In David Saffir’s recent post about HP’s new Large-Format Photo Negatives solution for black-and-white silver-halide photo prints, he answered questions about the differences between black-and-white inkjet photo prints and hand-crafted silver-gelatin (silver halide) prints. In this article, he explains the hybrid process of digitally printing Large-Format Photo Negatives and making final prints in the traditional darkroom.
After using HP’s new Large-Format Photo Negatives solution for black-and-white silver-halide photo prints, David Saffir answers some frequently asked questions about the differences between high-quality black-and-white inkjet photo prints and hand-crafted silver-gelatin (silver halide) prints.
HP’s newest Large-Format Photo Negatives Solution enables you to use a Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer to produce large-format photo negatives for use with silver-halide photo-printing processes. The solution enables you make large-format prints from 35 mm negatives or slides, restore and replace damaged film negatives, and preserve valuable images in a hard-copy form.
The HP Large-Format Photo Negative solution generated a lot of interest when it was shown at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York. David Saffir reports that when visitors to the HP booth gravitated to the display of Elliott Erwitt platinum prints that had been created with the solution, they practically pressed their noses against the glass to inspect the prints from every angle. He explains why he believes HP Large-Format Photo Negatives represent a turning point in photography.
HP has a history of responding to artists, photographers, and fine-art printmakers who want to adapt inkjet-printing technology to advance methods for creating and reproducing art. The latest example of HP innovation in support of the arts occurred in June, when HP introduced an application that makes it easier to use the HP Designjet Z3200 wide-format inkjet printer to produce large-format photo negatives on high-quality inkjet-printable transparent materials. The negatives can then be used with monochrome photo-printing processes such as platinum/palladium and color processes such as dye transfer or carbo.
To demonstrate the viability of the new system, Gabe Greenberg of Greenberg Editions (above) and Arkady Lvov of Platinum Editions used HP Large-Format Photo Negatives to produce 30 x 40 in. platinum prints of four iconic images by Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt (below left). The images were exhibited at Les Rencontres d’Arles Photo Festival and the ArtHamptons international art fair in New York and will be shown at PhotoPlus Expo Oct. 28-30 in New York.
The photo-negative process was featured on the cover of the August issue of Wide-Format Imaging magazine and has sparked a number of questions and discussions on various online forums. So, in this post we will address some of the most frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions, we encourage you to submit them here or through the HP for Designers page on Facebook!
1. How does HP’s Large-Format Photo Negative application work?
The Large-Format Photo Negative Application is a package of paper presets that owners of HP Designjet Z3200 printers can download for free from HP’s website. Whenever printmakers want to print a negative on a clear film, they can select one of the presets on the printer’s front panel. The presets instruct the printer how to combine green and black ink to produce negatives that have the right combination of opacity and tonal response for the type of alternative printing process the printmaker wants to use.
The Large-Format Photo Negative Process is based on the discovery that the green Original HP Photo ink acts as an excellent color filter for the UV light used in alternative printing processes, such as platinum printing.
HP has developed a single preset so that when an RGB image is sent to the HP Designjet Z3200, the Green channel in the image will be used to form the final negative and the Red channel will be used to control opacity using Black ink. To find out how much black ink is needed in your process, a form of calibration must be performed first.
All of the steps in the process are explained in detail in a 33-page PDF entitled Making HP Large-Format Photo Negatives. This document explains how to prepare the image, load the clear film, and find the correct opacity for your process. For a quick overview of the steps, watch a video on the HP Graphic Arts Channel on YouTube.
2. How did this process originate?
The Large-Format Photo Negative Process was developed by Angel Albarrán, an HP color specialist and avid photographer with a passion for alternative printing processes. He discovered that the green Original HP Photo Ink has a very linear response to ultraviolet light, meaning that as the density of green ink on a negative increases, the amount of light that shines through to the coated paper decreases in a very predictable (and controllable) way. To exploit this linear response, Albarrán developed an application that provides accurate differentiation among tones through the grayscale spectrum. As a result, well-defined details automatically show up in shadows, mid-tones and highlights, and there’s a clean white on the final prints.
3. What is platinum printing and why is there so much interest in it?
On his Platinum Editions website, Arkady Lvov notes that platinum printing was the medium of choice of photographers Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand. It’s a handmade photographic process in which a light-sensitive solution containing platinum and palladium salts is brushed onto an art paper, dried, and exposed in contact with a negative to ultraviolet light (as shown below). When the exposed paper is placed in developer, the metal salts revert to a metallic state and form the image. The print that emerges from a series of clearing baths consists of particles of precious metals permanently embedded in the fibers of the paper.
In Tom Hubbard’s excellent post on The Portland Metro Photographic News blog, Lvov alludes to five reasons why platinum printing is so popular: (1) image permanence due to the stability of the platinum; (2) the evenness of tonal response; (3) the beautiful luminosity and dimensionality of the prints; (4) the perceived value; and (5) the health and environmental safety of the process compared to silver-halide photo printing. Lvov also notes that “To fully control the possibilities of tonal range, you must have a good negative.”
4. Will the use of the digital negatives adversely affect the perceived value of platinum prints?
It’s not likely. As Elliott Erwitt point out, “Platinum printing is the Rolls Royce of photographic reproduction, and has traditionally been limited to modest dimensions. These new, large-format platinum prints, with their unusual size, are a Rolls Royce and Ferrari combined. They are a new, unique way of seeing and experiencing familiar, iconic images. The resulting four pilot photographs have a luminosity that is not achievable by any other process, old or new.” He describes HP’s application as a good advance, noting that “Collectors will be particularly interested, because a platinum print is something rare and valuable.”
5. Will it be possible to expand the system?
Yes. The Designjet Z3200 is a robust and versatile printer. It includes some built-in tools that can be used to expand the possibilities for creating large-format digital negatives. For example, when using the Printer Utility tool provided with the printer, you can:
- Add more opacity if it is needed for a specific process by changing the ink limits under paper management;
- Lift up the pizza wheels when a specific paper is used;
- Use the spectrophotometer to measure a custom chart and export;
- Import profiles created inside the printer.
These features can be used to address issues that sometimes arise when creating digital negatives for photographers who care deeply about achieving the absolute best quality in their final prints.
6. Is this solution suitable for making negatives for silver halide prints?
No, this Green plus Black ink combination has been optimized only for the traditional photo-printing processes that use ultraviolet light.
We are pleased there has been so much interest in Large-Format Photo Negatives. If you have further questions or suggestions, please submit them here!
Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt (center) inspects two of the platinum prints produced by Arkady Lvov (right) of Platinum Editions with the Large-Format Photo Negatives that Gabe Greenberg (left) made on his HP Designjet Z3200 printer. Erwitt's photos of Marilyn Monroe and the California Kiss were two of Erwitt's four iconic images printed with the large-format negatives.