When it comes to the differences between chromogenic prints (digital c-prints) and fine art inkjet prints, it can be tough to find honest answers amidst all the noise. There’s passionate defenders on either side, outdated information, and even false claims.
To set the record straight, we invited photographer and printmaker Renée Besta to the show to carefully lay out the pros and cons of these very different printing processes from A to Z.
We hit all the categories that you’ll want to consider when making a choice between chromogenic and inkjet prints – price, production speed, customer support quality, image size, accepted file formats, paper selection, longevity, gallery-acceptance, and even environmental concerns.
With this episode, equip yourself with knowledge of both printing processes so that you can feel confident in making the right decision for your work.
- Misinformation, myths, and false claims
- How to tell if a prints on demand website offers c-prints or inkjet
- Defining “chromogenic/c-prints” and “inkjet/pigment” prints
- C-Prints vs. Inkjet Prints – There’s pros and cons to each
- Price, production speed, customer support, image size, accepted file formats, paper selection, longevity, museum/gallery-acceptance, environmental concerns
- How longevity is calculated
- What percent faded do colors need to be on a print before the average person can tell? What about the average artist/photographer?
- Much more!
Listen in to learn about Digital C-prints vs. Inkjet Prints
- This episode didn’t feature any listener questions, but we’re still accepting them! If you have a printmaking question for the show, submit it here.
- For a more in-depth conversation on the differences between sRGB and the larger color spaces such as ProPhoto RGB, listen to Episode 23.
- Check out Renee’s website at RenMarPhoto.com.
- Love the show? Have some feedback for us? Leave us a review on iTunes.
Prefer to read over listen? Want to save this conversation for reference later? We transcribe all of our shows for these reasons! Download this episode’s transcription below:
Or, to view a web version of the transcript:
Announcer 1: You are listening to the AskBC podcast – your printmaking questions, answered by the experts!
Justin: Hey guys, this is your host Justin, today we talk about which is better: digital c-prints (also known as chromogenic prints) or inkjet prints?
Welcome to episode 32 of the #AskBC podcast! It’s good to be back, we’ve been on a little bit of a hiatus since the last episode, which you may or may not have noticed. Sorry about that, I appreciate you guys being back with us joining and listening today. It’s been a crazy time of year, you know, the end of the year is our busiest time and I hope the same is true for you guys out there listening, running your printmaking business. Let me know! Comment on the show notes and let me know how business is going, I’d love to hear from you guys.
So we’re here, again, with Renee Besta talking about digital c-prints vs. inkjet prints, let’s go ahead and jump into the show!
Justin: Hey Renee, it’s been awhile since we’ve been on a show together, it’s great to have you back!
Good to talk to you again, thanks for joining us.
Renee: Thanks Justin, good afternoon. It’s been awhile and I’m really glad to be back, thanks for having me.
Justin: Yes, definitely.
So, just so our listeners know, we’re kind of jumping into this podcast in a different format than we have historically. Instead of taking a question and answer format from our listeners, we are going to focus on one specific topic and kind of just have a conversation about that more or less.
And today, we are going to talk about digital c-prints vs. inkjet prints. Kind of review their pros and cons, and just discuss which is better for selling fine art photographer. We’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of each. A lengthy list each, I think.
So is their any certain point where you wanted to start this conversation, Renee?
Renee: Yeah, I’d just like to say first of all, I’m gonna be using a couple terms to keep things simple and when I use the term “photo lab,” I’m talking about those establishments who are producing the digital “c-prints,” which also means “chromogenic print,” it generally refers to the lab that’s using traditional chemicals and a wet process method.
And when I say “fine art print studio,” I’m referring to those places that make inkjet pigment prints. So, otherwise it gets really confusing.
Renee: Really the reason I want to do this — I continue to get a lot of questions from my students and through my website because of a podcast I’ve done for you, and there’s been people on prior podcasts that I’ve guested on that have raised some of these questions. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and marketing buzz.
