The year 1826 marked the beginning of photographic printing when the Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented a primitive way of recording a photographic image and transferring it, using a conventional ink-based printing process, to paper. Ironically, ink was there at the very beginning of photography, and today it has become resurgent through inkjet technology.
Right: Nicéphore Niépce’s ‘View from the Window at Gras’, considered to be the first permanently captured image.
Niépce pre-dated fellow-countryman Louis Daguerre’s polished metal photographic imaging process that was invented in 1839, called the Daguerrotype, and Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot’s calotype silver chemistry-based process invented in 1840 that produced photographic images on paper.
For more than a hundred years, many further developments of silver-halide chemistry went on to dominate photographic film and printing, and indeed wet-process silver chemistry is still the main process used by mini-labs and professional processing labs owing to its relative speed and the low cost.
But of course, options for the contemporary digital photographer are by no means limited to wet-process printing, and there is no longer any need for a second exposure stage from a negative (or positive) original on film. Instead, digital image data is fed to an electro-mechanical printing device to produce the final printed image.
Two technologies, in particular, are now in widespread use, both in homes and offices as well as photographers’ studios: dye-sublimation, dye-sub for short, and inkjet. These technologies can be packaged in much more compact and affordable hardware than those heavy, industrial wet processors – hardware that can sit on your desk and even be taken out and used on location, using a battery.