The range of photographic media for photo-art reproduction has grown apace in recent years. For serious and occasional collectors alike, it pays to understand the differences in methodology, and the potential effect of acquisition prices and the investment value for the years ahead. Here are some key terms and the processes which apply to them
Darkroom/wet prints made from color negatives or transparencies. Before digital technology, these were the prints we all received from the pharmacies from our holiday films. They were also produced in larger sizes for exhibitions. C-type prints are now archival and are still preferred by some photographers and collectors to digital art prints.
Fine-art digital prints, aka Giclee, Iris or Art inkjet prints
The most common way of producing collectible prints in the digital age, is by scanning the original negative, or balancing a digital file from a digital camera, and out-putting the image, usually retouched, on various media types using archival inks. The advantage is that very fine quality coated papers can be used to make delicate, beautiful prints. Rockarchive’s Edition 100 is made in this way in various sizes without any loss of quality.
Lamda or Lightjet
This mode of printing contains elements of both traditional darkroom printing and digital technology. The original negative is scanned, or a digital image adjusted, and the resulting image is outputted onto photographic paper by means of laser light. The prints have the same archival value as traditional photographic RC prints or C-type prints on plastic based papers, with the advantage to some collectors of being called ‘photographic prints’.
Lenticular printing is a multi-step process consisting of creating an image from at least two existing images, and combining it with a special lens. This process can be used to create various frames of animation (for a motion effect), or simply to show a set of alternate images which may appear to transform into each other.
The combined lenticular print will show two or more different images simply by changing the angle from which the print is viewed.
Other Print types
There are an array of differing print methods now available using both traditional and contemporary techniques.
A screen is made of a piece of porous, finely woven fabric (originally silk, but typically made of polyester since the 1940s) stretched over a frame of aluminum or wood. Areas of the screen are blocked off with a non-permeable material to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed; that is, the open spaces are where the ink will appear.
The screen is placed atop a substrate such as papyrus or fabric. Ink is placed on top of the screen, and a fill bar (also known as a flood bar) is used to fill the mesh openings with ink. The operator begins with the fill bar at the rear of the screen and behind a reservoir of ink. The operator lifts the screen to prevent contact with the substrate and then using a slight amount of downward force pulls the fill bar to the front of the screen. This effectively fills the mesh openings with ink and moves the ink reservoir to the front of the screen. The operator then uses a squeegee (rubber blade) to move the mesh down to the substrate and pushes the squeegee to the rear of the screen. The ink that is in the mesh opening is transferred by capillary action to the substrate in a controlled and prescribed amount, i.e. the wet ink deposit is equal to the thickness of the stencil. As the squeegee moves toward the rear of the screen the tension of the mesh pulls the mesh up away from the substrate leaving the ink upon the substrate surface.
Silver Gelatin fiber prints
Prints made from an original black & white negative in the darkroom using chemicals and fiber papers are known as silver gelatin fiber prints. These are the most valuable to collectors, particularly as this now historic method of print making, combined with the fragility of old negatives, mean the prints will be rare. One of the characteristics to these prints is that they do not always dry completely flat and may look a little “wavy” when framed due to the process in which they are made. They are also particularly sensitive to dampness in the air and need to be treated with extra care.
Silver Gelatin RC prints
A silver gelatin RC print refers to an image made on resin-coated paper. These prints are also made from negatives in the darkroom using chemicals, but on plastic-based papers which are easier than fiber papers to work with. They also have the added benefit of drying flat. However, RC prints can be less ‘rich’ in terms of tone and texture than traditional fiber prints.