RA4: elusive pure white
Am I the only person noticing this? If so, I’ll back off and let this post die a natural death. But…take a really close look at your borders. (I warn you that I am being a bit absolute here.)
Since 1978 I have been processing ‘C’ prints, first with EP2, then, as now, with RA4. Back then I lived in New York City and regularly bought really fresh Ektacolor paper from Olden Camera (as there was great turnover there). From then to now, regardless of process or method, I have been mildly annoyed with something most might not even be noticing: the purity of the whites.
When prints are fully washed after the process and left to dry, the tiny problem emerges without fail. Take a Kleenex or some white bathroom tissue or a piece of bright white copy paper and compare, closely, with the unexposed border of the dry color print. There will be a very small, but definite, level of density in the print’s white area no matter how fresh the paper. Optical brighteners do not mitigate this reality.
Certainly, when looking at the print alone, without this relative comparison test, the print looks great because, mentally, we subconsciously make the small adaptation towards visual optimization. (We ‘know’ in advance what the print ‘should’ look like from our reservoir of common knowledge.) But what really got me noticing this and refusing to back down from this minor flaw was the fact that the dyes on digital prints do not ever touch the ‘virgin’ whites when they are not supposed to, and leave them truly pristine. In the RA4 process everything gets developed, exposed or not, and there always seems to be a tiny level of density present (which slowly increases as the paper ages). Obviously, changing filtration will not affect this tiny base density that is there solely because of the chemical process and without the aid of light, so attempts at filtration change do ‘improve’ the overall situation but the overall base is still there. Again, this becomes a factor only with the comparison with the pure digital colors. I hate to admit this superiority that digital intrinsically has over ‘C’ prints, but it is true. Analogously, this is like comparing the playing of a pristine 33 RPM record and then playing a CD of the same recording: suddenly, the almost nonexistent surface noise of the LP becomes apparent and we no longer can get away with letting out minds filter out this almost silent ‘noise’. (However, LPs may have other acoustical factors, some will say, that obviate this CD advantage.)
The identical density problem is present also in the BW process. But there we have the luxury of passing the print briefly through a dilute Farmers reducer to bring back the pristine whites so that they shine. Also, in the BW process there are situations whereby a cream base ADDS to the aesthetics of the picture, and visually enhances the monochrome image. Unless for abstract reasons, this is decidedly not the convenient case with colors, as they demand purity to be most effective.
Am I missing something here? Maybe this ‘complaint’ is not noticed or, instead, is considered too immaterial to be rightly discussed. But I do notice this and this factor keeps me from fully embracing the color process. Perhaps my being too much of a purist stands in the way of practicality and largely misses the point (I welcome criticism), but the factor is real to me and becomes a bit like looking at a color image though a skylight filter: it is that slight downgrading of the hues that I am talking about. – David Lyga.
LP vs CD, much is also done in the recording and mastering process, modern mixing much more clean and clinical. Some CDs are not, you can hear noise (many recordings are still made with Valve desks, still can get noise with transistor desks too), fingers brushing against keys... etc.
I've seen it from lab prints from digital (laserjet to RA-4), print came back grey and dull.. though a case of no colour management at all.
"cream base" - many online hipsters colour cast their black and white levels in their images now so it's trendy.
As for remedies.. sunlight/UV will reduce the dyes, though it may start affect the denser stuff first? Sodium Hypochlorite rips everything off a film including dyes.. I'd suggest a weak diluted solution of laundry bleach.. but that'd start eating away at the top layers..
It sounds like you want some kind of reducing bleach. Metabisulphite + a small amount of sulphuric acid might be worth an experiment?
Out of interest, how do you choose between a paper with OBA's or without. If without then how do you live with the 'less than white' base?
Originally Posted by David Lyga
I remember the old EP2 had a creamy base. The old Oriental color paper was gorgeous had a white base. Don't know of any RA4 papers have whiter base. Maybe Fuji makes color paper that has a white base. I remember the old EP2 print processor was a 12 minute wait. Today's RA4 is only 5 minutes. So much faster.
Fuji Crystal Archive is whiter than Kodak Endura. I have never had an issue with the Fuji, except that sometimes it's too white. Of course I frequently feel the Endura is too yellow, so no paper is perfect for all images. But the density of either in the whites doesn't generally bother me, whereas the uninked sections on an inkjet do.
Kodak Endura paper uses a TiO2 (Titanox) impregnated layer for whiteness. In that layer are many chemical preservatives and tints to make the Titanox as white as possible. The paper contains a UV absorber to reduce dye fade. The paper also contains an optical brightener which is present in the color developer made by Kodak (IDK about others).
The preservatives tend to make the paper yellowish and the brighteners tend to remove that color and whiten the print.
However, fog can cause stain in prints. Any print processed in a substandard manner or with a substandard process will have increased stain which is increased by the age of the stock you use.
In the final analysis, all color papers will have a mild Dmin that has a density of about 0.15. The stain should be neutral if things work right! A stain of 0.2 or higher indicates a problem.
Sorry Tim, I do not understand what you mean by OBAs.
I live with what I must live with. The theoretical perfection is not there with base density. I have tried highly dilute laundry bleach but there never seems to be a dilution where I can get what I want. Either the bleach removes all or imparts a reddish hue throughout. The metabisulfite and sulferic acid sounds like it just might be the 'color' Farmers reducer. If so, Athiril just might be the next sage. How do I get sulferic acid:hardware store, grocery store, or must I formally apply to the photo chemical folks? - David Lyga
Do you use a stop bath after the color developer? That will help.
Yes, PE, always. About 1% FRESH acetic acidic acid solution, no sulfite though. - David Lyga
Kodak or Fuji chemistry?