Chemical vs digital prints

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by ant_nio_marques, May 19, 2010.

  1. Hi.
    I'm sorry if all this has been discussed before, but though I could see many discussions all over the Web bordering on these subjects, I didn't find my own questions explored.
    The first one is, GIVEN a digital photograph (either taken by a digital camera or scanned from film), which technology will yield the best results? (I loved the look and feel of traditional chemical photography):
    - Chemical prints (I've heard it was possible to get those from digital photos, though I have no idea of the process)
    - Digital prints, and if so which type (Lightjet, Frontier, Durst Lambda...)
    I value detail and lighting/contrast over color fidelity.
    My second question will follow in a second thread. Thanks.
  2. All the methods you listed for digital prints are in fact on photographic paper and are what I would call chemical prints as opposed to something like inkjet prints.
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Scott is right. You appear to be confused about printing processes. The ones you list use a digital file to create a chemical print. The processes that are considered digital printing include inkjet and dye sublimation.
  4. Chemical printing, such as Lightjet, involves exposing a digital file to photo paper via lasers, then develop in chemistry, The traditional process is to expose a negative to photo paper via an incandescent lightsource, and develop in chemistry. You may be confusing those two, as both are "chemical". As Jeff wrote, inkjet and dye sub are what are usually meant by "digital printing".
  5. Lightjet, Frontier, Durst Lambda all print digital images on light sensitive paper which is wet processed with RA4 chemistry. The same as still in use by some/most minilabs, unless they have shifted to inkjet printing.
  6. As mentioned above, Lightjet, Frontier, Durst Lambda are chemical prints from a digital source.
    The more interesting question might be: Which look better, chemical or inkjet prints?
    From my experience, inkjet prints are so good now (from professional printers, and some others) that they often beat the chemical prints. That said, there are some images that just look better on chemical prints as the color gamut of the two processes differ, giving the advantage to one over the other depending on the photograph.
    In particular, I've found that dark reds and fleshtones are sometimes difficult to print with inks (they go kind of cyan), and that sometimes I get a better print from a chemical process. The newer inkjet printers are much better in this regard than ones of 5 years ago though. Maybe someone else will chime in with their experience.
  7. The other consideration that is relevant to 'quality' is robustness and longevity. Will it be just as good a year (or two) from now? Inkjets have made leaps and bounds on this front recently but it is still inherently a more fragile product. And unless you are careful with the printer you select and the process you use, you could end up with a very faded print a year from now, or one that has picked up an unsightly blemish because of some moisture getting on the print.
  8. david_henderson


