If you’re an avid photographer or collector, you’ve probably come across c-type printing. A favourite of fine art photographers for their sharp, tonal range of colour, c-type prints have become the industry standard for printing high-quality digital photography and large scale prints. But what is it that sets c-type printing apart from other printing styles? Today we’re exploring c-type to learn what it is and the benefits of using c-type printing.

Where does C-type come from?

To understand c-type printing, we need first to understand a little about photography and the process of developing film. So let’s start at the very beginning. C-type printing developed as a colour printing process. It works in a similar way to black and white photo development but instead but uses specially coated Chromogenic photographic paper. This special Chromogenic paper is where c-type printing derives its name. Chromogenic photographic paper has three emulsion layers, each sensitive to a particular primary colour, which combine to create the coloured image. 

C-type was first invented in the 1930s and introduced to the public with products such as Kodak’s Kodacolor prints in the 1940s. For many years ‘C-type’ was trademarked by Kodak and referred to the paper used in making prints from colour negatives. Today C-type is an industry-standard term applied to colour photographic prints, particularly in large sizes.

English alphabet in wood type - 26 isolated letters in letterpress printing blocks with a lot of character due to scratches and ink stain, shot at slight angle for 3D effect

What is Giclée printing?

As we discussed, c-type or chromogenic printing started as a chemical process using three silver halide layers dyed to specific colours—cyan, magenta, and yellow—which combine to form a full-colour image. This chemical process was relatively straightforward and dominated colour printing throughout much of the 20th century. 

In the digital age, this well-loved process was adapted to handle digital prints. Instead of projecting film through an enlarger, digital C-Type printers use lasers or LEDs to project an image onto the silver halide treated paper. Then prints are then developed using the same chemical process.

C-type prints were an early method for producing large scale prints. Their capacity to print in sizes over 60cm lead to their adoption by many large format photographers earning it a reputation as an artist-focused printing process.

Benefits of C-type printing

One of the main benefits of c-type printing is the smooth tonal colour this printing style can produce. C-type printing uses lasers that react with the silver halide to create smooth continuous colour. Compared to giclee printing which uses tiny dots to create a larger image, c-type creates a continual image, meaning that if you had a photograph of a sunset, the tone of the colours would be more and more detailed. 

C-prints have longevity of +60 years. However, they can be sensitive to light exposure and should be appropriately stored to prevent ageing or fading. 

Another benefit of c-type printing is the large sizes it can accommodate. For many years c-type was the only format able to accommodate large scale photography. While technology has come along, the quality of large-scale printing that c-type offers is incomparable. Today’s C-type printers can produce archival-quality print sizes up to 182cm x 300cm.


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