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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Printers For Black&White

For making gallery-quality prints, you need to have the right tool

Labels: Printers

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Epson Stylus Pro 4900
Second, as you're making test prints, have a plan and be a meticulous note-taker. This is an old lesson from the wet darkroom. Photographers who kept a detailed print log were able to get a photograph dialed in quickly without burning through a lot of expensive photo paper and without blasting their negative with a lot of damaging light from the enlarger head. In the digital age, you don't have to worry about damage to the negative, but photo paper is still expensive so use it sparingly. That said, you should always use the same paper throughout the process of making a print. Avoid the temptation of trying to get the image dialed in with cheaper paper and then switch to the real thing. You'll just get frustrated and spend at least as much money.

Digital technology has confused the issue of image longevity for many photographers who didn't fully under-stand the process or why one type of print was considered to be archival while another was not. Some clarification is relevant to a discussion of black-and-white printers because the process for creating a digital black-and-white print is thought to have more in common with color science and technology than traditional black-and-white wet-darkroom printing.

HP Designjet 130
Traditionally, black-and-white photographs were considered to be archival while color images were not. The reason: A traditional silver-halide print is inert. Assuming that one used photo paper with no acids or other materials that react with light or the atmosphere, the image itself was composed of, essentially, tarnished metallic silver that would not react with either the paper or the air. Black-and-white prints made in a wet darkroom that were properly fixed and rinsed could last indefinitely. All of this assumes that anything else with which the print comes into contact is also archival. Mat boards need to be acid-free, and the print itself can't be in direct contact with anything that may contain moisture or damaging chemicals. For an excellent resource on archival preservation, see The Life of a Photograph by Sam Abell.

Traditionally made color materials—prints, negatives and slides—generally aren't considered to be archival because their processes leave a number of reactive chemicals such as dye-couplers and acids. Most traditionally made color images will fade or color-shift over a relatively short time when exposed to light. Of course, there are exceptions, such as dye-transfer prints, Kodachrome transparencies and some others, but generally, color images were never expected to last and weren't considered to be archival.

Another part of the archivability problem is in the paper. The manufacture of paper uses all sorts of nasty corrosive chemicals. Most papers are loaded with acids and over time they break down the paper. But all papers aren't created equal—some are completely acid-free. Have you ever pulled an old paperback novel from your shelf and noticed the yellowing along the edges of the page? This is because of the chemicals in the paper reacting with the air. On the other hand, if you have an old, particularly well-made photo book on your shelf and you pull it out, the edges may still be a perfect pure white because that paper was made to acid-free standards.


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