Is Ilfochrome (Cibachrome) too challenging for non-professional photographers?

I recently visited a gallery in NYC and was stunned by the Ilfochrome (formerly Cibachrome) processing, which produces just dazzling, knock-your-socks-off images, especially when turned into poster-sized photos. The colors are strikingly vivid, the contrast remarkable.

I’d like to play around with Ilfochrome, but know nothing about it, other than it seems the province of high-end professionals.

I’m guessing I could use either my digicam or non-digi, and then send everything to a special processor. Correct?

What are the basics I should know?

Do you have any “wet” darkroom experience? Cibachrome isn’t any harder than standard color printing, but that isn’t saying much. (Mind you, I haven’t done it in 25 years or so, so things have likely changed a bit.)

But at the time I was doing it, ciba printing was very expensive on a per print basis, required fairly close attention to time and temperature and agitation, and (because it was light sensitive to all frequencies) had to be processed in a cylinder rather than in a tray like black and white prints.

Ciba was also very contrasty which made printing somewhat challenging. And, of course, it was a positive image process (only worked from slides).

I’d shoot your slides normally and send the real exceptional ones out to be printed by pros.

If you are doing it yourself, just be DAMN SURE you clear the first chemicals completely before going to the next set. (This is from personal experience of taking the gas fumes into my lungs from one mistake - not pleasant to say the least, highly toxic to be more accurate). That said, the results are outstanding.

Actually, when I made the chemical mix mistake it was kinda cool, too. It came out in all black & white except for one item in the photo which was posterized.

My darkroom experience is zero, but I’m not too concerned about the cost of processing.

What is Ciba especially known for? Richer colors? More contrast? Have the modern films caught up with this old technology?

Ilfochrome is a method of printing from transparency film (aka slides, E6, chromes, positive film).

I don’t know anything about printing digital files on Ilfochrome–I’ve never heard of that, but I suppose it would be possible. One can expose a digital image onto slide film, then that onto an Ilfochrome. Or directly hit the print with light, like some people do with printing digital onto regular photographic (negative) paper.

Ah, here is one place that does it, using the latter method. Huh. You learn something new every day.

Personally, though, I would go with LightJet printing on Fuji Crystal archive paper. You can get that Ilfochrome saturation and color using this method, too. That website will also tell you why this high-end printing lab prefers the LightJet to Ilfochromes. I’ve seen their work, and the quality of prints is nothing short of extraordinary.

Ilfochrome was the only traditional process, that I know of, that could produce prints that look as good as the original on slide film. The normal Fuji and Kodak reversal papers were garbage (in my opinion, of course). I would, however, say that the digital processes and papers available to us today are superior to Ilfochrome in terms of color reproduction (as I understand it, LightJet printing has a wider color gamut than Ilfochrome), detail (Ilfochrome is notoriously contrasty, which may or may not be good), and control.

Ciba/Ilfochromes are beautiful. However, especially if you’re starting from a digital source, I would encourage you to try out LightJet or Chromira printed on Fuji Crystal archive paper.

Saw this after my post above.

Ciba is known for richer colors and more contrast, yes. To address the latter point, if you have a contrasty slide to begin with, it makes printing Ilfochromes a bit more of a pain in the ass as the printer needs to make contrast masks (a black and white image that tones down the highlights) in order to keep all the detail in the original from blowing out.

As for the last question, it’s not a question of film, it’s a paper and printing process. There is no conventional method of printing slides that’s better than the Ciba/Ilfochrome process. There are digital printing technologies that are at least as good and, in my opinion, better. If I had a transparency to start with, I might consider Ilfochrome. Otherwise, I’d just print with the aforementioned LightJet or Chromira.

great information, many thanks!