I love photography. I love the journey that photography has taken me on, and I continue to enjoy exploring the possibilities available to appreciate the fruits of my photographic labor.
Last month, I tested and reviewed MacPhun’s Tonality Pro black and white conversion software (click here to read more on that). I really enjoyed talking with Alex and Kevin from MacPhun about their software, and getting some insight into both the software and the people behind it. Long story short, I consider it the best black and white conversion software I’ve personally used. Upon finishing my review, I was referred to one of their partners in Digital Silver Imaging, a unique print lab specializing in black and white printing. DSI offers a variety of printing solutions, but one in particular was fascinating to me. Using a laser enlarger, they convert and project your digital image file onto light sensitive, silver gelatin, black and white photo paper which is then processed in black and white photo chemistry. Why, and what benefit might this have for those of us that have moved into the digital realm? Come on in for more information about the process, and why I think it might be the best way to archive your favorite black and white, digital images.
So, when speaking with Andrea from Digital Silver Imaging, my first question was how? While I feel it would be cool to show off my understanding and remarkable ability to absorb information by reiterating the description of the process, it’s probably better to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Plus, I may be overstating my abilities and overall grasp of the process, you know, almost entirely.
Watch their video below:
DSI offers a variety of papers on which you can print, ranging from their resin coated (RC) and Fiber photo papers for their digital silver gelatin process, as well as Hahnemühle, Canson and Epson InkJet papers, with a variety of prices to go along with these choices. I was sent three different prints from two different files. I received a DSI Silver Gelatin Print Resin Coated (RC) and a DSI Silver Gelatin Print on Fiber paper. Third, I received an Epson Photo Matte print as well which is printed through a more traditional digital ink jet printing process as one would receive from most any top end printing service, or would more than likely have access to at a more basic level through a home printer.
To print through DSI, you simply upload your images, choose print size, paper/process and toning (Selenium for cooler, Sepia for warmer or none) if wanting to print via the digital silver gelatin process. You can find their upload page HERE. It’s very intuitive (which is somewhat rare in my experience with print labs). You have the choice of custom printing (more expensive) which means a technician will go through and format, crop and prepare your file for you, or you can download their handy Direct to Print ROES application which you can get from their site HERE, and save yourself some moolah by sending print ready files directly. My pricing listed is for the custom printing option and more than doubles the pricing of the direct to print option. Custom pricing doesn’t list the Ink Jet papers, but I’d imagine that the pricing difference is similar. Here is the pricing, pulled from the DSI website to see what I mean:
Here are the three I received, along with custom pricing for an 8″x12″ print on the different paper and printing choices. I’ve also included my own 8×12 print which I did on my home inkjet printer (a Canon Pro9000) on 13×19 Ilford Galerie smooth gloss paper. The full prints were shot and balanced identically. The lighting and white balancing is consistent between all four images to see the comparisons. Click any image below to see larger.
First, the DSI Silver Gelatin Print Resin Coated ($21.00). It is a brighter, cooler and more brilliant white base paper, similar in weight to standard glossy paper like the Ilford that I print on at home. It is certainly a lighter weight than the DSI Silver Gelatin process Fiber paper and is the cheaper of the two digital silver gelatin papers.
Next, the DSI Silver Gelatin Fiber paper ($43.00). While it won’t show up as beautifully here, the base paper is much warmer than the RC without any Selenium or Sepia toning added (which are options you can choose to cool or warm your print tones.) It reminds me of the prints I used to pull out of the finishing tub in the dark room. It has a heft to it, along with a traditional fiber texture adding a much more analog feel just from looking at it.
And, the Epson Enhanced Matte Ink Jet print ($23.00). As with many matte papers, the finish loses a little bit of contrast producing a slightly flatter image. That said, I like this Epson Enhanced Matte print as it is punchier than most of my matte papers at home. I would say it has a similar richness, but not quite as much depth as my Hahnemühle Bamboo seems to offer me (I love the bamboo as it has replaced my other matte and photo rag stuff at home, especially for color prints).
Finally, here is my home print from my Canon Pro 9000 dye ink jet printer on my Ilford Galerie paper. Much like the other ink jet print from DSI, there is a lot of magenta in the shadows, obviously quite a bit more with my home print, but herein lies the biggest visual difference off the bat for me between the digital silver gelatin process versus the ink jet printing.
Here are the 4 different prints layered to see the differences more easily.
Here are some close ups taken with a macro lens in an attempt to finely show the detail in the prints.
Click any to see them larger.
First, the DSI RC:
Nice, rich tones and good detail through the range.
Next, the DSI Fiber:
I can see the similarities with the other silver gelatin print, but the fiber is warmer with more contrast. Deeper, richer blacks and warmer midtones.
The Epson Precision Matte Ink Jet print:
Obvious magenta shift, but still nice tonality and tonal transitions.
Finally, my home print on the Ilford Galerie from my Canon Pro9000 ink jet printer:
Okay, now this is a major magenta shift comparatively. I’ve been happy with my home printer, and for color it does wonderfully, but this has shown one major benefit to having my black and white images printed elsewhere.
Notice too, in the two ink jet prints that you can actually see the ink dots when looking close up which you don’t see in the silver gelatin prints for obvious reasons. Even though modern ink jet printers have a remarkable ability to create minuscule dots, they’re still teenie, tiny dots. Not really visible at any normal viewing distance, but still a difference none the less.
So, that is that. I think that the differences may appeal to different folks with the digital silver gelatin prints getting closer to the actual file, and LOOK like black and white prints. Both of the inkjet prints (mine especially) look more like they came out of a printer as opposed to a chemical bath, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it shows me what options are out there.
One big benefit that I haven’t really touched on that the digital to silver gelatin printing process provides over a dye or pigment ink jet print is the archival properties. Ink jet printing has come a long way over the last decade or so, but the fact remains that ink, pigment or dye, will still fade more easily. Seeing as I’ve only had these prints for about a week, I don’t think I’ll be able to make any huge proclamations as to the claims by DSI, but they do say that the process provides “proven archival superiority.” I have no reason to doubt that one bit. While modern ink jet printers are great, they still have to play by the laws of physics, and ink on paper is going to be more susceptible to the elements than a chemically fixed, silver gelatin process.
If you’re looking to see the difference between the RC and Fiber papers yourself, DSI offers a print promotion discount where you can get one image printed to 8×10 on both papers (normally $68) for $45 which includes shipping. You can check out that deal HERE. Tell them I say hi.
DSI also offers full color print capabilities as well. They’re a one stop, pro print shop solution which can also custom matte, frame or mount your photos to different medium as well. The holidays are just around the corner… I know what my in laws are getting 🙂
I have to print an image, really large, every once in a while to remind me why I enjoy capturing images so much. Seeing one of your files printed, and huge really helps put all the technology in our palms into harmonious perspective, or at least does for me. Getting an image off the screen and onto your wall can be very satisfying.
Enjoying a beautifully finished, museum quality print for exhibition, personal use or gifting just feels nice, and with the archival qualities involved in the digital silver process, it will last. It can be a piece of art, passed on to kids, grandkids or great grandkids to help show them what photography used to be because who knows where imaging goes in the future. While technology and the way that we interact with that technology will inevitably continue to evolve, so too will our desire to remember where that evolution came from, and a good printed image will never go out of style.
Visit Digital Silver Imaging HERE and have a look around.
Thanks for the read, and as always, happy shooting.