    The question you asked is a bit like asking whether a French restaurant is better than an Italian one. The answer is that it depends on what they're cooking and who's cooking it.
    In general my experience with digital RA4 machines like a LightJet, Chromira, Lambda is that they make prints that I like better than a traditional analogue enlargement, even when using similar RA4 papers. But this isn't true of every photograph and its certainly not true of every lab. You cannot, I'm afraid, start from the position that everyone with a LightJet provides an equivalent quality print, and the same has to be said for analogue prints and inkjets.
    The composition of the service provided by labs varies a lot too, both within and between labs. So for example one lab will take your original, scan it, make a file, print a proof and then make a print. Another lab, or even the same lab will take a file which you have made and put it through their printer without adjustment. This latter route is mostly much cheaper and this is a good argument in favour of printing from a digital file so long as you have a properly calibrated screen and the necessary editing/colour managment skills.
    You need to choose people at least as much as machines
    For the "digital RA4" route my best results have been on LightJets and Chromiras- which you don't mention- in conjunction with Fuji Crystal archive papers, especially Supergloss . The Frontier is essentially a minilab machine with print size limitations and is mostly used to make smallish prints in quantity quickly and fairly cheaply. It's not generally a machine that gets used to make "custom" prints much.
  9. And unless you are careful with the printer you select and the process you use, you could end up with a very faded print a year from now, or one that has picked up an unsightly blemish because of some moisture getting on the print.​
    Pigment inkjet prints will last as long as a print made on color photographic paper if the inkjet print is finished properly. That means an overcoating of a UV protectorant on an inkjet print. The overcoat will also negate problems with handling or blemishes from moisture and will greatly aid in reducing fading. For a truly fragile print surface - nothing beats an Ilfochrome...
  10. Thank you for your replies.
    So the first of my doubts is cleared, there is no obscure chemical process for digital photos other than those that work by exposing photo paper. Which all are laser-based, iiuc, and have no 'consumer' versions.
    I'm surprised that inkjet has come so far that people consider it seriously now. For me it somehow always evokes the memory of paper jams, banding, inevitable mechanical inaccuracy, etc.
    Dye sublimation never caught on, and doesn't look like it ever will, does it? I've heard it is good with color but awful with detail.
    All in all, the idea I get is that I'll have to settle on a lab where people are knowledgeable and have good equipment.
  11. What is called "digital" varies by the industry. In printing it is often if the input source is digital; thus folks called technical pens and fiber pen plotters "digital printers" over 2 decades ago; before photoshop even.
    Newcomers are always changing stuff; thus what matters is understanding and not arguing about if 6 volt Chevy radio vibrators are really vibrators or not; or in a 1961 Furys rocket pods are really rocket pods.
    Our 1996 toner based color copier with a Fiery scan print interface was called a digital copier; it cost about 38 grand with Fiery and all that ram. Our 1992 engineering 36 bond scanner and printer is a digital printer; one could send a PCX bitmap from Photoshop to make a 3x19 foot image.
    The odd thing is again the printer/copier chaps recoined what a digital copier is again. Thus if one placed a color magazine on the scanner and machine a had to do only 1 scan pass to make 100 copies; they called it a digital device; if it requires 1 scan per copy it is called analog by many. Thus even if both boxes print digital files off the lan; the one that does 1 scan per print is called analog; and one stores the scan for reprinting is called digital.
    Even old tractor fed 1970's printers were called digital printers by some of the seven dwarf computer companies.
    inkjet ink is a chemcial; in mass printing pigmented ink is so nasty one has to vent it off since it is bad for you.
  12. Yeah, there's something about the word 'digital' that makes people want to use it everywhere. Somehow for me it always sounds like 'underspecced and expensive' when it first comes to a technological domain, and 'cheap' (as in inferior but prevalent) when it becomes established. Mostly my beef with things 'digital' is that they are developed as an alternative rather than a complement to previous processes. Imagine if a camera could expose film and capture a digital image at the same time, not as parallel processes but as parts of a whole bigger than its parts (well, I think most people will say 'what for?', but it's just an idea).
    Here there isn't even a digital/chemical dichotomy, the words aren't exclusive of one another. As I see it, a Lightjet can be considered digital because it works with digital images and chemical since it exposes photographic paper. I wouldn't call inkjet 'chemical' since for all that ink is 'a chemical', 'chemical' as an adjective in photography has this established sense of making a surface react to light and chemicals to create an image.
  13. One thing to consider is the final "look" you want for the print. Your choice of print method and paper will impact the final print dramatically. For example, an 8x10 of the same photo printed on Crystal Archive paper with a Chromira will not look the same as printed on watercolor paper with an Epson 11180. It's a matter of taste so there is no "best" method. See what speaks to you.
    Good luck.
  14. RE Digital not being chemical by lay folks:
    In production printing of big prints with pigmented inks; there are kitchen/cooking/industrial vents over each printer; to vent/suck off the nasty chemicals of digital printing. Thus with a row of 4 printers; there is big ductwork overhead; with 4 ducts going to the intake vents suspended above each machine. If the vacuum vents are off and a 4 machines are in use; the room is full of harmfully ink fumes. Thus to say digital is not chemical is like saying bug or zyklon b is not a chemical. Inks are nasty stuff. The stuff that is sprayed on production pigmented ink has MDS sheets; thus it is legally a chemical too.
    The stuff is so bad that if one stays in the room with 4 printers going with no exhaust; it is a legal health hazard. Thus to candy coat and say pigmented inkjet or bug killer is not a chemical is moronic; they are nasty chemicals that when used professionally have legal required requirements to protect workers.
    Inkjet is what 20 ? year old now. Here we got our first big inkjet around 1992 and another in 1994. Our first 35mm slide scanner is from 1989.
    Toner in copy machines is a health hazard to. Folks who repair thsie machines see enough toner to be like smoking several packs of cigarettes each day; some folks get a black lung coal miners health problems later.
    In room that have had production copy machines for 2 decades all the inside surfaces have super fine toner dust; crap that gets deep into the lungs. Thus even toner based digital uses a nasty process.
    Digital printing is now several decades old; that is why it has come along way.
    One may have been Rip Van Winkle and still think MTV is new; or that a cellular phone device is a 1980's shoebox with corded handset and a giant antenna too
    In graphics and pie charts it goes back even further mid 1980's ie 35 years ago. We printed 3x10 foot banners with text and even some photos with color pen plotters sometimes in the mid 1980's; before Photoshop.
    Lay folks dwell on how long stuff lasts. One could go back to 50 years ago and a print with red fades due to UV; a 1970's cibachrome will have its reds fade due to alot of UV too.
    Calling prints chemcial is lame; call them by the actual process to avoid gobble gook and confusion. Calling film "analog" is also retarded; it has been called film for about 100 years. calling it analog just brands one as a newbie who wants to stir the pot. Call C41 C41, Call E6 E6. Call the process by what it really is; not a tready obscure term to cause confusion.

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