If you are planning on printing some digital pictures out and weren’t really sure what the differences in printing were, this may help.
These days there are 4 popular printing technologies that are used. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages from quality and price to look and feel. Below is a list of these technologies and their pros and cons.
SILVER HALIDE: This is one of the most commonly used printing processes by professional labs. This process consists of a photographic paper that has been specially coated with light sensitive chemicals called silver halides. When the paper is exposed to light and colors the paper renders an image. This can be done with film and digital (lasers) to render the image. The exposed paper is then put through a bath of chemicals to complete the printing process. The quality and color is usually very good. The typical fade resistance of these type of photos is 10 – 20 years. The equipment to make these prints can be expensive and uses chemicals, but the per unit cost to produce these images is relatively low.
INK JET: Sometimes called Iris or Giclee are made by a printer that uses tiny drops of different color inks to create an image. These printers are what most people have at home. The image quality and fade resistance of these prints can vary greatly due to the ink, printer and paper used. Most home printers use 4-6 color dye based inks and can make an image look pretty good but they usually fade and show bronzing. Bronzing is a color cast that shows up when you look at the printed images at an angle. Professional quality ink jet printers cost much more than home units and typically use 7-12 color pigmented inks. The professional ink, paper and printers can also eliminate bronzing and can give you well over 100 years of fade resistance. The cost of these printers is generally less than silver halide printers, but the cost per image is usually more. These printers are gaining more popularity in photo labs because you can print on a greater variety of papers, fabrics and plastics and there are no chemicals.
DYE SUBLIMATION: This is a printing process used mainly for instant printing machines. The images are created by melting wax films in 3 colors onto paper. The image quality is ok and the print speeds are usually very good. The fade resistance from the machines I have tried out is terrible. Lasting only a few months before significant fading occurred. These machines are found in a lot of kiosks and instant print machines. I would stay away from this printing technique if you want to have your images last an look their best.
ELECTROSTATIC PRINTING: Usually called laser printing. This process uses four different color toners and imaging drums. The image is transferred to the paper by an electrostatic process and then fused to the paper with heat and some pressure. The quality can be very good with higher end printers and very poor with lower cost models. The images fade resistance can vary greatly due to quality of the toner and paper, but the images generally don’t last as long as Silver Halide or Ink Jet.
In our photo lab we use Ink Jet and Electrostatic printing to make the products.
We use a professional Xerox digital press (electrostatic) for many of our products like photo books, photo cards, calendars and brochures.
We use professional Ink Jet machines from Epson and HP for may of our products like photo prints, fine art reproductions, posters and signs.