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
Ben Wolf, creative segment man-ager for HP Designjet says, “On our pro-level units, particularly the Z3100, we engineered four black inks for true neutral black-and-white printing: light gray, gray and a matte or photo black. This combination eliminates metamerism in black-and-white images. The inclusion of both matte and photo blacks in the printer allows photographers to switch between matte and gloss papers without having to change ink sets or purge ink lines. And the HP Gloss Enhancer eliminates bronzing in black-and-white as well as color images.”
Early inkjet printers relied on their color ink tanks to replicate black-and-white photos, which led to increases in metamerism and color shifts. All of the big three companies have taken this into account and offer more grays and blacks that can be switched on when you want to make a black-and-white print, or choose between matte papers and other substrates.
Epson's Stylus Pro 4880 is a 17-inch wide-format printer that uses the UltraChrome K3 ink set, and a three-level black technology that produces neutral and toned black-and-white prints with higher density levels. The Stylus Pro 4880 has two user-changeable black ink modes that can be used when you want to make a black-and-white print. The first is the Photo Black mode for which you can use any sort of media. Then there's the Matte Black mode that can be used to print black-and-whites on Velvet Fine Art, Enhanced Matte or other substrates, while providing increased black optical density for media that are more difficult to print on.
Steinhardt says, “I think the important thing, from a technical standpoint, is more great black-and-white output. You have to think of the entire system: how the file is managed to the printer, how it lays down the ink, the type of ink, and the media or the paper. But it wasn't until the UltraChrome ink set, that black-and-white was truly acceptable, and that had to do with the three levels of black, combined with a screening algorithm, combined with dot placement.”
Canon has the PIXMA Pro9500, which handles fine-art papers up to 13x19 and utilizes the LUCIA ink system for prints. An automatic switch allows you to choose between Photo and Matte Black modes, so you can utilize the grays and blacks only.
“The availability of a pigment Gray ink in addition to two pigment blacks (Photo Black and Matte Black), can result in far superior grayscale reproduction,” Joseph says. “Black-and-white images are rendered with smooth, natural gradations, excellent tonal detail and reduced graininess.”
The HP Designjet Z3100 uses the Vivera ink set, which delivers gray neutrality and the ability to automatically shift between matte and glossy papers without having to swap out black cartridges to make different prints. Also, for more control over output, the Z3100 has an integrated X-Rite i1 spectrophotometer that allows you to profile your printer and create specific ICC profiles for your print jobs.
“Before HP's inclusion of gray inks in inkjet printers in 2004 (the Photosmart 7960), black-and-white prints were printed with predominantly color inks in order to maximize apparent resolution and image quality,” Wolf says. “The use of these color inks frequently resulted in metameric prints; they would show a color shift under different lighting conditions. A printer like the Z3100 uses black and gray inks for black-and-white images, so photographers can print an image with a rich, deep black, and smooth transitions through to white. Their artistic intent is preserved.”
It's the inks, the paper, the printer's driver and the proprietary technology that make a great black-and-white print. The right ICC profiles, color calibration of monitors and printers alike, and a bevy of other factors also play an integral role in producing the best black-and-white prints. But with the advanced black-and-white modes from each of these companies, it's becoming less about acceptable black-and-whites, and more about the level to which you can take your monochrome images.
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