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Thread: Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

  1. #1

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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    One recent posting below asks about the computing power needed to scan & manipulate 4x5 negs. I found the responses to that query pretty informative and have a related question which doesn't seem to be addressed in the archives.

    In large format, I use and wish to print from only black and white film. When I get set up I want to scan and work from my 4x5 negs. I have heard that printing color from digitized images is a more satisfying and (far) less problematic endeavor. Can anyone describe the difficulties involved in printing B&W from digital images and summarize what the current fixes are for those difficulties?

    One friend I have who works in the ink development and production end of the business suggests that controlling the deepest blacks and whitest whites is the problem...but I know no more than that...

    Thanks,

    Robb Reed San Diego

  2. #2

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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    Another potential problem is the tone of the black ink itself. I don't care for the regular Epson black - it has a greenish cast to me that makes me want to dunk the print in selenium toner. (No, you can't do that) Other inks may be more satisfactory, but I haven't tried them.

  3. #3
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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    Pure black, and pure shades of grey, are hard to create. When fine books are printed, printers often resort to 2 or more passes over the same image, using 2 or more distinct shades of grey ink. This is called duotone, tritone, quadtone, etc. Generally, the higher the number of inks, the better the quality. It allows them to use inks which look grey at all levels, instead of one ink alone, which may look too pink in the high values, too green in the low values, etc.



    When printing on a good inkjet printer, one can follow the same approach, and replace the various color ink cartridges with a set of grey inks. The results can be outstanding, and can match or even exceed the quality of chemical prints. The disadvantage of this approach is that you will be using inksets that are not officially supported by the printer manufacturer. There is quite a lot of discussion on the B&W printing forums, where people complain about heads jamming, efforts to flush the old inks, replace the new ones, and vice versa. See DigitalBlackandWhiteThePrint on Yahoo Groups. You also have to dedicate your printer to that inkset, since it's hard if not impossible to change back, once you load the new inks.



    Another approach is to not try to get a perfect black and perfect gray. After all, many b&w papers are toned, and few if any papers are themselves perfectly neutral. You are then free to create your own color scheme, for each image if you like. Using Photoshop for example, you can create an infinite variety of warm and cold tone "looks". You can also mimic the quadtone process, and combine up to 4 print colors in complex ways.



    This approach, which I follow, allows you to use one printer for color and quadtone printing: you don't have to buy a separate printer, just for use with a proprietary inkset. For an example of quadtones in Photoshop, see here.



    Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to do any of this stuff unless your monitor is calibrated, and your paper+ink combination is profiled.

  4. #4

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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    Hi Ken. I don't know if this is of interest to you, but there is another way of working with digitized files to create B&W prints. It involves making an enlarged digital negative to be contact printed on photographic paper. Here's a link to all of the pertinent info:

    http://www.danburkholder.com/Pages/main_pages/page1_main.htm

    I hope this is useful to you, and wish you the best of luck in your pursuit.

  5. #5

    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    David Brooks has published several articles on this in Shutterbug, and George deWolfe has a lot of info, some free on his web site, as well in his Fine Art Digital printing cd, which is not free.

    I use an Epson 2200 with Matte Black ink on matte paper with decent results, not up to AA's standards, but still working.

    Most 'experts' suggest a dedicated b/w printer.

    good luck

  6. #6
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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    In large format, I use and wish to print from only black and white film. When I get set up I want to scan and work from my 4x5 negs. I have heard that printing color from digitized images is a more satisfying and (far) less problematic endeavor.

    In my experience, this just isn't true. It is no harder, and in some ways easier, to make beautiful B&W prints from a scan. It is about equal to the effort to get a good color print. It does take more effort (for me) than conventional B&W darkroom printing, but of course YMMV.

    I print my 4x5 Tri-X photographs with Piezotones on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag using an Epson 7600 printer driven by the StudioPrint RIP. I've found that one of the joys of doing B&W prints digitally is how easy it is to control both the shadows and the highlights. This is true because the ink/paper/printer combination is perfectly linear. There is no toe compressing the shadows like darkroom paper, and no shoulder compressing the highlights like darkroom paper. Well done ink jet prints can carry a huge amount of detail in both shadows and highlights.

    The only things B&W inkjet printing lacks right now is 1) a really dense black, 2) the ability to print on glossy papers, 3) more competitive pricing for inks and papers. Everything else, IMHO, exceeds darkroom prints. Not bad for a technology in its infancy, I think.

    Bruce Watson

  7. #7

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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    I've been making digital prints from 4x5 (and 8x10) negatives for about a year and a half now with what I believe are excellent results. Iprefer digital printing because of the significantly greater control that it allows as compared with tradtional darkroom printing.

    I don't offhand know of any major problems that are peculiar to black and white printing. Obviously you need to learn to use Photoshop (or I suppose some other editing software but Photoshop is pretty much the industry standard). You need a scanner and related software that will allow you to scan in 16 bits (the Epson 3200 is a popular inexpensive flat bed scanner that seems to work very well with 4x5). You should not (IMHO) use color inks for black and white printing, instead dedicate a printer to black and white and load it with MIS or Cone inks (I use MIS, friends use Cone, both can produce excellent results though Cone at the moment is in a transition period and I haven't seen anything done with their new inks). The Epson Ultrachrome inks in in the 2200 printer come closest to letting you get good blacks and whites from color inks as among the ones I've seen but even with them you can see the difference when compared side by side to prints made with Cone or MIS inks. You'll need curves developed for your inks and paper. You can download the MIS curves from their web site at no cost, Cone used to require that you purchase their proprietary software but their new system uses the printer software). Since black and white files are only a third the size of color you can get by with less RAM using black and white and things generally move along faster than they do with color.

    There is an excellent digital black and white printing Yahoo discussion group that can provide you with detailed answers to almost any question you might have. Naturally having said that I now can't find the URL but you should be able to find it with a Google search. It's called something like "the digital black and white print."
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  8. #8

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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    Sorry, I hadn't noticed that Ken already provided a site to the Yahoo discussion group that I mentioned.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  9. #9

    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    I've found that one of the joys of doing B&W prints digitally is how easy it is to control both the shadows and the highlights



    This is one of the most misleading statements I always hear from people making digital prints. If I understand correctly when making digital prints, the user has to calibrate the printer and the monitor to obtain reproducible results, which takes time and effort, yet when you ask them how much time they spent calibrating their paper most of the time this was never done and the usual response is "well I use the zone system."



    The zone system, good as it is, is only an intermediate step in the reproduction process. One has to test the paper response and adjust the negative to the paper.



    If you have compressed highlights or shadows, that is not because the process is less capable or harder, is only because the operator lacks the correct procedure. If those who have gone the digital route had taken as much care and effort in calibrating their materials as they do with digital output, perhaps they would still be using the darkroom.

  10. #10
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    Black & White printing from scanned 4x5 negs

    Jorge -

    No doubt, the more calibrated your analog process, the better - just as with digital.

    On the other hand, I think most reasonable and informed people would agree that the controls available in Photoshop offer an almost unlimited set of controls to modify contrast and brightness. The same can be said for its ability to control color balance, saturation, hue, etc.

    This isn't about whether such controls are impossible with analog means. Rather, it's a statement that in the digital world, such controls are comparatively effortless, virtually instantaneous, and entirely repeatable.

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