So what is a Fine Art Photographic Print?

Look around the Internet and you'll see many products all claiming to be fine art prints, in my opinion technically there are three main types of archival photographic prints available, as far as I am concerned these are as follows.

Lithographic Print
A lithographic print (not to be confused with a wet Lith print) is mass produced, a commercially printed document manufactured in the same way as a sales brochure or a fashion catalogue. Generally speaking the owner of the image will provide a printing company with a finished image, from which in the past the printer would make plates for use in a mass production printing process, cost is less nowadays using digital media. A typical print run would normally be more than 1000 copies, but in the main around 5000 for average runs. The printer will then hang onto the plates or digital information for further production runs. The ultra violet stability of the prints is questionable, unless the printer specifically uses UV stable inks.
Again Note:- Litho prints should not be confused with a hand produced wet Lith Print

Digital Print
Digital prints are produced from a digital file being software produced (captured from maybe a digital camera or celluloid scan then post processed in perhaps Adobe Photoshop) these can be reproduced by simply finding the saved file. Digital prints are generally produced on a one by one basis, saving the need to keep print stock. A print can be produced on a variety of substrates, but for commercial sale must be produced on 'high quality archival Paper' with permanent (pigment) Ink. This involves an initial large investment in high quality equipment and materials adding to the final cost of an acceptably stable print. In recent years I have begun to experiment and use the medium more often, as the choice/quality of pigmented ink and high grade fibre/cotton papers and finishes has dramatically improved.

Photographic Print
A photographic print which requires any kind of darkroom manipulation has to be produced by hand. There are commercial companies, which will produce them for photographers, but most print finishers (including myself) prefer to produce their own work.
The prints are produced one at a time and the chances of getting two perfectly identical prints are fairly remote, but this should add to the character of the individual print.
For archival permanence the print should have all traces of chemical residue/contamination removed, then treated with further chemicals such as selenium, gold or thiocarbamide these will protect the prints emulsion from airborne oxidants and pollutants.
The life span of a correctly washed and treated print should outlast the owner. Obviously the wet photographic print is far more expensive to produce than the other options.

Conclusion
All three of these print types are valid for their market, the lithographic printing process is great for posters and mass market products, the digital print is fabulous for producing prints to a high quality without the expense of holding stock although if as should be, printing with pigment inks and archival fibre based paper can still be costly.
Photographic prints are for people who want the real thing, but appreciate and understand the time and costs involved.

Any questions please feel free to email me; steve@stevedenby.co.uk or contact me through the website.

Steve Denby - May 2003