Digital C-type

Digital C-Types (also known as ‘lambda’ or ‘lightjet’) use a digital-analogue hybrid process. This is the method used by high street labs nowadays, regardless of whether you supply them with a roll of film or a memory card. Traditional silver halide photographic papers are used in a machine that exposes the paper to light from LEDs or lasers that are directed by a computer, as opposed to the light transmitted through a negative in the darkroom enlarger. Once exposed inside the machine, the paper is passed through the same chemistry as that used in the traditional colour darkroom.

Since digital C-types are all but indistinguishable from C-type prints made from a negative in the darkroom, galleries and collectors will happily accept these kinds of prints. Although C-types are not absolutely permanent (we have all seen faded family photographs) and aren’t as resilient as black and white photographs to UV light, they have at least been ‘tried and tested’ in real life, rather than just in laboratory simulations.

Video Comparison of inkjet and C-type printing processes


Digital C-types are only produced by professional labs and institutions. The costs associated with setting up and running the equipment are very high and this is not a realistic option for most individuals. But many companies offer C-Types for less than the price of inkjets.

Different labs providing C-type printing use different machines and different brands of papers that will produce subtly different results and varying levels of quality. Some companies often offer postal services, such as sending test strips for you to assess, so you can instruct their technicians to make any adjustments to the exposure or colour balance before making the final print. They will then store the adjusted file for any future editions.

Lower-end C-types can also be ordered online at a greatly reduced cost with fast turnaround times.

Inkjet printing

Inkjet printers use an array of different colours and tones of ink that are applied onto specially coated paper. Inkjet prints can be produced on inexpensive domestic printers to make prints up to A4 size, A3+ printers can be bought from eg Canon and Epson for slightly more. Costly ‘large format’ printers that can produce prints up to 1.6 metres wide and potentially many metres long (as long as the roll of paper that the printer can accommodate).

Inkjet prints have had a negative reputation compared to traditional C-type prints for two main reasons. Firstly, cheap inkjet prints are more prone to fading by exposure to daylight – but some manufacturers now claim that their products can last at least as long (around 40 years). Secondly, technically they are not ‘photographic’ [ie light-writing] prints but prints of photographic images. This means many serious collectors may not buy inkjet prints.

As well as making slightly larger sized prints, inkjet prints can offer greater black and white contrast and more vivid colour saturation. They also allow for printing on a wider range of paper types.

Many established photographers make and sell archival quality inkjet prints (calling them giclee, Iris or archival pigment prints) printed on fine art papers.


Mari Mahr website has monochrome archival pigment prints alongside more traditional black and white photographic prints.

Guy Tillim (documentary photogtapher from South Africa. Does not have his own website – see eg but this does not give details of printing process.

John Riddy website

Neeta Madahar  Sustenance series (2006).

Types of printer

Most cheap inkjet printers can make useful ‘work prints’, soft proofs, and important learning log material (if you’re keeping a physical log). Investing in a high-end inkjet printer is only worthwhile if you intend to make quite a lot of prints regularly and put significant time into learning how to get the best performance from it. Ink cartridges are expensive, particularly quality professional inks, and if the photographic printer is not used frequently (i.e. weekly), the print heads can become clogged, leaving unsightly ‘banding’ on the image. Regular cleaning can prevent this, although it does waste ink. Some printers can be modified to accept what is known as a ‘continuous ink feed’ instead of cartridges, which will reduce ink costs considerably.

Preparation of the Print

See also colour management


Papers vary in surface (i.e. gloss, semigloss/ lustre, matt), rag content, colour and texture. Different paper stocks vary in how they respond to the printer’s ink, and will absorb ink in different quantities. Different printer profiles need to be set in the printing software for different types of paper to avoid unwanted colour casts and get the right level of contrast.

Giclee, archival pigment or Iris prints

Giclée is the name given to inkjets by professional printers and artists, although this term is unregulated. The term ‘Giclée’, a neologism coined by French printmaker Jack Duganne, is derived from the French verb ‘gicler’, which literally translates as ‘to squirt’ or ‘to spray’ and describes the way that the printer nozzle applies the inks – or pigment inks – to the paper. Duganne chose the term as he was looking for a word which would not have the negative connotations then associated with the terms ‘inkjet’ which had happened due to fading occurring in early prints.

While the term ‘Giclée’ originally referred to fine art prints created on IRIS printers (large format colour inkjet printers which became prevalent in the 1980’s) the term ‘Giclée’ has since been used in a wider sense to describe any prints made using an inkjet process. These prints are also often known as ‘pigment prints’ because of the inks (which contains miniature particles of colour, or pigment, suspended in a neutral carrier liquid) that are laid down by a digital printer. We use both ‘Giclée print’ and ‘Pigment print’ to describe an archival grade inkjet print produced directly to fine art paper.

Anyone claiming to produce giclée prints should be using the best quality archival inks and equally high quality paper, with professional colour calibration of the print to the monitor.

For more video tutorials on Inkjet printing and up-to-date reviews of different printers see: See You Tube videos