Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

Lightjet Printing at Calypso Color

Experience report by Uwe Steinmueller (02/24/2001)


To really experience the beauty of a digital photo it has to be printed. Inkjet printers reach today a level of quality which was not even thought to be possible about ten years ago. But still classic prints on photographic paper can make a digital photo just look like a "real" photo. While Inkjets create colors through dithering photographic paper show continuos tone.
Through an article by Galen Rowell "The worlds best Prints" I got the first time aware of the Lightjet printing and a lab Calypso in Santa Clara which was referenced in Galen's writing. It was interesting that this was a printing process which starts from digital files (mostly from scanned slides).
First I used Calypso as a fist class lab to process our E-6 slides. At my visits I could see all these wonderful prints in Calypso's lobby. Among them prints from Frans Lanting and Charles Cramer. Also later I enjoyed the gallery of Galen Rowell where most prints on display were Lightjets. So I was very certain that not the Lightjet printing process would be the limitation but it might be our own D1 photos.
Calypso has different pricing whether you they have to scan, color manage and resize the photo or the customer delivers a "ready for print" file (Calypso has the guidelines and profile necessary online here). I always prefer to have as much control myself especially if it also saves money. So only the second option could be our choice and is highly recommended.
We made 3 test prints in 16x20" (matte, glossy is more critical to cracks or finger prints). The results were very impressive. If you have your monitor correctly calibrated the colors are just what you expected.

Here is what we did to deliver the ready files to Calypso (can be also found in their clear guidelines):

  • Resize the image @200DPI to a size that fits inside 16x20" and still allows a white border. Resizing was done using Genuine Fractals. (The Lightjet engine will further resample the file to the printers final 304.8DPI)
  • Sharpen the resized image with Nik Sharpener (best using the color laser filter)
  • Extend the canvas to exactly 16x20"
  • Create a cropping border of 4 pixels wide framing the white border (not the photo). Here is the process in PS6.0: "Select All" (CTRL-A), Select-> Modify->Border and fill with black.
  • Apply "profile-to-profile" (different in PS 5.5 and PS 6.0) with the correct profile from Calypso (for the surface you plan to print on, in our case matte)
  • Save the file as an uncompressed 8bit TIFF
  • Create a CD with the final files

Nikon D1, 20mm MF, NEF raw format

We had printed this photo also before in 20x30" and the result was pretty good for a digital camera like the D1. To get better results from film you would need the very best drum scanners. Photos from Frans Lanting and Galen Rowell I mentioned had probably a better quality. They were created on the best scanners available by excellent operators.


D1, Nikon AF-S 80-200 + TC-20E @ ISO 400 handheld, NEF raw format

To reproduce this smooth grey transition of the fog is very difficult for any printer. The Lightjet with it's continuos tone did a wonderful job.


D1, 50mm f/1.4, tripod, , NEF raw format

This photo came out very natural and gave the impression of much more details than it really holds. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4 is also a very good lens and get the most out of the D1.

The following photo was printed in 20x30". We were more that surprised that this could be done from a D1 photo. I showed this print to quite some people and it seems a lot were impressed. We are!

D1, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5, handheld, NEF raw format

This photo was more limited by the consumer grade lens than by the D1 capabilities. Today we would use the AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 and the result would be even better in contrast, saturation and sharpness. But that aside we love this print as it is.

Final observations
  • Especially the colors look very natural (neither overly vivid nor dull)
  • To fine tune sharpening we might need some more tests. Please understand that the results were just great but if you inspect the image in all detail you might find artifacts from the GF resizing and also from sharpening with Nik Sharpener.
  • Lightjet prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper should last about 60 years and are accepted by galleries and museums.
Needless to say that printing at Calypso on the Lightjet is highly recommended.

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