Jon Cone Uses Custom Inkset for Sutra Exhibition Photo Prints
25 September, 2011 by
Jon Cone Uses Custom Inkset for Sutra Exhibition Photo Prints
Jon Cone

Great Output

Reprinted by permission from Great Output


Here’s a story that vividly illustrates the distinction between the increasingly automated process of “digital printing” and the fine art of “digital printmaking.”After years of traveling and documenting life in India, photographer Yatin Patel has developed a collection of HDR images that offer a new perspective on the nation’s urban environments. Patel recently collaborated with fine-art printmaker Jon Cone of Cone Editions Press to produce 22 large-scale (44 x 78 in.) prints for the “Sutra” exhibition that is currently on display in Orlando.

Photo by Yatin Patel printed by Jon Cone

Cone crafted the prints using large sheets of handmade, Japanese kozo paper with a custom-made set of 12 monochromatic inks on a Roland solvent inkjet printer that Cone adapted to run aqueous pigment inks.

The Sutra Exhibition 

“Sutra,” a word with ancient Sanskrit Indo?Aryan origins, means “a thread or line that holds elements together.” The word describes the essence of the series of images that Yatin photographed in his hometown of Ahmedabad, India.

Having lived in both India and the Western world, Yatin felt compelled to explore his roots and the lifestyle he had taken for granted. Each scene offers an intimate, richly detailed reflection of some of the threads that define lives and cultures. The images show how architecture, humanity, and ancient and contemporary surroundings can co-exist in a state of equilibrium.

“What fascinates me is how, after thousands of years, the original environment and its habitants have organically evolved in time to find a delicate balance between tradition and modernism, without compromise. My work seeks to document this astonishing yet harmonious paradox,” says Yatin.


About the Printmaking Process

Jon Cone has always been a fine-art printmaker in the truest sense of the word. He founded Cone Editions in 1980, using his expertise in traditional art-print methods such as intaglio, photogravure, serigraphy, relief print, and monoprint. (The first story I wrote about Cone Editions was for Screen Printing magazine in 1994, when Cone was exploring how IRIS inkjet printers might be used in fine-art printmaking. At that time, he had been experimenting with digital printmaking since 1984.)

In a post on Yatin Patel’s blog, Jon Cone describes the methodology he used for this project in more detail.  For example, Cone said the handmade Japanese kozo paper was chosen specifically for its ability reproduce high-contrast imagery.
“I rejected the idea of printing black and white prints with color inks and invented a process in which many shades of black ink are carefully combined to produce a smooth gray transition from white to black,” Cone explains. “Using only one black ink does not have enough tonal response to convey a large range of tonalities. For Yatin’s imagery, I am printing using a bluish gray ink to carry the mood in the shadows. It peeks out from behind the blackest parts. I use a brown nearly as strong as tea in color. I have three shades of pure warm carbon that make up the bulk of the gray tones in the print. But, some orange ink, some greenish gray ink, and some purple gray inks are overlapped carefully to shift and split the gray tones so that the images appear to be rich and with considerable depth. These inks cannot be controlled by conventional methods.”

He notes that “The images are all printed from single channel grayscale images. The images in my computer have no color information whatsoever. Besides making my own inks, I develop my own software with which to print. I cannot use a traditional RGB color space, nor a traditional CMYK color space. No conventional printing RIP software can take a grayscale image and translate those portions of tone to the colors of ink that I have designed.”

He likens his approach that that of a fine-art lithographer who thinks in terms of separations: “I make plates of ink that when overprinted result in a range of color and tone that realizes the print.”

As Cone puts it, “I choose to print in a way that is closer to traditional printmaking than it is to digital. If you can imagine how a color woodcut or lithographic print is built up of colors overlaying and overlapping, then you can imagine what it takes for me to produce a Yatin Patel print on the very heavy kozo/cotton Japanese handmade paper.”

Even though he could have digitally produced Yatin’s prints in an easier and more conventional manner, he says “It would interest me far less as a printmaker to work in a way that others do.” He strives to make prints for artists that look unlike anything they could do for themselves or get from any other Master Printers. The paper and inks Cone used for Yatin’s HDR images were designed to give the prints an unparalleled depth and texture.

Cone points out that while making ink may be viewed as unique for a digital printmaker, it was once considered a necessary skill for all traditional printmakers: “I have always made my own silkscreen inks and intaglio inks.”

In the early 1990s Cone developed some of the first archival inkjet inks and now sells his own Piezography® brand inks for black-and-white inkjet printing, and ConeColor™ inks for color inkjet printing. While many fine-art printmakers use these inks with Epson printers, Cone uses Roland printers for his extreme fine-art printmaking.

“The Roland printer that I am using has been customized to allow the passage of very thick materials. It heats the paper during printing. It was originally designed as a commercial printer to print solvent on heated plastics,” says Cone. “I adapted it to work with my water-based pure pigment inks. I can easily change the inks to a palette that is appropriate for the artist’s work. I can use up to 12 inks in this printer. I first began using this printer to produce the monumental prints for photographer Gregory Colbert and his Ashes and Snow Nomadic Museum exhibitions.”

Yatin Patel’s “Sutra” exhibition will be travelling internationally starting in 2010. A portion of all proceeds will benefit AAP (AIDS Awareness and Prevention).


Reprinted by permission, courtesy of Eileen Fritsch, Editor of Great Output


I am a freelance writer, editor, and blogger who has been around long enough to witnesss how profoundly technology can affect markets, businesses, and career opportunities.

Most of my writing experience over the past 15 years has focused on helping entrepreneurs and creative professionals learn how to use digital printing and imaging technologies to create new products and businesses.

I have met many gifted artists, photographers, and designers and developed a deep appreciation for what it takes to succeed in the visual arts.

Having earned a degree in magazine journalism and public relations from Ohio University, I was privileged to help launch two timely and well-received trade magazines: The Big Picture and Great Output.

Great Output

Jon Cone Uses Custom Inkset for Sutra Exhibition Photo Prints
Jon Cone
25 September, 2011
Share this post