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Thread: Digital Black and White Printing Options

  1. #1
    Dave Karp
    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Los Angeles, CA

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    Hi everyone,

    This issue has been covered in bits and pieces in a variety of posts. I have reviewed the archives, but I still have a number of questions. Hopefully, I can benefit from the collective wisdom of this group.

    Since the birth of my two young children, ages 3 1/2 and 19 months, I have not had nearly the time I used to have for darkroom work. My old darkroom is once again a bathroom (my kidsí), so I have been sharing a darkroom outside of my home. This is great, but the fact is that my family commitments make it difficult to devote the necessary time to producing any quality work in the darkroom. Lately, I have had less and less time for darkroom work. When the kids are older, or if I am lucky enough to someday have a house large enough to have a darkroom (so I can print late at night when the rest of my family is sleeping), I intend to spend more time in the darkroom again.

    However, I truly miss creating images. Making negatives and developing them is not satisfying enough and despite fewer opportunities to make photos, the backlog is growing. (It is far easier to develop the negatives than it is to print them.) I have a fairly powerful Windows based computer and room for a printer (or two). So with all that, I am considering an entry into the world of digital inkjet black and white printing. I have some experience in this, but not too much.

    I have used an Epson 2200 with the Epson inks, and have seen samples of the old Piezography. I have never seen samples of prints made with inks from Lyson, MIS, Luminos or others. The Epson prints are good, but do not give me the satisfaction of traditional prints. I have not figured out how to beat the metamerisism, and don't really like the greenish color cast.

    Here are my questions.

    1. Has anyone used the Canon i9100 for black and white? I have seen samples of color photos made with this printer, and have been impressed. The ability to replace the print head without sending the printer in for service seems to be a really good design element. Although I have sent out a few e-mails to third party ink manufacturers, none have yet responded regarding their support for this printer. (Perhaps this means that they donít have products for the i9100 - who knows?)

    2. Of the third party ink manufacturers, what are your experiences? I heard of clogging problems with Piezography, and have read some threads somewhere about fading problems with one of the Lyson inksets. My preference is for neutral or selenium-like tone in my black and white prints.

    3. What papers do you use? It seems that the paper selected has a big impact on print quality when using the third party inks. Does anyone have any source that compiles the papers that go with the various inksets?

    4. Does anyone think that dedicating a printer to black and white is a mistake? Conversely, do you think that one can obtain great results from a printer's standard inks and creating duotones, tritons or quadtones in Photoshop?

    5. Do any of you have any suggestions for books on the subject of printing black and white on an inkjet printer? I know that Barry Thornton wrote and self-published one, but it has been unavailable since his untimely passing.

    6. Have any of you tried the same path to find a creative outlet when your family obligations made it very difficult to venture into the darkroom?

    By the way, although my wife has a new Nikon D70, my intent is to scan 4x5 b&w negatives rather than go straight digital. For now, my scanner situation is set.

    I hope this is not too much to ask in one thread.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    San Francisco, CA

    Digital Black and White Printing Options


    I am still new at it myself, but I am getting some nice prints from my Epson printer and 3rd party pigment based monochrome inks. I still can't help looking at traditional fibre based and inkjet prints side-by-side. I like the traditional prints better. There is a richness to the traditional print that I have not been able to achieve with an inkjet print. Having said that I must say that I have some inkjet prints that I really like as well. Both the detail and tonality can be beautiful.

    In your situation and in mine (where darkroom time is restricted as well) a good inkjet print can be quite satisfying. I think you should keep your 2200 and get a good quadtone pigment inkset. I use an older Epson 1270 with MIS Ultratone2 inks. They produce very neutral tones using Roy Harrington's Quadtone RIP. This RIP is easy to use and cheap since its shareware. It is currently a Mac only event but Roy is working on a Windows version as we speak. I do sometimes have minor clogging issues with my printer but nothing that a nozzle cleaning and a bit of time has failed to take care of. On the paper side of things I tend to proof with Epson Enhanced Matte and make my final prints on Arches Infinity Smooth or Legion Photo Matte. I tend to print only black and white on my printer. The MIS UT2 inkset is compatable with the Epson color inkset so in the odd occasion that I want to print in color I just switch out the inks and run a cleaning cycle, no special cleaning carts needed.

    I hope my response has been of some help.

    Good luck.

  3. #3

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    I'm making digital monochrome prints on an Epson 9600, using Ultrachrome inks and Epson Premium Luster paper. I've seen prints made on a Epson 4000 on Epson Ultrasmooth and was impressed - I just haven't gone that route.

    If you're getting a greenish cast, I'd suggest that rather than aiming for a perfectly neutral monochrome print (which will seem pretty lifeless anyway), you instead convert your images to RGB, then apply curves to tone them. This allows you to do things like have the shadows neutral, the midtones warm, and the highlights cool, etc. I find the prints have much more life this way.
    This image is neutral throughout:

    and this one has neutral shadows, warm midtones, neutral highlights

    It turns out the human eye is really great at detecting subtle color shifts away from a mostly perfectly neutral print, but not nearly as good at detecting slightly warmer or cooler tonality in, say, a print which is all warm, or a print which has a deliberate toning pattern.

    Several examples of this along with a description of how to use curves to tone images and downloadable curves can be found at

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Massachusetts USA

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    I would be interested to know if any of the modern chemical paper/developer combinations yield truly black and white images. (I haven't used any for years, so please pardon my ignorance).

