Alternative Processes | Making Inkjet Negatives | Part I – Introduction
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