The Fine Art of Digital Printing: Did You Know You Can Spot Inkjet Prints?

This is one of a series of short pieces that will be appearing weekly through the month of January at  

Did You Know You Can Spot Inkjet Prints?

Yes, you can! Isn’t that great?

If you’re not thinking so, it’s probably because you’ve got other questions.

Q: What do I mean by “spot” prints?
A: Print spotting means using a very fine brush to fill in the white dust spots in photographic prints with dye to make them disappear. It was a necessary skill for any fine darkroom printer.

Q: I’m doing digital printing, so I don’t have any dust on my “film.” Why do I care?
A: Because sometimes a speck of dust lands on your print paper before it passes through your printer. The result is a little white spot in your print. If you’re making 16 by 20s that contain a high percentage of dark regions, a fair (or fairly annoying) percentage of your prints may have such dust spots.

Q: So what? I can just make another print.
A: A 16 x 20 print runs you anywhere between $5 and $10 in materials. Wouldn’t it be worth a few minutes of your time to save that money?

 You’ll need a very fine brush, somewhere between 000 and 00000. The next time one of your printer cartridges runs dry, don’t throw it away. Instead, crack open the plastic case. Inside you’ll find a little reservoir, and very likely it will still contain several milliliters of ink (a built-in safety margin so that  air bubbles don’t get into the ink line and print head). Buy some little plastic bottles at the local pharmacy and pour the leftover inks into those. A few milliliters will spot hundreds of prints.

Spotting inkjet prints is trickier than any other print spotting I’ve done. The  brush has to be very dry, so that when you touch it to the paper it leaves the barest drop of ink. After dipping the tip of the brush in the ink, wipe off most of it onto a blank sheet of inkjet paper. When you touch the tip of the brush to the paper, it should leave only the finest little dot of ink.

It will probably take considerable practice before you can reliably spot inkjet prints. Don’t be discouraged; I’ve been spotting for 40 years. You’ll probably ruin four out of five prints while learning to repair them. Well, you were going to throw them out, anyway, so what do you have to lose?

© John Ward

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