View Full Version : Piezo/Thermal Head Conundrum

7-Mar-2017, 22:32
What would you do if you were in my shoes?

I want to make enlarged digital negatives from 4x5's for platinum toned Kallitypes.
I live 1000 Kilometres (2000km round trip) by road from an Epson technician.
If anything goes wrong with Epson's piezo head, I'm screwed.
Epson's newer printers are problematic with Piezography inks.
Pretty risky getting a refurbished 3880 being so far from a technician.
According to Piezography, their negatives hold more detail than a Kallitype will reveal anyways.
Could an Epson P800 with OEM inks produce negatives more detailed than a Kallitype will reveal?
P800 could do double duty for my wife's colour wildlife photographs.
P800 could do 16x__ panoramic prints.
Then again, if anything goes wrong with the piezo head...
Canon's Prograf 1000 thermal head can be easily worked on or replaced.
The Prograf 1000 produces less fine detail, but will that be evident in a Kallitype?
Prograf 1000 cannot do 16x__ panoramic prints.
Prograf 1000 could do double duty for my wife's colour wildlife photographs.

I'm at the bottom of the learning curve on this digital stuff, so your insights will be most appreciated!


Leszek Vogt
8-Mar-2017, 03:00
Have you considered the work done elsewhere ? I mean vs printing at your place. Perhaps Bob or Sandy will answer your querry. I don't think Whitehorse or Carcross (he he) would have anything that you might need. Good luck.


8-Mar-2017, 08:07
Have you considered the work done elsewhere ? I mean vs printing at your place. Perhaps Bob or Sandy will answer your querry. I don't think Whitehorse or Carcross (he he) would have anything that you might need. Good luck.


Hi Les,

Going north from here might be a great idea for photographing, but Epson technicians would be locally extinct.

Nope...don't want somebody else printing my stuff!!!!

The detail loving large format photographer in me is leaning towards the Epson piezo head and Piezography inks. According to the Piezography website it can produce negatives with detail beyond a platinum prints (or Kallitype I'm guessing) capacity to hold that detail. I like that; the enlarged negative would not be leaving 'artifacts' in the finished work. Makes me n-n-nervous though, being so far away from a technician with refurbished equipment.

I'd consider a P800 with OEM inks if it could also produce enlarged negatives with detail beyond a Kallitypes ability to reveal that detail. This would beg the question...how long (or how many prints) does an Epson printer typically last if maintained properly? If long enough, and the negative quality was that good, I would consider going that way and just chucking the printer when the time comes.

On the other hand, if a Prograf 1000 would get the job done without "too many artifacts" being left behind on the Kallitype I could go that way as well, as long as they weren't too onerous. I was seriously considering polymer photogravure, so obviously I'm willing to let a few things slide detail wise!

Conundrum for sure...

*EDIT* Am I missing other viable printer options for 16x20 digital negatives???

9-Mar-2017, 16:44
Apparently the HP z3200 printer can be used to print digital negatives. I have not done this so I cannot comment on the quality of the results. I have not had time to trace the links for this but a Google search brought up a number of links.

I bought my z3200 in 2009 and just recently in 2017 did a full head set replacement. It was easy to do and not all that expensive. Prior to that I'd had two heads fail. I've also replaced the fan, main drive belt and upper carriage bearing and I've cleaned the print-head service station. The service manual is on line and a number of users have posted valuable YouTube videos or web pages about servicing the z3200. A level of technical adeptness and confidence is needed to service the printer, but the information is out there and parts seem to be readily available.

Best with decisions about which printer to select.

9-Mar-2017, 23:43
Thanks for the tip Bill, but 16x20 is about as big as I want to go.

Does anybody have a website link handy comparing enlarged digital negatives made from piezoelectric and thermal heads?

10-Mar-2017, 10:24
Thanks for the tip Bill, but 16x20 is about as big as I want to go.

Does anybody have a website link handy comparing enlarged digital negatives made from piezoelectric and thermal heads?


In terms of image quality I am fairly certain that you could not find any significant difference between digital negatives made with Epson, HP, or Canon ink jet prints. Also, I don't believe you would see much difference in image quality with kallitype and pt/pd comparing digital negatives made with QTR and the Epson OEM K3 inks to those made with PiezoDN. The reason in both cases is that the limiting factor is more likely to be the paper itself than the negative.

My advice to most people would be go with an Epson printer because the overwhelming majority of people making digital negatives are using Epson printers for making digital negatives, and there would be a lot of support from users available to you on the web. There may be some support from Canon and HP users, but very little compared to Epson. Also, with Epson printers you can use the QuadToneRIP driver, which gives you great control over process in making digital negatives, either with the Epson OEM inks or with PiezoDN.

