Museum Quality Photographic Printing:
Continuous Tone Photographic (Lightjet) VS Inkjet

At first glance, Lightjet prints and inkjet prints may seem like completely interchangeable products. Both technologies can provide for similar print applications such as posters, murals, tradeshow graphics and portable display graphics. Both can be laminated, mounted, and cut using our CNC Router capabilities. Knowing the difference between the two, though, means you can be assured your print will perfectly suit your needs.

Traditional inkjet plotters use a minimum of four primary ink colors–cyan, magenta, yellow, and black–to create a pattern of tiny dots that fool your eye into seeing a wider range of color or grays. Looking more closely, especially in lighter tones or shades, these dots become apparent. Although the latest technology inkjet printers use additional and/or alternate versions of the four primary ink colors to lessen the blatancy of the halftone effect, it is not possible for inkjet technology to replicate continuous tone or the quality of a photograph developed in a lab from traditional film.

Our Oce Lightjet 500XL works differently. It uses red, green and blue lasers to expose an image on a special paper or display material coated with light sensitive emulsion. The exposed paper or material is then developed in a special automated processing unit containing traditional chemistry. Because the laser process does not use halftone methods in arranging and varying the size of dots to simulate colors or contrast in an image, this process is considered a fully continuous tone method. No matter how closely you look, you’ll find no halftone dots!

This printing technology offers other advantages too. Blacks look very dense but shadows can hold greater detail making photos look fantastic. Areas of large solid color, even lighter shades, never break apart into dots so gradients can look as smooth and linear as the quality of the digital file permits. Additionally, Lightjet stock is archival quality so prints can last for generations. Lightjet prints are in effect considered true museum photographic quality, reminiscent of photos produced by film cameras, except conveniently available in all sizes up to 6 feet by 10 feet!

However, this doesn’t mean that Lightjet prints are suitable for every application. While it can be tiled to create murals, overall print size is limited to 6 feet by 10 feet and the printer can only image on certain types of print and display materials made specifically for this technology. We carry Fuji glossy, matte, and pearl papers, plus translucent and transparent materials from both Fuji and Kodak for more specialized applications.

Conversely, inkjet printing is suitable for a much wider array of applications–vinyl banners, wallpaper, static clings, stickers, and textiles to name just a few–with the possibilities expanding all the time. Most materials can be printed in lengths exceeding 100′ or more without seaming to satisfy the vast majority of needs. Plus, inkjet printing can reach slightly brighter colors and print sharper small text than can be achieved with Lightjet’s light sensitive emulsion which offers a more limited color gamut.

Weighing the most important aspects of your art, as well its intended use, will ultimately determine which printing method will best fulfill your requirements. Our sales staff will gladly assist you through the many options available to recommend the best solution possible. You can even visit us and see the difference in person. We are constantly upgrading our equipment and techniques to ensure the best quality digital printing Bay Imagery is known for since 1993. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call.

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