And really one of the major problems is that, believe it or not, there are a lot of photographers that have no idea as to the differences between these two processes, and especially people that are younger. They may have never shot film; they may be completely unaware how traditional dark room prints were made. And they’re really surprised to learn that the digital c-prints are produced in a similar fashion using a wet chemical process. They go, “What?! I didn’t know that! Chemicals are still used today?”
Yes. Or they’ll say, “there’s yes in those Kodak and Fuji papers?” Yes. And, you know, there’s a lot of marketing buzz and misinformation. You know how people can be defensive, and you’ve got factions on both sides spewing, “this is the best” or “that’s the best,” and you really have to kind of pull back and look at the facts.
The other reason that I wanted to discuss it, is that I personally, recently partnered with Art Storefronts, it’s an eCommerce platform to sell your art or photography, and I wanted to research various affiliated print vendors to find one to do my fulfillment. I mean, I can only print so big; I don’t like doing canvas gallery wraps, those various reasons. And in doing this research, it was a pretty eye-opening experience, because I called 27 – either photo labs or fine art print studios – there was just so much misinformation. And I just wanted to dispel some of those myths and false claims, and just give people some facts so they can make the right decision for themselves.
Justin: Yeah, that makes sense. So I would imagine a lot of people just go into buying a print and not really knowing there’s a difference. So how does one determine, on a website or whatever, which type of – whether it’s a lab or a fine art print studio – that they’re looking at? What are the steps to determining that?
Renee: It’s really pretty simple. Basically, they are defined as either a “photo print” – when they say “photo print” and you look at the price they’re much less expensive, and if you go to like Bay Photos site, they’ll say something like “fine art printing.” Other places will say “pigment printing,” when they generally say “fine art” or “pigment” it’s generally a fine art print, if it just says “photo print,” you pull up the price list and look at the papers and it says “Fuji Crystal Archive,” or “Kodak Endura” paper, or “Fuji Matte” paper. That’s a clue right there it’s a chromogenic print, and also they’re much, much less expensive.
And you’ll see these very odd sizes that generally do not match aspect ratios of the normal full frame digital SLR – it doesn’t even match 35mm film. So that’s another issue to discuss later. But I recently had a friend call me that was trying to sell a print to a client – a guy was out hangliding and wanted a really large print, and she was on Bay Photo saying “he wants this big print, can you help me, and what do I use to re-upsize?”
And I was like, “What type of print are you making and on what paper?” Like, “What do you mean?” [And she said,] “I’m on Bay Photo! Aren’t they inkjet prints?” I’m like, “No, the standard thing you see when you go to the main page when you see “photo prints,” they’re generally talking the lab print or the wet process print.” And she was really shocked, and this is a person that’s an extremely talented and knowledgeable photographer. So again, if you just never shot film…I worked in the dark room for many years. They’re just not aware of that process.
So generally they’ll distinguish it, again, by saying, “fine art printing,” or they’ll have “canvas and fine art paper,” it may say that. For that printing under “services” or “products,” under that category there’s a dropdown menu – when it says “photo prints,” that’s what they generally mean – the digital c-print.
Justin: That makes sense.
Renee: And I also wanted to say one other thing before I get started, because I’m going to cover – we’re just gonna shoot through these different factors like price and production speed, available sizes, acceptable file formats, color gamuts, paper selection, longevity, etc. and hit through that.
But one thing that really kind of disturbs me, and I see this on the net all the time, and I don’t want people to necessarily be susceptible to these claims…a lot of photo lab personnel will claim that the only “true” photograph is a chromogenic print. They swear digital c-prints are the only “true” photographic print, not an inkjet print, because an inkjet print sprays droplets of ink on paper whereas the chromogenic print is a true continuous tone print, which I’ll talk about in a second, but you have hardcore fans that say, “well, it’s an inkjet print, it’s not a real photograph” and they market that way. It’s really a bunch of B.S. and I’ll get into the reason or that in a little bit.
Justin: Sounds good.
Renee: But first of all I’m going to quickly define what a chromogenic print or a digital c-print is.
