View Full Version : Digital vs Analog printing
First up I want to let it be known I have no intention of stirring up controversy by posting another Digital vs Analog thread! :)
Simpy put I'd love to hear opinions from experienced shooters on just how good digital printing can get.
Assuming you drum scan for your 35mm B&W negatives, print on the very best Epson printer for the job, using the highest quality inks & papers, just how close can a digital A3/A4 print be to one made in a wet darkroom?
Right now I develop my B&W films at home but I'm yet to start printing them. I'm in two minds - should I setup a darkroom or start learning about the digital print process?
On the one hand, finding room for an enlarger, trays, etc. is going to be a big problem. And I have over 10 years experience with Photoshop and already scan all my negs, so the obvious choice would be to 'do it digitally'.
BUT wet printing sounds like a lot of fun, and promises to deliver superior results to anything spat out of an inkjet.
Am I going to be sacrificing quality if I print 'the easy way'?
Again I don't want to start a flame way or anything. I just want some honest opinions on the kind of quality each method can deliver.
In my opinion wet printing is the easy way. When you take into account all the profiling you need to do to get your scanner, screen and printer to agree, not to mention to sheer cost of ink and inkjet paper, I'd go for the darkroom every time. You can equip a darkroom for less than the cost of an Epson 2400 or similar as well.
Digital printing for me, I know how it works and how to do it. Wet printing I can do and have done, just not very well. It all depends on what you're used to.
I do both. I print all my documentary archival museum prints in the darkroom and 90% of my x-ray artprints on the epson 7800. Two different needs and two different solutions.
I'm not up on the latest archival papers with a semi gloss surface for inkjet but print my x-ray archival inkjet prints on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308 g cotton rag. These are beautiful prints that would remind you of a platinum print. They look different than a silver gelatin print and have their own beauty. About 10% of my x-ray work is still printed on silver gelatin and archivally toned.
http://www.x-rayarts.com for examples.
Most of this work need some sort of work in photoshop so darkroom printing is out of the question.
All of my documentary work for museums is wet printed. There's more depth and a richness that I like in these print and so far can't be matched with inkjet.
If you're not concerned with archival printing the inkjet looks 90% - 95% as good as wet prints and in many cases just as good or better if you're not a top notch darkroom printer. There are plenty of great papers for non archival printing like the Ilford smooth pearl. If you're up on photoshop then you will probably have no problems with inkjet printing. On the other hand dark room printing had a steep learning curve if you want to do a first class job.
There is a misunderstanding here: although the latest cotton based inkjet papers try to achieve the "wet print look", there will presumably be always a difference in the final appearance of the silver gelatin print from inkjet prints, because the silver gelatine, has actually some "depth" of emulsion. So the point is, if digital gives you good DIGITAL prints, not if it gives you good SILVER prints.
Currently, another drawback of the digital printing process, are the 8 bit drivers, which hold back the quality you can actually already achieve in the file.
Both of these issues are probably going to be addresssed in the near future - there's already the pro line from HP, where you get the "gloss optimizer" ink, to create an even shiny surface on glossy and semiglossy prints.
So, the inkjet prints are simply different from traditional prints, but there are already 2 prevalent opinions forming:
- in colour, digital wins over analogue hands down
- in B&W digital wins over analogue in some aspects (dmax of the prints, control over dodging/burning/contrast, possibility to enlarge more) and is still slightly behind in tonality and surface appearance.
To my mind, if you sum up the question of time usage, space usage, chemicals usage, and dubious advantages, unless you already have a pretty good darkroom, it doesn't make a lot of sense to wet print, unless someone will pay you for doing that.
I've got HP B9180 and I use permajet FB gloss 295 paper with it. In terms of real world results this is equal to or better than wet printing on FB paper (I've got a lot of wet printing experience). The Dmax is the same as record rapid and the prints are neutral. I can also make beautiful colour prints on a paper with the look and feel of classic FB paper, try doing that with wet processes. I like it especially because once I've settled on my fine print I can do as many perfect duplicates as I want.
I've got HP B9180 and I use permajet FB gloss 295 paper with it.
I got the 9180 last winter and it was one of the best investments I ever made.
The thing is, I don't have the skill or experience or equipment to do wet color printing. Prior to the 9180 I had to either pay boocoo $$$ for a lab print, pay a few $$ for a mass-produced Walgreens print, or do it on my older hand-me-down printer which would do an 8.5x11 which was "OK" but really didn't deserve the Charles Atlas Seal Of Approval. :)
Just like with cameras and lenses, I think there's a "quality threshold" with printing methods, and the prints out of the 9180 clearly cross this threshold.
I really think if the wet print diehards would take a good look at the latest photo printers, they would be very surprised.
Talking about B&W, I can do more adjustments in digital scope but it's still missing the tonal range and density of wet print. I've just done few prints in darkroom after few years of not touching the enlarger and I was immediately impressed by the prints' quality. The quality which is balanced by not-so-small amount of material, time and knowledge.
If you have used slow film (and the 100ASA tabular grain is pretty good,) & can get the AgBr/Cl paper in the large sizes and have a good enlarger, away from traffic vibrations then you will still see the raw grain shining through.
Though I can spend a whole Sunday on a wet print, and decide I dont like it.
