Friday, April 10, 2009
Black & White
From capture to final output, there are many pieces to the puzzle for producing the ultimate black-and-white images
Large-format inkjet printers (13x19 inches and up) from the likes of Canon, Epson and HP can produce excellent black-and-white prints. Their drivers include black-and-white settings, and their paper and inks handle black-and-white well. Inks determine saturation (gamut), the level of blacks (Dmax), gray balance, color shift under ambient lighting conditions (metamerism) and print longevity, which, thanks to in-credible advancements, is measured in centuries instead of decades. High-end systems, available with dye- or pigment-based ink sets, include varying densities of blacks and grays for better hues and smoother tonal transitions.
Canon printers use their 10-color Lucia pigment ink set (including Gray, Black and Matte Black), Epson printers use their 10-color UltraChrome K3 pigment inks (including Photo Black, Light Black and Light Light Black), and HP printers use their Vivera pigment inks (including Photo Black, Matte Black and Light Gray). You also can use third-party black-and-white inks and fine-art papers, which offered the best way to achieve good black-and-white inkjet prints in the early days of digital imaging.
Some good sources are Adorama, Forte, Harman, Ilford, inkfarm.com, Inkjet Mall, Lyson, MediaStreet, Moab by Legion, Museo (Crane), Pantone and Tetenal. If you do use third-party inks, it’s a good idea to have a printer dedicated to black-and-white printing with those inks because switching back and forth between color and black-and-white inks can waste a lot of ink, and it takes valuable time to clean the system between ink changes with a single printer.
Dye-based inks provide more intense colors but a shorter lifespan, while the longer life expectancy of pigment-based inks has made them the choice of professionals and large-format printers. Both, though, are a great choice. Inkjet papers are made of layers of ink-absorbing materials on resin-coated bases. What this means is that the heavier the weight of the paper, the thicker and hence more durable the paper will be (measured in gsm). Fine-art, quality papers generally run be-tween 300 and 400 gsm.
Most papers generally are compatible with both ink types and both black-and-white and color. Types include many varying surfaces and textures that are as unique as they are extensive. Dmax levels and the brightness of the paper can have just as much impact on a final print as image manipulation itself, so pay attention to these factors when experimenting with surface types like glossy, matte, canvas, watercolor and others. Watch for whitening agents that can cause premature print aging.
Whatever inks or papers you use, be sure to set the printer driver for them. If the driver doesn’t include a third-party paper, start with the paper manufacturer’s recommendation. Lacking that, use the driver setting from the listed paper closest in type to the one you’re using. You can let your image-editing software do your color management (even black-and-white prints must be color-managed for best results) or let the printer driver do it. Don’t have both attempt to do it. You might try making a print with Photoshop doing the color-managing and then one with the printer doing it, and see which you prefer.
It’s not all that difficult to produce great black-and-white prints, but it does require a feel for the medium, a little experimentation and either a good pro inkjet printer or a good pro lab. Black-and-white can do a lot for your business and portfolio, and many consider the effort worthwhile.
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