By Charles James
A flock of pigeons foraged through the litter on a lonely alley in New York City. From the far end, a man began
walking towards me, and a single pigeon took flight beside him, as if to accompany him on his journey.
I captured this moment on the streets of Chinatown, New York City when I was a first year art student at The Cooper Union School.
The year was 1973, and the film was Kodak Tri-X.
The original silver gelatin print was made on my favorite black and white paper: Agfa Portriga Rapid paper on an
Omega condenser enlarger. Portriga Rapid is a warm toned fiber-based paper graded by contrast. This print is probably
a Grade 3. A bit on the contrasty side, which I felt suited this image.
The Digital Medium
Thirty-three years later, I decided to reprint this image as a digital black and white archival pigment inkjet
print using an Epson R2400 printer. My goal was to create a digital pigment print that had warmth and rich dense
blacks of a Portriga Rapid print .
To remain as true to the original fiber-based silver print as possible, I chose Crane_s Museo Silver Rag.
This newly released paper, is a 100% cotton rag paper with no optical paper brighteners, and a surface coating
optimized for pigment inks and Photo Black (as opposed to Matte Black ink).
A key part of my digital workflow is the printmaking software (or RIP), which allows me to control precisely how
the printer, inks and paper behave together. My software of choice is IJC/OPM, which BowHaus developed and uses
daily for black and white Fine Art printmaking.
High Resolution Drum Scanning
First, I had my 35mm Tri-X film negative scanned into a digital image on one of BowHaus_s Crosfield Drum Scanners.
We use several types of film scanners at BowHaus, but to capture the subtlety, detail and dynamic range of film, drum
scanners are the best choice. . Drum scanners employ highly sensitive photomultiplier tubes, and are used for most
high-end reproduction and publications.
As for resolution and scan file size, a 25Mb scan may be fine for an 8x10 print at 300dpi, but I chose a 100Mb drum
scan because I was approaching this from a _long term_ perspective. In what I call a _long term_ approach, an original
is scanned ONCE for many purposes, not just the 8x10 or 12x18 print for the show or photo editor that needs something
_right away _. Scanning ONCE, means that my negative leaves my care ONCE. Any retouching is done only ONCE.
I save time and money.
Larger Originals Need Larger Scans
The basic rule that I follow is: Larger Originals Need Larger Scans. To capture the detail in film transparencies and
negatives, I prefer 1,800 dpi scanning and higher (shown in blue on chart). Shown below are five different scan file
sizes (25, 50, 100, 200 and 300Mb) and corresponding scanning dpi_s for 35mm, 120, 4x5 and 8x10 originals.
*The RGB ORIGINAL + INPUT RESOLUTION Size Chart |
(For Long Term, Multipurpose use and Archiving)
At 100Mb, my 35mm was scanned at over 5,000dpi. Well over the 1,800 dpi mark to allow for up to 16x20 prints at 300 dpi.
For larger originals (120 format or larger), I would have chosen a 200Mb or 300Mb Fine Art scan.
See scanning 101 article on our website for more on scanning resolution and dpi.
After scanning, one of our senior scanner operators carefully cleaned my negative and returned it to the archival
PrintFile sleeve. A BowHaus digital retoucher then digitally spotted the digital scan and made minor adjustments to
Most inkjet prints are made on either textured water color type papers or high gloss RC type papers. My Portriga
Rapid silver print has a smooth surface, and an _air-dried_ finish rather than high gloss. Crane_s Museo Silver Rag
was developed to fill in this gap . Since the introduction of Silver Rag, other paper manufacturers have announced
similar products. Very exciting news for all fans of silver gelatin prints!
Inks and Printer
Since my final print size was only 8x10, I used an Epson R2400 printer and the UltraChrome K3 pigmented inks that Epson
USA graciously sent us for testing. UltraChrome K3 is a pigmented eight-color inkset that includes three dilutions of
pigmented gray/black inks plus a choice of Photo Black or Matte Black. For Silver Rag, I used the Photo Black ink as
recommended by Crane.
For this image, I wanted to use ONLY the gray/black inks and completely bypass the color inks. The gray/black inks are
the most lightfast (archival) and I personally like the slightly warm/olive look of the gray/black K3 inks. In order to
isolate the gray/black inks and, more importantly, to give me almost tactile control of the inks, I used BowHaus_s
printmaking software: IJC/OPM to create a custom IJC tri-tone profile to suit this image and my taste.