But I don't live 1000 miles from an Epson service center. In fact, there is one only about 30 minutes from my house, and a nice drive at that up the mountain toward Asheville, North Carolina. On the other hand, it does not seem to me, on balance, that users experience more problem with Epson printers than with Canon or HP printers. Yes, nozzle clogging can be an issue if you live in an area where the RH is very low. I never have nozzle clogs with Epson printers, but I live in a part of the world that is close to ideal for for piezoelectric head of the Epson printers. What are your RH conditions like in BC?


bob carnie
10-Mar-2017, 10:33
Murray - Sandy pretty much says it all, I would stick with Epson for his reasons and as well most important is keeping the RH up so the nossel supply lines do not dry out. I use an Epson 7800 and to date have had no issues.

10-Mar-2017, 12:26
I'm not sure if my reply will be all that helpful, but feel free to ignore it.

You seem to be concerned primarily with detail. That's fair and I recognize it. However, what Sandy says aligns with my (more limited) experience: the print head and/or inks used are just one step in the imaging chain and other steps tend to have a profound impact as well. The issue of paper/surface (and sizing) is a huge one: don't expect to print kallitypes with extremely fine detail on coarse or quasi-fine 'art' papers - you need a pretty flat and smooth paper surface for that. Other issues such as the light source in combination with the quality of your contact printing frame play a role as well. Having said that, in my experiences, alt processes such as Van Dyke, Cyanotype, carbon transfer and yes, even photopolymer are capable of resolving detail that is much finer than any inket printer can achieve. In other words: whatever fancy print head you get your hands on, if your printer prints dots, you will be able to see the individual dots with a loupe in your kallitypes - provided you use a decent printing frame and a fairly smooth paper.

This then is also the reason why, after messing about with digital negatives for several months, I gave up on digital negatives for silver- and iron-based alt processes and carbon transfer. Sure, fiddling with curves allowed me to consistently produce acceptable prints. Tonal transitions were by and large smooth enough not to swap the regular inkset of my 3880 for a Piezo set. With a little tweaking elsewhere in the process, the covering power of the standard inks (as well as Jon Cone's color inkset) was sufficient - although not ideal. But in the end, the pizza wheel and roller marks drove me nuts, and the regular dither patterns in light areas (dark areas in the negative) proved impossible for me to escape entirely - they kept emerging here and there. In the end, I grew tired of looking for workarounds to make my Epson do something it was never intended to do.

I still like my old 3880 (a second-hand purchase) for the prints it makes and its ease of use. It has never given me any trouble other than the trouble I looked for myself by printing on unsupported media (read: transparencies).

As for alt process prints: 4x5" contacts are quite gorgeous. And if they need to be larger, I just accept that I have to haul an 8x10" camera around.

I'm not saying the digital negative route doesn't work. Evidently it does - people like Sandy have shown more perseverance (and likely more financial spending power) to get this to work really well. Neither do I want to discourage you from this approach and yes, I understand that an 8x10" camera is likely not the 'solution' you're looking for. However, consider the following:
* Print head resolution is just one factor and probably the least of your worries if you take the entire workflow into account. The inks play only a limited role in the resolution game; the media you print on is a much more significant factor (in practice, dot gain/bleed is determined more by media than by inks used).
* Resolution is just...resolution. If you print big, you're not going to admire those prints with a loupe all the time anyway. Yeah, crappy argument, but people have lost their minds chasing micrometer resolution. Look in the Lounge for a recent example.
* Be prepared to deal with issues that you hadn't even dreamed of when going the digital negative route. Pizza wheel marks, roller marks, streaking, clogged nozzles, ink behaving weirdly when laid down heavier than anticipated by engineers, insufficient covering power, endlessly mucking about with curves, infuriating behavior of print drivers, and God knows what else you may experience (everything I mentioned I have personally run into at some point down the road). And no, I don't think the Epsons are inherently worse than any other brand. Inket printers are delicate, complex machines that we expect to work reliably and with very little maintenance under a wide range of conditions and in our case, for purposes they weren't designed for while pushing their performance limits.
* I find that inkjet transparencies are surprisingly apt at attracting any dust and debris that happens to be in a 100-mile radius. Inks (that were designed not to dry out!) tend to remain tacky practically for eternity and any dust or debris that hits the image side of your negative will stay there. Since these inks never fully dry out (and if they do, they remain quite soft), the image is damaged if you so much as glance at it. A regular negative is about as delicate as a reinforced concrete wall in comparison with a digital negative.

