Nowhere, so far as I know, is it graven on stone that “thou shalt not pass a sheet of paper through a printer more than once,” and, indeed multi-pass printing is a technique that affords a great deal of control and can be used to create particularly striking images.
The core of all offset printing is the four colour process (familiar to most computer-oriented photographers as CMYK) whereby a sheet of paper is passed through the printer four times (ince through a four colour press) and the inks cyan, magenta, yellow and black are laid one on top of each other in register to form a full colour image. It is also the core technique for dye ttransfer photographic prints.
You might not think that this has much application in modern colour photographic printing, and indeed if what you want is a full colour representation of the image, it hasn’t. But if your imagination runs further than that, it is a way of creating interesting effects.
Modern inkjet printers, even though they do not have a proper register mechanism, print in fairly close register, so it is possible to pass a sheet of paper through the printer a number of times to build an image up.
I haven’t tried it with a colour laser printer, but I have used it successfully with a variety of ink jet printers and perhaps more surprisingly with a Fujitsu 1150 dot matrix printer using the optional colour ribbon.
The photograph at the start was created this way with the final pass being for the brown so that it would overprint the side of the face. In this case the original photograph was an old black and white print scanned in at 100% in RGB mode. Several versions of it were made, varying the contrast from an almost full tone print to one that was pure back and white. The Paint bucket was then used to apply to colour to two of the prints (masks being used to prevent the spread of colour) and saved as separate files. The files were then run through the
printer in the order yellow, black and white and brown.
Obviously, it would be possible to construct a similar image in Photoshop, or whatever, and make a single pass through the printer, but this does not introduce a degree of randomness that I was seeking.
Even better, from my point of view is to deliberately feed the paper into the printer slightly offset for each pass. By using blocks of solid colour for the image it is possible to create complicated and unusual pictures. It does leave you open to the criticism that “it’s not photography, but print making” or “you could do the same thing with silk screen”. So what? I’m a photographer not a silk screen artist, and if what I am doing crosses over into another discipline it doesn’t bother me as the process is actually totally irrelevant.
Another avenue to explore is varying the transparency of the various images, and the order the files are printed to the sheet. It will have become obvious, by now, that it is necessary to use a sheet of paper that will stand up to multiple passes through the printer. Whether you use a high gloss or a matte paper is personal preference, and depending upon the photograph, both can be effective.
The possibilities are endless. For example, I have been playing with printing onto a sheet of transparency film using the Epson 1270 dye inks. On the material I use the ink, effectively, never dries. So I use the wet, inked. material to make transfer prints to paper. The process needs further development, but the results so far are intriguing and very promising.
I saw the bootscooters and the clown one day when I was carrying a camera fitted with a wide angle lens and this is as close as it was possible to get. I was intereste in the relationship of the heads and I thought I could develop it. The shot at right is one I used in my Out Here exhibition and the print below was made using the transfer technique.
The image is mirror reversed and much more muted than the normal version but I think it has potential for development and I intend to keep trying out different combinations of film and paper until I get a really satisfactory print.
The one printed here is on Hanhenmulhe double weight matte paper, yet the ink has still run. It’s uncontrollable given the process I’m using, but bringing some sort of proper proofing press into the equation would probably make for a more controllable and saturated print. However, the ink run introduces a random factor that appeals to me.
The photograph above takes this a stage further as the ink has run from top to bottom of the print. This print also shows the effect of pattern on the paper. Using a very smooth paper would give a different effect again and using an absorbent water colour paper, for example, the final print would be quite different.