It’s just, basically, the less expensive photo lab prints made on papers such as Fuji Chrystal Archive or Kodak Endura. They use machines such as a Fuji Frontier, an [unintelligible], a Chromira or a Lightjet or a Lambda printers. So basically, it’s pretty much similar to the dark room process. They’re using lasers or LEDs to expose photosensitive papers, and these are silver halide just like the dark room days. Which are then coupled with dyes. So, they’re really the same as a conventional photographic dark room print in that the paper is exposed to light and then chemically processed. The only difference is that instead of light coming from a traditional enlaraging lamp in the dark room, it’s coming from a laser or an LED.
So you could call it “digital c,” “c-print,” “laser chromogenic,” “digital RA4,” you’re going to see all these terms – it’s another area of confusion – it’s the same thing. It’s a digital front-end exposing or scanning the paper which is then fed into wet chemistry, just like the old days. And you have the two basic flavors – there are digital mini-labs like the Fuji Frontier, and then the wide-format, which are generally higher quality such as a Lightjet, a Lambda, or a Chromira.
The LightJets basically are pretty much superior. Lasers are sharper than LEDs, and the way that the Lightjet is configured allows for more edge-to-edge sharpness.
So let’s just go into – I’m sure you’ve heard the terminology “contone vs. halftone prints”?
Renee: Do you ever get questions about that from customers?
Justin: Not very often, actually. Once and a while.
Renee: Okay. So the chromogenic printing, of course, is a totally different process. And they do have a different look and feel that is very appealing to certain people. And they are continuous tone, unlike inkjet prints, of course they are a halftone print.
So let’s talk about that difference, because the contone terminology is used often by the labs to promote that type of print. That continuous tone simply means there is absolutely no break in the paper – these are dye based. So it’s a photochemical process. The resulting dyes blend into one another so there’s no spacing in between “dots,” which is the opposite of inkjet.
Inkjets, you have thousands of really minute droplets. They vary in size and spacing, and they kind of give the illusion from afar of a continuous tone, so it’s like tricking the eye. But, you know, basically with today’s modern printers – only at a microscopic level could you see spaces between those droplets. So that advantage, basically, has been eliminated, but there is a completely different look and feel – I’ve seen some absolutely spectacular LightJet prints. And they do have that old-world dark room look that you can’t simulate with an inkjet, so it depends on what you’re looking for.
Renee: So would you like to go through some of the factors to consider? The differences between them.
Justin: Yeah, certainly. For somebody looking to determine which kind of process is best for what they need.
Renee: Exactly, it depends on “What is your goal? Which market do you serve? Are you a wedding or portrait or event photographer?” If so, that’s the primary business for the digital chromogenic print. They’re fast, they’re inexpensive, people aren’t looking necessarily at the best papers with the most print permanence, they’re just trying to crank them out and get them to the customer.
However, you’ll see a lot of wedding and portrait photographers marketing maybe a canvas gallery wrap. And explaining the advantages of that.
And again, and I’ve said this before, we’ve talked about it on prior podcasts and people had written in saying, “I don’t understand, I’m on PhotoShelter or Fine Art America, why do they only take sRGBs and sRGB JPEGs? Why can’t I work in Camera RAW? Why can’t I submit a ProPhoto or AdobeRGB?”
Well, we’ll get into that. There’s reasons. First of all, that’s just sheer necessity by the way the digital chromogenic prints are made. The ProPhoto or even Adobe RGB is like way outside that space. And, in fact, on the show notes for the last podcast we did on dark prints, I showed a ColorSync pro plot. The sRGB colorspace compared to a profile sourced directly from a minilab. On a glossy Fuji Chrystal paper, and you probably remember that, Justin, just how much smaller that color space was.
Justin: Yeah, tiny in comparison.
Renee: Right! And again, it depends. Not all images – even for a landscape image – have colors that even go beyond sRGB. It depends, as in many things.
So I’m not trying to make a judgement – it depends on what you are photographer. So I’m just going to quickly run down these pros and cons – various factors.
Let’s start with price. Advantage goes to the photo minilabs, obviously, over an inkjet print. Although I have to say the LightJet prints can be much more costly than an inkjet print on a premium cotton paper.
Justin: Yeah, if you’re looking for something cheap, c-prints are the way to go.
