Take Your Photography to the Next Level by Hacking the Digital Print

Digital photo printing has reached the point at which anyone who knows how to push the right buttons can create a decent print. Getting a high-quality image out of a desktop printer is no longer the challenge it once was.

In her new book, “Hacking the Digital Print,” artist Bonny Lhotka illustrates how photographic artists can take their work to the next level through alternative methods of capturing and printing photographs. She proves that the hands-on art of printmaking is alive and well in the digital age. And she explains why you don’t always need Photoshop to alter the reality that you capture through your lens.


By using analog distortion filters and lens modifiers you can create images that look like you—not an app—made them.  As Lhotka explains, “Capturing altered reality is different from altering captured reality.”

In the book’s introduction, Lhotka points out that, “A photograph is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world. We can restore the third dimension by using materials such as slate, granite, wood, or metal that have heft, mass and texture.”

In “Hacking the Digital Print,” Lhotka shows how to make original art objects and hand-crafted photo gifts by transferring your photographs to materials such as wood, glass, plastics, and metal. Lhotka also shows how to create skins that can be layered to make mixed-media photographs.

Some projects explained in the book use non-toxic digital alternatives to re-create classic printmaking techniques. For example, Wonder Sauce is a water-based transfer solution that is safe enough to use anywhere, whether it’s the studio, classroom, or kitchen counter.For the truly adventurous, Lhotka shares her custom techniques for taking photographs and applying them to 3D-printed objects created with popular consumer-model 3D printers.

Part artist/part mad scientist, Lhotka has spent many hours experimenting, hacking, and tearing things apart to discover new ways to take, make, and print images.

In the early days of wide-format color inkjet printing, Bonny Lhotka organized “Digital Atelier: A printmaking studio for the 21st Century” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and was an artist-in-residence there for 21 days. The artists of the Digital Atelier demonstrated some of the creative possibilities of scanning and inkjet printing.

Lhotka is also a recipient of the Smithsonian/Computerworld Technology in the Arts Award.

Bonny says she designed “Hacking the Print” for “artists and photographers who enjoy serendipitous discoveries—those intuitive accidents that lead to new discoveries and possibilities.”

She encourages you to take the techniques in this book, hack them, and make them your own. She cautions that the process will be messy, and failures may require you to keep trying: “But in the process, you will make your exciting discoveries, find solutions, to your problems, and create a body of work that is uniquely yours.”


You can purchase “Hacking the Digital Print,” through Amazon or buy a signed copy through the DASS ART website. “Hacking the Digital Print” was published by Peachpit, the Pearson imprint the publishes technology books, e-books, and videos for creative people.

On the DASS ART website, you can also register for related workshops or order the specialized transfer media Lhotka has developed for transferring images printed with pigment inks on inkjet photo printers.


DASS has also started a Facebook group for artists and photographers who are creasting work with the techniques featured in Bonny Lhotka’s two previous books on contemporary printmaking techniques: Digital Alchemy and The Last Layer.

According to Lhotka, “The Facebook group is a place to post your work, share processes, and ask questions. I will pop in an out to answer questions and post tips.”


Hacking the Digital Print: Alternative image capture and printmaking processes with a special section on 3D printing (Voices That Matter)

The Last Layer: New methods in digital printing for photography, fine art, and mixed media (Voices That Matter)


Book Explains Printmaking Techniques for Photographic Art

LastLayerIn her new book “The Last Layer,” printmaker Bonny Lhotka shows you how to expand your creative voice by combining centuries-old printmaking techniques with the full creative potential modern imaging technology.

With these techniques you will get physically engaged with the materials and produce distinctively different prints. Unlike digital photo prints that all look alike, your handiwork as an artist will be clearly visible in each print you sell.

“The Last Layer” is more photography-focused than “Digital Alchemy,” the first book Bonny Lhotka wrote about alternative printmaking techniques for fine art, photography, and mixed media.

In “The Last Layer”, you can learn how to create modern-day versions of anthotypes, cyanotypes, tintypes, and daguerreotypes as well as platinum and carbon prints. Lhotka also reinvents the photogravure and Polaroid transfer processes and explains groundbreaking techniques for combining digital images with traditional monotype, collograph, and etching press prints.

The techniques in “The Last Layer” don’t require the toxic chemicals used in the original processes.
The only equipment you need to get started is a desktop inkjet photo printer that uses pigment inks and a few readily available materials.

What’s The Last Layer?

Digital photographic artists use Photoshop to build images layer by layer, with each layer adding complexity and meaning. Ultimately, the work must be transferred to a substrate – paper, wood, or the glass screen the image is projected upon. “It’s the last layer that makes it a complete work,” says Bonny.

While imaging software and digital printers are powerful tools for photographers, Lhotka contends that “We’ve lost that final handwork performed in the darkroom that allowed us to create truly unique original work.”

