The Magic of Ilfochrome
What is Ilfochrome?
Ilfochrome, (formerly known as Cibachrome) occupies a unique position in photography as the only available method to create handmade photographic prints directly from color slide film. It is a direct-positive, chromolytic process. Yellow, magenta and cyan azo dyes are incorporated into a white-opaque polyester based paper and bleached during processing to reveal their latent color.
Ilfochrome's Unique Characteristics
Two key characteristics distinguish Ilfochrome from other traditional and digital photographic printing papers. First, the polyester based paper (Melinex by DuPont) has exceptional dimensional stability —it's very flat and sturdy. The paper is also chemically inert giving the paper a bright neutral white color. Ilfochrome's surface is exceptionally smooth giving prints a high gloss finish with light reflectance that is somewhat directional — viewed at oblique angles, prints can have an almost metallic appearance.
Second, unlike conventional chromogenic processes where image dyes (colors) are created through chemical interaction, Ilfochrome's color is already present in the azo dye layers embedded in the paper's emulsion. During the bleaching process these dye layers are broken down (literally destroyed) revealing their respective color, the combination of which creates the resulting full color image. Azo dyes are inherently very stable and have good spectrophotometric characteristics with minimum light scattering. Prints exhibit excellent color saturation and hue rendition with high resolution and sharpness.
Beauty Hand Crafted
My love and ongoing commitment to Ilfochrome is rooted in values of hand craftsmanship and creative expression. While it can be argued digital printing has exceeded traditional wet darkroom printing in technical quality and finite creative control, I am not convinced the digital imaging process is inherently or aesthetically better than wet darkroom printing. In reality they are fundamentally different. But a well printed Ilfochrome displayed in proper lighting has a three dimensional depth and luminosity that is still unrivaled in all color photographic printmaking. And there is a moment of magic when a wet print is pulled from the processor, revealing a glowing affirmation of a successful performance in the darkroom, a moment digital imaging simply has no equivalence to.
Putting my aesthetic bias aside, there is a factor even more important to me in the grand scheme of things. Ilfochrome as a tool of crafted expression, seems ideally suited to my photographic style and interests. And this is, I think, a critical point. It is essential for any craftsman or artisan to realize their vision through chosen tools best suited to them even when they fly in the face of popular trends and paradigm shifts in a medium. The marriage of suitable process to artistic intent is fundamental to realizing the highest achievements in personal creative expression.
Ilford Update (2013.08.20)
Ilford has released a Customer News Bulletin announcing a land sale and partnership with JetGraph Co., Ltd. that secures its viability for some time to come. Good news!
Ilford Update (2013.08.08)
Swedish news sources are reporting Ilford Imaging's investor, Paradigm Global Partners, has been bought out by the company's CEO and CFO giving the company time to seek out new investors and hopefully save the company.
Ilford in Financial Trouble (2013.07.09)
An article on UK based Amateur Photographer confirms rumors I'd heard locally that Ilford Switzerland cannot fulfill some of its financial obligations and may be on the verge of bankruptcy.
With an open Ilfochrome chemistry order that, if not fulfilled, leaves me high and dry with tens of thousands of dollars worth of useless paper, this news is very disturbing. And, to make things worse, I've found their Galerie Prestige inkjet paper to be among the best of all currently available papers.
Let's hope something good comes of this.
On September 26, 2011, Ilford announced the discontinuation of its line of Ilfochrome Classic materials and the related P3/P3X chemistry citing decreased demand and higher product costs exacerbated by the dramatic increase in the cost of silver. A beloved product of traditional print makers for nearly 40 years had come to an end.
Fortunately, Ilford proposed one last production run contingent on "sufficient" demand. Demand turned out to be high and I've secured enough material to continue print making over the next 2-3 years.
Read the Marketing Bulletin (pdf).
Archival Characteristics of Ilfochrome
Tests originally ted by Ilford and cited by the de facto current standards body, Wilhelm Imaging Research, rates Ilfochrome under recommended viewing conditions, at 29 years before noticeable fading will occur. Dark stored, Ilfochrome is rated at 200+ years, which can be interpreted to mean "indefinitely". As with any archival standards, each individual's mileage may vary depending on environmental conditions.