I am pleased to see that more and more photographers are approaching the wonderful world of photographic printing. Getting a good print is not really something immediate, but definitely within everyone’s reach.
However, it happens that after spending a few nights to find the optimal calibration settings and to profile our monitors and printers, we find ourselves with a finished product to evaluate. Unlike our light-emitting monitors, a print reflects the light and therefore an external light source is needed to see it.
Here begins a series of ancestral doubts that normally can be summarized in the basic question: “What is the correct light when looking at my photographic print?
The right light
This article is not intended to deal with color management, but I honestly hope it will bring you some doubts and curiosity so that you will want to explore this world on your own or with me. We will therefore remain particularly vague and not technical, dealing with this intricate subject in a simple and intuitive way. Spoiler: the right light doesn’t exist.
I think that for any of you the common macroscopic perception we have that different light sources “look” different is intuitive. Try to think of the classic incandescent light bulb in your bedroom or the xenon headlights of your car: the first one will give you that feeling of “warm light”, while the second one of “cold light”.
As much as our eye is a perfect machine with an adaptive capacity that is irreplicable today, if you compare your print under these two light sources in rapid succession, the colors you will perceive will be almost entirely different from each other.
Without for now going to bother more complicated concepts such as metamerism or other technicalities, this different perception is due to the fact that different light sources have different spectral properties that can affect the reflected color you see.
Our everyday life is based on the primary source of light we know: the sun. The light emitted by stars has precise characteristics, just as the lamp in your bedroom or car headlights do.
For the reasons mentioned above, the characteristics of the Sun’s light are those we commonly assume to be “normal” (although to tell the truth, perception varies from the interaction of its light with our atmosphere). Have you ever happened in a clothing store to ask to look at the color of a T-shirt “in the sunlight” to evaluate its color? Well, by doing so unwittingly you have taken as a reference for the correct vision of your dress a light with a precise emission spectrum and a color temperature in a certain range depending on your position on the globe, the time of day and other boundary conditions such as the weather. Well, I’m sure you didn’t think so at the time, but consciously or unconsciously we did because we expect to use that t-shirt by the sea in the sun or in other lighting conditions other than the shop lighting.
For a photographic print the speech should be the same: a print should be evaluated in the light from which it will be displayed (both in terms of color temperature and light intensity), and then as you imagine it will look different if viewed “in sunlight”, in a gallery or in the bedroom.
The GrafiLite 2 lamp
Over the years, specific light sources have been developed to allow us to evaluate the result of a print on the basis of what was said earlier. The problem is that most of these tools have always been aimed at a very professional clientele, and therefore with prices that are not exactly within everyone’s reach.
The GrafiLite 2 lamp has been designed to come to the rescue of us “home printers”: a product made on the basis of OttLite’s technological developments, GrafiLite 2 is defined as a “color assessment lamp”.
But what’s special about GrafiLite 2 compared to any comparable light bulb that you can buy at Leroy Merlin? Let’s explore together:
- 3 Temperatures: depending on the purpose of our print, GrafiLite 2 will allow us to select from three temperatures: 5000K, 4000K and 2700K.
- 3 Brightness levels: you can select three brightness levels. This allows us to make appropriate evaluations on the result depending on the light availability of the place where our print will be displayed.
- CRI 95+: The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is used to measure how well a light source can accurately show us colors on a scale from 1 to 100 compared to a reference source. With a CRI of about 97, GrafiLite is among the most professional products.
Using Graphite 2
Given the premises, it seems that GrafiLite 2 is just right for me. The lamp comes in a compact, good-looking box, complete with lamp, charger, evaluation surface and manual. The lamp itself is very compact and well finished: in addition to having a coating that gives a leather-like effect, it is complete with a digital clock and date display.
Excluding the buttons for setting the time, GrafiLite 2 has only one main button with which you can both select the temperature of the lamp (keeping the button pressed longer) and change the light intensity (pressing the button quickly).
Although there is no indication on the manual about the three levels of emitted intensity, it doesn’t matter much considering that we are not talking about the brightness of a monitor (emissive) but the simulation of the environment in which we think to expose our print (which I quite sure you’re not going to measure it with a photometer). The lamp is compact and well transportable and consists of low consumption LED lights, unfortunately, it is not equipped with a battery pack and therefore for its operation it must remain connected to an external power supply.
Apart from this, I would say that the lamp does its job very well, and obviously it is not even comparable to the DIY review boxes that I created with “commercial” light bulbs.
As we said, the lamp has the possibility to work in three temperatures: 5000K, 4000K and 2700K. This in fact tells us that the product is not only designed for us photographers, as the 4000K are aimed at classic shop lighting (not to be confused with the “old” 3500K gallery standard). Although the 2700K should allow us to evaluate your prints in a domestic environment with an incandescent light bulb, my suggestion is to evaluate your prints by setting GrafiLite 2 to 5000K, a good average approximation of sunlight (absolutely not to be confused with the D65 we give to the monitor for calibration).
In the package as I told you there is also an A4 mat in neutral grey for the best evaluation of prints below A4 size, which however becomes superfluous with the evaluation of prints from A4 upwards.
The evaluation of prints bigger than A4 (I often print in A3+) is still comfortable: the manufacturer suggests the purchase of two lamps to put one next to the other, but in addition to being a double expense I see it as impractical and I would prefer to have a single lamp suitable for A3+. Nevertheless, the evaluation of the A3+ prints is done without problems holding the lamp in your hand like a torch (once again the internal battery version without cable would have been a plus) being able to open it with a maximum angle of about 160°.
GrafiLite 2 is definitely a great tool for all those who are in love with home printing. The particularly affordable price in itself justifies the purchase and the small improvements that could be introduced are by no means a functional limitation.
After already a couple of weeks of intensive use, I realize that a final feedback on the print result obtained with a quality-controlled light is absolutely essential to achieve the desired result, and therefore I can only advise you to give it a try!