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Digital Descends

A Game Changer

There are two reasons to go digital: you own a digital camera (about $60,000 for a really fine camera in 1995) or you have accumulated thousands of 4" x 5" transparencies that need to be turned into digital files which is much harder than it sounds. To capture all the detail and color from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows in 1995 meant a so-called drum scanner and a price tag of $35,000 to $45,000 depending on the deal you made. And there was no choice. To stay in business with the same quality level this was it and we were fortunate that one of the best, the Optronics Color-Getter, was made less than an hour away. Then you have to learn how to use it. Suffice to say it is a long and painstaking process not to mention upgrading computers and monitors.

Of course there was the issue of how to print from a digital file, but before that was a most critical problem which today we refer to as color management the single most important part of which is that the image that comes out of the printer look like what you see on the monitor. It took years for that to be resolved. They was the issue of calibrating all printers to the same standard. All of this occupied us for years and over ten years later I had to make my own printer profiles to get the best out of the printer.

And then, how to print digitally.

Below is a list of processes we tried. All were still in development and we ended up being alpha or beta testors. At the end of about 5 years work, none worked sufficient well to meet my needs and I had to wait for a new generation of digtal printers. The wait was ten years from 1995 to 2005. I am now using the second upgrade from the 2005 modeltrmtmt

Adventures In Color Printing

Try And Try Again

The following is a list of printing processes we used with varying degrees of success:

1. Dye Transfer (18 years-successful, click to see a print being made)

Dye transfer gave the flexibility of black and white by splitting the process up into the three primary colors with negatives for each color so each could be manipulated separately. Additionally, the process was: masking; separation negatives (with a separate set just for highlights

2. UltraStable Permanent Color Prints (two years-unsuccessful)

3. EverColor Prints (5 years-ultimately unsuccessful)

4. LightJet chromogenic prints (12 years-qualified success)

5. Chromogenic prints using half-tone separations (unsuccessful)

6. Polaroid Permanent Color Prints (unsuccessful)

7. Epson Digital Prints (successful 2005, on-going)

Many parmeters go into the choice: investment, learning curve, color quality, time to make a print, light fastness, and much more. A process can require investment, construction and be difficult to do yet be successful. Dye transfer was such a process. Despite having been invented in the 1930s (it is the same technology as that used in Technicolor movies), in 1978 it was the only choice for delivering superb color with control. It merited spending one year building a lab specifically designed for the process.

EverColor made many images beautifully but put flaws in others. Then Agfa settled the issue by getting out of the business that produced the materials.

The LightJet exposed chromogenic paper (same stuff you got in drugstores) with lasers. Color quality was excellent, but any paper relying on chemicals turning into colored dyes seemed bound to fail longevity tests. All successful processes (including Kodachrome) added the color seperately in the form of dyes or pigments that were not light sensitive.

At this time (2020) piezoelectric nozzles by the thousands crammed into a print head and squirting a few picoleiters of pigmented inks onto almost any kind of substrate has won out. Three picolieters is a small drop made smaller by adding lighter versions of the same color ink. Color limitations of pigments are overcome by adding inks off the tri-color scale. Dye transfer printed with cyan, magenta and yellow dyes, the standard subtractive primaries. My Epson printer uses 10 colors: cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, black, light black, light light black, orange and green, these later two overcoming limitations in other colors and so to expand the color gamut.

And the latest is to print on aluminum. I havenā€˜t gone there yet.

An outdated, but nevertheless very valuable overview of the general issue of the lightfastness plus specific information on several is available from Wilhelm Imaging Research.The various processes will be discussed in greater detail if time permits.

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