Glossary of Photography Print Terms

A Photographer has a number of options available to them when creating a piece of work.  Part of the art of photography is about assessing and understanding the variations in these processes and the end result they will produce. The method of transferring a final image from the camera or digital workspace to a viewable medium varies from artist to artist, and classifying these as ‘print types’ can be daunting. Many of these processes are historically based but have been updated to work within a modern space. An artist can choose to create works on many mediums ranging from glass and metal to simply paper and everything in between. Often this choice is made consciously before the first image is created, and influences every decision made thereafter.  

We have complied a list of the most common types of photographic prints below: 

Bill Henson - 'Untitled #42 1983 - 1984'

Silver Gelatin Print

This is one of the most common types of printing methods. It was developed initially in the 1800’s and used solidly until the 1960’s. This method is darkroom based, and involves projecting an image through an enlarger onto light sensitive paper coated with silver salts and gelatin. Creating prints in this manner is still common today, and can be seen as a traditional end to end analogue process with no need for any digital involvement. Prints of this type are most commonly black and white, and are often created from an analogue negative. Well known photographic artists such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Richard Avedon all still have prints of this type available.  


Type C Photographic Print

This type of print came to prominence with the introduction of chromogenic paper by Kodak in the 1950’s. It is very similar to the silver gelatin print, but with the addition of colour layers embedded in the chemicals. These chemicals when exposed to light work together to create accurate colours. The use of this method is still common today, and has been adapted to work for the digital negative. This is often named a Digital C Print, or Lambda Print, and instead of light projected through a film negative, led light rendered from a digital image is projected directly onto chemically sensitive paper, which is then fixed and run through a water bath to remove excess chemicals.  


Pigment Print on Paper

This is often referred to as a Giclee, or an Inkjet Print, and is one of the most common forms photographic print available today. This process begins with the choice of a high quality archival cotton rag paper, such as those manufactured by Ilford or Hannemuhle, Dye or pigment based inks are then sprayed onto the paper creating a representation of the digital image. This process is similar to that of a common household printer, but at a much higher quality. Current contemporary artists such as Fabrice Bigot and Christopher Rimmer use this method to present their work, as it offers the ability to have absolute control over the final look and feel of their finished work.  


Wet Plate - Collodion Prints

This type of print is an example of a historically based process that is going through a resurgence. A plate - usually dark coloured metal or glass, is coated with light sensitive chemicals and exposed to light through the lens of a large format analogue camera. Once the plate has been through developing chemicals and the image rendered, it can be varnished and presented as a one off photographic work. This type of print produces fine detail and an gives an otherworldly feel to the subject matter. Contemporary artists such as Ian Ruhter and Sally Mann are using this process to great success.


Check out our selection of contemporary photographs here

Learn how to start collecting fine art photography, here