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Author Topic: Traditional photographic prints vs. inkjet prints  (Read 9614 times)
PSA DC-9-30
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« on: June 18, 2007, 01:10:24 AM »
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I'm fairly new to digital photography, and I have been using a local photography store / lab to print my photos. They use photographic paper and chemicals. I've been very pleased with the results for the most part, and the prints look significantly better than what I see on my monitor.

Lately, I've read a lot about inkejets, pigments vs. dyes, etc. I owned an inkjet years ago (was not a high end model) and became very frustrated with the small fortune I was spending on a regular basis to replace even the four ink cartridges this printer used. So, given that I'm happy with the prints I'm getting from my local store and the fact that I have no desire to spend an even larger fortune constantly replacing 8+ color cartridges, I feel absolutely no desire I buy an inkjet. I will not be using it often enough to avoid clogged print heads (= more $$$).

So, aside from instant gratification, what will I be missing out on by not owning / using an inkjet printer? Are inkjet prints made using pigment based inks of greater archival quality than traditional photographic prints? Can the best inkjets equal or even excel a really good traditional photographic print?
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Dale_Cotton
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« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2007, 07:31:32 AM »
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Since you are happy with the lab prints you are getting, you are absolutely right to stick with them - and I speak as someone who owns a $2K printer and who spends a minimum of $2K/yr feeding it ink and paper.

Professionals who sell some combination of a large quantity of prints at lower prices or a small quantity of prints at a higher price can presumably cost-justify in-house printing. As an amateur, I most definitely cannot.

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Are inkjet prints made using pigment based inks of greater archival quality than traditional photographic prints?
The figures I've seen are an estimated 60 years for a quality lab colour print on Fuji Crystal Archive. I don't believe the current technology has been around that long, but it has been around longer than the current inkjet pigment inksets, so all we have to go on is accelerated fading test results. These results suggest that some combinations of pigment ink and media (esp. cotton rag) will last longer than 60 years, but these are not numbers you can take to the bank.

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Can the best inkjets equal or even excel a really good traditional photographic print?
From what I'm reading the short answer would be about a 50/50 split on people who would say yes for b&w and a majority who would say yes for colour. Art galleries in my area at least are selling giclee reproductions of painted art (esp. on canvas) for a premium over litho and other processes. Giclee is now nothing more than a fancy term for pigment inkjet printing.

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So, aside from instant gratification, what will I be missing out on by not owning / using an inkjet printer?
Nothing ... if your focus is on the camera side of photography rather than on the darkroom side, which is a perfectly legitimate stance. If you feel as I do, that a given image can be improved by a feedback cycle of edit-print-re-edit-re-print, and if you feel that this improvement is worth sinking lots of money into, then you would come up with a different answer.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2007, 07:33:39 AM by Dale Cotton » Logged
Ray
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« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2007, 07:56:21 AM »
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Since you are happy with the lab prints you are getting, you are absolutely right to stick with them - and I speak as someone who owns a $2K printer and who spends a minimum of $2K/yr feeding it ink and paper.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=123498\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

The problem here of course is, if the OP is happy with the prints he is getting, why should he be making this post? There must be some doubt there that he is not getting as good as is possible, even though he might be generally satisfied with the results.

The ideal is, what you see on the screen, in regard to shadow detail, color, hue, saturation and contrast, is what you get on the print.

If you can employ an outsider to produce those results more economically than you can produce yourself, then you are home and dry.
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steelbird
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« Reply #3 on: July 16, 2007, 09:45:53 AM »
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What you might miss out on is having complete control of your own work when it comes to custom printing ( especially with custom print sizes - labs often charge a fortune for that ).  However, if your lab is printing your photos the way you want them to, and you're not producing a large volume of work, then you have no need to get a printer for that purpose.
   As far as pigment-based printing, just remember that pigments are what you find in most paints.  And paint, by and large, does outlive dyes in terms of fading.
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steelbird
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« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2007, 02:25:21 PM »
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What you might miss out on is having complete control of your own work when it comes to custom printing ( especially with custom print sizes - labs often charge a fortune for that ).  However, if your lab is printing your photos the way you want them to, and you're not producing a large volume of work, then you have no need to get a printer for that purpose.
   As far as pigment-based printing, just remember that pigments are what you find in most paints.  And paint, by and large, does outlive dyes in terms of fading.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=128428\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Oh, I forgot to mention - I love the photo of the PSA jet - it gave me a flashback to the comic who once took issue with that -

    "I want a look of GRIM DETERMINATION.  I want it  to  say I'M GONNA GET YOU ON THE GROUND EVEN IF I HAVE TO SHED BOTH MY WINGS TO GET YOU THERE!"

