Digital Black and White: Part 2
(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)
Printing Black and White Digitally
I fell in love with photography largely because of the beauty of a black-and-white gelatin-silver print. I have now mostly abandoned that darkroom approach in favor of digital printing. However, my darkroom equipment remains, with lots of paper in the freezer. The digital era created a bit of a black and white limbo-land, but some very beautiful solutions are now in hand.
Inevitably, we compare our black and white results to traditional printing methods, whether gelatin-silver or platinum. A digital inkjet-based print is a different animal—one that can chase the look and feel of other mediums and that has its own unique aesthetic potential. The path you go down is of your own choosing; I'm finding it difficult not to pursue many as I try to understand what I want out of a black-and-white print in this digital age.
Black-and-white printing is both necessary and difficult. It is critical to many of us for its sheer beauty and because the language of photography does not always require color. In fact, scenes are often strengthened without color, relying instead on black and white’s inherent increased abstraction.
Digital printers are designed mainly to print color. Many twists and turns in gray balance and tricks to human perception are employed to make the highly capable color printers we now have. But many of those very improvisations have made printing neutral black-and-white prints very challenging. It is also true that most of us would prefer to have only one printer, one that will print our color and black and white equally well. This was very hard to do for a long time.
Various ways have been developed to creatively adapt to black and white challenges: substituting the printer’s color inks with black and grays (even 6 or 7 grays with black), elaborating workarounds to avoid a printer’s default color processing, or adding gray inks to the color set. All worked to some degree.
Black Gray Custom Inksets were a common solution to digital black and white inkjet printing for a long time, but have now been replaced by good options from the printing manufacturers themselves, Epson, HP and Canon. We now have a substantial effort by the printer companies to do great color, long life, plus added gray inks to the 6 color photo sets making for a dramatic versatility and stunning results.
Gray Ink Plus Color
- Epson Ultrachrome K3 (on selected Epson printers)
- Hewlett-Packard: Verio color, plus extra black and grays (on selected HP printers)
- Canon: Lucia inkset of 6 color plus grays
The basic operation for all of these black and white driver controls is to start with what the manufacturer has determined to be neutral black and white printing, then enable us as users to customize the appearance through trying minimize or create color casts. Additional controls are often offered for overall density, and in some drivers shadow and highlight tonality.
As in so many of the these cases, allowing a little time, experimentation, good notes and test sheets are very helpful to the process.
Issues with Black-and-White Printing
- Software: How do you preview and control the printing?
-Paper/ink combinations produce image color variations.
-Viewing conditions and color temperature of light influence neutrality of most black/gray ink combinations.
-Comparison to silver usually results in inkjet not quite coming up to a similarly rich black.
-How long will these inks last on which papers?
-How are they tested, by whom, according to what standards?
-Rag papers hearken back to platinum printing and births an altogether new look.
-Glossy looks more like traditional silver prints.
- Black inks for matte and glossy paper
-New Inks from Epson and others.
-Photo Black for glossy papers. Matte Black formulated for matte papers, extra need for black density.
- Print Drivers/Control
-Black/Gray Ink Printing Software
-RIPs (raster image processors): software to translate your data into the printer’s format.
- ImagePrint RIP, Best Color, etc.
Replacement Drivers: QuadTone RIP
- ImagePrint RIP, Best Color, etc.
ImagePrint is software for printing, featuring wide printer model support and profiles for color and black-and-white prints using color, gray inks, and supporting image tints. It includes an extensive library of downloadable profiles supporting a wide variety of papers and viewing conditions. Very neutral black-and-white prints are possible as well as image tints and split-toning. By supplying direct and beautiful solutions to black and white printing, ImagePrint has made a significant contribution to digital black and white photography.
ImagePrint includes traditional RIP features like scaling, nesting, and crop marks with extensive print correction controls for color, tone, saturation, and resolution are all built-in.
A number of ink-makers and interested third-party developers have offered black-and-white printing solutions as well. The Quadtone RIP appears as another printer and if driven by tone color curves for different printers, papers, inkset for color tone, cool, neutral to warm. They can be mixed in various ways and is extremely versatile but requires experimentation.
Epson Advanced Black and White Print Controls
HP Z3200 Grayscale Print Controls
Quadtone RIP Print Controls
Tutorial with Related Subjects:
- Black and White Conversion from Color