Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Silverfast Negatives

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings everyone,

Up until this week, all of the work on the Church & State I restoration project has been on the original art still in possession of the Cerebus archive-- a few hundred pages, all told. But the past two weeks we've started into the next stage of the work, namely, scanning and adjusting the several hundred pages represented by photographic elements.

These are at-size negatives, shot from the original artwork while the monthly books were being produced, and ganged up eight to a flat for use in creating the plates for printing the book. 

When I was contacting prepress professionals of my acquaintance at the start of this project, several people tried to warn me off from scanning the negatives at all. Too difficult, they told me, not worth the pain. One person actually suggested finding a facility that could make oversized Iris prints from the negs, and then scan those prints! 

Why are these materials such a pain?

Well, anyone who's ever tried to scan conventional film format negs or positives knows that shooting light through them with a scanner is simply not the same as shooting light through them on a projector for development. Trying to recreate a natural exposure level, having your light source so close to the carrier film. And unlike dark room projectors, most scanners don't have the same kind of physical separation between the light source and the "projected image."

Here's a scan of a Church & State neg on a conventional flatbed scanner.

Do you see the sort of "shadow" under the tone and near the border of the blacks? Here's a close-up.

Several months ago I was referring to this as a "negative shadow", but if you see it in reverse, how the negative actually appears, it might make a little more sense what's happening. I suppose it's more of a negative halo.

So what's happening here? 

This is one of the hazards of working with materials I'm not scanning myself-- I'm not totally sure what it is that causes the phenomenon. But my prior darkroom experience tells me that it's most likely this-- the scanner is picking up the halo of the light escaping through the edge of the emulsion. In other words, the light passing through the carrier (clear) portion of the negative is bleeding through the edge of the emulsion (black) portions of the negative, causing a halo around every element. 

As you might be able to imagine, this is a tremendous pain to deal with, and causes a lot of additional work and guesswork to make the image reproduce accurately. Want to shave off the halo with a curves adjustment? Careful you don't shear off any of your fine detail! Want to use sharpening to bring out a maximum amount of detail? Careful the sharpening doesn't grab the neg halo! Pain, pain, pain....

The solution?

Here's a scan of the same neg, using the Epson V700 and Silverfast, an amazing little piece of software from LaserSoft Imaging.


So, where did that halo go?

It's hard to believe it, but the majority of the above difference is due solely to the software.

Simply put, Silverfast enables you to select the type of material you're trying to scan, and then applies a predetermined density curve at the point of capture, adjusting the exposure to adjust for the optical density of the film.

As I'm typing this, John is scanning negs using Silverfast and sending them via Google Drive to my desktop, while Dave Fisher and John's nephew Rolly cut new negs off of the flats and store them in folders for safe-keeping. It's an amazing mixture of high-tech and low-tech, of multiple generations, and an exciting time to be on a project like this.

So, TLDR-- I would never think of scanning a negative without Silverfast! Thank you, LaserSoft Imaging, for such an incredible product. We might have done it without you, but it would have been a heck of a lot more painful.


Tony Dunlop said...

Dang. Here I thought C&S would be so much easier because the negatives hadn't burned up...

Sean R said...


It IS easier! Much much easier. Scroll down to the last paragraph or two-- the problem is fixed :)

Oliver said...

Boris Bischof, Director of "LaserSoft Imaging INC" says:

"Dear Sir,

Thank you for the kind words in your message - is there anything we can do for you, Sir? We absolutely value Feedback, both positve and negative, so we can continue to improve our solutions.

Please feel free to contact me personally with ANY issues, questions or other points.

Kind regards,


Boris Bischof"

Of course any thanks for kind words goes to Sean:) Who I forwarded the message, and direct contact info, to. Sean replied: "Thanks Oliver!

Man, it really is night and day between the scans. Not sure how much that's communicated on the blog, but it's quite the difference for a single software setting..."

Anonymous said...

I also use an Epson V700 with Silverfast and always get amazing results!

Max West said...

Yikes. I didn't realize pre-press was this complex. Then again, I'm more of a DIY type of guy who uses digital printing over offset printing. Good luck with your work.