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The Pressure to Stay Current - Finding a Digital Printer for Photographers

prints color ultrachrome black

Photographic Author

Beginning in 1975 with the first computer science class that I enrolled in at the University of California, San Diego—where in 1978 I received a BA in Computer Science—I have been involved in this cycle of keeping up with technology. Since 1988 that technology has been focused on photography and its interaction with the software Adobe Photoshop and computers. It has been my experience that technology can take over one’s life and get in the way of creativity. It is important to learn how to manage the need for technology but not let this need dominate the motivations to use it. This essay will share my story and experiences on this treadmill called keeping current. In this 30-year journey I have developed some personal rules to manage the abundance of technology in this field without it managing me. This essay will also feature a short history of how quickly digital photography has quickly moved into the ultimate solution for shooting and printing that is currently used today.

Finding a Digital Printer for Photographers

It was approximately 1988 when Photoshop was first on the scene and desktop computers started to be used for digital photography. One could create beautiful images on the computer screen, but it was not until approximately 1993 when affordable photographic quality desktop digital printers became available. The first somewhat affordable digital printer that actually made “big enough” photographic quality prints was the SuperMac ProofPositive Dye Sublimation printer. SuperMac called me to evaluate a unit in 1993. I jumped for joy to have this printer because I could now finally do beautiful prints from all my digital landscape images. There was a $20,000 price with this printer and it made 12 × 17 inch prints. This is the same size as the Epson 2200, which cost $700 and had much better quality. I also got a special deal on the ProofPositive and later purchased the unit for half price at $10,000. The trouble with these prints though was that when you put them up on the wall in a frame, the colors turned magenta after about 3 years. All dye sub-prints were of limited color permanence.

Color permanence was a problem with digital printers until the Epson 2000, 7500, and 9500 came out about 5 years ago. They had permanent color, marketed at 200 years, but it was hard to calibrate them and get the colors you actually wanted. Those colors also had a metamerism problem. Metamerism is a condition where the colors change when viewed with different types of lights. The prints would look great with 5000 Kelvin print proofing lights, but when you took them out in the sun these same prints were green.

In 2003 Epson came out with the 2200, 7600, and 9600 with Ultrachrome inks and this solved most of the problems for making color prints. Photographic quality was very sharp with a good dynamic range and the metamerism problem had been mostly solved for color prints. It was still hard to make black and white prints with absolutely no metamerism unless you used third party print drivers, such as the ImagePrint product from ColorByte. Imageprint makes great black and white prints on Ultrachrome printers but it costs more than $500. Some papers, especially glossy, could also have a bronzing problem with Ultrachrome prints. Sometimes you could see a reflection in solid black areas when looking at the prints from an angle.

In 2005, Epson came out with the Ultrachrome K3 2400, 4800, 7800, and 9800, which have a larger dynamic range than regular Ultrachrome and an even better ink set that makes wonderful color and black and white prints using the Epson profiles and drivers without metamerism or bronzing.

There are other color printers. HP has several good printers as well that some photographers use. The inks for the Ultrachrome and Ultrachrome K3 ink sets have a color permanence of 80 years or more on most papers, even longer for black and white. This seems to be much better than the old C print or Ilfochrome traditional photography color prints that were marketed with a color permanency between 12 and 25 years. Darkroom black and white prints have been king for quality and permanence, but now I believe the new Ultrachrome K3 inks will give them a run for their money in longevity.

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