Pigment Ink Prints vs. C-prints

For the past decade, digital c-prints have been accepted as the standard for color fine art prints. They produce a print with rich color and soft tones. C-prints have been used by the best fine art photographers, including Richard Prince, Andreas Gursky, and Cindy Sherman. With the rise of the fine art photography market, prices for fine art prints are soaring, but even the most recent Fuji c-prints only have a longevity of 40 years displayed under glass. When a collector has paid over $100,000 for a photograph, this is a problem.

In 1991, the first digital fine art photography printing company, Nash Editions in California, opened for business with an Iris 3047. Almost from the beginning, there was a concern about the lack of permanence in these prints. Dye-based inksets were soon developed with improved longevity. In 1999, beta testing was begun for the Epson Stylus Pro 9500 large-format printer which, unlike the Iris printers, were able to use archival pigment inks. Today, the best fine art photography printers, including Nash Editions, use pigment ink printers exclusively.

Depending on the support used, pigment ink prints can last for over 200 years* displayed in frames with a UV filter or in dark storage. Besides increased longevity over other forms of digital fine art printing, pigment ink printing also provides finer detail, smoother gradation, deeper blacks, and a wider color gamut than other formats. There is a wider selection of papers to choose from. With options ranging from bright white to natural, you can create perfectly neutral black and white as well as sepia-tone images.

The only remaining advantage of c-prints is that large photolabs can produce huge quantities of prints faster and more cheaply than most inkjet printers. For short-term commercial applications, c-prints are the best. For fine art photographers however, there is no advantage.

At PhotoPlus 2006, Joel Meyerowitz stated that digital pigment ink printing today has, “Greater capacity to reveal the subtlety of the color image, compared to c-prints …. Inkjet printing has truly arrived.”

— ken

* See http://wilhelm-research.com/epson/11880.html

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