Q & A: What is a C-print?
July 5, 2012
What is a C-print? I see this sometimes in descriptions of photographs. Does the ‘C’ stand for ‘colour’?
Nadine Collings, Montreal
Good guess Nadine, you’re close! The ‘C’ in ‘C-print’ stands for chromogenic. A C-print is a colour photographic print which was produced from a colour negative or slide. Nowadays c-prints are also created from digital images, though in this case they are usually referred to as ‘digital c-print’ or ‘Lambda’ print.
The C-print technique was originally developed in the 1950s by Kodak and was the standard colour photo printing technique until digital photography and inkjet printers took over.
Technically speaking, the chromogenic process involves the reaction of two chemicals which work together to create the colour dyes that make up a photographic image: a colour developer and a dye coupler. Each C-print is created by layering three developer-coupler combos on top of each other: one for cyan, one for magenta, and one for yellow. Together the three layers create the full colour image.
You won’t find a lot of C-prints in contemporary art today, because the inkjet technology has improved to such an extend that artists now prefer the simplicity and flexibility of the new printers. However, there are a few die-hards who stick with the chromogenic technique. Why? According to them C-prints have a more beautiful continuous tone, more subtle gradations. If you take a magnifying glass to an inkjet print, you’ll still see dots. Not so with a C-print, because it was created using dyes, not tiny sprayed-on dots.
However, C-prints will need a bit more care than modern inkjet prints, because the chemicals used in the chromogenic process may fade in the (very) long run. If you do own a C-print we suggest that you use UV-blocking glass in your frame to protect your artwork.
For some examples of C-prints, check out Jonas St.Michael‘s portfolio Elm Park.
The Visual Voice team
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