Renee: Yeah and you’ll notice immediately, you take a look at the prices…and the other thing is you’ll see these tiny wallet sizes when you pull up the list under the dropdown menu, so that’s definitely an advantage.
And again, LightJet prints can be very, very beautiful if they’re well-made and well-profiled. Depends on the color gamut that you need. And what you’re looking for in terms of print permanence.
Let’s look at production speed. Advantage again to the photolabs. They’re geared to heavy output, and again, like I said, it’s great for wedding, portrait, and event photographers who need the fast turn-around time for their clients. Whereas people that are ordering inkjet prints are more concerned with other factors that we’re gonna talk about. And they’re not – they’re shooting images that require wider color gamuts.
Let’s quickly go through technical support and getting some good information. One of the things I’ve seen a lot on the online printing forums, of which there are many, is the frustration people have in trying to reach a knowledgeable person at the average photo minilab. As opposed to a fine art print studio where you can probably get through to the master printmaker and explain what your needs are and develop a long-term relationship, and work with them – which is a huge advantage. It’s like going to Walgreens, going to Costco – are you going to be able to do that? As I said to Albert Jones from the UK when he was having dark print problems with the photo minilab, I mean, good luck trying to do that – the machines basically are automated, and like I said, they can end up – the business is for portraiture. Weddings and portraits. So they want to make sure the skin tone is accurate and there’s enough detail in the facial features, so that’s kind of how they’re set up. The priority goes for that, not for landscape photographs. So you can end up, you know, really doing what they call an autocorrect feature is what I’m saying.
So that’s an issue. I like having a relationship I can develop with someone.
So let’s also look at available sizes – a huge complaint. Well, the advantage would go to inkjet prints. You can print in any size and when you order them from a print studio, they will allow you to respect your aspect ratio. Whereas with the lab prints, more often than not you’re going to be forced to crop your image to fit specific paper sizes.
Renee: In other words, normally for photography – with both digital SLRs, and I know there’s other formats, 4:3 and others, but even with 35mm film, it was still 3:2 or 1.5:1. That means an 8×12, not an 8×10. It means a 10×15, not an 11×14. Etc.
So, who wants to do that? You go through…basically I’m cropping in camera. A lot of people are using the zoom lens. So that’s another pain you’re going to have to go through before sending the file off. It kind of ruins your composition and disrespects the camera native aspect ratio. And you’ve heard, we’ve had people write in about that as well — it’s discussed in prior podcasts.
Justin: For sure.
Renee: Which leads to the next issue – what are the acceptable file formats, bit depth, and color spaces? Well, we all know about that – I mean Breathing Color is a manufacturer of fine art inkjet media. We know for Lightroom and for Photoshop Camera RAW the default colorspace is ProPhoto RGB and for a good reason – we’re in 2015. Adobe RGB was developed in what, 1998. So it’s really where the rubber meets the road – the advantage is for inkjet prints.
Labs will always want, in most cases, sRGB JPEGs – although some will accept an 8-bit TIFF, and that’s because it’s just out of sheer necessity. As I showed in the ColorSync diagram, you take an output profile on a given Kodak or Fuji paper, it is swallowed up by sRGB – so if you’re going to send something that has a greater color space, you’re not going to get good results. So they have good reason for doing that.
As someone wrote in a Discus comment on, I think, an article Kevin O’Connor wrote, and he wrote “Please don’t disparage sRGB because we need it.” And then people have written, you know, regarding their print-on-demand services, whether it’s Photo Shelter, Fine Art America, Zenpholio, SmugMug, or whatever – they all want sRGBs for uploading, and I think it’s another area of confusion, so people think maybe the customers are ordering an inkjet print, but now the thinking is that most customers are going to order the inexpensive prints which are going to be the chromogenic prints or the lab prints, and so you’re not going to be able to upload two separate file types for each image.
One that’s a 16-bit TIFF in ProPhoto, and another an sRGB JPEG. You know, that’s not allowed. So, as I said before, what’s optimal for the inkjet is going to be sacrificed for the c-print.
