As a photographer, I really am thankful for the advances made in the ditial darkroom. Today I process images in Lightroom or Photoshop, and I print on my Epson 3800 fine art ink jet printer. These technologies still allow me the hands on control that I first found in developing film and making prints in the classic wet darkroom environment. Indeed, these tools allow me greater control of the final print, and the underlying materials may provide as much or more longevity as the Cibachrome prints I used to make and still have decorating my walls in some spots. This is an exciting time to be a photographer making prints that will hopefully outlive ourselves.
The technology used in today's fine art ink jet printing is changing rapidly with the most frequent changes seemingly occuring in the paper. New papers are being introduced at a rapid pace, and the new papers are providing many opportunities to expand the depth of blacks and the gamut of colors in the final print as well as providing wonderful foundation for black and white prints from high end ink jet printers. Check out the traffic on the Printers, Papers and Ink discussion board on the Luminous Landscape site if you want to learn more or just see how much is going on.
I am currently using the Harman Gloss Bayrta paper for quite a lot of my printing. I really like the deep blacks that I can achieve with this paper and its overall color response. I also like that it comes in 17x25 inch sheets, which allows me to print "full frame" at 16x24 when I stick with the standard aspect ratio of 35mm film or the digital sensor. I am also still using Hahnemuhle's Photo Rag paper when I want to have a matte surface. Prints made on both papers, and others I use from time to time, should last for many, many years.
Keeping up with this rapid change can make life expensive just in purchasing and testing new papers. Trying out new printers is an even more daunting investment of time and money, which few individual photographers can or are willing to make. I am apparently not alone in feeling that one doesn't need the newest printer and latest new paper to produce good prints. Good printers can use a few good papers with a current, though not bleeding edge new, high quality ink jet printer like my Epson 3800, good printing techniques and good source images to produce prints that are likely to outlast the photographer. The prints I produce today, when properly protected by archival print envelopes or archival framing, should still look good many years into the future.One advantage to using current, but not bleeding edge, combinations of printers, papers and inks is that some accelerated aging tests have been completed for some of the combinations. Check out the results at Wilhelm Research for the some of the testing results for the Epson 3800 printer I am currently using for most of my fine art printing, and check this link for the Harman papers and look into those discussion forums mentioned above for more about the Harman and other new glossy fine art papers as well as my other current favorite of the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for fine art matte surfaced prints.
The general consensus seems to be moving towards using protective sprays on fine art ink jet prints. I am continuing to read on this and may adopt protective sprays as part of my printing process, but at this point I still prefer keeping the prints in protective sleeves or having them archivally mounted, matted and framed. All testing does show that proper framing techniques and materials, especially UV filtering glass or acrylic, are very important in protecting all photographic prints.Last Updated: 09/10/2008