Digital printing has matured.With the latest generation of pigment inks and printers, it is possible to produce a print whose quality can approach that of, dare I say it, dye transfer.
However, the digital work flow, starting with the digital capture or scan, continuing through manipulation and color management, leaves few choices when ready to print. Aside from print size, the only other real choice is what to print on. There are many papers to chose from, but for the most part, the differences are subtle. You can select a glossy, satin, or matte finishes, smooth or textured. There also are a few more unusual media such as canvas and transparency materials that can be used in a digital printer. What I call “tri-trans printing” (printing one color each on three or four transparencies) presents another method for producing a different look for your prints.
I came to this process indirectly. I’ve been interested in alternative photographic processes for a long time. I recall making salt and gum-dichromate “sun prints” following the instructions in the chemistry set that I had as a child. So I began tooling up and getting educated to start doing tri-color gum-dichromate printing. I found that I had a problem in producing grayscale transparencies because of the matte black K3 ink in my printer. It seems that the matte ink does not have the chemistry to allow it to adhere to transparency material. The ink would smudge and rub off on handling. At first I thought of lamination to protect each separation, but I feared this might result in less sharpness during contact printing due to the additional thickness. I then thought of using a protective photo spray but could not find one that did not include UV filtering. UV light is a necessary component for gum-dichromate printing, as it is this part of the spectrum that hardens the gum. Not wanting the expense of changing to the glossy ink, I next thought why not print another color? That led me to figure out how I could use Photoshop to make grayscale separations that were not gray—and how to maintain the pure colors used in dye-transfer printing.
In dye transfer, separations are made for the yellow, magenta, cyan, and black layers. A matrix is made from each of these separations, and used to carry a color dye, that is transferred to the print media in a manner similar to silk-screening. This is how Technicolor movies are made. By making grayscale separations and applying the correct color to each, it is possible to make a print that layers multiple transparencies in registration and reproduces the original color.