The previous (poll) post was a preamble to this one.
IF you defined yourself as being an expert or semi-expert color printer in BOTH the analog and digital eras (inkjet in the latter, any form of wet printing in the former), the question for you is—do you think color printing is easier now? Or was it easier back then?
(The question was asked by Crabby Umbo in the comments to Ctein's column yesterday.)
By "semi-expert" I just mean "more than casual"—you knew or know your way around it, did it a lot, and/or were or are able to produce high-quality results.
I'm assuming this will include only a small subset of TOP readers. But I know y'all are out there!
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by latent_image: "I ran an in-house color lab for a portrait/commercial studio in the 1970s and then set up an in-house lab for my own art/freelance work during the 1990s. Living in a rural area, I gave up on C-printing about 10 years ago as my sources for lab supplies got more and more tenuous.
"I loved C-printing when carried to a high level (e.g., prints by Bob Korn on Cape Cod, Mass.). With C-printing (as with B&W darkroom printing) there is a much more direct connection between what you do and what you see. Feedback is quick and unambiguous. Too dark, too light, tweak the color filtration this way or that, dodge, burn...that's most of it. It takes skill and experience to make a really great print, but it's mostly the kind of brain-eye-hand stuff that humans take to naturally.
"I accept that inkjet prints can be exceptional. But I don't like making them. I loved making C-prints. Now that I'm retired, I only do darkroom B&W. Inkjet B&W can be very fine, but the process is mostly in pain in the posterior."
Featured Comment by Hans van Driest: "I think it is much easier now. The printing itself is easier, you can do it without a darkroom. The whole flow, for me, became much more stable and controllable. I sometimes had more variation from print to print than the correction I was trying to make. Especially if there was one or more days between the two prints. Now I just start my marvelous printer (Epson 7800), it can be after minutes, after days or even years, and the same print comes out. With better colors than analog. Perhaps I should mention that I printed from color negatives on Kodak photographic printing paper, I know there are some fancy processes that can be, for some prints, better than inkjet. And there is the 'working' of the print. You can take your time, change your mind, most of it on still on a screen. And it will be the same for each print. It is incomparable, digital color printing is a marvel!!"
Featured Comment by Tony McLean: "I believe it is far easier to make a print using an inkjet rather than using the traditional darkroom approach. However, if you wish to make a well-crafted print to exacting standards, then both methods require an equal amount of skill—just different tools."
Featured Comment by Kirk Decker: "I worked as a custom color printer in a several Midwest photo labs. For me, there's a big difference between using a well-maintained, well-controlled processor, and using a drum at home. I hated printing color at home. It's like adjusting a TV with your eyes closed, and then having to wait 15 minutes before you can open your eyes. Tweaking and waiting and tweaking and waiting only to find you went too far in your correction. The thing I like about inkjets is that all that burning and dodging is precise and repeatable. I have a nice calibrated monitor and an Epson 3880. What I see is what I get. That never happened in the darkroom."
Featured Comment by Peter Croft: "I can't answer yes to any of those poll questions. I am a frustrated, relatively knowledgeable printer with a succession of high end printers (Epson 1270, Epson 2880) who is tearing his hair out with hit-and-miss colour, mostly miss. I admit I don't have a Spyder or such like, but my results vary unpredictably. Sometimes it seems 'Let Photoshop manage Colours' works, other times 'Let Printer manage Colours' works, but mostly neither works. Wasting too much expensive ink. I get better results just letting my Canon MF6150 do its thing with no choices from me.
"I also admit the one time I got a friend to lend me his Spyder to calibrate my monitor (Dell 2405), the next test chart print on the 2880 was perfect, unbelievably good. Yet my monitor looked like cold blue crap. I spent years aligning broadcast TV monitors using a Minolta analyser and fluorescent tube to D6500. It should look a warmish brown. How can what I judge on my monitor be so wrong? I must be losing it. (Age 65, 13 years out of the game.) I'm a bit annoyed that after buying a $1000 monitor and a $1400 printer, I have to spend another $400 to get them to work together. Why can't I just hit 'Print' and get the print I expect? This is turning out harder than Cibachrome was."
Featured Comment by richardplondon: "If you went into the wet darkroom thinking it was going to be hard, that usually turned out to be the case. Just getting on with it fearlessly though, it wasn't too bad as I recall; in that the reason for any problem tended to be soon apparent. Also, the motivation not to repeat the same error was high. I think the difference with digital techniques is that if you go in blithely on the basis that it is going to be easy, the whole process is fraught with completely mysterious difficulties. If you go in on the more respectful assumption that it is going to take effort and patience to master, then...remarkably often, it proves to be all smooth sailing!"
Featured Comment by Charles Cramer: "Mike, YES, it's easier! And faster!! I've been making color prints for a looong time, starting with Ektacolor paper processed in color 'canoes' (before the advent of the black tubes). Thanks to an article by Ctein in 1980, I started dye transfer printing. Little did I realize it would take over my life! To create one print required the precise exposure and development of approximately twelve sheets of film. The colors are literally disassembled into B&W, and then reassembled in a process akin to silk-screening. With all the steps involved, it offered tremendous control—but also the possibility for things to go terribly wrong! (You can read more here.) After making the first dye transfer print from a transparency, I would think long and hard about what could be done to make it look better. Because it would take anywhere from two to five hours to implement those changes in the next print. With digital, you can preview those same changes onscreen, in seconds! This allows for much more control and refinement.
"Of course, as Ctein says, with digital, people feel they have to use all the adjustments. So it's almost too easy to overdo the tweaking. When I taught dye transfer printing, we would choose one transparency from one student, and spend the class making that one print, which usually came out 'OK.' With digital, everyone in the class gets to make five or more of their own prints, and they're usually excellent. I'd call that progress! The one thing that I still prefer in dye transfer is a minor thing—the surface of the paper. There was no 'bronzing' or 'gloss differential' with dye transfer paper. But, inkjet papers are rapidly improving...."
[Note: Charlie surely is one of the really good color printers in the world. We featured his work in one of our print sales in early 2011. —Ed.]