A familiar conversation among photographic artists is whether to choose photographic or inkjet when printing your digital files. The main concerns are archival quality, collectability and aesthetics.
At the Colour Factory we have a Light Jet (a brand name for a digital laser exposing enlarger) for printing true, continuous tone photographs. The digital image is exposed to the paper by a laser and then developed in a wet chemical process (the same as analogue) to create a Chromogenic (C-type) print. They look, feel and act like familiar analogue photographs, and come in a small variety of surfaces- gloss, lustre, matte, metallic, flex (super gloss) and duratran (backlit).
Our inkjet printer can print onto a wide variety of museum grade substrates and a small range of commercial papers (see list below). Fine art inkjet prints look and feel like art papers, such as heavyweight cotton rag, textured watercolour and canvas etc. A benefit of this process is that you can print to a large variety of surfaces whereas in museum grade substrates you are limited to a satin or matte finish. The aesthetic difference between a traditional dye-based, resin coated photograph and a pigmented ink, heavyweight art paper print, may greatly affect your choice between inkjet and Light Jet*.
Some other things to consider...
It is in the tonal quality of the print where C-type shines. In terms of colour gamut and shadow detail, chromogenic prints have a greater range of colours and more colour separation in the blacks (especially on non-matte papers). However, inkjet media does provide good highlight separation.
C-type prints are tough, don't scuff or scratch easily. They roll well, although do have a 'memory' if stored incorrectly for some time. On the other hand, inkjet prints are quite sensitive and need to be handled carefully. The paper surface is easily scuffed and rolls with the emulsion out (unlike Light Jet) which can cause difficulties when trying to roll a print. The Colour Factory recommends flat packing your inkjet prints and are currently researching the availability of hardened papers.
On the tricky topic of archival quality, the most superior method depends on your information source. The archival quality myth is purely an intercompany debate and as the situation stands inkjet technology has not been around long enough for testing to be proven accurate. The Wilhelm Imaging Research Company is seen as leaders in the field of testing archival permanence. However, other companies such as Kodak dispute its accelerated testing methods (of chromogenic prints), and as a result are missing from their data findings. Professionally processed C-type prints have withstood the test of time and have state of the art print life longevity - 100 years in typical home storage, 200 years in typical dark storage. Inkjet prints are believed to be equally as archival.
* When choosing a print media, people often touch the surface of the inkjet or photographic papers and choose according to a tactile response. However, photography is a visual medium, so it is important to consider the tonal qualities of the image on the paper when making your decision. One should also consider the conceptual reasons for choosing a particular aesthetic. How does your choice of medium enhance your image, what are the positive and negatives?
List of Materials
We are willing to stock and supply unique materials. Currently available choices are (but not limited to):
Fine Art Pigment Inkjet printing
Museum Grade Art papers
Museum Grade Canvas
Museum Grade Fibre Base Papers
Commercial Pigment Printing
Light Jet (and Projection) Printing
Museum Grade Photographic papers
Kodak Endura N Matte
Kodak Endura E Lustre
Kodak Endura F Gloss
Kodak Endura Metallic
Fuji Crystal Archive Flex
Kodak Endura Duratran