Last time I promised you my take on producing negatives for silver printing on an inkjet printer. This is quite a challenge, because silver gelatin prints are so crisp and subtle that they reveal tiny flaws in the negatives. Roll up your sleeves, and prepare to get some vicarious ink beneath your fingernails, ‘cause here we go.
Last time I said that, for large enough prints, desktop ink-jet printers could produce sufficient quality for platinum printing. You make those negatives by printing onto transparent film, using only magenta and yellow inks. The cyan ink passes ultra-violet light to which the platinum emulsion is sensitive, and the film won’t take much ink without showing artifacts, so the plan is to use the limited ink capacity for colors that will do some good. For silver printing, the emulsion is sensitive to visible light, and you can use high-gloss white film, which you’d use for platinum if it didn’t block UV. The white film can accept a lot more ink than transparent film, so you can use all the colors in your printer.
For my first experiments, I used the printer manufacturer’s color inks. The resultant negative printed just fine on number 3 paper, but the high resolution of the silver print emulsion easily displayed the printer artifacts on the negative.
Then I had what I thought was a great idea: I’d use one of the third-party black-and-white ink sets in my color printer. I tried a few prints onto matte art papers while I was setting things up, and they looked great. However, the negatives on the glossy film were a big disappointment: the ink didn’t stick to the film very well. I soon found out that that was the case with almost all the black-and-white ink sets.
Undaunted (actually, I admit to being slightly daunted, but I couldn’t disappoint you readers), I found one third-party manufacturer that had an ink set that might work on glossy paper. The ink set was still in the testing phase, and was only available in bottles; in order to use the inks, I would have to load my own cartridges. If you try this, do it in your darkroom, in stainless steel trays, so you can wash up the spilled ink. Wear gloves and old clothes.
After producing some negatives that had a lot in common with Rorschach charts, I finally got some negs I could evaluate. They were unacceptable.
I was just about ready to give up when Huntington Witherill showed me some negatives and prints made by a former student of his. They looked pretty darned good. To make similar negatives required that I buy yet another printer. I swallowed hard and did so. With the new printer, you can use the manufacturer’s inks, so there’s no messiness involved.
I haven’t a lot of experience yet, but the results are really quite impressive. Large Zone VII areas with no detail can sometimes show artifacts, but I’d call it a good process for 5×7 and up from 35mm, 11×11 and up from 2 ¼ square, and 16×20 and up from 4×5. I’ve even had good 11×14’s from 4×5. There’s an advantage to inkjet negatives over imagesetter ones: you can use variable contrast filters, and dodge and burn if you didn’t get things quite right when you made the neg.
This process isn’t for everyone: the calibration is fiddly, and you get to deal with both computer and chemical glitches. But if you want silver prints from an otherwise great negative with uneven development along one edge, or of a scene with a twelve-stop dynamic range, it’ll work, and you can do it all in your home or studio.