We have finally chosen the main focuses of our research project. In photography and printmaking there are quite a few fine printing processes that we may call “alternative”. For the time being, we are able to concentrate on just a few of them. Here is our assortment for now:
1. Digital transparencies
We will try to work out the best methods suiting our needs for making digital transparencies to use for exposing light sensitive materials. Our intention is to tweak different processes work for us by tuning the tone ranges of the transparencies, so that we could end up with an accurate, predictable print tone scale.
2. Manipulating commercial materials
We thought for those who have done photographic darkroom work before, an option to start alternative printing would be to manipulate the standard b&w printing papers in a number of non-standard ways. Here we were thinking of techniques like Lith printing, Lumen-printing, and perhaps Mordancage, etc …
3. Hand-sensitized printing papers
Processes like Liquid silver emulsion, Cyanotype, Vandyke brown, and Salted paper are all classic alternative photographic processes. They are relatively easy to start with, yet offering challenges to master the techniques.
4. Papers and pigments (printing inks)
Bromoil and Gumoil printing techniques offer means to replace the silver image of a photographic print (or tones in a hand-sensitized print) with an ink image. In the Gum bichromate printing process the image is formed by mixture of gum arabic, hardened with exposure to uv-light, and pigment.
5. Intaglio methods
A transparent film is made of a photograph (or other continuous tone image). Sensitized plate material (polymer or copper) is then exposed in contact with the film with strong uv-light. So-called aquatint screen is also added; this will help to keep printing ink on the plate and make a dot structure to simulate continuous tones in the print. The plate and a printing paper are run through a printing press that transfers the ink to the paper.
6. Unique methods
Becoming acquainted with papers of different qualities, and making one’s own pulp to use for printing papers.
8. Combination techniques
Combining different printing techniques… this will offer great possibilities to individual applications, experimenting and innovations.
Many printmakers say that high quality digital transparencies for exposing light-sensitive materials can be made with consumer inkjet printers. Since alternative processes are mainly contact printing techniques, a film (negative or positive, depending on the process) of the final print size is needed. Here the digital method of making enlarged films will be a great advantage. In addition to making the film to desired size, with digital techniques we can adjust the tone range to match exactly each of our printing processes.
There are many great sources on making digital negatives with inkjet printers; so far we have read texts of Dan Burkholder, Ron Reeder & Brad Hinkel, and Mark Nelson, and also good web sources like the Digital Negatives forum on Hybrid Photo, or The RNP-Array System, among others.
There will be two Epson inkjet printers at our service: Stylus Photo R1800 (print size A3+) and Stylus Pro 3800 (A2). Both of them should be fine for printing transparencies. In fact these printers are made for printing photo quality full color images on special papers (and they are good at that), but we want them to print monochrome on transparency… I guess there will be a lot of adjustments to do.
We started with printing a 21-step grayscale wedge from Photoshop on Agfa CopyJet transparency material, using all inks and no color management in the printer driver. We tried to find media settings to reproduce the gradually increasing gray densities as smoothly as possible, with all the steps readable. Succeeding in that would be a good starting point for building our own correction curves.