And now I’m going to add this, and people are going to have to do their own research. Even if you’re outsourcing your inkjet prints, like I’ve found with partnering with Art Storefronts, you still may find it difficult to get a fine art print studio to accept a file in ProPhoto RGB. In fact, I just started a discussion thread on “why is that?” Oh my gosh, I don’t even want to get into some of the comments that came back at me. People just dance around this issue, and you don’t really need it – it is not necessary, it doesn’t have any more colors, they’re just going off in all these directions, and we just know that’s not true.
We’ve known – and I’ve shown this. Back in 2011, when I did my three part series on HDR photography and printing, I included a diagram from an Adobe white paper from Jeff Schewe and the late Bruce Frasier, showing the three color spaces – sRGB, Adobe, and ProPhoto – and I had a plot for an old Epson 2200 on matte paper – a profile for that.
Matte, not photo paper. Guess what? It had colors that went beyond Adobe RGB, and that was back in 2003 or ’04. So, you know, think what we have today.
Justin: I wonder why it is then, why don’t they allow it?
Renee: I think it has to do with size.
Justin: Yeah, file size.
Renee: And people just don’t know what they’re doing. That’s what I was told by some printmakers, you know, “a lot of people don’t have the good wide gamut display, they have the consumer display, they can’t see that many colors so they don’t really know what they’re editing. And then it’s a tech-support nightmare because the customer complains, ‘oh the colors off or the prints too dark.’“
So that’s one issue – they think most people don’t really know what they’re doing and don’t have the right equipment or don’t calibrate the display or have a good one.
The other is the size. A lot of people don’t know that to work in ProPhoto RGB, you really need to keep the file in 16-bit. If you go down to 8-bit it can’t really hold all that color and tonal information. So, you know, even if you’re in Lightroom and that is the default space, if you export as a TIFF and then downgrade it to 8-bit, you’ve lost some things there. So that’s something some people aren’t aware of.
But it’s quite frustrating, and I’ll keep you updated on what happens, but I’ve gotten into a rather lengthy discussion on Art Storefronts on this issue.
Justin: Yeah I can imagine, people defending…
Renee: Although there are some studios, and there is one particular studio I have partnered with that will – it has a separate service for larger files – they recognize that. So when people claim there’s just no difference in the quality…again, it just depends on the image.
Some images you can’t see any…I take a picture of my cat, it’s not going to make any difference, leave it in sRGB. Some landscape in nature photographs really matter. And I would think, what amazes me, as the “fine art print studio,” they’ve been more geared to art reproduction. So somebody photographing an artist’s work to sell, which I’ve done myself, they’re very particular about the colors. Now if you’re a pastel painter that’s a little different than someone that does oil or acrylics.
As you may know, some of these colors really pop out and can be very out there in terms of the color space. So I would think that just for that business alone you would want to keep it in ProPhoto, especially…people basically challenged me on this and said “Show me a profile that can extend beyond Adobe RGB” and it was actually shocking. I mean, how can you not know if you’re doing inkjet printing that modern day printers can go beyond Adobe RGB? It’s just absolutely shocking.
Justin: Yeah, that’s kind of scary actually.
Renee: You know it really is scary. So, I’m just saying, this is one of the reasons I’m having this discussion – I get these questions a lot from students and then people that contact me.
Justin: Yeah, it’s all about the education.
Renee: And then a lot of these studios will just say, “Hey, Joe Schmo says this or that.” And they get this information from a different lab, and they say “Correct,” so we have to re-educate, but it’s not always accurate.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely excellent, professional high-end fine art print studios that do things with best practices. But there is also a lot of people, just like with the photo minilabs, that have gotten into the business because it’s profitable and it’s more based on money versus quality.
And you see that all the time on online forums, people just pulling their hair out to get correct answers or get through to somebody that they can actually work with.
Justin: Yeah, support can definitely be a nightmare.
Renee: Yeah, absolutely.
So basically, again, for file formats, color spaces, and bit depth, that would be inkjet prints with the caveat if you can get one to accept a ProPhoto file.
But that’s a topic for another podcast.
Justin: Yeah we actually covered the whole sRGB vs. the other color spaces that are much larger in another podcast, so let’s link up to that in the show notes, and people can listen if that’s interesting to them.
