Alternative Processes | Making Inkjet Negatives | Part I – Introduction

process, originally uploaded by brad|gillette.

While many alternative photographic processes date back to the beginning of the last century, there are a few that are still in their infancy. The advances in digital photo editing and inkjet printing have introduced us to a whole new world of hybrid processes, using both traditional film and darkroom based photography in conjunction with these new digital tools. Most notable of these processes is the creation of negatives from a digital file. These digital negatives are produced by manipulating a source image digitally, whether it is scanned film or from a digital camera, and printing it on a transparent or opaque material for contact printing in a traditional darkroom. Just about anybody can print a decent quality photo from their inkjet printer, and many of you know your way around the darkroom quite well, so it would seem that bringing the two processes together would be a simple task. This couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

While the processes for silver and platinum printing have for the most part been standardized, the inkjet printing process is anything but. Different printers, even ones from the same manufacturer, vary immensely in the way they distribute ink onto the printing surface. With the vast collection of printer manufacturers, ink formulations, drivers, and printing mediums, it is impossible to develop a standardized process for creating inkjet negatives that would work with all printers and mediums. Creating your own inkjet negatives requires a lot of patience and time, as you will need to tailor the process to fit your own equipment and style. The good news is that once you have done this and have a system worked out, printing your negatives will be a breeze – just as long as you don’t switch printers or the materials used!

You may be asking yourself just why anybody would go through so much trouble to make their own negatives, when printing from an inkjet printer or in the darkroom works just fine. The digital inkjet negative process gives you much more creative freedom with your images than you have in the darkroom, and since the final image is a darkroom print, it has that traditional look, feel, and aesthetic that is just not possible in an inkjet print. The inkjet negative process also allows you to experiment with other alternative processes that are not possible without expensive camera equipment. Many processes, such as platinum printing and Van Dyke Brown require the negative to printed using contact printing. This entails that your negative be the same size as the final print. If you only have access to a 35mm camera, your prints would end up being tiny. The beauty of printing your own negatives is that you are able to print them at any size you want, even beyond 8×10” – the standard for view cameras used for many alternative processes. The other benefit of this process is that you make all of your adjustments to the image in photo editing software, before the negative is produced. Because of this, the final printing in the darkroom is a fairly mechanical process – no dodging and burning or filtering is required at the printing stage. This also makes it easy to make multiple copies of your photographs, with variances between your prints being almost nonexistent.

Before beginning, you will need to make sure you have all of the necessary equipment and materials. First and foremost, you will need a digital image. This can be scanned from a print or film, or be from a digital camera. It is important that your image be the appropriate resolution for the size print you wish to make. Most printers print at 300dpi, while Epson models print at 360dpi. Make sure that you have made all of the necessary corrections to the image before you begin to make your digital negative. Secondly, you will need an image editing application capable of making curve adjustments. Photoshop is preferred, but The GIMP (free) or Paint Shop Pro will do fine. You will also need a printer capable of printing on transparencies. Epson printers have been found to produce the most consistent and desirable results. Any inkjet printer will be suitable though, as long as it will print smooth gradients and has adequate ink density. When it comes to the transparency material, you have only two good options, both made by the Pictorico Corporation. Pictorico High Gloss Film is an opaque material coated with a porous ceramic coating. It is the desired material to use for the silver process. For other processes, Pictorico OHP Transparency Film may be used. It has the same ceramic coating, but is transparent rather than opaque. The other materials you will need are your basic darkroom supplies along with a contact printing frame or a heavy sheet of plate glass.

For my example, I chose to stick to silver-based printing, as it is inexpensive and the process is well known. I used Adobe Photoshop for image editing, an Epson R2400 inkjet printer, and Oriental Seagull VC variable contrast fiber-based paper for the final print. I was not able to find Pictorico High Gloss Film in small quantities, so I decided to experiment with using the OHP Transparency Film.

Continued in “Alternative Processes | Making Inkjet Negatives | Part II”

 – Brad Gillette


7 comments so far

  1. Doug on

    Enjoyed Part I (Making Inkjet Negs) but can’t find Part II. Is it here somewhere?

  2. Stefan on

    I’m with Doug. Have you written a part II to this article. What I see so far really excites me.

  3. Alessandra on

    Me too I would like to read Part II. I am trying to print transparencies for light boxes and I have an Epson R2400. I am really interested to know more on this printing process…

  4. DJ on

    this is fascinating to me. I’ve been doing primarily digital photography in recent years, but my first SLR was a Konica Autoreflext T when I was 16. I got back into film photography upon scanning in the awesome kodachrome slides I took — they come out like 35 megapixel shots.

    Doing black and white film photography got me interested in creating my own negatives — and here I sit, with my first two sheets of negatives printed out on two different kinds of transparencies — neither of which looks very promising — but I knew it could be done. So I googled the topic and found your comments. I’m inspired. thanks for posting this valuable information.


  5. ANDY on

    hey brad- i have a tech question for you about your printer…. i too have the r2400 and when printing to pictorico i can’t find any film ( paper option ) settings… all i see are photo paper. which one do you use or is there a way to get a film/transparency setting profile added to my printer? thanks.


  6. Jack Reed on

    Thanks for your forum. I have been using this process for about 9 months now, and am using an Epson 2880 printer with Inkpress film, it has a very fine tooth and will hold the ink in excellent detail. I am also using an amber fill layer (Burkholder) to slow the light and increase exposure time so the darks will not be overwhelming and the lights can get sufficient distinction. I would like to hear of any techniques that can expand the tonal range, since I seem to get 10-90% only.


  7. Roy on

    Hi Brad, I’m currently exploring digital negative for conventional silver (lith) printing and thought your Part 1 was interesting as it talks about the same equipment/materials that Ill be using.
    I’m assuming that Part II never made it?

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