6 May

If you've reached this blog you're either an existing client or you're someone trying to figure out what exactly a digital C-print is. Well, funny you should ask...

If you check the wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromogenic_color_print, you can get a very technical explanation of what a "C-print" is. And the "digital" just means the image is produced from a digital file, not from a film negative.

So if you're back from the wiki, or didn't bother to read it (I didn't) let me explain my own personal take on the C-print. C-print is short for chromogenic print. Turns out this is what you would have called a photo print for the last, say, 40-50 years, or however long color photographic prints have been around. So a C-print is simply a color photograph, just like Mom or Dad used to make. A C-print is simply a photographic print. That's it!

So why make the distinction from any other kind of photo print? Why devote an entire website to the topic? Well, these days the "ink jet" printer has started to take over all aspects of photo printing; professional and consumer, ink jets are everywhere. And in my humble opinion this is not necessarily a good thing. Don't get me wrong; Epson, Canon, and HP make some tremendous printers, and the plethora of ink jet media (papers) out there today is astonishing. The new 12 color ink sets also make for an impressive range of color possibilities- what we in the biz call a printer's "gamut."

So why do ink jet prints not get me excited about photography? Probably for the same reason Facebook felt the need to buy Instagram for 1 billion dollars! Instagram put the photography back into digital photography. How? By making bland looking digital images look like film and Polaroid again. In essence Instagram remembered the thrill of taking pictures and reminded everyone what a photo could be.

Turns out there is a very simple and technical reason for this. Ink jet prints are, (surprise, surprise), ink on paper. This has been around for decades too, in the form of conventional offset printing (again, ink on paper). Ok, we have a few more colors than the traditional CMYK of the offset printing world, but essentially an ink jet print has more in common to a magazine cover tear sheet (yes minus the halftone) than it does to a C-print. So in my opinion (backed by technical reasoning) an ink jet is a reproduction of a photograph, while a C-print IS an original photograph.

What's confusing about this is the marketing blitz of Epson, Canon, HP and any other ink jet manufacturer. They call the prints "photographic," and "continuous tone" but the truth is they aren't. Strange that they had motivation to get the entire photographic community buying into (literally) the idea that ink jet prints were continuous tone and photographic, both of which are technically not true. Of course for me to back this claim up we have to define a photographic print and continuous tone. See below:

The word "photography" is Greek for "writing with light." By this definition, an ink jet is not a photograph. An ink jet is "written" with ink being sprayed onto paper, no light involved here. Sure the digital camera that took the picture in the first place is using light, but we're talking about the print here. A C-print on the other hand is a light sensitive emulsion handled in total darkness and exposed or "written" by light, and then chemically processed.

Continuous tone simply means there is no break in the tone. Because a C-print is made through a photo and chemical process, the resulting dyes blend into one another, meaning there is no "dot". This is the opposite of ink jet. Ink jet, like all ink on paper reproductions, gives an illusion of continuous tone. But if you actually loupe the print, all you'll see are discrete dots. Small dots, but dots nonetheless.

Have I confused you? Are you running for the ink jet hills? Let me put it another way:

C-print = apples, ink jet = oranges. More technically: C-print = dyes, ink jet = ink.

So the point of this entire website is to keep the photographic print alive. Ink jets have their place, and can be beautiful in their own right, but we can't let the true photographic print die. All photographers, from the beginner to the professional should at the very least give the digital C-print a try. Compare it to an ink jet print, side by side, and ask yourself which one gets you excited about photography again (or for the first time)?

Sincerely, Kevin Kornemann