I think that was a pretty lengthy one, so a lot of good information in there.
Renee: Yeah, and I think that was the “Navigating the Color Spaces” and it had to do with the monitors because that is a very important thing.
But basically, let’s look at color gamut. Again, advantage pigment prints, or inkjet prints.
There’s no doubt they can reproduce colors well beyond Adobe RGB into ProPhoto territory. That doesn’t mean that pixels way out in Pluto. Obviously that’s way beyond the visible range of light, but, I think I mentioned to you, I recently purchased ColorThink Pro and it’s really a lot of fun, and one of the great things it enables you to do is open an image and it will plot each pixel as the color that it is in 3D in a lab space, and you can then plot that against any printing profile to see what paper it may print best on.
Is it inside? Which color space does it fall within? It’s just a really great program.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a color feature. I’ve seen that.
Renee: Yeah, it’s very, very cool. If you look again at the profile for most of the minilabs, as I did on the last dark prints podcast, they’re smaller than an sRGB. So again, depends on what are you shooting?
So let’s look at a big issue: paper selection. Advantage pigment prints. There is a nearly overwhelming selection of absolutely fantastic inkjet papers on the market today. That’s not so for the lab prints.
You’re stuck with your basic Fuji glossy or Fuji matte paper, Kodak has a metallic paper. You just don’t have it. I mean, look, Breathing Color has just released what was equivalent to Hanemuhle sugar cane – your Pura Bagasse paper – which is awesome. Cotton papers, and, god, we had rice papers, Baryta papers and everything in between. The selection has never been better.
Renee: So I think that wraps that one up.
And then we have the use of dyes versus pigments. And I think a lot of people are aware, even if they’ve only done inkjet printing, that dyes are much more susceptible to fading due to light and heat, than pigments. That’s why professional pigment printers now, you know, use pigment inks and not the dyes as when they first came out early on. Although dyes are much cheaper and much less prone to clogging nozzles, they have absolute superior longevity.
So that segues into what is really, really important here. What I would say is color quality and the color gamut, and your print permanence. Of course, advantage pigment prints. C-prints, as I said at the beginning of the podcast, are dye-based. And we’ve talked about this on another podcast.
And let’s just look at some data here. I talked about this on another podcast regarding the claims of the print permanence of Fuji Crystal “Archive” paper based on revised studies and data. Now the marketing claims out there, you’ll see this all over the web, “c-prints last 70-100 years.” Okay, well that may be true if the prints are in dark storage and they’re not on display. Or they’re displayed in extremely dim light. And again, based on the initial studies done by Wilhelm Imaging with Henry Wilhelm, and I think everybody’s familiar with Mr. Wilhelm’s work – things change based on the criteria.
As they learn more, they change how they do these measurements. We know dyes are more susceptible to breaking down, exposed to heat and light, whereas pigment ink prints, they’re gonna last maybe even over 200 years if they’re displayed in frames with a UV filter in dark storage.
But let’s just talk about these revised studies. The longevity and light fastness for the Fuji Crystal Archive paper was done by Mark McCormick-Goodhart of Aardenburg Imaging and Archives, and I’ll link up to his website. So he used to work with Henry Wilhelm at WIR, and he’s furthered many of those tests by using better criteria as well as test-evaluation targets.
And the initial rating of that paper, the Fuji Crystal Archive, of 60-70 years is now estimated at 30-40, just due to changes in the test criteria.
Justin: Wow, cut in half.
Renee: And so they change the failure criteria and that dropped the longevity rating from the 60-70 to 30-40. And I know several months ago I was discussing that.
So here’s one thing I do want to mention – a lot of people don’t know when you say Epson or Canon, the OEM, they’ll say “our prints are estimated to not fade for 100 years using this ink or media combination. It has this longevity rating. And what you have to understand is that when you say 100 years, what does that mean? It won’t fade for 100 years. How do you determine that?
Well, what that actually means is that at 100 years, the print will have so badly faded to an approximate 35% loss of color that the average Joe Schmo can easily detect or see that there is fading. Like, the average Walmart greeter can say “Oh, I can see there’s a difference in these colors.”
