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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 haven‘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.


By William Nordstrom

Artfacts Articles - Evercolour the search for quality and permanence By William A. Nordstrom, President EverColor® Limited Color Process and Why They Fail The organic dyes used in modern positive and negative films, print papers and display transparencies gradually fade when exposed to light, varying temperatures and humidity. Special processes such as Ilfochrome®, which uses more permanent azo dyes, and the discontinued Kodak Dye Transfer process, have exceptional dark storage stability. However, when displayed under artificial lighting or exposed to sunlight, all conventional color prints eventually fade. You don’t need a chemistry degree to understand what happens. There are two common color printing methods. The most popular uses color couplers in the emulsion of the photographic paper which develop to form dyes in direct proportion to the amount of metallic silver exposed to light. Color stability is a secondary concern. In fact, minute amounts of unused dye couplers remain in the print even after thorough washing. As time passes—witness the fading pictures in your family photo album—these materials break down. Depending on the quality and intensity of the ambient light, it may take but a few years for a picture to deteriorate. Not a pretty sight. An alternative printing method is the dye destruction process. Here, dyes are coated on the base material at time of manufacture, then bleached out during processing in direct proportion to the amount of silver developed for their ability to be dye-bleached, not necessarily for longevity. Although prints made with this process hold up well in dark storage, they gradually fade when displayed. And there are other weaknesses. Dye-destruction is not a color-corrected system and therefore shows color inaccuracies from the original transparency. Moreover, there are additional problems controlling highlight detail, contrast, and tonal scale. On a more exotic level—generally the one sought by professionals—stands the Dye Transfer process (Kodak has stopped manufacturing these materials). It’s a tedious procedure that involves rolling three matrix films, after they’ve been soaked in acidified cyan, magenta and yellow dye solutions, into contact with the print surface. Done correctly, the final print has wonderful color and tonal range. Dark storage stability is good, but prints exposed to light will eventually fade and shift color. The Evolution of Color Pigment Printing Today, the search for archival color has focused on the earliest of color printing methods—the carbro or carbon pigment process. The basic technique, which forms an image using color pigments instead of dyes, was developed in the late 1860s by Louis Ducos du Hauron, the French pioneer of color photography. Du Hauron’s three-color adaptation of the carbon printing process required making multiple color separation negatives for each image. Simply explained, each separation negative was exposed onto a light sensitized gelatin-pigment film, which incorporated the appropriate color pigment. Exposed areas of the gelatin hardened, and the unexposed pigments were washed away with warm water, leaving only the image. Then the three pigment images were registered and transferred to a paper base for the final print. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California has an 1869 color print made by one of du Hauron’s students in its photography collection. It’s neither large, nor color accurate—but it is a 120 year old color print. A further improvement came with tri-color carbro, which was used in commercial photography in the 1920s. Although expensive, it was the preferred method for advertising and fine art photographers until about 1950. Even in the 1930s a 16x20 inch print cost more than $500 at pre-World War II prices. Besides cost, tri-color carbro was painfully slow. It often took eight hours to make a single print. Early separation negatives had many color errors, so exceptional results required extensive color correction on the intermediate black and white bromide separation prints. Despite these drawbacks, tri-color carbro prints exist today—still showing excellent color. They are prized by collectors and command high prices. But cost and laborious production methods knocked tri-color off its pedestal by the 1950s, when it was replaced by the newer dye transfer process. Dye transfer prints were faster and more affordable, even though requiring a similar three-color separation process. In the early days, dye transfers were retouched and used primarily for advertising reproduction in the printing industry. Since few photographers worried bout dye fading, tri-color carbro bromide paper and pigment film manufacturers ceased production. The process was nearly forgotten—except for the few diehards who continued experimenting with pigment films in their home darkrooms. Then, in 1985, a photographer named Charles Berger developed a new version of carbon-pigment reproduction called the Polaroid Permanent Process. He later joined forces with a skilled carbro printer named Richard Kauffman to market an easier-to-use product called UltraStable. The new method offered many advantages over traditional printing technologies. Its transparent, non-metallic pigments—originally meant for use in the automotive industry—created a new level of permanence. I used UltraStable materials before launching EverColor. The fine arts world owes much to men like Berger and Kauffman who’ve helped take photographic printing to a new level. The EverColor Process An EverColor Pigment Transfer print begins as a color scan from your transparency, negative or reflective art. If your original is already digitized, simply send us the file (call in advance for technical details). We can image any size original from 35mm to 25 x 25 inches. From the electronic file, we output color CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) continuous tone resolution separation negatives using the latest electronic imaging techniques. Digitized information gives us complete artistic control over color balance, tonal scale, contrast and sharpness. We can easily make color corrections and electronically retouch flaws in the original image. The first (yellow) CMYK pigment sheet is independently laminated to a special polyester base, contact exposed with the appropriate film negative and processed. The procedure is repeated for each of the remaining pigments. Using modified prepress procedures, EverColor separation negatives exhibit the highest technical standards. The print has continuous tone resolution, with unbelievable depth, sharpness and color saturation. Traditional “wet” darkrooms simply can’t compete. You only have to see the quality and color of an EverColor print to realize how far this technological quantum leap has carried us. And it is quality that lasts. EverColor materials have undergone rigorous manufacturer testing for color stability. The result? We guarantee an EverColor print won’t fade or discolor for centuries under the typical lighting used in a home, business, museum or gallery environment. We are that confident. I’m gratified to introduce this major advance in photography. EverColor will be at the forefront of color printing technology for many years to come. How ironic that the revival of an 1860s carbon-pigment process has raised the art of making archival, museum-quality prints to new heights a century later. 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