Silver Gelatin Museum Quality Prints — The Art of Black and White in a Digital World

I have no affiliation with this company, but give credit where credit is due: Digital Silver Imaging is a unique premier printer of real silver gelatin prints directly from digital files. Through a unique printing process, beautiful fiber-based and resin-coated black-and-white, wet-process prints up to 50″ wide are available to photographers. They also create exquisite fine art inkjet prints. It all started with Kickstarter.

Eric Luden, founder and owner of Digital Silver Imaging LLC — a custom fine art digital lab based near Boston, Massachusetts — is a former Ilford sales and marketing director. As a life-long, passionate black-and-white photographer and developer, five years ago he set out to reconcile a seeming contradiction: to apply the art of classic black-and-white developing to digital images.

Black-and-white is the hardest and most frustrating part for photographers. The common printing methods available are color technologies and applying them to black andwhite: black-and-white prints on color paper, or using a color inkjet paper. So the prints always have a pink, green or clue cast to them. It isn’t really black and white — and it shows, Luden tells Forbes. They won’t produce a neutral tone black-and-white print. And they’ll fade over time.

Ilford Photo, world’s oldest black-and-white photo company started in 1887, brought to market a method to print directly from digital files onto traditional black-and-white silver gelatin paper. It was a technological breakthrough. How’s that possible? With a digital file, there’s no physical negative. How can you make a classic print without a physical negative?

Luden:

By using a photographic laser enlarger and a red/green/blue (RGB) tri-color laser. The digital file is exposed via light onto the Ilford black-and-white paper. Then it’s removed and processed in a traditional black and white paper processor. As a result, you get a true neutral-tone black-and-white print on actual photographic paper. There’s no color cast. It looks and feels like a traditional photograph because it is — you’re exposing a silver-based paper with light. The image is in the paper, not just on the surface of the paper, which results in a more three-dimensional look. The tone tends to be more natural because it’s light exposing on paper, not dots of ink.

And who cares about these differences?

A lot of people, says Luden, have had darkroom experience in the past, and appreciate a fine quality print. You also have people who have great archives of film who don’t have access to darkroom, but still want that fine art quality black-and-white print. In the gallery world, the term “silver gelatin print” has a cachet over inkjet or digital prints.

His business has been growing steadily for 40% a year since opening five years ago. There’s been a resurgence of black and white; it’s more in vogue now than when digital photography started:

There’s a mystique about black-and-white photography that will never go away. Black and white is about interpreting what you see, whereas color tends to be more about duplicating what you see.

Prints come out wet, just as in the darkroom. Forget color shifts. You get the best of both worlds — the controls and precision of digital workflow with the quality and archival properties of a true silver gelatin print. This quality has its price. A custom printing machine and one-of-a kind paper processor that would meet archival processing standards cost together $75,000. Kickstarter raised the funds.

Contact Digital Silver Imaging for your printing needs. BTW, they also do museum quality color inkjet prints.

(via Forbes)


  • Rich Owen

    Try Jon Cone’s Piezography b&w pigment ink systems. I have used his inks for years in my Epson R2400 and love the rendition of the inks. Plus the inks are archival quality.

  • B. D. Colen

    Sorry, but having printed for years with the Piezography inks and then discovered Digital Silver, I have no choice but to say there is no comparison. The DS prints are true, silver, photographic prints. Piezography inks produce excellent black and white digital prints, but they are not silver prints, and they do not have the depth and, well, reality of the silver prints. I am fully committed to digital capture, but if I have a black and white image that I really want a quality print of, it will be a Digital Silver print.