Common print types
There are lots of types of photographic prints available, here's some of the most common ones and a short explanation about each...
Giclée — pronounced 'Zhee-Clay’ — the word taken from a version of the French word 'la giclée' meaning, 'that which is sprayed or squirted'. Giclée printing is a type of inkjet printing — but importantly, not all inkjet prints are giclée prints. Giclée printing is meant to produce a product at a higher quality and longer lifespan than a standard desktop inkjet printer. Originally, the word was used to describe digital reproductions of conventional artworks (painting or drawing) or photographs. Today, it is generally accepted that a giclée print can also be a work created entirely in a digital workflow.
There are three basic criteria which must be met in order for the print to be considered a true giclée:
- The type of printer used —a high resolution, professional large format printer that has eight or twelve inks for colour accuracy and a very broad colour gamut.
- The type of inks used — Pigment-based inks have a longer life span that can last anywhere from 100 to 200 years without significant fading. Pigment inks excel in permanence. A dye is molecularly soluble in its vehicle, but pigment is not. Pigment particles tend to be large enough to embed into the receiving substrate making them water-resistant. The particulate nature of pigment inks ensures their archival superiority. A particle of pigment is less susceptible to destructive environmental elements than a dye molecule.
- Substrate — For giclée printing, the paper or substrate used to print the artwork must be of archival quality for longevity and colour reproduction. They are acid free and typically consist of a 100% cotton or rag base for a museum/gallery quality, print.
Chromogenic (AKA Type-C, Digital-C, RA-4)
C-Type prints were introduced in the early 1960’s, and became the new standard for photographic reproduction as they finally brought color into the medium. RA-4 is the standard chromogenic process used worldwide, to make prints. much like silver printing, is executed by exposing pre-fabricated, light sensitive paper from a negative and then processing the exposed paper through multiple developing baths.
Digital C-Type prints (also known as lambda prints). An image from a digital file is imposed on to light sensitive paper using lasers and is then processed though chemicals similar to the RA-4 chromogenic process.
The gelatin silver print is a monochrome imaging process based on the light sensitivity of silver halides. A brief exposure to a negative produces a latent image, which is then made visible by a developing agent. The image is then made permanent by treatment in a photographic fixer, which removes the remaining light sensitive silver halides. And finally, a water bath clears the fixer from the print. The final image consists of small particles of silver bound in a layer of gelatin.
A wide range of surface texture, glossiness, and paper thickness are available. Toning can increase the stability of the image.
Cibachrome (technically referred to as an Ilfochrome) is a dye-based, positive to positive process involving slides or digital files exposed with light on to a clear, polyester based substrate. Known for a unique,
high level of color saturation and rich level of tonal gradation, cibachromes are the most particular of the
contemporary processes reviewed here, for the dyes are contained in the print’s emulsion rather than
the chemicals used in the developing stage. This leads to the aforementioned color saturation as well as
sharpness and extremely rich blacks due to the way in which the surface layer of the print scatters light.
Cibachromes are widely regarded as having the highest archival longevity of color photographic reproduction.
Also called platinotypes. These are a monochrome print with exceptional tonal range and archival properties. Platinium prints have a warm tone and a matt finish. A properly made platinum print is the most permanent — and expensive to produce — photographic print.
How long will my print last?
Nobody really knows for sure. There are theories and best practices regarding inks, processing, display and storage, but it’s impossible to accurately predict.
Exposure to light was, and continues to be, the leading cause of fading with traditional silver-halide color prints. It is important to remember that different silver-halide print products from the same or different manufacturers fade at different rates.
Inkjet prints made with dye-based inks or pigment-based inks are also susceptible to light fading, but at different rates. In addition the paper used will affect the rate of fade and different grades of dyes will yield significantly different results both for color reproduction and lightfastness.
When compared under equivalent test conditions, inkjet prints made with pigment-based inks and printed on papers designed to react favorably with them yield significantly better lightfastness than do most dye-based inkjet prints. They will also last longer when displayed in well lit environments than traditional silver-halide color prints will.