Whereas we – artists, photographers, printmakers, people like you or me – can see fading, and studies have been done on this, at 5% or less. Which is a huge difference from the 35%, that’s a giant gap.
So the term “easily detected fade” describing that end-point that the OEMs are using, that’s their industry standard, but we can see fading at much less. So, let’s just say a person like Jon Cone, and you can read essays on how he’s determined this. I know we had a post – there’s been a lot of articles on the Breathing Color Blog saying “don’t ever, ever, ever,” by certain people, “use third party inks.” And I’ve come back and defended Jon Cone’s products, I’ve used the carbon pigment inks to do black and white, I’ve purchased the ConeColor Pro inks, and somebody came back to me in a comment and said, “Well where are the studies on this?”
Well, he’s done his own, and, actually, to much more stringent criteria using what I just referenced, saying fading at less than 5% versus the 35%. So that’s something to keep in mind because these are just estimates, and it depends obviously on your display conditions, and have you varnished your print? Is it behind UV-protected glass? Yada, yada.
Nonetheless, you can’t deny that for print permanence, the advantage goes to inkjet prints.
Justin: Right, clearly superior. Yeah definitely.
Renee: The only other thing that I can think of with the chromogenic prints, they might have an advantage – they are more sturdy and less fragile or susceptible to scuffing than inkjet prints, which depends on the paper that’s used.
So here’s two other things that I want to talk about: museum and gallery acceptance, and environmental considerations, and then I’ll conclude this.
In the early days of inkjet printing, it was a lot more difficult to get those types of prints accepted in a museum or a gallery. They preferred the chromogenic prints as they were closest to the traditional dark room print, which they were really familiar with. And inkjet prints kind of had a negative connotation, and that was in the early stages and you can see why – they were dye-based, didn’t have the same resolution or color gamut that they do now, or the longevity. Therefor, the digital c-prints were accepted as the standard for color fine art prints.
Now that advantage has diminished as technology and education has improved, so now the inkjet prints – don’t let someone tell you that they’re not widely accepted.
But here’s the real rub that I can’t understand, and I mentioned this briefly on a prior podcast. These c-prints have been used by some very renowned fine art photographers, including Cindy Sherman and most recently Peter Lik AKA the multi-million dollar man who supposedly sold one of his prints of Antelope Canyon for six and a half million dollars, they’re c-prints!
I think I mentioned that, it’s like how could you do that? Somebody that is paying over a million dollars and you’re going to give them a chromogenic print? Now with the rise of the fine art photography market, prices for the fine art prints are soaring. But even, as I said, the most recent Fuji c-prints only have a longevity of around 40 years displayed under glass. So when a collector has paid that much money, it’s going to have a disastrous problem.
So I think it’s kind of a sign of the times that famous fine art photographers can sell these types of prints at that price. And again, look at the marketing buzz or myth that must go around that. How do you convince someone? It just shows there’s an uneducated buyers market out there. And some of the prints like Cindy Sherman’s – and this has been discussed on a lot of online forums – they are already showing signs of fading. And I guess that’s trendy, the more it fades…that’s cool. I can’t understand that, why a collector would want to see that.
Justin: [laughs] Pay millions for that. Yeah.
Renee: And then Peter Lik’s, I’ve recently read a few essays – there’s a good article in the New York Times actually, on these investors that have paid these outrageous prices trying to resell them. They want to get rid of them and sell them, and they can’t.
It’s like they lose value so immediately sort of like driving a new car off the lot. But they can’t even recoup part of their money, and he says “Well I never guaranteed that,” and yet he’s promoting that they’re so great – how does that happen?
And what I’m saying is the same kind of marketing you convince somebody to spend this money, I mean I’ve seen – there’s so much fabulous work that you can find on the web for art and photography, how does one person convince people…that’s probably a topic for another podcast…that their work is so much better?
So those aren’t increasing in value, they’re only decreasing. So I say it’s a shame that they’re not at least a nice pigment print.
Justin: Yeah, definitely something important to consider.