If there's any chance of doing so, consider visiting someone or doing a workshop on alt process printing with digital negatives to get a feel for how it works in practice. The above sounds like a horror story, but I sure had a lot of fun with digital negatives as well, even though the technical quality of my prints improved by an order of magnitude when I ditched them for silver negatives (particularly with processes requiring a long tonal scale).

And finally, make sure that with your printer, you order the complementary bucket of painkillers for your inevitable headaches, ask if the service contract also covers therapy to deal with anger and frustration and ensure that there's an outlet for strong liquor in your neighborhood.

bob carnie
10-Mar-2017, 12:47
Murray I make silver negatives from digital files up to 18 x 40 inches , not cheap but good for what you need to do.

10-Mar-2017, 15:55
There is a huge divide between merely doing something, and doing something well. In the book on carbon printing that John Lockhart and I recently published, we wrote the following in the introduction to digital negative methodology.

Making a good digital negative is a lot more complicated than just converting a color file to B&W, inverting and printing on a piece of transparency material. In nearly all cases this procedure will result in a negative is unsuitable for carbon because the density range is too low or too high, or the negative is not linearized, or both. Regardless of which methodology you choose for making digital negatives it will ultimately involve a fair amount of experimentation to make high quality negatives that produce the best carbon prints possible.
Excerpt From: Sandy King, John Lockhart. “The Carbon Print.” iBooks.

I can understand Koraks frustrations with making digital negatives as I have experienced them myself at one time or another. But every one of the problems he mentions has a solution, and the solution is usually identified through sound problem solving, not by throwing money at the problem. And in fact, the solutions to all of the problems he mentions have been identified and discussed in the literature. The printer I use for making digital negatives is an Epson 7800, now more than a decade old, that I bought some five or so years ago for $500. I paid for it by selling an Epson 3880 on ebay. With the 7800, and the QTR profiles I use for printing digital negatives, there are no pizza wheel marks, no dithering in the highlights, and no lack of tones in the highlights. There are also two viable methods for avoiding pizza wheel marks with the 3880 for those who prefer to work with this machine, and with either method the 3880 is capable of beautiful and smooth digital negatives.

As for image quality, there are always pros and cons when comparing printing systems. For my thoughts I will refer you to a response I made to this issue for an article on my work published in Issue #15 of Looking Glass magazine. Check it out, some good work here. http://lookingglasszine.com

QUESTION from David Roberts

Technological innovation touches all corners of photography today and you are progressive in your approach to historical processes. What, if any, differences do you find in final carbon transfer prints: a) produced from film capture v. digital sensors, and/or, b) in camera film negatives v. digital negatives drawn from film negatives?

ANSWER by Sandy King

For many years I printed in carbon transfer directly from large format and ultra large format negatives. Large negatives are in some ways ideal for contact printing, if exposed and developed correctly, as the results are sure to convey all of the resolution of the negative, and should be virtually grain free. Unfortunately, every negative requires some exposure or contrast control to produce a perfect print, and the process of proofing is very time consuming with a process like carbon with its many wet/dry steps.

Around 2002 I began scanning my film negatives and outputting digital negatives on overhead transparency film with an Epson photo printer. Although the process was in the beginning quite challenging I could immediately see the potential for a significant improvement in the image quality of my work. The use of digital negatives offers several advantages for carbon printing, and for other alternative printing as well; 1) the original negative or digital image can be enlarged to virtually any size desired for the final print, 2) the density and curve of the digital negative can be tailored to precisely match the exposure scale and the specific curve requirements of the process, and 3) the image file can be altered by adjusting contrast in select areas of the image, and by local dodging and burning, so that in printing every print gets the same exposure time.
Now some 15 years after I first started to experiment with digital negatives it is possible for me to state with absolute certainty that the use of digital controls provides a means to “craft” the look of a final print in a way that would be for all practical purposes impossible with purely analog methods.

Comparing results of my carbon printing with digital negatives produced from film capture and digital capture is a far more complicated issue. This type of comparison must take into consideration both the type and size of film, how it is exposed and developed, and the quality of the scanner used to scan the film. With digital we must take into account the type of sensor, its resolution in megapixels, the dynamic range, and my skill in operating the camera. Unfortunately the complexity of this type of testing is such that the result often looks like comparing apples and oranges. When all is said and done it boils down to personal preference because at this point in our history it is possible to make beautiful carbon prints via digital negatives from both digital and film capture.
Is there a particular look to the print that results from digital capture compared to film capture? I don’t find that to be the case in my own work, but it is important to note that my personal concept of image quality is based on preferences developed through a long history of the use of film with medium and large format cameras.


