Simple glossary of photographic printing terms:
Archival processing & storage
Archival processing involves a series of procedures in photographic printing. The objective is to chemically fix the image and remove superfluous metals and chemicals to insure the permanence and longevity of the photograph. The processes may include multiple fixing baths, toning with gold chloride or selenium, and extensive washing. In addition it is recommended that all photographs be stored, conserved and framed using only museum quality, ph-neutral materials.
A blind stamp is an identification mark embossed onto the mount of a photograph, and onto the photograph itself. The stamp usually indicates the name or address of the photographer or the publisher of his work.
A contact print, the same size as its negative is produced by placing the negative in direct contact with the paper rather than projecting the image onto the paper through an enlarger. Contact prints have an extraordinary resolution, that is, sharpness of detail. All early photographs were made by contact printing, since successful enlarging became possible only in the 1890’s.
Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype process in 1840, and patented it in 1842 (Herschel, an astronomer and inventor, was the first to use the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ to describe the manufacture of a photographic print. A portrait of him by Julia Margaret Cameron is perhaps his most well known memorial today). Cyanotype was the name Herschel gave to a print made from the action of light on iron salts. This was among the very earliest permanent processes which in the 1870’s became known as ‘blueprint’ and is still widely used to reproduce architectural plans. The name cyanotype does not refer to the blue color (cyan) of the prints, but rather to the use of ferrous cyanide in the emulsion.
Digital (or Giclee - zhee-klay) Prints
Giclee (zhee-klay) - The French word "giclée" is a feminine noun that means a spray or a spurt of liquid. The word may have been derived from the French verb "gicler" meaning "to squirt".
The term "giclee print" connotes an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The giclee printing process provides better color accuracy than other means of reproduction.
The Process: Giclee prints are created typically using professional 6-Color to 12-Color ink-jet printers. Among the manufacturers of these printers are vanguards such as Epson, MacDermid Colorspan, & Hewlett-Packard. These modern technology printers are capable of producing incredibly detailed prints for both the fine art and photographic markets. Giclee prints are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Iris prints, which are 4-Color ink-jet prints from a printer pioneered in the late 1970's by Iris Graphics.
The Advantages: Giclee prints are advantageous to artists who do not find it feasible to mass produce their work, but want to reproduce their art as needed, or on-demand. Once an image is digitally archived, additional reproductions can be made with minimal effort and reasonable cost. The prohibitive up-front cost of mass production for an edition is eliminated. Archived files will not deteriorate in quality as negatives and film inherently do. Another tremendous advantage of giclee printing is that digital images can be reproduced to almost any size and onto various media, giving the artist the ability to customize prints for a specific client.
The Quality: The quality of the giclee print rivals traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes and is commonly found in museums, art galleries, and photographic galleries.
The Market: Numerous examples of giclee prints can be found in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Chelsea Galleries. Auctions of giclee prints have fetched $10,800 for Annie Leibovitz, $9,600 for Chuck Close, and $22,800 for Wolfgang Tillmans (April 23/24 2004, Photographs, New York, Phillips de Pury & Company.)
The term "pigment print" is used generally for any type of printed image that uses strictly pigments. Pigment printing processes have been utilized since the middle of the 19th century. The image stability of pigment printing is superior to that of any other method of printing, including traditional silver-halide or metal-based.
Digital inkjet printing has seen a surge in the use of the pigment ink as ink sets have been refined to be compatible with the latest in high-resolution inkjet technology. Where archival dye-based ink sets exhibit excellent color gamut, 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.
Many digital papers have coatings which enhance color gamut. However, these delicate coatings are susceptible to scuffing and scratching, and diminish the archival properties of the print. Prints made with coated substrates are not considered true digital pigment prints.
An edition is a limitation on the number of prints of a photograph from a single negative. As in traditional printmaking, the edition limitation is noted in the form of a fraction with the numerator noting where the print is in the series, and the denominator noting the total number of prints.
Emulsion is a light-sensitive coating, applied to photographic paper, plates and film, in which the final image material is suspended and protected. The emulsion consists of silver-halide crystals suspended in gelatine. In albumen and collodion prints, the halides rested on the surface of these substances and were not suspended in them. With salt prints, and platinum and/or palladium prints, the emulsion is absorbed into the paper fibre.
Any photographic print larger than that of the negative from which it was made is an enlargement. An enlargement is made by projecting light through a negative held in an enlarger onto a piece of photographic paper. Successful enlargements were rare before the 1890's.
Gelatin silver print
This is a black and white photograph printed on paper coated with an emulsion consisting of gelatin and silver salts. The type of silver salt contained in the gelatin emulsion determines what method of printing is used. Papers containing silver chloride are used for contact printing, whereas papers containing silver bromide are used for enlargements. Chloro-bromide papers, containing a combination of the two silver salts, may be used for either method of printing. The two silver salts also produce different tones in a print. The tone of a gelatin silver-bromide print is generally neutral black while a gelatin silver-chloride print is bluish black or cool in tone. Prints on a chloro-bromide paper have a warm, brownish black tone.
The mount is the secondary support to which a photograph is attached. The primary support is the paper on which the photograph is printed. Contemporary mounts should be good quality stock that is acid-free.
The hand-pulled gravure is one of the most beautiful ink processes for reproducing photographs. Alfred Stieglitz and other Photo-Secessionist photographers used for the illustrations in the early photographic journal Camera Work. Gravures are made with a copper plate which often leaves an indented or debossed plate mark around the image. Under magnification the image appears grainy and soft, and dark areas and shadows are seen to be pitted. The early hand-pulled gravures reproduce the continuous tone of an original photograph. Commercial mechanical gravure became a popular method of reproducing photographs, and the process deteriorated, becoming heavy looking and without distinction. Eventually, gravure was replaced in commercial use by the halftone plate. Some contemporary artists are reviving this difficult and beautiful process.
Platinum and Palladium prints
This contact printing process was used primarily from 1873-1916, when platinum paper was replaced for the most part by palladium. Both processes are extremely permanent and have delicate rich tones and ranges of greys that are unobtainable in a silver print. palladium was introduced in 1916 when platinum became expensive and difficult to obtain as a result of World War I. As no gelatin emulsion is used, the final print has a matte surface with a deposit of platinum and/or palladium absorbed slightly into the paper support. This process is enjoying a revival today, with a number of contemporary photographers coating their paper supports with specially prepared platinum and/or palladium emulsions.
Silver print is a generic term referring to all prints made on paper coated with silver salts.
A photograph printed within a very few years of the date when the negative was made is considered a vintage print. Prints made recently from the original negatives are called 'modern prints' or 'later prints'. Most often modern prints are made by the photographer, or made directly under his or her supervision. Modern prints may also be made posthumously and are specifically noted as posthumous prints, often identifying the person who made the photograph. The date of a print can usually be determined by the paper used, the quality of the printing, the presence or absence of a signature and/or stamp, and the condition of the paper surface, which develops a kind of patina with age.