Gallery-quality prints from slides.
July 5, 2008 9:13 AM   Subscribe

What are my options for gallery-quality prints from slide film?

I've had an inquiry in showing some of my photographs in a small gallery here in the city. All of the photos were shot with slide film. In the past I've scanned, had printed and framed these on a purely consumer level. I'd like to look into what processes (printing methods, scanning, etc), papers, framing that professional fine art photographers employ when they need to have gallery-quality photographs from transparency film produced.

For now, let's assume that price isn't the biggest factor and that the photos would be around 16x20. I'm in Chicago, if that helps. Your help is much appreciated!
posted by Sreiny to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cibachrome can be printed directly from your slides. It is kind of contrasty, but has nice rich primary colors. It is also archival, will last 100 years without fading, so it's often used for fine art prints.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:36 AM on July 5, 2008

I used to do Cibachrome back when it was the only practical way to print from a slide without making an intermediate negative. Man those chemicals smelled weird.
As StickyCarpet said, Cibachrome is very vivid. The look is very distinctive and can be distracting. If that look works for these pictures then go for it.

The alternative is to get the slides professionally scanned. That's probably a better solution as it gives you a digital backup, you can Photoshop them if needed, and can then get them printed at dozens of places. What's wrong with the scans you have?
posted by w0mbat at 10:05 AM on July 5, 2008

For the best quality, professional drum scanning (nothing like flatbed or consumer film scanning) is the way. This can get just about all of the information from the transparency into a large 16-bit image file (a .tif, typically). From there, large, high quality ink-jet or dye sublimation prints can be produced. The results are just about as good as the original allows, within the usual photographic parameters of focus, exposure, film quality, aging, camera shake, etc. So, don't expect miracles if you're tying to blow up a a 35mm slide to 4 feet by 3 feet, for example.

The downside is that professional drum scanning isn't at all cheap. There's manual labor involved and the capital equipment is very expensive.

Cheaper alternative is to use one of the online services for film scanning that use the best regular, 'dry', desktop scanners like the Nikons. A skilled operator with a good setup can get very good results from these, especially from smaller formats where the high resolution and dynamic range of a drum scan is potentially redundant. There's a lot to getting the best from a transparency by scanning, its worth shopping around rather than relying on the popular consumer-level online labs.

Cibachrome was certainly the best way in a pre-digital world, but not any more. A good scan, however achieved, can be saved, re-used for more prints (for a major saving in longer print-runs), indefinitely tweaked in your photo-editing software of choice, and a good print from a good scan will blow away the contrasty mush of a Cibachrome, in my opinion.
posted by normy at 12:31 PM on July 5, 2008

Since you’re in Chicago, go in and talk to the folks at Gamma Photo; they are in the River North gallery district. This is exactly the kind of the stuff they still do (scanning and printing of your work).

You didn’t say what type of film you used, so I’m going to guess 35mm. Especially if sharpness in an issue, to get to a 16x20 print you will need a good quality scan. Regardless, for gallery work it’s good sense to get a high quality scan so that you only have to do it once.

I think wet-mounted drum scans are still the current best and will get you an 8000dpi scan. Be wary of desktop scanners, at these high resolutions the flatness and mounting of your film becomes critical, and most desktop scanners will not mount them well enough to take advantage of the resolution.
posted by volition at 12:59 PM on July 5, 2008

Man those chemicals smelled weird.

If you've still got your eyebrows and your red blood cells have the normal shape, then you must have been wearing your rubber gloves.

Cibachrome has a retro look, but with appropriate content it's still a good choice. And archival digital prints are expensive and dubious. The dubious part can be a turn off for serious collectors.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:10 PM on July 5, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry, forgot to say, they were 35mm, shot mostly with Fuji Velvia, so very vivid colors, especially the blues and greens. I will start looking into cibachrome printing, as well as the digital options. Thanks for the Chicago link Volition, I'll talk to them, see if they can help.

My scans so far have been with desktop scanners, albeit decent ones, and have worked for my needs (group shows with friends, hanging on my wall, etc.) but I don't think they are up to professional standards, especially if I want to go bigger with the prints.
posted by Sreiny at 1:33 PM on July 5, 2008

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