10-Mar-2017, 23:19
Thank you Sandy, Bob & koraks for chiming in on this one.

Dry air is one problem we don't face on BC's north coast!

Health and Life had me out of the photography game for a while. Another reason was that I had taken my printing about as far as I could, control wise, but found something was missing. This gave me some time to ponder the issue...

I learned to print using Lynn Radeka's masking techniques and even though making the best prints of my life, they fell short. What it boiled down to (completely personal response to my own work) was that my images seemed like windows through which one looked to see a scene beyond. What was missing? I wanted the experience not to be of looking through to something distant, but rather to have the experience of holding an art object in my hands; something which has a weight and presence in and of itself.

This is why polymer photogravure held my interest for a while, but I believe platinum toned Kallitypes will give me what I'm looking for.

Will look further into the Epson OEM inks QTR possibilities to avoid buying an older refurbished printer.

Thanks again!

Len Middleton
21-Mar-2017, 11:44
Given the long life of some of the printers discussed here, what is the order of magnitude of printer lifetime and the appropriate unit of measure (age, number of pages handled, amount of ink. etc.) in determining it.

Looking at a used Epson printer and wondering whether 25,000 pages is a high or low count, or even relevant.

Parts availability of course is no doubt the final determinant...

21-Mar-2017, 18:43
Given the long life of some of the printers discussed here, what is the order of magnitude of printer lifetime and the appropriate unit of measure (age, number of pages handled, amount of ink. etc.) in determining it.

Looking at a used Epson printer and wondering whether 25,000 pages is a high or low count, or even relevant.

Parts availability of course is no doubt the final determinant...


There are several things to look for if purchasing a used Epson printer.

First, make sure you can get a perfect nozzle check. It may be possible to clear a nozzle, but it may not be. With QTR you can re route the nozzles if necessary, but you want to know in advance if you will have to do this, and you might be able to get the printer for less if it is not capable of a clear nozzle check. Sadly, nozzle clogs are often found in low usage Epson printers, especially those that have lived in arid parts of the world.

Second, you can verify the condition of several important things from the printer control panel, including page number count, total usage (ink used and cm of paper printed).

And third, you can also verify the status of some of the key components of the printer, such as the service life of the head, CF and PF motors, service life of the cleaning unit, etc.

A page count of 25,000 is indicative of a printer that was used professionally for a number of years, and you should expect the status of the key components to be at about 40% to 60% of life expectancy. That could be ok if the printer is priced reasonably, and some consumables are included in the total price. I bought an Epson 4880 locally recently for $500, but the $500 included the printer and an entire set of eight (8) 220ml containers, and the ones in the printer were about 50% full. Average price of a 220ml cartridges from B&H is about $80, or value on ebay of about $480 (8X$60).

My preference would normally be to look for a printer owned and used by one person, and not a professional, with low paper count and clear nozzles. And these can be found and best source in my experience is a personal contact, or Craigslist. For example, I bought an Epson 7880 in perfect condition March of last year for $700, with total page count of 400, and all of the important components at 100% of full life service. Found it on Craigslist list, located at a church in Atlanta, so an easy road trip for me. And well worth the effort since the *800/8800 series is one of the most desirable line of Epson printers IMO. No problem with third-party inks, work great with QTR, and great track record with head reliability compared to the *890 and *900 series.


Len Middleton
22-Mar-2017, 03:05

Thank you very much for your insights,


5-Apr-2017, 06:57
Just got back from a trip to Vancouver where I got to check out the Prograf 1000 and the P800. After looking at prints supplied by Canon and Epson, as well as prints made by staff and clients of the two stores, the Epson P800 was the winner. (Didn't purchase one yet).

My wife and I saw the Canon prints first, and our choice was pretty much instantaneous when we saw the Epson prints.

Wasn't much for the overall colour of the B&W prints with both machines that I saw. If my hunch is right about what platinum toned Kallitypes will give me, I foresee using digital enlarged negatives (probably in 8x10 size) to make proof contact prints on Ilford Multigrade FB with my modified Ansco 120 developer which has Glycin added, that gives a print tone I love after selenium toning.

Thanks for all your help!

5-Apr-2017, 07:44
I recently bought a refurbished 3880 from Epson for $699, which is barely more than the cost of a set of replacement ink cartridges. It was as new. I suggest doing that rather than eBay or Craigslist.