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Simulating Alternative Film Processes Using Cross Rendered Proofing

This article describes the use of Cross Rendered Proofing techniques in the domain of simulating traditional alternative photographic printmaking techniques, such as Albumen prints. We provide profiles for you to try this for yourself for Albumen, Van Dyke Brown and Cyanotype prints. The same technique could be extended to any number of alternative process, such as Photogravure, or Bleach Bypass.

Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm
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Recently I helped with an interesting project, on behalf of RMIT student Boheme Jennifer Rawoteea for her final year research project. The project's goal was to use modern digital techniques to simulate a traditional, alternative photographic process.

Boheme chose to attempt to emulate Albumen prints. These prints have a unique character of warm eggshell tones, and compressed tonal range - with dense shadows and creamy highlights. You can read about, and see examples of Albumen prints on Wikipedia or on the Albumen Conservation Website. Albumen prints are today still made in the way as detailed on wikipedia - cotton rag papers are used, and the result is a rich print with a slight texture and slight glossy appearance from the egg wash.

Boheme brought some sample prints to our office and immediately I noticed that the substrate/slight gloss effect of the prints was very similar visually to prints made on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Satin paper.

We decided to use Cross Rendered Proofing as the process for simulating the original albumen prints with prints on Photo Rag Satin. While there are other techniques for simulating film based processes, these techniques all involve judging the process by eye and extensive work in Photoshop to achieve the required look. In my experience, this is generally a significant amount of work, and often the results are good but just not quite perfect.

Why not just use the traditional technique instead of simulating it?

There are many reasons to simulate traditional processes, rather than actually print with the traditional process itself.

Firstly, not everyone has access to the materials required for many of the processes, and many alternative processes use chemicals that can be quite unpleasant to work with and at times unsafe. Of course it's often quite possible to work safely with most of the chemicals involved in most alternative processes, however this can be a concern for many people.

Further, it can take significant time to develop the skills required to make high quality prints with alternative processes - there are 6 month fill time courses on alternative processes on offer, it is not exactly something you can master in a few hours. Good digital technique takes just as long to develop as good analogue technique, but I would presume that most of the people reading this article are already quite good with digital imaging and comfortable with the use of ICC profiles.

Use of these techniques allows you to:

  • Explore the look and feel of these processes without getting your hands dirty - essentially you can 'soft proof' an alternative process in Photoshop.
  • Quickly apply several of these techniques to an image to see which will work best before embarking on setting up an alternative proces.
  • Use these techniques without having to create a negative for printing - you would have to do this with any image that was not shot on film originally, or for any process that requires a larger negative for contact printing
  • Explore processes where it is no longer easy, feasible or safe to obtain and use the chemicals involved - although in this case a profile would have to be made without using a handy profile target and this would be considerably more difficult.

Using Cross Rendered Proofing to simulate an alternative process

By using Cross Rendered Proofing, we can take direct measurements of the important characteristics of the original prints directly, resulting in a very quick, very effective simulation of a particular print process.

As you can see from the article on Cross Rendered Proofing, three things are required:

  1. A properly calibrated high quality monitor for initial soft proofing on screen.
  2. Knowledge of the final printing process in relation to measured ICC profiles and printing standards.
  3. A properly profiled inkjet printer using paper stock that is a good match for the final output stock

Numbers 1 and 3 are easy - at Image Science we already have excellent screens, properly calibrated, and already have created excellent custom profiles for Photo Rag Satin printed on our Epson 7900.

Step 2 is the key to the process - we must create an accurate description of the Albumen print in the form of an ICC profile. This profile must reflect the tonal qualities of the print as accurately as possible, essentially the colours and densities of the tones from d-max to d-min - maximum black to paper white.

ICC Profiling of Albumen Prints

Creating an ICC profile for Albumen prints was in fact relatively simple. We adapted our regular profile making techniques for black and white prints, as Albumen prints, while toned, are a mono-chromatic print process.

However, we needed the profile target to be printed as an Albumen print. This involved the creation of a digital negative for contact printing. Essentially, our black and white target was inverted and printed on clear film. Attention was paid to getting the tonal separation correct on this target print.

