Nuts & Bolts
The Never Ending Story

March 2003

by Bill Pierce

Just when I thought it was safe to turn to some other topic than the digital darkroom, the dreaded email started. In essence, the messages were always the same.

"Although I do much of my work with a digital camera now, I have lots of negatives and slides from the old days. And I still use a (fill in the blank) film camera because I love it. I no longer have a darkroom, but do have a computer and a printer. I want the control and economy of doing my own processing and printing. What should I do?"

Well, you're not going to develop your own film with a computer. With black-and-white film you can get a few reels and a stainless tank, load the film in the closet and develop it in the kitchen. With color film you can use a semi-automatic machine like the smaller Jobos in your kitchen. Or, you can send film to a custom lab or use CN film (black-and-white or color) processed by a one hour minilab. The advantage of "film only" processing at a one hour minilab is that sans prints it usually takes a lot less than an hour.

In the wet darkroom the next step would be contact prints or proofs. Scanning and ink jet printing a lot of individual negatives is far more time consuming than the wet darkroom's contacts or proofs. On the computer, do low res scans of strips of negs, something that will give you a decent sized screen image of a single frame at 72 dpi. Crop out the frames you don't like. You now have a set of screen images that act as proofs. Put them in a folder, add caption information in a text file, label it and when you have enough of these folders, transfer them to CD. This is your filing system - no boxes of contact sheets, no boxes of proof prints.

What about the 8x10 glossies for prints for reproduction? No more prints for reproduction. Send the publication a CD with good, high res scans in Tiff, JPEG or PhotoShop formats. Check with the publication to see which format they prefer.

What about larger prints for spec presentations, portfolios or exhibitions? They should probably be on matte paper because it seems to stand up best to repeated handling. As to whether portfolio presentations should use dye or pigment inks, it's not really important. Pigments last longer, but portfolios are going to be handled to death before they fade.

Obviously, exhibition prints should be made to last as long as possible. This means using printers which use inks with a high percentage of pigment; these produce prints with more lasting power.

If you are doing black-and-white computer printing, it has a certain problem peculiar to it. Inherent in the fact that the black-and-white images are made with colored inks is the dreaded METAMARISM. In other words, the image color changes under different lighting conditions. The print that is a beautiful warm tone under tungsten light can suddenly turn green in daylight. While the image tone will change under different lighting conditions, dialing down the magenta and cyan may produce a print that suffers from metamarism but still looks good under a variety of lighting conditions.

If you can devote a printer to black-and-white only, there are pigment-based ink supplies that use only black and gray pigments. With no metamarism and a longer lasting image, these pigment ink supplies are preferred. MIS and Cone Tech are two of the more prominent producers of third-party inks for long lasting, metamarism-free black-and-white. Both can be researched at

The big advantages of the digital darkroom are two. (1) For reproduction it is easier and quicker to deliver a CD or transmit digital images to the client than to deliver a box of prints. And the digital form may be the more useful to the client than the paper print. (2) The greater control that scanning and computer printing offer over silver prints, even with just the basic controls of contrast and brightness or simple local controls that mimic burning and dodging, means that you can often produce a print that pleases you more than the one you produced in a wet darkroom.

© Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer


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