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Friday, May 25, 2007

B&W Comes Of Age

There has been a paradigm shift in what photographers can do with black-and-white imagery. Digital tools and capabilities have opened the medium to new possibilities.

Output To Film. You can output to film to print to analog media. For traditional enlargement negatives, work with a service bureau that offers LVT film recorder services (a laser exposes film). They will be able to provide you with any available film type. The resulting film should be every bit as good as the original, if not better, because it has been enhanced prior to remastering.

For digital contact negatives, consider outputting to inkjet on transparent Mylar. It takes extensive testing to match the tonal structure of negatives to a specific medium, which can't be done through calibration and characterization. Start with a test file that provides important information and keep your printing conditions as stable as possible. Once you build a precise Curves compensation correction, you can use it on every image you print the same way. In this process, there's a reversal of traditional practices; instead of making test prints under flexible conditions from a stable original, you make test negatives from a flexible original for stable output conditions. Dan Burkholder's book, Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing, is a good resource that details this process.

Output To Print. You can output directly from file to print with digital printers. Various technological innovations abound—dye-sublimation, electrostatic, bubblejet, inkjet, etc. Inkjet output is currently the state of the art.

Inksets. When it comes to inkjet, it's all about the ink—and the substrate and the driver and the profile. Many manufacturers provide an integrated system, but you can choose to use third-party inksets, substrates, RIPs and profiles.

Choose a printer, and choose an inkset. Third-party inks typically clog, delivering reduced D-max, gamut and longevity. Dedicate a printer to an inkset. Ink swapping is immediately tedious and ultimately expensive.

While there are other manufacturers to consider, some of whom have made dramatic advances recently—Canon, ColorSpan, HP and Roland, to name a few—Epson currently reigns supreme. Epson UltraChrome II, the best available inkset on the planet for color or black-and-white printing, offers superior quality. It delivers a D-max exceeding silver-gelatin prints (greater than 2.4 on glossy and 1.7 on matte) and gamut exceeding all analog color prints. It renders exceptional neutrality and gray balance. It provides significantly reduced gloss differential (the difference in sheen between lightly and heavily inked areas) and bronzing (warm-colored refraction based on angle of view). It's archival, with longevity ratings that can exceed 200 years, depending on substrate. And it's versatile—you can print in color or black-and-white to any media up to 1.5mm thick.

For black-and-white output, many photographers consider monochrome inksets, often referred to as quadtone inksets, even though many use a combination of more than four neutral or near neutral inks. Jon Cone's (www.inkjetmall.com) K7 is the current ascendant monochrome inkset, which is capable of producing exceptional print quality. Printing with neutral inksets allows limited control of hue and eliminates the option of color printing. Neutral inksets were designed to produce exceptional gray balance or consistency of hue throughout the tonal scale. RIPs and profiles have recently offered sophisticated solutions for this when using full color inksets.


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