  Did you fly PSA jets, or just an airline buff?  Just curious.
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mwookie
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« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2007, 09:07:03 AM »
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The problem here of course is, if the OP is happy with the prints he is getting, why should he be making this post? There must be some doubt there that he is not getting as good as is possible, even though he might be generally satisfied with the results.

The ideal is, what you see on the screen, in regard to shadow detail, color, hue, saturation and contrast, is what you get on the print.

If you can employ an outsider to produce those results more economically than you can produce yourself, then you are home and dry.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


I produce a large volume of prints, generally 2-4k/year and have it all done by a lab. I currently use MPix (Millers little cousin) and am very happy with the results generally. The only times I have even considered buying a good printer is when I a) mess it up and wish I could fix it right now -or-  a client messes up their order and wants it fixed right now.

This happens 1-2 a year and other than that I am happy not to even think about it. As stated above, what I see on the computer (calibrated monitors are very important because I now ship the prints straight to clients without seeing them) is what I get out from the lab.



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kaelaria
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« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2007, 10:24:02 AM »
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I'm the same as above.  I use MPix most of the time and have yet to be disappointed.  Excellent results, very fast turnaround, great prices.  I mainly use my printer for proofing, since there is so much lost in translation through the monitor.  You can get the technical right on screen, but the feeling only comes through on paper.  If I'm happy with an 8x10 or 5x7 at home, MPix gets the final order.
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larsrc
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« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2007, 09:29:13 AM »
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I'm fairly new to digital photography, and I have been using a local photography store / lab to print my photos. They use photographic paper and chemicals. I've been very pleased with the results for the most part, and the prints look significantly better than what I see on my monitor.

Lately, I've read a lot about inkejets, pigments vs. dyes, etc. I owned an inkjet years ago (was not a high end model) and became very frustrated with the small fortune I was spending on a regular basis to replace even the four ink cartridges this printer used. So, given that I'm happy with the prints I'm getting from my local store and the fact that I have no desire to spend an even larger fortune constantly replacing 8+ color cartridges, I feel absolutely no desire I buy an inkjet. I will not be using it often enough to avoid clogged print heads (= more $$$).

So, aside from instant gratification, what will I be missing out on by not owning / using an inkjet printer? Are inkjet prints made using pigment based inks of greater archival quality than traditional photographic prints? Can the best inkjets equal or even excel a really good traditional photographic print?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=123436\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

An illustrative point: My local best (independent and fairly knowledgeable) photo store recently acquired a Canon IPF whichever-number-is-top-of-the-line which they use for digital prints at much lower prices than what they could do with a lab.  The color I get from there is much better than other places I've tried (subjectively).

-Lars
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2007, 12:26:06 PM »
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An article "Why Print your Own Work" by Alain Briot

http://www.naturephotographers.net/article...7/ab0707-1.html
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pobrien3
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« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2007, 01:46:12 AM »
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Not sure why you're posting if you're truly happy with what you're getting. I for one never got a print from any outside printer that came close to my transparencies, and they never colour matched.  Doing it myself in the darkroom got me closer, but cost a fortune in time and chemicals performing trial and error colour matching.  I am producing prints now from decades-old transparencies that far surpass anything I ever got chemically.  From my current photography (digital) I have complete control over the entire process and I can get the printed image I want far faster and more cheaply.  The main gripe I have now about modern inkjet printing is that I find the papers do not have the same sense of tactile quality I used to get.

I subscribe to the Ansel Adams approach; if one is serious about the final printed image then one controls every stage of its production, and the shooting is geared towards ensuring that one has the best possible 'negative' to do that from.  The image capture is only a part of the total process.

However I do see that if you're mass producing non-critical images then a lab is probably a more economical option.  But how do you delegate decisions about cropping, for example?  Are you happy always to print full-frame?
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larsrc
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« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2007, 03:47:35 AM »
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Not sure why you're posting if you're truly happy with what you're getting. I for one never got a print from any outside printer that came close to my transparencies, and they never colour matched.  Doing it myself in the darkroom got me closer, but cost a fortune in time and chemicals performing trial and error colour matching.  I am producing prints now from decades-old transparencies that far surpass anything I ever got chemically.  From my current photography (digital) I have complete control over the entire process and I can get the printed image I want far faster and more cheaply. 

...

However I do see that if you're mass producing non-critical images then a lab is probably a more economical option. 

