Carbon Ink Digital Prints

I’ve been making conventional darkroom-processed black and white photographs for over forty years but lately I’ve been slowly persuaded that making quality black and white photographs from this new technique can be superior in many ways. This is hard for me to admit. I never imagined I would come to this point, being a rather traditional person.

So, what is a carbon ink digital print? Quite simply, we are printing a digital file using stable carbon ink with a computer, PhotoShop, and a modified Epson printer. When you think about it, carbon images have been around for millenia, think of the carbon drawings on the cave walls of our prehistoric peoples. These images have stood the test of time. In this contemporary application of that technique, the carbon ink is laid on the surface of acid-free cotton rag paper, not imbedded chemically in the paper.

For me, the image starts in one of two ways:

1) I can start with a black and white film negative, scan it, and then process it in PhotoShop and send it to the printer.

2) Or, I can start with a color digital file from a digital camera, tweak it in PhotoShop to make a black and white file, and then print it.

Either way, I end up with a black and white digital file with a full range of tones, and free of the troublesome dust spots and scratches that crop up in the darkroom process.

As for the printer: I use Epson printers but I first remove the color cartridges. I purchase empty cartridges and carbon ink from a third party company. I then dedicate one cartridge to carbon ink and the remaining cartridges to various dilutions of the black and a clear base fluid. The dilutions are developed by Paul Roark. (See I then print the image using QTR and slowly the beautifully rich black and white photograph emerges from the printer.

I’ve done quite a bit of work for local architects who submit restored buildings to the National Register of Historic Places for approval. My carbon prints are now acceptable at the Register which up until recently accepted only archivally processed darkroom prints. To further buttress my belief in this process, I’ve submitted sample prints to Aardenburg Imaging and Archives, in Lee, Massachusetts. Their positive results give me increased confidence in this process. Carbon ink digital prints, it turns out, now rival and even do better than darkroom prints in longevity and resistance to fading.

Enjoy the photographs! And do what you can to save buildings and streetscapes which give your community a sense of unique place.

Paul Whiting