With the methods outlined in this book, you can produce handmade works of art that can’t be duplicated with an app, filter, or software package.

Experience the Sensory Pleasure

In the book’s foreword, Kathryn Maxwell of the School of Art at Arizona State University notes that creating photographic prints digitally has become more of a cerebral process than a physical one.

“No artist’s touch is visible in the final output,” says Maxwell. “The artist determines conceptual and visual outcomes on a computer monitor.” With traditional lithographs, etchings, relief prints, or screen prints and darkroom photographic prints, the artist is physically involved with the materials used to create the works.

“Curators and collectors prize the obviously handmade object due to the imperfections and indication of the human hand evidenced in the form,” says Maxwell.

About Bonny Lhotka

Bonny Lhotka is a painter and printmaker who began experimenting with technology tools when she added a Macintosh to her studio in 1986.

I first started following Lhotka’s work in 1997 when I was editor of a magazine about large-format digital printing and Bonny organized “Digital Atelier: A Printmaking Studio for the 21st Century” for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We weren’t the only ones who saw Bonny Lhotka and the other artists of the Digital Atelier as digital printmaking pioneers. Bonny Lhotka is a recipient of the Computerworld Smithsonian Award for Technology in the Arts.

Over the years, I met Bonny and the other Digital Atelier artists Dorothy Krause and Karin Schminke at trade shows where they demonstrated wildly imaginative ideas for blending digital imaging and traditional printmaking. Because I was focused on writing about the printing technologies, I didn’t give Bonny’s art the full attention it deserved.

Bonny Lhotka’s artwork is included in several hundred private, corporate, and government collections, including those of United Airlines, Johnson Space Center, Consumer Electronics Association, the U.S. Department of State, the City of Denver, and The Boeing Company.

Having met Bonny, I wasn’t surprised to see “Last Layer” techniques such as the “Chlorophyll Emulsion Process” that involves a blender, 190-proof grain alcohol, and dark green leaves. But as I skimmed through the book, I was blown away by the body of work she has created.

In the book’s preface, master printmaker Jack Duganne (another early user of digital-printing equipment) notes that Bonny is a chemist, engineer, physicist, biologist, inventor, teacher, and tinkerer: “But above all, she is an artist!”

“The Last Layer” shows  works Lhotka has created with the techniques in the book. Bonny hopes these examples will inspire readers to find their own voices and develop their own signature looks as artists.

About the Cover

The cover image is a portrait of Russell Brown, the senior creative director of Adobe Systems.  Entitled “The Gaze,” it is an 8 x 10-inch pigment transfer print on aged metal. It was created using an inkjet-printable transfer film, DASS SuperSauce transfer medium, and aged-metal plates that Lhotka developed and sells through the Digital Art Studio Seminars website.

“The Last Layer” was published by the New Riders imprint of Peachpit, a division of Pearson Education.


The Last Layer: New methods in digital printing for photography, fine art, and mixed media (Voices That Matter)

Table of Contents and Sample Chapter from The Last Layer: Finding Your Voice

Digital Alchemy: Printmaking techniques for fine art, photography, and mixed media (Voices That Matter)

Digital Art Studio Seminars

About the Digital Atelier: Printmaking for the 21st Century



Learn to Use Inkjet Transfers for Fine Photo and Art Prints

If you want to create one-of-a-kind photo and art prints, check out the Digital Art Studio Seminars (DASS) website. Artist Bonny Pierce Lhotka established the website in 2009 for artists and photographers who want to learn how to merge classic printmaking techniques with modern technology.

Digital Alchemy book coverThrough the website, you can register for hands-on workshops or buy instructional DVDs and books that explain how to transfer inkjet prints to a variety of surfaces including birch panels, stone paper, aluminum sheets, acrylic, Econolite rigid metal panels. In her book, “Digital Alchemy,” Lhotka explains how to direct print on metal, metal leaf, and custom substrates.

To ensure that the materials needed for the transfer and printing processes explained in the seminars and instructional materials are readily accessible, the Digital Art Studios Seminar website includes an online store.

Two of the newest products featured on the site are: DASS Universal Inkjet Precoat II and Aged Metal Plates.

DASS Universal Inkjet Precoat II

This inkjet precoat can be used to prepare any surface for inkjet printing.  This new, clear formula spreads easily on paper, canvas, glass, and metals. Coated metals retain their sheen. A coating bar is included to help ensure even, smooth application.

Aged Metal Plates

To create one-of-a-kind photographic prints, you can order sets of six 8 x 10-inch aged metal plates. To print directly on the metal plate, you would first apply the DASS Universal Inkjet Precoat II. To transfer pigment ink prints to the metal plates, you would use the DASS SuperSauce and DASS Transfer Film, which can also be purchased through the DASS website.


Digital Art Studio Seminars