Friday, September 18, 2015

Inkject Printing Sucks and is Dumb

When you want to throw a dot of ink onto a page with a certain precision, there's pretty much no getting around it: You have to build a mechanical system to that degree of precision. And maintain it there. It's a ludicrous idea worthy of Rube Goldberg.

When you want to throw a dot of light onto a page with a certain precision, you can make the mechanical system out of lumber and hemp ropes if you want, as long as you throw a large enough magnification factor in at the last step. There's a reason the semiconductor guys don't screw around scratching circuits on to wafers with a pocket knife. They use opto-mechanical systems with magnification.

Inkjet is great is you want to print on arbitrary surfaces, or if you need to avoid a chemical processing step post-exposure. It's even better if you want to make an assload of money selling ink. If you want to be in total control and want to change your mind subtly about color rendering half a dozen times in an afternoon, it's also superb. If you're serious, though, you could profile the end-to-end process of your favorite pro lab making Type C prints, and then soft-proof to your heart's content before finally pressing the Order button.

Like so much of photography, if you're a hobbyist who enjoys the process and is willing to spend money on it, more power to you. Just don't try to persuade me that it's because you produce superior results in your tinkering. You might, but probably you don't.

If you just want a photographic print on to something resembling photographic paper, a Durst Theta printer lasering a color latent image on to photo paper works amazingly well. This may be related to why a 49 cent machine print from mpix competes so readily with with an Ultraprint.

It turns out that the staff at mpix (the consumer brand of Miller's Lab) just plain have much much better equipment to use than a top of the line Epson 12345-XJ6 or whatever. They throw down 600 dpi without even thinking about it. They do it all day long, onto square miles of material, without any of problems that mechanical systems spraying liquid around are subject to. They don't need liquids that are so magical they costs a million bucks a gallon, they're using standard bulk chemistry and standard papers with other standard chemicals smeared (albeit very very carefully smeared) onto it.

It Just Works.

Behold the power of this fully operational opto-mechanical printing system.

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