Photographic Print Types

I have listed four common 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.

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 margaret river region

Traditional silver gelatin fibre based prints have a baryta base (made from 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)

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 Pemberton Australia

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 australia
Cibachrome handprinted 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 chromalytic process using a bleaching step in P3 chemistry. Cibachrome became Ilfochrome in the 1990s. In 2011, Ilford announced it would no-longer continue Ilfochrome production.

Here I have mentioned here only a few photographic print types that I have used. Over the course of photographic history, there have been many others which have been created. The Western Australian Museum has a nice article discussing the historical development of photographic print types from Daguerreotypes through to platinum prints. Check it out.

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alexbond
Since 1989, Alex Bond has published cards, calendars, books, and posters under his imprint Stormlight Publishing. His images showcase the West Australian environment. Bond's handcrafted, silver-gelatin, fibre-based prints are personally made by the author in his darkroom.

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