...
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=130089\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

You seem to be contradicting yourself there:  You can get the printed image more cheaply by doing it yourself, but a lab is more economical for mass producing?  I was about to ask you if you've done any calculations on ink usage, wear & tear etc to compare your costs to a labs.

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The main gripe I have now about modern inkjet printing is that I find the papers do not have the same sense of tactile quality I used to get.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=130089\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I'm sorry to hear that, I thought there were various more expensive papers that gave a nice "feel".

-Lars
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pobrien3
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« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2007, 07:45:07 AM »
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You seem to be contradicting yourself there:  You can get the printed image more cheaply by doing it yourself, but a lab is more economical for mass producing?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=130094\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
What I said was that I can get the printed image I want far faster and more cheaply than I could using a traditional process.

Mass producing small non-critical images can be done very cheaply by a lab who can get better prices on paper etc. than the lone consumer can, particularly if you're just printing full frame.  But if you want to produce a single print which is 'tuned' to the way you want to see it, using traditional methods there was significant investment in time and waste where the only way to achieve subtle (or indeed gross) changes was trial and error.  Masses of paper and chemicals were used and discarded, particularly if one made any errors or deviations from earlier iterations.  Now, with a properly profiled and colour matched workflow, I can make and see the changes on screen and by softproofing, get the first print within 10-20% of what I visualise.  For selected images I'll make perhaps as many as 3-5 more prints as I continue to tune and adjust (the monitor and print can never 100% match), and I might select a different paper.  The whole process costs less in time and money than it ever cost me before, but cost is only a small part of the equation - control over the result is paramount.

Give that sort of personalised service to a third party to perform for you and you lose control, and you're paying high rates for them to produce their vision, not yours.

I was wrong to write my initial post as if cost was the focus of the reason I prefer to do my own prints.  It isn't; it's about control, realisation of your vision (if you're skilled, fortunate or both), and satisfaction.
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pobrien3
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« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2007, 07:59:12 AM »
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I'm sorry to hear that, I thought there were various more expensive papers that gave a nice "feel".
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=130094\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
They're better than they were a couple of years ago, Lars, but I still think they fall a little short.  I do like the feel of the HP PPP Satin for large prints; though not like a traditional photo paper it has a no-nonsense, industrial quality to it!  The Innova F-type gloss paper feels quite nice but I don't like the surface texture.  Hahnemuhle FAP is also a nice weighty paper, but I dislike it's print surface and performance very much indeed.  The Crane Museo Silver rag I think is simply awful - looks and feels like a cheap bit of cardboard that cereal packets are made from.

I've been using Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for quite some time now and it's my preferred matt paper for B&W, so I'm getting more accustomed to the feel of that.

I confess to being a luddite here - I like the feel of traditional fibre-based photo papers though I don't want to go back to the traditional processes!

Peter
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marcmccalmont
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« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2007, 04:25:48 PM »
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I find with digital photography there are 3 very quick "tight" feedback loops that have contributed greatly to both increasing my learning and enjoyment of the art.
1. near instant feed back on exposure with a histogram display on the back of the camera (sharpness also)
2. quick feedback by developing your (digital) negative on your home computer
3. quick feedback on the output (print) by having a photoquality printer next to your computer.
I personally would not sacrifice any one of these 3 "tight feedback loops" Photograpy as a hobby with my Nikon film camera was not near as rewarding or fun because it took a week to get the 4x6's back, I did not develop the negatives myself and I did not print the final images myself. I have yet to print my best print the first time.
Marc
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Marc McCalmont
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« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2007, 07:29:12 AM »
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Not sure why you're posting if you're truly happy with what you're getting. I for one never got a print from any outside printer that came close to my transparencies, and they never colour matched.  Doing it myself in the darkroom got me closer, but cost a fortune in time and chemicals performing trial and error colour matching.  I am producing prints now from decades-old transparencies that far surpass anything I ever got chemically.

Been down the same path, and cannot agree with you more.

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From my current photography (digital) I have complete control over the entire process and I can get the printed image I want far faster and more cheaply.

The kind of prints you want to achieve and the purpose of the prints make a huge difference.

Digital printing allows me to make corrections more easily, and evaluate test prints more quickly. Once I settle with a master print, reproducing it is definitely faster, and cost a whole lot less. But I often fall into the trap of working on a print repeatedly, which can become very time consuming and costly. In a traditional darkroom I do the same, but the longer process and higher cost will soon take the toll and force me to stop.

Definitely not how the press or wedding photogs print.

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The main gripe I have now about modern inkjet printing is that I find the papers do not have the same sense of tactile quality I used to get.

