Pigment Ink Prints

Pigment Ink Particles
Pigment Ink Particles.

Pigment Prints are created through a digital workflow that begins with a digital master file created from a digital camera or by scanning original film. Pigment prints (often erroneously referred to as Giclee prints) are unique in that the pigment ink (minuscule colored particles suspended in a neutral carrier liquid) are laid down onto paper by a digital printer. This contrasts to traditional dye-based prints where water soluble ink actually bonds with the paper substrate.

As solid particles, Pigment Inks are inherently inert and quite stable compared to their organic based dye-ink counterparts. This highly desirable longevity characteristic was countered by expensive production costs and the inherent technical challenge in laying down microscopic dots to create high resolution prints with wide color and density gamuts. In addition, because the ink was often laid down in non-uniform layers, early product attempts suffered greatly from metamerism - the different layers would reflect light differently causing unexpected color shifts.

Fast forward several years and companies including Epson and Canon now manufacture pigment inks and printers offering wide color gamuts and archival longevity exceeding 100 years.

Pink and Yellow Maples - Pigment Ink Print
Warm rich pastel colors really sing when printed with pigment inks on archival paper.

The Digital Lightroom

The digital workflow for Pigment Prints is radically different from traditional wet-darkroom printing. The processes are fundamentally unique and should be respected for their own inherent qualities. That said, the possibilities and technical controls one has at their disposal in creating digital prints is unrivaled in photographic history — for better and worse.

My digital lightroom workflow starts with a master file which can be a RAW image file from my current digital camera (Nikon D800e) or a high resolution drum scan of my film. RAW digital files are upsampled 100% and saved as a master file. Files sizes run from ~700MB (upsampled RAW) all the way up to 1.5GB (16 bit 4x5 film scan). Whether film or digital based, beautiful prints with fine detail can now be made up to mural size (40x50).

Once I have my master file, I work in Adobe Photoshop with a traditional darkroom influenced aesthetic primarily adjusting color balance, saturation, and contrast with isolated dodging and burning. Cloning of dust spots or any imperfections in scanning is common but I strictly adhere to the ethic of not removing or adding objects to the photograph. I believe in the sacred trust we culturally assign photography and believe the landscapes as I compose them should be left untouched in their physical conveyance to the viewer. I do not mean to imply cloning of objects is necessarily wrong but the disclosure of such practices should be a requirement of all photographers who value the integrity of the medium.