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Photographic Print Types

Canning River Sheoaks raindrops

Below I have listed four photographic print types using silver and chemistry as their basis. These include traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints, Polaroid prints, Type C colour prints and Cibachrome or Ilfochrome prints. There are many others, including a whole range of printing substrates available to digital printing. If you have a favourite printing process please leave a comment.

Traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints

Calgardup Brook Redgate Margaret River Australia
Calgardup Brook 16x20in silver gelatin More Info

Traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints have a baryta base (made from a clay) that accentuates the perception of image depth, tone and luminosity compared to today’s commonly used plastic coated papers. In recognition of this standard, manufacturers of inkjet material are now trying to mimic this richness of tone in silver containing prints by developing “traditional” inkjet substrates.

Fibre based prints have been in existence long enough to have a proven track record of image stability.

You can read more about what is involved in a typical printing session here.

Polaroid prints

Dune Cabbage (Arctotheca populifolia)
Dune Cabbage Polaroid Type 55 PN More Info

Polaroid prints once came in a range of sizes and types, from the small SX-70 style instant colour prints up to a massive 20×24 inches. Polaroid sheet film, like the one pictured here, was exposed and processed in Polaroid’s own film holder. The holder was mounted on the rear of the camera, the film exposed and then the holder and film removed. The exposed film/print sandwich was then pulled through rollers within the film holder, breaking gel pods containing the chemistry to instantly develop the negative and positive. After about 30 to 60 seconds the sandwich was peeled apart, revealing a Polaroid print on one half and the negative on the other. Sx-70 style films were ejected directly from the camera immediately after exposure and developed before your eyes. Polaroid prints could be colour or black and white. Not all Polaroid processes yielded a usable negative, so each print was unique.

The 4x5in print above of Dune Cabbage was made with Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. With Polaroid Type 55 4×5 film, each exposure yielded a positive 4×5 Polaroid print and a 4×5 negative that could be used in an enlarger for printing.

 

C-Type Digital Prints

Lefroy Brook #02 More Info
Lefroy Brook #02

C-Type prints are regular colour prints made on photographic paper, they make up the majority of photographic prints people have made at the local mini labs or at professional laboratories from colour negatives and digital files.

The “C” stands for chromogenic, the nomenclature that Kodak used back around the 1940s. Today’s C-Types are usually produced by digital printers using laser light, such as Durst Lambda or Lightjet printers. Photographic papers must be handled in total darkness and only exposed to image forming light. The paper is then processed in RA4 photographic colour chemistry. This is very different to inkjet printers which spray inks or pigments directly onto the surface of non light sensitive paper or canvas under daylight conditions.

R-Type and Ilfochrome Cibachrome Prints

Karri forest Shannon National Park
Cibachrome print made in author’s darkroom: karri forest Shannon National Park

Before the advent of digital printing, colour prints made from colour slides, also referred to as reversal or transparencies films, required a different process to colour negatives. Kodak, and others, produced positive to positive photographic papers for creating prints from reversal films. These were referred to as R-Type prints, the “R” for reversal, and used R-3 chemistry.

Ilford Cibachrome paper was another popular way of making colour prints from reversal films, with one of the most stable colour processes. This was a positive to positive process, the colour layers being already present in the paper, rather than in the chemistry process. The image was formed by a dye destruction chromolytic process using a bleaching step in P3 chemistry. Cibachrome became Ilfochrome in the 1990’s. In 2011, Ilford announced it would nolonger continue Ilfochrome production.

 

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Dry mounting baryta fibre based prints

Dry mounting baryta fibre based prints

Dry mounting baryta fibre based prints for framing and exhibiting

Dry mounting baryta fibre based prints with only a week to go before my exhibition. I use the dry mount process for my prints, a procedure which has been around for many years. A print finishing method used by many well known photographers including Ansel Adams, it may not be entirely in favour with some gallery photographic conservationists.

I personally dislike the uneven surface of larger unmounted fibre based prints which can catch and reflect light and interfere with the viewing of an image. Why bother obtaining nuances of tone in high and low print values if viewing a print unmounted prevents you from obtaining a clear and unhindered view? I want to view a print in its entirety. Dry mounting creates a smooth surface and avoids the potential problem of unwanted reflections off the print.

As far as archival qualities are concerned this method is still used by some of the best and most collected photographers around the world. I have seen reports of archival tests showing comparing print degradation with time of dry mounted prints to unmounted.

Unmounted photographs are susceptible from chemical attack from both the front and rear of the print. Needless to say, mounted prints must be washed properly including the use of hypo clearing agent and partial toning in selenium or other toner to maximise print archival quality.

Mount boards should be 100% cotton rag avoiding all wood pulp. Wood pulp contains tannins which are acidic and therefore harmful to silver metal.

Sometimes I get asked about the procedure for dry mounting baryta fibre based prints so here are some sequenced images. Click on the images for step by step descriptions.