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)


Designers Develop Photographic Print Process for Textiles

When two enterprising designers wanted to raise $50,000 to bring their new Lumi Printing system to market, they turned to Kickstarter. Their idea proved to be so popular, the campaign has attracted more than $268,000 from 3,525 backers.

The Lumi Process is a photographic print process that you can use to turn smartphone pictures into beautiful designs on textiles, wood, and other natural materials used in art, fashion, and furniture design. In addition to printing on 100% cotton T-shirts, the process works on delicate materials such as silk, suede and wool that can’t go through heat-setting stages.  You can also use the Lumi process to print images and design on rough materials such as burlap, jute and sewn garments.  Once fixed, the color becomes permanent and can go through repeated machine washes without fading.

The contact-negative print process uses Inkodye mixable, water-based dyes that develop their color in sunlight. There is no need for electricity, silkscreens, or high-end equipment. Inkodye is currently available in three colors: red, orange and blue.

To see how the process works, watch the fund-raising video Lumi produced for their Kickstarter campaign (below) or read the illustrated step-by-step guide: How to Print a Photo on Cotton with Inkodye.

Kickstarter backers of the Lumi Printing System will receive different configurations of Inkodye Starter Kit, depending on their level of contributions.  The basic Starter Kit includes 4-ounce bottles of each color, instructions, a vignette-shaped stencil, and a negative that you can cut out and start experimenting with.  The Full System Kit includes a textile detergent and 11 x 17-inch sheets of film that have been specially coated to make negatives on laser printers or copiers. The coating on the Lumi transparency film is designed to absorb more toner than typical transparency. Each Lumi transparency sheet is backed with a carrier sheet of paper so that it will feed through typical copiers more effectively.

Make Negatives on Your Smartphone

The easiest way to convert images from your smartphone into negatives is to use the Lumityper App that Lumi has developed for the iPhone.  (An Android version will be developed in the future.)  Lumi’s instruction guide describes other ways to create negatives, such as using web apps such as Pxlr.com or Photoshop on your computer.

After you’ve printed your image or design onto the negative, you apply the dye to the surface of the substrate, then position and secure the negative on top of the substrate. Next, expose the art to sunlight to develop the colors on the substrate. According to the guide for printing a photo on cotton, it takes about 10 to 12 minutes for the image to develop.  The process can work on overcast days, but it works best in direct sunlight.

To stop the developing process on textiles, you will need to wash off the unexposed dye in hot water with a strong detergent. Lumi offered its backers a 16 oz. bottle of a detergent specifically formulated to clear residual dye. Regular laundry detergent will work if the item is run through the washing machine twice.

The founders of Lumi, Jesse Genet and Stephan Angoulvant, met while studying product design at the Art Center College for Design in Pasadena, California.  On the Lumi website, they state, “We believe photographs shouldn’t be limited to a page or a frame. They’re meant to be lived with, cared for, and last forever. That’s why we create photography you can touch.”

On Kickstarter they stressed that, “We believe in sticking with great ideas through thick and thin and are passionate about developing new creative tools.”

To see the range of products that designers have created with the Lumi Process, visit the lumi.com website. To Lumi’s progress as they bring this new process to market, follow them on Twitter or Facebook.


Video: We Are Lumi

Website: Lumi

Facebook: Lumi

Twitter: Lumi

Guide: How to Print a Photo on Cotton with Inkodye

iPhone App: Lumityper

Lumi-Printed Images on Reupholstered Vintage Furniture