Black and white printing presents several significant challenges; the ability to produce a neutral color, the ability to maintain that neutral appearance under different light sources (reduced metamerism), the ability to attain graybalance (consistent color throughout the entire tonal scale); the ability to achieve a very dark black (high dmax) without sacrificing shadow detail (low dot gain), and longevity. All of these things are now easily attainable.

Black and white inkjet printing has come of age. In past years, there have been many compelling solutions for making black and white prints with inkjet technology; some have been fraught with problems (third party quadtone ink sets clog easily) and others have been expensive (ColorByte’s ImagePrint RIP). Today, superior quality inkjet printing is both affordable and easily achieved.

Epson has addressed these issues by reformulating their inkset to include not one, not two, but three black inks. You now have a choice of using either Matte Black ink or Photo Black ink with Light Black ink and Light Light Black ink. These inks are used with the other color inks (Cyan, Light Cyan, Magenta, Light Magenta, and Yellow) for a total of eight inks.

Manufacturer’s have reformulated their inksets, adding multiple black inks to highly saturated color inks. To produce the best black and white prints, you want to use all the inks because printing with Black ink only produces a visible dot structure and a lighter black.

Manufacturers have also introduced their own software solutions to separate digital files differently, using more black ink and less color ink. Using more black ink to make a print does several things. It makes it easier to achieve a truly neutral color; it uses more neutral ink and less highly saturated ink. It makes it easier to achieve graybalance (consistent hue throughout the entire tonal scale); graybalance has also been improved by advances in software in both the driver and with improved profiles. It increases the density of the black; dmax ratings for Epson’s UltraChrome II inkset on glossy papers (3.65) now exceeds the dmax of silver gelatin prints (3.2). It reduces metamerism; black ink is the least metameric ink and using a Light Light Black ink makes it possible to carry very subtle highlight detail with gray instead of yellow, the most metameric and fugitive ink. It increases longevity (up to 326 years before visible fading depending on paper type and inkiest); black ink is the least light sensitive so using more of it makes prints last longer.

Epson offers an Advanced B&W Photo feature in their driver software. While you can make a black and white print using either the Epson route or the Photoshop route, for the best graybalance, dmax, and longevity, choose the Epson route and the Advanced B&W Photo feature.

Take these steps.

1    Choose Print. Select Printer Manages Color. Click Print Settings.
2    Under Printer select the printer of your choice.
3    Change Copies & Pages to Print Settings. Select the appropriate or nearest Media Type. Select Advanced B&W Photo under Color. Check Advanced. Choose the highest printer resolution available under Print Quality.
4    Change Print Settings to Color Management and under Tone choose Dark. Optionally, use the color wheel to tint the image.

You can only make a black and white print using this feature. If you send a full color file to the driver and use this printing route, the driver will print the image in black and white.

Using the Advanced B&W Photo option brings up a new window when you proceed to Color Management. It offers several new features, previewing all adjustments to a standard image (a portrait) not the image you are currently printing. Most of these new features make adjustments by varying ink density rather than changing values in the file being printed.

There’s a Tone feature, which will enable you to adjust the brightness of your image with several options:Darkest, Darker, Dark, Normal, Light. Watch this feature carefully. It defaults to Darker. Many prefer Dark.

There are Brightness and Contrast sliders. Both can have adverse side effects. The Brightness slider can reduce dynamic range, graying blacks or whites and losing detail in either highlights or shadows. Contrast can be added to an image with greater precision by adjusting a file with Curves prior to printing.

There are Shadow Tonality and Highlight Tonality sliders. Both work to preserve details in their respective targets and do an admirable job. They’re best used for fine tuning print quality to ensure maximum detail in either end of the tonal scale. Watch them carefully as they have side effects in midtones. For instance, using the Shadow Tonality slider to open up shadows also weakens the density of midtones. Masking the shadows of an image and lightening them in a file before printing does not. Using both techniques in tandem can prevent over inking without sacrificing dmax or midtone density.

There’s a Max Optical Density slider, which reduces the density of black. It renders a weaker black and lightens the entire image.

There’s a Highlight Point Shift check box that, unlike the Highlight Tonality’s slider, offers a one click solution to preserve maximum highlight detail.

There’s a Color Toning setting, which offers the option to add a tint of color (or tone) to an image with default settings – Neutral, Cool, Warm, Sepia. Fine Adjustment is accessed through the color toning wheel, where any hue can be mixed in varying degrees of intensity. This is a uniform toning solution and does not offer the ability to cross tone or selectively tone an image. To do this, tone the image in Photoshop and print it as a color image.

All of these features represent a significant step forward. Epson drivers now offers features that were previously only available in expensive third party software solutions.

Many are searching for an inkjet print that exactly duplicates the characteristics of silver gelatin and alternative process prints such as platinum and cyanotype. Simulation is possible; duplication is impossible. There are subtle differences between metals and pigmented ink and between various substrates. Using glossy and semi-gloss papers, you can produce a black that is as black or blacker than silver gelatin, but while many substrates closely approximate the light reflecting quality of fiber based silver gelatin, I haven’t seen one that duplicates it – yet. The surface characteristics of many alternative processes can be simulated with matte papers, yet inkjet prints can produce significantly blacker blacks and a dramatically wider range of coloration. The bottom line is that inkjet has it’s own unique and very compelling qualities. Rather than thinking of it as a replacement for traditional processes, think of it as an addition to them. You can even use inkjet printers to create digital contact negatives for printing with traditional media. Because of inkjet printing, you have a vastly expanded palette to choose from today.

Now that you know the best way to make black and white inkjet prints, investigate techniques to make the best black and white images. Using digital technology, you can achieve superior tonal control by converting from color to black and white, adjusting the characteristic curve independently from media, and making precise local adjustments.(See the Library Dowloads of my website).

At first, it may seem strange to start with a color file and to print with color ink to make a black and white image. After further consideration, you may find it makes a great deal of sense. Black and white are colors, very specific colors – neutrals. And, very few blacks and whites are absolutely neutral. Which black and which white would you like? You now have a nearly unlimited choice.

Read more in my online resources.

Learn more in my digital printing workshops.


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