Can a fine art photographer who is a darkroom specialist be satisfied with ‘lab’ prints for his artwork? This was the question posed by black and white film photographer, Shannon Graham of S&C Design Studios.

Silver gelatin prints are the foundation of Graham’s work and he prides himself on the dynamic range of tones and contrast he gets while shooting large format and printing on fiber. He has been reluctant to offer reproductions of his original prints and knew that it would require a special printing process.

Testing High-Quality Inkjet Prints Against Silver Gelatin Prints
Shannon Graham and Mark Lane compare original silver gelatin prints to ACI’s fine art paper.

From Shannon Graham:

We turned to Mark Lane at American Color Imaging (ACI) to get suggestions because we have a long relationship and he knew my work well. Mark recommended the lab’s fine art printing, specifically Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique and Arches Aquarelle papers. The real question is: Can a digital inkjet print stand up to the quality of my optical silver gelatin prints?

I set up a print of test strips that included a range of my work so we could see the effects on photographs of various styles. From straight black and white prints to a new process that includes color tones, it was a good representation of the work our studio produces.

When the prints were done, Colleen and I met with Mark to compare ACI’s prints with mine. With strips of the same photo laid on top of the original silver gelatin print, we were able to compare them accurately.

What was the result? The three of us determined that Baryta produced the closest results in terms of retaining each photo’s details and contrast with the full range of zones. The gloss finish also fits our style and in the color-toned prints, the oranges popped from the paper.

The conclusion is that I can now open up a selection of my artwork for limited edition prints. The quality is better than I’d expected and the papers have the high-end feel that my clients expect. We are very happy with the results and are excited to continue working with Mark and ACI on this project for years to come.

Workings No. 163 Print Test
Workings No. 163 Print Test
Do Not Use These Stairs - Chemgraph Print Test
Do Not Use These Stairs – Chemgraph Print Test

Will These Prints Replace Silver Gelatin Prints?

Absolutely not! We are firm believers in the magic of traditional photography and its ability to create superior photographs to digital photographs. This fine art printing service through ACI is an addition (not a replacement) to our studio’s art offerings.

Much in the same way that painters or print makers may produce reproductions of their work, this digital printing allows us to release our work in limited editions at affordable prices while retaining the value of our original, hand-printed silver gelatin prints.

It is simply another venue that allows more people to enjoy our work. We are delighted to have found a printing process that holds up to the high standards of quality we hold ourselves to in the darkroom.

Fine Art Printing with ACI