Types of Prints


Popular in the late 19th Century, today the platinum print is often labeled as an “alternative process” for 
its age as well as the rarity of its use. The printing involves a mixed liquid sensitizer made of a salt and 
metal (in this case the metal being the expensive platinum) coated by hand on paper, then exposed with 
a negative to UV light. These prints are known for their rich & wide tonal value, as well as the unique 
nature of each individual print; no two prints can be exactly the same due to the method’s very manual 
nature. Because of the chemical constitution of this printing process, platinum prints are the most archival 
of any listed here.

Gelatin Silver

Once commonly referred to as simply “black & white” or more fittingly “silver prints”. This process was 
the industry standard for photographic prints from the early 20th Century until the 1960’s (when the 
advent of color reproduction began) and the standard for all monochromatic photographs until quite re- 
cently when the capabilities of digital monochromatic output began to produce equally rich tonal scales. 
Modern gelatin silver prints are executed more often than not by highly-trained, highly-skilled silver print- 
ers who spend years mastering their to craft to deliver artists specifically desired results (much like plati- 
num prints above).

Digital C-Print (Lightjet)

Lightjet prints (commonly referred to as digital C-prints/also known as lambda prints) are the modern 
version of C-prints, & many of the companies who produce chromogenic printing paper produce papers 
for the lightjet system as well (Kodak, Fuji). The machine imposes an image from a digital file with lasers 
on to light sensitive paper & is then processed though chemicals similar to the chromogenic process. 
This process differs from inkjet in that it is a continuous tone print, rather than a halftone print like other 
digital photographic reproduction (inkjet, some types of lithographs) i.e. being made up of a series of 
extremely small dots, the machine’s exposure laser leaves an image that is truly photographic, & that has 
smooth gradation & tonality.


Offset lithographs (the most popular & widely used) are made by creating plates for reproduction of the 
image. This is done by exposing chemically treated, light-sensitive plates with the negative of the intend- 
ed image. Everything from type to photographs are produced with this process. Today, artists typically 
use either computer-to-plate (known as CTP) or print-to-plate methods to reproduce their images. These 
prints are known for their fine detail & fidelity; this a result of the photosensivity of the imposed plates 
which can hold extremely high resolutions.

Chromogenic (C-Print) 

C-Prints were introduced in the early 1960’s, & became the new standard for photographic reproduction 
as they finally brought color into the medium. Chromogenic printing, though still in use, has more or 
less been replaced by digital output; particularly by the lambda or lightjet print (discussed below) which 
have similar characteristics to C-prints, both structurally & aesthetically. The process, much like silver 
printing, is executed by exposing pre-fabricated, light sensitive paper from a negative & then processing 
the exposed paper through multiple developing baths (one for each color’s dye density layer).


Cibachrome (technically referred to as an Ilfochrome) is a dye-based, positive to positive process involv- 
ing slides or digital files exposed with light on to a clear, polyester based substrate. Known for a unique, 
high level of color saturation & rich level of tonal gradation, cibachromes are the most particular of the 
contemporary processes reviewed here, for the dyes are contained in the print’s emulsion rather than 
the chemicals used in the developing stage. This leads to the aforementioned color saturation as well as 
sharpness & extremely rich blacks due to the way in which the surface layer of the print scatters light. 
Cibachromes are widely regarded as having the highest archival longevity of color photographic repro- 


Giclée printing was introduced in the early 1990’s, and was more or less the first generation of digital 
reproduction. Today, giclée is a term that can be used to denote any type of ink jet print, & as such the 
date of the printing becomes critical to the structural make up of the inks. Once also known as Iris print- 
ing, this method became popular in the 1990’s as a technique to reproduce artwork. Over the years ink 
jet printing has progressed to include archival inks to increase the longevity & durability of the image.


As mentioned above, inkjet printing began in the early 1990’s in what was called Iris or Giclée prints. 
Just as with one’s household ink jet printer, fine art quality inkjet prints are produced in a similar manner; 
multi-nozzled print heads release minute droplets of ink on top of the paper to define the image. Unlike 
consumer units, professional inkjet printers utilize different print heads which hold more cartidges, thus 
more colors (as opposed to the basic CMYK configuration). More often than not professional inkjet print- 
ers use pigmented inks which hold archival attributes. In the case of black & white images, the colors are 
replaced all together with multiple shades of grey as to create an printed image with a high amount of 
tonal gradation.