Monday, April 28, 2008
Hi-Tech Studio: Professional Black-And-White Printers
Amid the many options for black-and-white printers, there are a few models that pick up where film left off, providing superior black-and-white prints reminiscent of the days in the darkroom
Black-and-white printing has been in a state of flux from the days of film to the early stages of digital inkjet printing. The problem with film was that color photos were the most difficult to reproduce in the darkroom due to the difficult silver-halide workflow. Today the paradigm has shifted, making black-and-white printing one of the most difficult areas to master in a now digital world.
As the standards of black-and-white have always been demanding, today's inkjet-printer technology doesn't rear a so-called “digital print” any longer. Moreover, with the technology in today's high-end models, a faithful black-and-white replication is becoming easier and more efficient. With superior inks that last centuries, and printheads that make the minutest of details in the midtones and shadows, black-and-white prints are becoming more than just the digital print of a few years ago.
The big three of professional inkjet printer manufacturers—Canon, Epson and HP—all have their proprietary technology for printing black-and-whites. It could be the ink, the paper or the advanced algorithms present in the drivers that make these black-and-white prints better than ever, but it usually takes a combination of these elements.
The amount of ink printed onto a substrate is one of the most integral parts in a modern black-and-white photograph. Ink sets have changed how monochrome printing has been carried out, with more D-max (blacks) and a variety of grays being used, separate from other colors used in the print. The variety of blacks and grays, coupled with the manufacturers' technology, produce a wider color gamut, better density to create more accurate hues and better transitions between tones.
Epson incorporates its Advanced Black-and-White mode and the K3 UltraChrome ink set to achieve advanced black-and-white prints. The Advanced Black-and-White technology works to replicate darkroom black-and-white prints from grayscale or monochrome images.
Dan Steinhardt, marketing manager for Epson, comments on the K3 UltraChrome inkjet printers, “These printers contain three levels of black—Photo Black, Light Black and Light Light Black. Epson also was the first to develop a separate black ink for matte paper, which we call MK. Other inkjet printer manufacturers have followed this same path as a way to increase D-max on their matte-based papers, but Epson has gone a step further to put out incredible black-and-white as well as color photography. Our printers contain an Advanced Black-and-White mode in the printer driver, which uses a powerful algorithm that yields incredible black-and-white output. Photographers can simply print a color file using the Advanced Black-and-White mode to make a monochrome conversion, or do their own black-and-white conversions manually and still print through the Advanced Black-and-White mode.”
Canon uses the LUCIA ink system in its PIXMA Pro series of professional inkjets. The LUCIA ink system uses three levels for monochrome prints: Gray, Photo Black and Matte Black. This system, like the Epson inks mentioned, prints your black-and-whites without using other colors that create bad tonal gradations, and without metamerism (color shifting due to different lighting conditions).
Justin Joseph of the consumer imaging group at Canon describes the PIXMA inkjet line as “utilizing the pigment-based LUCIA ink system with Photo Black, Matte Black and Gray tanks. The availability of gray ink in addition to two blacks results in better grayscale reproduction. Black-and-white images are rendered with smooth, natural gradations, excellent tonal detail and reduced graininess. Also, Photo Black and Matte Black are loaded at all times, and there's automatic switching between the two, so you don't have to swap out one ink tank for another.”
HP's Designjet series of professional inkjet printers has an array of technology to increase the optimal output of black-and-white photos. HP Designjets use their Vivera inks, including the Quad-Black ink set that provides neutral grays and deeper blacks for more control.