color transparencies and discuss the print requirements for each image; one trip to inspect the final prints prior to mounting them on 3/16-inch Gatorfoam; and a final trip to collect the prints and deliver them to local galleries or clients.

There were other considerations. Although I received very competitive prices from Envision Imaging for film scanning, I was not able to use my own film scans and carry out the image adjustments myself in Photoshop, as I wished. In addition, although Ilfochrome print material is quite archival, with a useful life of 25 years without noticeable fading, I have never liked the slick, mirror-like surface of the material, which requires the use of non-reflective UV-glass or Plexiglass to reduce reflections and protect the surface of the Ilfochrome material from inadvertent fingerprints, which are virtually impossible to remove.

My epiphany as a color printmaker began in 2001, when I acquired a Nikon Super Coolscan 8000 ED film scanner, which allowed me to scan my 35mm and 6x8cm color transparencies at a resolution of up to 4000 pixels-per-inch (ppi), and an Epson Stylus Pro 1270 color inkjet printer, which produced inkjet prints up to 13×19-inches that rivaled Ilfochrome in color saturation, tonal smoothness, sharpness, and archival life. I also invested in an Epson Perfection 2450 flatbed scanner for scanning my 4×5-inch color transparencies, a 22-inch CRT monitor, Monaco Easycolor color calibration software and hardware, and a much more powerful PC with lots of additional memory to handle the complex digital image processing. I invested hundreds of dollars in Photoshop books and tutorials and hundreds of hours learning the intricacies of Photoshop 6.0 and 7.0. Finally, in August, 2002, I purchased Epson’s new, state-of-the-art Stylus Pro 9600 inkjet printer, which allowed me to produce color prints up to 44-inches wide, and any length, using Epson’s unique 7-color Ultrachrome pigment inks, which were superior to the dye-based inks used in the Epson 1270. In mid-November, 2002 I attended a one-week intensive workshop, Digital Printmaking For Photographers, in Corvallis, Oregon with Barry Haynes, author of one of my favorite Photoshop books, Photoshop Artistry. During the past few years, I have continued to refine my printing skills, and have upgraded to a “state-of-the-art” Epson Stylus Pro 9900 inkjet printer, used in conjunction with a superb Eizo ColorEdge CE 240W LCD monitor and the excellent ImagePrint RIP from Colorbyte Systems.

A few traditional photographers and print critics have questioned the veracity of prints produced by digital techniques. It is true that powerful image editing software such as Photoshop can be used to manipulate reality, and each photographer must make a personal choice with regard to the use of these tools in his or her work. Even traditional photographic techniques such as using filters, making darkroom masks, and dodging and burning prints, however, are manipulative, and I have made the decision to invest in digital printmaking techniques as offering by far the most effective and efficient way to produce color prints that match, and in most cases exceed, the tonal range and color gamut of my original color transparencies.

I hope the results are worth the effort to you, the viewers of my color prints. I invite you to visit my portfolio at www.ianadamsphotography.com, and feel free to contact me via email at ian@ianadamsphotography.com if you would like additional information on my color prints or other environmental photography services.

Ian Adams