A Tour of High-Quality Printing Processes

​​The specificity of the photograph as work of art is its dual nature as physical object and conceptual image. Artists ​can ​shine at ​all points of that craft - meaning spectrum. The modern trend of conceptual photographers who print very large ​chose their process mainly to enable such large outputs. ​In the opposite corner of the photographic art scene, some fine art photographers will patiently craft 8x10 contact prints from their large format camera using manual coating of rare papers using expensive metals such as gold, platinum and palladium. ​For collectors, a small print from an inkjet printer is probably the least desirable output you can offer today, even though the result can be beautiful. Here's a quick tour of alternative methods of printing worth knowing about both to understand photograph listings (for example, in an auction catalog) and, possibly, to use yourself for your own ​prints.  

(work in progress)

​Boaters Information (c) Pascal Jappy

​Traditional Processes

​Why bother with long chemical processes today? Is it just a retro feel-good vibe, a snobbish attempt at differentiation or something that can really change how your prints look? Long story short: inkjet uses unevenly spaced dots to simulate tones that aren't available directly as an ink. Whereas the processes described below use density or thickness of matter, meaning more continuous tones and a great sense of depth. Besides, the use of some of the most stable elements known in nature guarantees archival properties that no other process can match. Finally, more man-made appearance compared to the geometrically perfect output of a digital print appeals to many.

​Platinum/Palladium printing

​Kallitype (vandyke and argyrotype)


​Carbon print / Carbro / Tri-carbro

​Blue Whale (c) Pascal Jappy

​Digital printing

​Not all processes can fint in this traditional / digital dichotomy. Some straddle the two, such as Lambda C-Type. I have placed it in this category because you can print directly from a digital file, whereas "traditional" processes require a negative (which can be created in camera or from a digital file).


​Giclee / Iris Print

​Lamba / C-Type


​Keep Moving Stop Thinking (c) Pascal Jappy

​Some other terminology

​Digital negative / Contact printing

​​The long and winding road (c) ​Pascal Jappy

​A word of conclusion

​Most of the traditional processes are still alive today. The digital printer doesn't have to be the ​end of your photographic journey. If you really want to explore the conceptual image + physical object dual dimension of artistic photography, it can be very rewarding to explore the look of and even, dare I say, the philosophy behind, some of those processes to see how they complement your approach.

Evening in Kyoto (c) Pascal Jappy

​Most of the traditional processes described above may seem complex, particularly to some one borne into the digital age. But, trust me, if you've ​survived the frustrations in​ fine tuning a really ​good camera-to-computer-to-print system, mixing a few chemical will probably feel ​quite a bit more satsifying (though not any simpler 😉 ).

​- Pascal Jappy. ​August 2019.

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