    I recall that one of the reasons to tone in Selenium (back in the days of Varigam) was to remove the greenish cast. Another was, of course, to achieve greater archival permanence.

    Personally, I dislike black and white: It just looks cold and sterile to me, so I use my Epson 2200 standard inkset to create slightly warm-toned images. Thus, the issue never arises. Having a profile specifically for the printer/ink combination, I can get very very close to whatever shade I want, which is actually more exciting than being able to reach sterile optical neutrality.

  5. #5
    Dave Karp
    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    Los Angeles, CA

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    Wow, thanks for the quick replies.

    Karl: Thanks for the info on the MIS UT2 and Harrington's RIP. I will look into these.

    Paul: Great examples. I look forward to reading your article. It looks very interesting.

    Ken: I think that Kodak Polymax Fine Art developed in Dektol comes very close to to neutral, or perhaps on the cold side of neutral. That is the only combination I know of that exhibits this characteristic. (I believe that Kodak's consultation with John Sexton had something to do with that.) Personally, I do not like much in the way of warm tone. Nothing wrong with it, its just not my thing. I have gravitated toward air dried glossy fiber prints using Oriental VCFB, Ilford MGIV FB (and Arista VCFB), and Kodak Polymax Fine Art papers developed in Dektol, Platinum II, or other similar developers, and toned in dilute Kodak Rapid Selenium toner (1:20 for Oriental and Kodak, 1:10 for Ilford). Yes, the selenium toner does remove the greenish cast from an untoned print. Imagine my reaction to the green digital prints created on my friend's 2200. All those years toning away that green tinge, and now its back!

    FWIW, I don't have my own inkjet printer yet, hence my question about the Canon i9100.

    Please keep the information coming. I look forward to reading what others have to say on the multitude of issues raised in the post. Thanks very much.

  6. #6

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    If you don't mind being limited to 8x10, just pick up an HP 7960. Fantastic B&W out of the box, and pretty darned good color too.

    I've spent countless hours playing with various quadtone/hextone inks and adjustment curves on my three Epson printers, and the B&W from the HP beats everything I've managed to do, all with no fuss whatsoever.

    The HP is not fast (but then neither are any of my Epsons), is more expensive to run if you stick to stock inks (although the price of quadtone inks for the Epsons gets pretty close to the cost for HP ink), and really needs the good HP paper to truly shine. In return, you get a printer that cranks out neutral B&W prints with no fuss, and with which you can create toned prints with ease.

  7. #7

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    The Canon printers will limit you to using dye inks (either the OEM or Lyson). The OEM dyes are not very stable and will fade more quickly than pigment inks and the Lyson quad dyes exhibit severe metamerism. You could go with a 2200, OEM UC inks, and Roy Harrington's QuadToneRIP or if you will be doing B&W exclusively use one of the MIS inksets (UT or UT7). The MIS UT class inks can also be used in an Epson 1280 either with a RIP or with Paul Roark's RGB curve workflow.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Nov 1999
    San Clemente, California

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    "I would be interested to know if any of the modern chemical paper/developer combinations yield truly black and white images."

    In addition to the Polymax FA/Dektol that Dave Karp mentioned (or Polymax FA in Polymax T developer, by the way), another combination that's absolutely neutral without selenium toning is Bergger graded NB in Neutol Plus. I happen to like prints that are neither warm nor cold, and prefer not to bother toning, so the Bergger/Neutol Plus pairing is now standard here.

  9. #9
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    I'm partial to the (warmer) Forte Polywarmtone Plus FB museum weight in Neutol WA - lets just keep our fingers crossed Agfa doesn't give up on the chemicals now...

    BTW - Paul, I tried out some of your curves - really like a couple of them (some are pretty wild!) - printing throught he colour side of Imageprint (which is much better linearized than the Epson driver) I'm getting some really nice looking toined prints. Also, if you apply the curve in an adjustment layer you can vary the amount of the toning effect from 0-100% - so you can just give a hint of say the warmer tone.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  10. #10

    Digital Black and White Printing Options

    Hi David,

    I can share with you my experience with Lyson inks, that I have been using for four years now. My setup is an Epson 1280 with Lyson Quad Black Neutral inks permanently installed.

    Good news: (1) I never had any clogging problem, even though I did not print for months in a row. (2) The inks are very easy to use and the software you can download from their site helps you come up to speed very fast. (3) I discovered that the combination of Lyson Quad Black and Pictorico Hi-Gloss White film delivers truly outstanding black and white pictures.

    Bad news: (1) I was unable to use any other glossy or semi-gloss paper without having serious metamerism problems. I experimented with all Epson, Canon, and Tetenal papers. (2) Metamerism is less of a problem with matt papers. Epson matte archival works ok but the pictures look rather flat in terms of range of greys. (3) There is no customer service from Lyson. You send them mail and they just plainly ignore you. They never replied to any mail I sent them and there has been a thread sometime ago with others frustrated about this. Maybe this has changed in the past year.

    Bottom line: because you really do not want to print B&W with one hue only but want to be able to provide some (very) subtle toning, I am leaning toward buying an ink-jet printer (say an Epson 2200), get a good RIP, and print B&W with colors. Printing with an ink-jet with color inks by using the black ink only is instead not an option for me: personal experience (and opinion) of course.

    Good luck!


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