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Monday, January 7, 2008

Aesthetics Of Black And White

Digital technology and equipment give you more control and the ability to make the finest black-and-white images ever, but there's an art to coaxing the best print from your image files

The big three of printing, Canon, Epson and HP, each offers streamlined and optimized printing solutions from ink to printer to paper. You can choose to explore third-party inksets from quality vendors such as Media Street and Pantone for extended options (or budgetary restraints), but consistent swapping of inks can be tedious, and it can gum up the works, so professionals suggest selecting one inkset and sticking with it.

Monotone prints are made by using varying levels of black. But modern inks, and papers, add subtle hues that question the relevance of the term “black-and-white.” Even when low levels of color pigment are added, there's still a very high impact from disproportionate color gamut, which can lead to color shift under different lighting conditions, aka metamerism.

High-end inkjet systems, principally available as dye- or pigment-based, now include a wider selection of densities of blacks and grays for more accurate hues and smoother transitions between tones. HP's Quad-Black inkset, for instance, uses up to four neutral levels of black and gray to deliver black-and-white prints that virtually eliminate metamerism.

Dye-based inks dissolve colorants and additives in a liquid base, providing intensity at the expense of longevity. Pigment-based inks, on the other hand, have historically been the choice of professionals and large-format printers for their extended archival properties. With life spans now measuring in the centuries for both formats, either ink is now suitable for pro needs.

“New inksets always bring the greatest changes,” Caponigro notes. “Ink largely determines gamut (saturation), D-max (blacks), gray balance, metamerism and longevity. Printers are usually designed to take one inkset, so a new inkset usually brings with it all the latest hardware innovations as well.”

Many modern papers are cross-compatible with both ink types, and with color or black-and-white, too. Factoring in quality paper manufacturers like Hahnemühle, Harman, Moab and Red River, there may never be one perfect paper for every situation, but there's a perfect paper for each situation.

Surface type provides a subtle, but visceral impact. Glossy surfaces offer a slick sheen over a deep saturation of tone, contrast and D-Max. Matte papers are more muted in their presentation, but have a classic appeal reminiscent of fine-art prints. Other textures add the qualities that their names imply—canvas, watercolor, satin, luster and more.

Inkjet papers are typically comprised of sandwiched layers of ink-absorbing materials, usually over a resin-coated base. The thicker the paper, the heavier the weight, measured in grams per square meter (gsm), a good reference of a paper's durability. Basic photo papers fall in the 220 to 285 gsm range, with fine-art papers running the gamut between 300 to 400 gsm. Printers have limits on the thickness that they can load, though, so check specs before you go crazy.

The whites and the blacks of a paper, especially in black-and-white printing, matter just as much as the highlights and shadows of your initial image. A new innovation from Epson, Exhibition Fiber Paper, for example, exceeds the tonal range of chemical papers with a measured D-Max of 2.5, making it one of the blackest papers ever produced.

The whiter a paper is going to be, the better. “Brightness” and “whiteness” are terms used interchangeably. This is somewhat misleading as brightness is only a measurement of a narrow band of color, but ISO brightness ratings generally are used to denote the whiteness of a paper, with photo papers principally falling in an ISO range around the 90s. The higher the number, the brighter the paper.


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