Renee: Isn’t that amazing? So, you know, that’s why we have great papers like from Breathing Color – your wonderful OBA-free all cotton papers, no cheap wood-pulp papers. They’re gonna last a really long time.
And then, finally, we’ve got these environmental considerations. Well there’s no debate on that, advantage pigment prints, I mean the use of hazardous chemicals and their disposal requirements means inkjet prints are better for the environment, but be sure to recycle your spent cartridges.
So, other than that, can you think of any other factors to go back and forth with? And then I will conclude.
Justin: Um, honestly I don’t have anything else; I think you covered it pretty darn well actually.
Renee: Yeah, we always get new questions coming in, but again, the conclusion I have to say is what is your goal, who are you marketing to, what types of images do you shoot, fine art or commercial? Someone’s looking to produce some prints for the family, or decorate your house, or you’re a wedding or portrait photographer, you’re going to go with the lab prints. They have value, they have quality. But somebody comes to me and says they want to get the best fine art print possible for a show or a competition, it’s an inkjet print.
So I mean, pigment-based inkjet prints are the future of photographic imaging, there’s just no question. They’re not even the future, they’re here now, so, image permanence is really the key ingredient, and the quality of the image to producing a beautiful piece of artwork. And only archival inkjet media and pigment-based inks are going to deliver that quality and permanence. Expect it by the top artist and their collectors, unless you’re Peter Lik or Cindy.
Justin: [Laughs] …then you can do whatever you want.
Renee: I think the only remaining advantage of the c-print is that large photo labs can produce huge quantities of prints faster and more cheaply. And again, with these beautiful, and I mean there are some very, very beautiful LightJet, Lambda, and Chromira prints. And I’m gonna distinguish those from the minilab prints. Totally different look. Can be very, very beautiful. Even in black and white, they do have, if you’ve – I don’t know, it depends on your age. If you’ve ever had traditional dark room prints developed for yourself, they’re just – they just have a different look and feel.
So for short-term commercial applications, you can go with c-prints. For fine art photography I don’t think there’s any questions. The working fine art photographers, the top people in the field today, they’re aghast that some of these photographers are selling in that price range and still giving to the customer the c-print. It doesn’t make sense. But they all make their own prints or source them out and they’re inkjet pigment prints.
Justin: Right, it’s all about educating yourself.
Renee: So I hope that clarifies, because when you call certain establishments, you’re going to get different stories, you’re going to get told, “You don’t need this color space, this doesn’t matter. We can’t produce a profile that would cover it.” Not true. I just posted a couple plots on the forum for Art Storefronts showing that, and one of the guys came back and said, “Oh, this is a false comparative.” Saying that Adobe RGB was my output space.
I’m like, “What? That’s a working space.” The output space would be your ICC profile for the printer and paper that it’s going to get converted to. So it’s like, and this is a, quote, “professional lab” or printmaker that does both. You’re going to find a lot that do both, they’ll offer inkjet prints and the digital c-prints. But, I’m just saying beware.
Justin: Yep, beware and know that you’re talking to the right person.
Renee: And educate yourself. Don’t believe in this thing that it’s not a true photograph. I’m gonna send you the link to this essay by a guy in New York City that runs a lab, makes the LightJet prints. And he even claims it’s not necessary to edit in 16-bit, that it’s just overkill.
Justin: Oh, wow.
Renee: I just think it’s interesting. People need to read these things to understand the types of statements that are being put out there.
Justin: Yeah, some misconceptions.
Renee: And that’s just absolutely, so not true. As you may know.
Justin: Yeah, certainly. Well I think we put together a nice pro and con list for people. Like you said, the most important thing is to educate yourself and know what market you’re selling into and use the process that makes the most sense for that market considering your budget and quality and longevity needs.
I appreciate you joining us to help educate our listeners of this stuff, I hope everybody enjoyed it, and we will catch you again next time.
Renee: Alright thanks so much Justin, it’s a pleasure.
Justin: Thanks Renee!
Alright guys, that is it for today’s episode. Thank you so much for joining the discussion, and if you have thoughts on this subject – do be sure to leave your comments on the show notes page. I’d love to interact with you guys there and get some discussion going on this.
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