Printing for the Professional Photographer
Today’s digital technology seems to be geared up towards images being viewed on multiple devices. These devices can be almost anything from SmartPhones, iPads, computer monitors to large LED TV screens and projection. It makes sense to embrace all and any new visual technology, even David Hockney is now using an iPad to create his latest masterpieces. However, the tried and tested method of producing hard copy is still as popular as ever. The Social/Wedding photographer will no doubt always have a demand for a framed photograph for display in the home. The Fine Art photographer still needs to produce a physical print. In short photo printing is not in decline, in fact far from it.
Although a relatively new medium, inkjet printer technology has improved in leaps and bounds over the last ten years, to the point that it is now the preferred choice for print production by many professional and Fine Art photographers. From the outset inkjet printers suffered with a bad reputation due to fade and unstable colours. Today’s photo quality printers use dye inks for dynamic colours or pigment inks that can last for up to 100+ years.
Starting at a very basic level with water based dye ink printers, many manufactures use the phrase Photo Capable or Photo Quality. Photo capable printers generally use four inks Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). These printers are suitable for producing good colours on plain paper or for proof printing on photo quality media, however, they are not suitable for final delivery to a client. Photo Quality printers generally use six or more inks, which include CMYK plus a Light Cyan and Light Magenta. The light inks produce a much higher quality print with subtle shades of colour rather than dithered colour shades.
The advantage with dye ink printers is prints are instantly dry to touch and colours look vibrant especially when used with High Gloss Photo media. The delicate dye inks penetrate the micro pores of the media surface and are generally well protected against handling abrasion. However, the micro pores also let in airborne pollutants including ozone, it’s these pollutants that generally destroy the delicate ink dyes. The other problem is light fade, again this will be due to the delicate nature of dye inks being destroyed by bright light sources. Dye ink prints can start to show signs of fade after a relatively short period of time, especially when cheap inks and media are being used. For the Fine Art photographer, and indeed any photographer who sells prints, dye ink printers should not be a first choice.
The other ink type is pigment inks, these use larger ink particles, the particles are too big to penetrate the media pores, so they remain on the surface. Each ink particle is covered with a resin coating which offers some protection against handling. However, because the pigment particles remain on the media surface, Glossy Photo prints can display a gloss differential. This effect can be clearly seen when viewing a print at an angle, the effect being most noticeable on areas where the media has ink applied compared to areas where there is no ink (white paper base). Manufacturers use a clear Gloss Optimizer ink to fill in these white areas to reduce or eliminate the effect. Because of their heavier density and resin protection, Pigment inks are probably the most stable colours available and they are claimed to have a 200+ year life (not tested in a real time situation).
This makes a pigment ink printer the ideal choice for photographers who rely on print sales as part of their services.