Educate Clients about Digital Photographic Prints: Explaining the Digital Photo Printing Process Clears the Path for Sales. (Digital Photography)

Article excerpt

When it comes to explaining digital prints to customers, it's easy for confusion to set in within the first 30 seconds of conversation. The word "digital" conjures up many impressions, and it's up to gallery owners to set the stage for the acceptance of these new prints. Learning how these prints are made will help you sell the prints to your customers.

The Technical Lowdown

Put a digital print next to a print of the same image made in a traditional darkroom, and many people will prefer the digital print. A well-made digital print tends to have more vibrant color, sharper details and a crispness that makes it seem like you're looking through a window instead of at a framed piece of art.

Today's digital prints are often made in one of two ways: On a type of ink-jet printer or on a "digital enlarger" that exposes light-sensitive paper with lasers.

Ink-jet--Ink on Paper

Simply put, an ink-jet print is made by a printer that lays ink on paper or canvas. You may know ink-jet prints by the more common names of Iris prints, or giclee prints, (giclee is a French word that means "to spurt"--an accurate description of what an ink-jet printer does).

Depending on the type of ink-jet printer they use, an artist can print on a variety of paper surfaces, and each surface lends a very distinct feel to the image.

Watercolor paper lends a softer look to photographs. The ink bleeds slightly creating softer edges and a painterly feel to the image.

Some photographers like altering their photograph with computer software to make the image look like a painting. Printing the image on canvas enhances this artistic expression, creating an interesting hybrid between photography and painting.

Many photographers are interested in maintaining a "photographic feel" in their prints, so they choose papers that look and feel like photographic paper. With paper companies developing new photo-surface papers specifically for ink-jet printers, it has become difficult to discern a "real" photograph from an ink-jet print.

The quality of an ink-jet print is also determined by the ink itself. There are literally thousands of inks available for ink-jet printing. All of them use either color dyes or pigments. Generally, dye inks are more vibrant but have a shorter life span. Pigment inks last a long time but offer a smaller range of colors.

Lightjet--Digital Prints on Photo Paper

I've heard people exclaim that Lightjet prints, "Look just like a photograph." This thought is actually rather accurate because they are photographs. The only difference between a Lightjet print and a print made in a traditional darkroom is how the paper is exposed.

In the traditional darkroom, a photographer makes a print by projecting light through the original piece of film, which exposes the paper. In the digital darkroom, the photographer scans the image into the computer, then gives the image file to a digital enlarger, such as the Lightjet 430 or the Chromira. The enlarger exposes the paper with red, green and blue lasers (some machines use LEDs), and then the paper is processed in RA-4 chemistry--the same chemistry used to make prints in a traditional darkroom.

Unlike prints made by laying ink on paper, these prints feel like traditional photographs because they are on actual photographic paper. Many photographers see these prints as offering the best of both worlds--the computer allows them to capture the true color and minute details they saw in the field, and the end print is an actual photographic print.

Beyond the Technology

While it's important to understand the technical side of digital printing, most customers also want to know more general information about their print, such as: how long it will last; if the artist manipulated the image; and why the artist chose to make a digital print instead of a print in the darkroom. …