The original 1973 print was made in the darkroom, where I dodged and burned using my hands under the enlarger and then
hand processed in a tray. A very _organic_ process where you literally roll up your sleeves and get your hands wet.
Today, when you click _print_ in Photoshop, software called _printer drivers_ grabs your image and delivers the data
from the computer to the printer. Together with any color management software you have installed, the printer driver
decides how to interpret your image into ink on paper. Complex software algorithms and presets take control of the
printer and_ your image.
At BowHaus, we developed our own printmaking software, IJC/OPM, to bypass the standard printer drivers and take
direct control of the printer and inks.
Image + paper + inks + standard print driver = TV Dinner
Image + paper + inks + IJC/OPM = Gourmet Cooking
OK. I_m not a gourmet cook, but using a generic print driver and presets reduces printmaking to a few clicks of a
button. The same clicks in anyone_s hands will produce identical prints. There_s an analogy to a microwave oven
Handcrafting the Print with a Custom Tri-tone IJC Profile
The gray/black inks from the Epson UltraChrome K3 inkset are the Light Light Black, Light Black and Photo Black inks.
I call this a tri-tone print, and many printmakers also refer to a gray/black only pigment ink print a _carbon print_
because the black inks are carbon pigment-based. Carbon black isn_t perfectly neutral, in the K3 inkset the gray/black
inks have an _olive_ color. Some people will find carbon prints a bit too _green_ for their taste. Personally, I don_t
mind the _color_, but some images need to be more neutral and so I also planned to create at least one more IJC profile
using the tri-tone profile as a foundation and then add enough Light Cyan and Light Magenta to achieve a more neutral gray.
I want to avoid using Yellow in my ink mix because Yellow is the least archival of the color inks.
Using IJC, I enabled the three gray/black inks and disabled the other seven color inks. IJC gives the user precise
control over each of the inks via a separate curve (like Photoshop_s Adjustment Curves.
With this level of control, I was able to isolate the lightest dilution of gray/black for use in the highlights and
mid-tones, reserving the middle gray and black ink for the three-quarter tones and deep shadows. By making adjustments
and then printing a built-in 26-step grayscale, I was able to incrementally adjust the tonal qualities to suit my liking.
By overlapping my Ink Curves, I _feathered_ the inks together and seamlessly blended the three dilutions of gray/black to
create a smooth grayscale. All in all, I made about a dozen or so changes to my Ink Curves before arriving at a grayscale
to my satisfaction.
As a final step, I used an X-Rite densitometer and IJC_s Linearization function to even out any _bumps_ in my grayscale.
Again, using the Linearization function_s Gamma control I made several different Tri-tone IJC profiles to lighten or darken
a print to suit different images. This approach to controlling contrast and density is similar to using graded papers in
traditional darkroom printing.
The Moment of Truth
I waited impatiently as the printheads slowly glided back and forth, laying down ink on paper. When the printer finally
nudged the first test print out, I quickly snatched it up and held it side by side with the original fiber print made over
thirty years ago.
Overall, the pigment print and the silver print appeared similar. However, the pigment print lacked the luminous quality
of the original silver print. Traditional black and white silver prints have a magical, organic and _luminous_ quality.
The pigment print looked a bit dull in comparison.
Next, I had my test prints sprayed with PremierArt™ Print Shield. The surface was now much smoother, and the blacks had
become even denser. The pigment print looked more _alive_.
On it_s own the carbon pigment print looks very good , but the original silver gelatin print is still my personal
preference of the two. I miss the darkroom, but digital photography and printmaking has definitely arrived and the
technology will only get better. By using InkJet Control™ and OpenPrintMaker™, I was able to use an off-the-shelf
Epson R2400 inkjet printer with off-the-shelf inks and paper, to make a very good, very customized print.
I loved the film cameras that I used thirty years ago, but I shoot with Nikon digital SLR_s now . I process RAW files,
rather than rolls of film . And based on the introduction of papers like Crane Museo Silver Rag, I will make my
monochrome prints with an inkjet printer and InkJet Control™ and OpenPrintMaker™.