Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Printing Insights #003

About Cibachrome and "Inkjet Cibachrome"

4x5 scan

by Jim Collum



Some people hate it’s glossy look, others live by it. I developed a love/hate relationship with it from the start. It’s properties did, however, define the way I work with images in the darkroom, and to some degree, with my digital darkroom.

The first Cibachrome print I had done turned out miserably. I had delivered to the photo lab a very well exposed 4x5 transparency, with a full range of color, and details in both the shadows and highlights. I got back a print that had solid black shadows, and blown out highlights. This didn’t look at all like Cibachrome images I had seen hanging on the gallery walls in Carmel. So I learned masking, and with it acquired the tools necessary to produce the masks… pin registration punches and contact frames, Reflection and transparency densitometers, a Jobo processor capable of handling 20x24” prints, as well as being able to develop film to a repeatable density.

And then I started testing…. And testing. I eventually had a notebook full of graphs and tables. I could then duplicate the information from the transparency to the print. Being able to print the same color from one day to the next was a different matter. Color reproduction from one print size to another, from one batch of paper to another or from one mix of chemistry to another required me to make test prints to get the proper color balance. If I wanted 10 images to look exactly the same, I needed to print them on the same day from the same batch of paper.

But I loved Cibachrome, and the effort was worth it.


4x5 scan


Fast forward to a year ago. I had already discovered the digital darkroom. I had a Minolta Dual Scanner, and an Epson 3000 printer. I played around with different inks and different papers, trying to again acquire the same feelings that my images on Cibachrome had brought out in me. I had software packages that would allow me to visually narrow down monitor and print profiles. I wasn’t really happy with that approach. The profiles depended on what my eyes had been doing that day, or the light I viewed the print in. I was used to using more precise equipment to figure that out. But the passion wasn’t there yet.

I then tried the Xtreme Gamut ink and paper combination. And this was good. Very good. Very close to the colors and contrast I was used to with Cibachrome. So I had one of my 4x5’s scanned. The image I chose was one that I had never been able to get right with Cibachrome. I just couldn’t get both the contrast and color to come out the way I wanted.

I printed an 8x10. And it looked good. So then I printed a 16x20. It matched the 8x10 exactly.

So what happened next? The Jobo, Durst enlarger, densitometer, easels, drums pin registration equipment went into a closet (well.. ok… the enlarger is still sitting in a corner in my bedroom, looking for storage). To replace it was the Epson 9000, the DTP41 and the Flextight Scanner.


Nikon D1x


I looked around and decided on MonacoProof as the software to profile my workflow. I had a friend who worked in a professional lab who used MonacoProfiler (their high end product), and had good things to say about it and their support. MonacoProof has modules that calibrate your monitor, scanner and printer. I used an Optimate monitor calibrator (I won it from Imacon as one of their monthly prize winners) to create my monitor profile. I used an IT8 transparency to calibrate the scanner. Those profiles have remained fairly constant over the past 6 months.

The printing profile take the most maintenance. You begin by printing out an RGB test strip to linearize your printer. This will define how your printer reproduces RGB with a specific ink/paper combination. You have a 10 level step wedge for each of Red, Blue, Green. The advantage to this is you only have 30 squares to measure to recalibrate if the ink changes the next time you load a new batch on your printer. After printing out this step wedge, you run it through the DTP41 Spectrophotometer. It reads all 30 squares in three passes.

You then print out about 750 more squares (10 sheets, each sheet with 5 rows of 15 color squares). These are then run through the DTP41 as well. The DTP41 is able to read each row of 15 colors automatically, so you spend a little time pushing test swatches through it.

But the results are worth it. What you scan, is what you see on your monitor, and is what you see on the print. Repeatability… with both contrast and color. Ok.. so that Durst enlarger that’s sitting in my bedroom.. it’s probably not going into storage after all.

Know anyone who wants to get into Chemistry?

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