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Black and White Digital Printing

The world of photography has certainly changed over the past few years. I can not remember the last time an editor asked me for a photographic print for their publication. It is now standard practice to supply digital files over the internet or on CD. After not using my darkroom for a couple of years I decided it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Even though I shoot both digital and film, I output all my colour work through an inkjet printer, which gives me excellent results. The problem came Black And Whitewhen I was asked to produce thirty, black and white prints for a touring exhibition.

As I was about to buy a new inkjet printer I decided on an Epson 2100 A3, this model included software designed to calibrate the printer for monochrome output. What could be easier, open the images in PhotoShop, select print, choose the black and white option and just wait for the prints to spill out. In practice things didn’t work out quite that easily!. I was quite impressed with my first print, from a scanned Kodak Tri-X negative. In daylight it looked quite neutral, however as soon as I viewed it under different light sources the hues changed colour. Under fluorescent tubes the print glowed a magenta colour! An effect that I discovered was called metamerism.

Experimenting with a variety of paper types did improve things a little, but the results were not good enough to hang on a gallery wall. In desperation I tur ned to the Internet, here I found the Black and White Printing forum, on Yahoo Groups. This is a very helpful and informative list for beginners and experts alike. Whilst the official language of the list is English, I had problems understanding some of the posts, I think a PhD in chemistry may have been useful. Here I discovered, that a number of companies were producing Black and white ink sets that replaced all the cartridges in the printer with shades of grey and black. These seemed to work, but meant that you had to dedicate the printer to black and white output and have a separate machine for colour. Given the investment I had made I didn’t really want to do that. At this point my experimentation was using ink like there was no tomorrow and had already used up a medium sized rain forest in paper. As my deadline got closer I was becoming resigned to the fact that I would probably be spending a great deal of time in a friends darkroom.

Black And WhiteOne contributor to the Yahoo list, Clayton Jones suggested that all you needed to do was use the ‘black only’ option on your printer. Instead of making different shades by mixing all the inks including colour, with this option tones are made by varying the density of the dot pattern of just the black ink. I have to admit I dismissed this option, I had read the list, I knew some of the greatest chemists of the age where addressing this problem, this solution seemed just too simple. My research continued, another rain forest was sacrificed, but I still was not getting anything like the results I wanted.

I tried using RIPs, and various profiles that were optimised for different paper and ink combinations. Whilst they looked good in some situations they looked awful in others. By this stage I was becoming an avid reader of the Yahoo group, whilst I didn’t understand everything that was going on, here were a group of people all having the same issues that I was. A few had tried ‘Black only’ printing and were reporting success. Still not convinced, but running out of options I decided to give it a go. My first print was a revelation, it was very punchy with a really nice wide range of tones, my only reservation was that it was a bit warm in tone, similar to Agfa’s Record Rapid. In different light sources there was no evidence of metamism. I knew I was on the right track, but would have preferred a more neutral tone. I went back to the Clayton Jones web site to consult the master (from zero to hero in two prints). He recommends using Eboni ink from MIS Associates in America, this ink quite neutral in colour.

Five days later a package of inks arrived, within 15 minutes my first print was out of the printer. I have to say it was one of those Eureka moments, excellent prints at the push of a button. A few months later at the opening of the exhibition, I was approached by an elderly gentleman who congratulated me on my printing. ‘When you see prints like these, you know the traditional darkroom will never be replaced’ he said! I smiled and nodded, not having the heart to tell him.

To sum up here are some of the advantages of ‘Black Only’ printing.

  • You can print black and white and colour from the same printer
  • It is easy to do, not requiring any different software, drivers, or profiles.
  • Prints exhibit a wide tonal range. From very deep blacks to glowing highlights.
  • The MIS Ebony ink is archival so prints will have a long shelf life.
  • Its cheap, your only using a single ink

Most people that have seen the prints like them. As I have mentioned they have a wide tonal range. They have a slight grainy quality to them, this lends itself nicely to the fast Kodak Tri-X and Fuji Neopan films that I use. I have experimented with a variety of papers but have settled on Epson Archival Matt. In combination with the MIS Ebony Black ink the prints are very resistant to fading.Method Box.

Method for use with the Epson 2100. Other printers will have similar settings.

The Epson 2100 works well as a ‘black only’ printer because it can print at 2880 dpi. This results in a pleasant dither pattern and fine droplets, giving a great deal of fine detail.

Make any adjustments you want to make in the editing software of your choice. In your print preferences choose the following:
Paper Type: Archieval Matte Paper (works well on a variety of matt papers).
Check ‘Black Only’.
In ‘Mode’ select ‘Custom’ and then ‘Advanced’.
In ‘Print Quality’ select ‘SuperPhoto 2880 dpi’.
Colour Management ‘Gamma 1.8′.

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