Many transitioning from film to digital feel the same way, but many also realize that these are two different media.

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I subscribe to the Ansel Adams approach; if one is serious about the final printed image then one controls every stage of its production, and the shooting is geared towards ensuring that one has the best possible 'negative' to do that from.  The image capture is only a part of the total process.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=130089\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Yeah, the "score" and the "performance". I always suggest to the beginners that they should learn to print. Once they learn the techniques, they can then decide whether they want to print their own work. There are great photogs who rely upon others to print their work, just like there are great song writers who don't perform, and great singers who don't score.
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PSA DC-9-30
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« Reply #15 on: August 06, 2007, 03:18:58 AM »
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I think some of you are misunderstanding me. I am not simply taking photos and sending them to the lab with no adjustments. Every photo I send has been tweaked to my satisfaction in Photoshop CS2 first. As I said, I am generally quite happy with the results.

steelbird, I am an airline / aviation enthusiast, and PSA holds a special fascination. My first flight was on a PSA DC-90-30 and the airline is fondly remembered by all west-coast residents who flew frequently in the 70s and 80s. My avatar photo is obviously not of a DC-9 (It is a Lockheed L-1011)), but it is the closest I could find, without stealing a photo from Airliners.net.

Are you a pilot or aviation enthusiast?
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steelbird
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« Reply #16 on: August 06, 2007, 09:28:14 AM »
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I think some of you are misunderstanding me. I am not simply taking photos and sending them to the lab with no adjustments. Every photo I send has been tweaked to my satisfaction in Photoshop CS2 first. As I said, I am generally quite happy with the results.

steelbird, I am an airline / aviation enthusiast, and PSA holds a special fascination. My first flight was on a PSA DC-90-30 and the airline is fondly remembered by all west-coast residents who flew frequently in the 70s and 80s. My avatar photo is obviously not of a DC-9 (It is a Lockheed L-1011)), but it is the closest I could find, without stealing a photo from Airliners.net.

Are you a pilot or aviation enthusiast?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=131716\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


  I'm an aviation enthusiast - not a pilot ( not enough money, there ).  I do have enough time on simulators to have an idea of what to do in the cockpit, though I'd need some SERIOUS help from the tower for a final approach.  I've got many photos of aircraft - especially warbirds.
  I'm aware of the nostalgia for PSA out west - there's a similar feeling in the northeast for Mohawk, and for Eastern and National on the east coast.  I had my first flights as a kid headed down to Florida on those two.  Fun when you're a kid - but DC-9's, three-holers, and 737's are a bit cramped as an adult.  Give me a 747 every time.....
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NashvilleMike
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« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2007, 01:18:11 PM »
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I'm coming in way late to this thread, but if I tell you I hold a special place in my heart for my first flight (long ago) on a BAC Super VC-10  (with those 4 RR Conways on the back) will that mean I can join the game ?  

(not a pilot, just loved planes as a kid)

Anyway - While it is true that owning your own printer will cost you some "supply money", I do feel that if you are striving to get the best possible quality out of your images that it is the way to go in most cases.

I have a little background in traditional color printing - I've printed both traditional color prints (RA4 from color negs) and Ciba in the past, and I'm fairly talented as a printer in the new "digital era".

I've sent images to a high end pro lab to be printed on a Durst Lambda and then compared to what I can achieve out of my Epsons (R2400, R1800) and while of course on a purely high-glossy media the Lambda might produce the shinier print, I do think the shadow detail and tonality of the Epson prints is superior, as is the color in some aspects. That was a bit of an eye-opener, because I am old enough to remember how good traditional color printing is (I have many ciba's on my walls) and I'm definitely a sceptic, but in my own empirical testing, I'd take the output from the high end inkjets in a heartbeat. There are examples "from the pro's" to back this up - famous photographer Pete Turner, who I would think is "famous enough" that he could choose anything or anyone to print his legendary work decided on an Epson 3800 for his last gallery show. I kind of figure if that printer is good enough for Pete Turner, it certainly is good enough for my far less ambitious work, you know?

As for longevity - all we can really go by is the aging tests done by Wilhelm, and according to those, my Epson prints will outlast the cibas on the wall.

So at the end of the day - if you are wanting to "go further" and willing to take the time to learn and to spend the bit extra, yes, the inkjet route can be worth it. But if you aren't willing to go the stretch or simply don't feel it matters that much to you (and that is an equally valid opinion - each to their own), then you're better off using the best lab you can find right now and "outsourcing" your printing.

-m
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