The basic process is to use an inkjet printer to print to clear film. Ideally an ICC profile of the clear film is used so that the resulting negative print has good, linear tonal separation. It is important to remember to invert the profile target image when making this print as the final print will invert the image again back to its original form, which is what the profiling machine is expecting.

Next we read the Albumen print using our spectrophotometer and created an RGB profile of the Albumen print process. This profile is available to download in zipped form here for your own use.

The spectrophotometer recorded that the albumen print process shows some solarisation in the shadow tones - the data was massaged slightly to remove this solarisation while maintaining the general tonal response curve of the process. The result is a very accurate ICC profile that describes the Albumen process.

Putting it all together and making a print

A black and white image is opened in Photoshop and we proof with the ICC profile for Albumen prints:

Here you can see we are doing an advanced soft proof of an albumen print. In the right hand corner you can see the original black and white file.

At this stage, with the soft proof on, we can edit our image to take best advantage of the available tonal range of the Albumen process. For example I slightly increased the contrast of the image above to to take better advantage of the limited tonal range of the Albumen process.

To make the print, we set up a Cross Rendered Proof:

You can see that we've used 'Proof' as the print rather than 'Document'. We've let Photoshop determine the colours and chosen our profile for the paper stock we're using as Photo Rag Satin. We've made sure to tick 'Simulate Paper Colour' and 'Simulate Ink Black'.

If we now hit print, we should get a very accurate simulation of an albumen print.

The Results

The digital prints are an excellent match to the original albumen prints. The tonal range is spot on, which is not surprising as it's been accurately measured with a spectrophotometer, and the tonal character is uncannily accurate as well. To be honest I was surprised at just how successful the process was. The accuracy far exceeds any ad hoc techniques I've seen applied in Photoshop for simulating alternative processes.

It helps a lot that Photo Rag Satin has a very similar visual character to the prints made using the albumen process. Photo Rag Satin is an unusual paper with limited uses in my experience, but was perfect for this project. Hahnemuhle produce a number of papers with the Satin coating, so other options are available.

SKU Price (inc) Qty.
Hahnemühle Baryta FB 350gsm Hahnemühle Baryta FB 350gsm
Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta 325gsm Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta 325gsm
Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl 285gsm Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl 285gsm
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta 315gsm Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta 315gsm
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Pearl 320gsm Hahnemühle Photo Rag Pearl 320gsm
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin 310gsm

It's worth noting that this process only helps you simulate the tonality of the process you are simulating. Paper characteristics are hopefully achieved by choosing a very similar output stock to that which is traditionally used with the process. If there are other physical characteristics, such as grain structure, embossing stamps, or irregularities from hand coating, then you will still have to re-create this in Photoshop with other techniques - such as texture overlays.

Summary of what's needed to do this for any print process

  • You must identify an output stock that is a very good match for the sort of papers used with the alternative process. It helps if the stock you choose is a high quality stock, coated for inkjet printing, but uncoated papers can potentially be used as well. You can potentially even use exactly the same papers with both the digital simulation and the actual alternative process. Of course, you can also explore other papers that aren't suitable for the traditional process - the only limits are your imagination really.
  • You must create an ICC profile that describes the alternative process - we are able to do this for you through our Custom Print Profile Serivce. This process involves printing a profile target using the alternative process in question - either a black and white target for monochrome printing processes, or a colour target for colour printing processes. You will probably need to create a negative version of the profile target on transparent film to use as a negative with the alternative process - don't forget to invert the profile target file when printing this negative.
  • You must create an ICC profile for the output stock you will be using with your digital printer - again, we can do this for you.
  • Once you have both ICC profiles, the process is very simple - you simply set up a Cross Rendered Proof and away you go!

Want to learn about real alternative processes?

Australia, and particularly Victoria, is blessed with several excellent teaching institutions where you can learn about traditional printmaking processes.

  • Ellie Young and colleagues run several workshops at Gold St Studios. The feedback on these we've heard has been excellent.
  • The Baldessin Press has several programmes, with some run by my friend and colleague Silvi Glattauer.
  • RMIT has several courses on alternative processes available as part of the various degrees on offer

Of course there are some excellent online resources as well - as ever Google is your friend!

Profiles to download

  • You can download, which contains profiles for Albumen, Cyanotype and Van Dyke Brown prints.