Over 30 years of photographic printing
In the words of Chris Jackson, production director of Metro Imaging for the last 30 years...
"In 1998 I started to put together Metro Art to research historic print processes and lead us forward with new innovative digital printing, to offer photographers a multitude of different print techniques.
In our Great Sutton street basement I assembled an interesting crew of individuals from different countries. After some hard work we perfected Albumen, Salt, Print out Papers, Platinum, Tin Type, Gravure printing and Colour Carbaro. Most of these processes had not been used since the 1920's, so it was an interesting time finding the raw materials and techniques to produce these prints. Turnaround time to produce one Colour Carbaro print was one weeks solid work!
We also employed our best black and white and colour C Type conventional printers in the department to add current printing techniques.
I had always been somewhat frustrated with the poor selection of colour papers available in the market and even went to see Kodak in Rochester, New York to persuade them to remake the beautiful colour fibre C Type paper which had been used post war up until the end of the 1960's. My request fell on deaf ears! In frustration I turned to digital technology and looked at whether we could produce colour prints on watercolour Rag papers, as there were some beautiful papers available in the market.
With digital print technology moving on I had been watching developments in the US with Jon Cone. Both Jon and Graham Nash had been doing a lot of work with Iris printers in the US to produce watercolour prints from digital files. I contacted Jon but he wasn't passing on any secrets, so we had to start from scratch! We purchased a used Iris 3047, which is a huge, complex machine. The Iris was designed as a pre-press plotting machine utilising coated papers with Lyson inks. We tried a few watercolour papers and the results were disastrous! We had ink soaking through the papers and the results were totally flat and washed out.
Seeing that the paper was the key to getting an acceptable result, I started to look at the paper mills in this country to see who could help us. St Cuthbert's Mill in Somerset said we could travel down to see them. They have a superb paper research laboratory and agreed to try to produce some different test strips for us, sizing the surface of the paper by different degrees to control the absorbency of the paper. After exhaustive testing and many trips down to Somerset we arrived at a paper that produced colourful bright images on a Rag paper, sheets being supplied at A0 size. The prints were stunningly beautiful and photographers were keen to use them for exhibitions. The prints did have some drawbacks though as the inks were water based. If you spilt anything on a print you could lose your image!
The longevity of the prints needed testing so we employed London College of Printing to do Blue Wool tests on the paper, which came out ok, although the magenta Lyson ink had the fastest fade rate. The department grew to two printers and three Iris machines and we kept the Iris machines running until we were finding it difficult to obtain parts. With the advancement of Epson technology I switched to less proprietary equipment and took advantage of the quick developments from Epson.
Today we utilise both the latest Epson wide format 9900 and the mural Epson 11880 printer which can print to 60 inches wide. The 9900 uses Ultrachrome HDR ink with ten colours. As the inks are now pigment based, all Giclee and Baryta prints are permanent with very long lifespans. These days there is a huge range of different print materials available for the Epson systems and we are constantly looking for new materials which we can use in our Inkjet Studio. Its a far cry from where we started out..."
To read more about our new Epson Creative Studio click here
To read more about Metro's history click here