P.S. Cibachrome was not much more difficult.
I have seen great prints done both ways. Which do you perfer, then do that. Whatever it is, you will still need to learn the skills to master printing.
BTW, I run a wet darkroom.
Digital prints can be a real thing of beauty, but these prints come at a pretty high cost. There is a guy near me who prints very high end stuff for a number of big name photographers. His prints sing on the page, with that depth and luminosity one sees in a silver print, or a 4-color carbon print (like a Kodachrome on paper).
Anything I've ever seen that comes out of a desktop machine seems like an inferior product to my eyes- lacking in richness, with color always seeming like some sort of compromise has been made.
Since a few week I have a HP 9180 for digitsl printing of my B&W scans. For the limited experienceby now I am very satisfied of results, but only on matt paper. Not yet found a semi-matt/silky paper giving satisfying results, but I have to work/search more. IMO digital printing is different than wet printing (i did it when I was young!) but it does not mean it is worse. With a good monitor and simple program like PS Elements you can find the equivalent of dodging and burning selected area. 1 more comment: I am an amateur and because of my job I travel a lot during the week: I think it is not acceptable to go back home and close myself in a darkroom. It is more "social" to work in front of a monitor and have the possibility to chat with my wife. Just my opinion. But do not expect to make high gloss B&W !
As with everything else digital, you need to consider the quality vs convenience factor. For color, a rank amature like myself, can produce a print that rivals or most of the time will surpass a consumer lab print. However, a top notch custom wet print will send me back to the drawing board. There is a depth to a great wet print that I'm not yet able to achieve. It B+W, I'm of the opinion that the darkroom is the way to go. Most good amatures can get professional or near professional results from an enlarger, while they are still struggling with digital. How many of you have the GAS thing about "if I only had such and such a printer or such and such an ink set, or such and such a scanner..." A mediocre enlarger with a mediocre lens in the hands of something with even a limited skill set can produce beautiful results in B+W.
i shoot color, so i dont really see a choice. i heard that the last eggleston show in london had ink jet prints and not dye transfers, not like anyone could tell though. no matter what you choose it still takes skill to get good results.
I feel that ink can easily rival the quality of chemical prints, but they just have a different look to them. It really has more to do with how the print looks at close examination, where you can tell that one print is ink laying on top of paper, the other looks as if the image is imbedded in the paper. Someone would be hard pressed to see the difference that wasn't trained to do so. Assuming your starting with the same negative, there really shouldn't be any tonal differences if the ink print is made correctly on the same type of substrate, and if there are they are easy to match in most cases to the wet print.
If your considering this route, the only way to do it without becoming really frustrated is by calibrating both your screen and printer using something like a Xrite EyeOne or Colorvision PrintFIX Pro (which is less expensive, but considerably less capable, this is what I use), so you'll want to add the cost of that equipment into the cost of the printer as well. I'm personally printing on a Canon IPF5000, which produces the best black and white prints straight from the printer that I've ever seen from an inkjet (I also just noticed that the price just dropped to $995, and some places are throwing the in roll feeder and free shipping). But, the really great thing about inkjets is that they can print on a variety of media, and assuming your properly calibrated, you can see the end result before the print is ever made so that you can make your corrections.
Don't let anyone convince you that printing with an inkjet is easy, it's a whole lot more than just plugging a printer into a computer and hitting "print" in Photoshop. Someone might be able to get decent prints like that, probably better than most minilabs. But, it takes a lot of work to get professional results, the advantage is that once you've achieved what you want, it can be easily replicated. I've spent a lot of time profiling the paper that I use for my street photography. Not to say, again, that inkjet prints are better. There are downsides like bronzing on glossy paper that requires a finishing spray of some sort to keep that from happening, or lower contrast on fine art papers (I don't personally mind that, but a lot of people will).
I'll also give a little support by saying that I managed a professional, custom printing lab for five years prior to stepping out on my own, using equipment that a lot of photographers have wet dreams about, and I've been able to match anything I've done in the darkroom with my personal inkjet, especially color.
With apologies to cat lovers: There's more than one way to skin a cat. You have to find your own path.
Well, I am not infinitely rich and, after careful calculation prior to resurrecting my picture making, could not even afford to go digital for black-and-white printing. "Traditional" darkroom gear and processes are much cheaper to set up, and also have less/no learning curve, as I have been dabbling at various levels for more than 25 years.
The digital printers, monitors, computers, software and learning-time are considerably more expensive than the "traditional" tools and are much earlier in their developmental life-cycles. I would quickly estimate that the chemical and paper costs for the "traditional" darkroom are roughly equivalent to the consumable costs for the digital version, but the specialist inks necessary could be more expensive (the newer systems have arrived after I made my calculations a couple of years ago).
Note that I never did any calculations for colour printing, as I have no interest in that as a hobby, but that a Jobo processor can make the "wet" procedures much simpler to control at least.
"Which process is better?" is not a valid question, as both are capable of looking good enough for most purposes.
Of course, everyone elses circumstances may be different and the results of careful thought and planning may be different for different people (so please don't shoot me for this post).
another thing is that if you live in a small apartment, and are likely to moving around in the near future, moving around a printer is a lot easier than moving a dark room, heh.
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