Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

The Art of Digital B/W #014


The Challenge Of Digital Black And White
Part 4: Prints

a personal view by George Barr

Part 4: Prints

I left you last time with the image looking great on screen and then I output sharpened to compensate for dot gain - the spread of ink on paper. Now we have some issues - what printer, what paper, should I use a RIP and if so which one, should I use dedicated monochrome inks and how to get the best possible print?

In this area even more than the preceding segments of this article, I am simply speaking from my own experience. Also, as this is being written June 19, 2006 I have not yet had a chance to try any of the new 'f' surface papers which promise the Holy Grail of inkjet black and white printing, an exact replacement for glossy dried matte photographic paper. That said and pending such experiments, there is a lot to be said for a good matte paper and the results I am getting have been generally excellent.

Just tonight Michael Reichman of Luminous Landscape has released his review of the new Canon printer - but no matter how wonderful that printer turns out to be, only time will tell whether images stand up to age testing and real world use but it looks promising and if nothing else will push Epson to try harder.


Since every subsequent decision is based on the choice of inks, I will discuss that first. I went with MIS dedicated monochrome inks in their various iterations for a year or so but after fatally clogging my third printer abandoned dedicated inks. Mind you this was around the time that I started selling my work, 2/3 of which was colour, so I needed the flexibility to do both and couldn’t afford two printers. Had I only been working with black and white, I might still be using dedicated inks. The results I got from the MIS inks were excellent. I was particularly happy with the ability to 'dial in' the warmth of the print without worrying about metamerism and a greenish tinge sneaking into the warmer images.

Originally the Epson 3000 was the printer of choice for dedicated black and white ink systems and while clogging was an issue, it wasn't too frustrating. When I converted my Epson 2200 to dedicated monochrome ink, I think I made a mistake - this printer has relatively small jets with the result that compared to the 3000 and that ilk, clogging is a major and sometimes unfixable problem.

Were I to go back to dedicated inks, I would pick up an older printer again, one with large jets. I would print every day, even if it's just a test print and I don't know what would happen were I away for three weeks at a time. I know that with the PC and Windows it's possible to schedule an automatic printing on a daily basis so barring any paper mishandling, you could expect the printer to merrily keep printing daily while you are away. Perhaps by now they have similar software for the Mac.

The problem of using colour printers for black and white prints has been twofold - first getting a neutral black, and then keeping it under different light sources. Non pigment ink printers have done a fairly good job doing both but as the prints are only archival with dedicated resin coated glossy paper, this wasn't remotely a possibility for me. Pigment ink prints made with Epson’s usual drivers are subject to metamerism, the change in colour of the print in varying light sources. Prints tend to be pink under fluorescent and green with north light - a not impossible condition to experience in a single room and therefore precluding sales of such prints.

When I purchased my Epson 4000 printer, I checked out and bought the very expensive Imageprint RIP. It certainly produced neutral prints which didn't change colour at all in various lighting sources from mercury vapour to north light and everything else in between. I didn't like having to save every image every time I wanted to print and I didn't like spending more money to get the version that would print directly from Photoshop. I also didn't like the crashes that happened with the Imageprint Browser (software was v.6)

I learned about Roy Harrington's Quadtone Rip - for 1/20 of the price. This was substantially better and although there were some bugs at the beginning and even now I have to be careful to let colour printing finish before I order a black and white print, the software does every bit as good a job as Imageprint in terms of metamerism free results and good blacks and is now my standard method of producing black and white prints.

I did pick up a 2400 printer and tried out Epson’s new dedicated monochrome driver for Ultrachrome inks but I prefer the results from my 4000 with Quadtone Rip (less green in the warm tone prints).

For paper, I have been using Moab Entrada Bright White for over a year and am generally very pleased with it. The supplied profiles have been quite accurate and I like the clean white paper. I recognize it has optical brighteners but am not overly concerned as virtually all photographic paper has had brighteners for 50 years or so. (see my article on Optical Brighteners on my blog).

The occasional sheet will have a small spot defect but the paper is a bit cheaper than Hahnemuhle and overall I come out ahead. The 300 gm. weight paper has a moderately rough surface but the 190 weight paper has a finer texture and that is my standard for 13X19 and smaller.

Profiling does a wonderful job of matching colours but I have been consistently disappointed with issues of brightness and contrast. As I don't have a GretagMacbeth EyeOne or other way to profile my prints, I use a 'printing adjustment curve layer' before printing. This curve was acquired the hard way, making lots of prints from both step wedges and images until I got a curve which resulted in a print which looked darn close to what I had on the monitor. You need one for each paper you are using but it isn't difficult, just a bit tedious. But it saves $2000 on profiling equipment.

I do think that no matter how well profiled, how careful you are and what tricks you use, nothing beats making prints and quality prints requires making trial runs and fine tuning the image based on each itration of the image. There are subtleties in the print which just don't show on screen and yet which are important to the quality of the result. It's often helpful to live with a print for a few days, looking at it repeatedly to see if it is right.

Well, you have made several prints, some have been pinned to the wall for a few days and you have adjusted and perfected. With a little luck you have an image of which you can be proud. Of course a few months from now you will be even better at digital printing and may decide to start over from the beginning - welcome to real life for all of us who care about the quality of our images. Good printing!


You can find George Barr's website here.



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