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What makes a good printer?

By: Kirk Gittings

The best traditional b&w printer that I personally know is Gordon Hutchings, author of the classic "BOOK OF PYRO". Gordon and I have taught some workshops together and his incredible enthusiasm for photography shows in his prints. I have known many printers who could technically make a good print but not many who could make "expressive" prints. A good printer is one who can accurately render tone and contrast realistically. A great printer, an "expressive" printer, is one who is not bound by simple accuracy but who can manipulate tone and contrast in prints to render emotionally powerful prints. Gordon is an expressive printer whose prints are vibrant and rich. Much like a conductor, he is a serious technician who thoroughly tests his materials so that they become a natural extension of his vision. But also like a conductor he is not just interested in accurately played notes, but powerful music. Great printers are also intuitive. He subtly darkens or lightens tones or adjusts contrast until his prints simply feel "right" and "sing". Currently his favorite paper/developer combination is a warm-tone paper in a cold-tone developer, a combination that gives him a very slightly warm toned image. Specifically he likes Bergger Prestige VCCB-Warm Tone Glossy, a variable-contrast, fiber-based, heavy stock paper with a clean white base developed in Kodak Dektol. After extensive testing of available materials Gordon finds this combination gives the rich blacks, with a hint of warmth, and fine highlight detail that makes his prints come alive.