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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.

Drivers And RIPs

While there's technically a difference between a driver and a true RIP (RIPs can precisely rasterize vector-based graphics such as text), for the photographer dealing with bitmapped images, there isn't—the terms are often used interchangeably. Both determine dot structure, ink layout and print speed, and can handle the all-important conversion from RGB to CMYK on the fly.

Manufacturers' drivers, such as Epson's, have become increasingly sophisticated, handling even the most difficult printing challenges, such as delivering exceptional neutrality and gray balance. For many photographers, there's currently no need to look further; some still choose to.

Among the most popular third-party RIPs are the affordable Harrington RIP and the sophisticated ColorBurst and ImagePrint RIPs, which can be used for many different manufacturers' printers and many different printer models. Many users see them as black-and-white solutions. They were necessary for sophisticated black-and-white printing until Epson's recent K3 inkset, premium profiles and improved driver, which offers an Advanced Black-and-White mode.

There are other reasons to consider third-party RIPs. ColorByte's ImagePrint offers ink-limit control, such as a Shadow slider to prevent overinking for both black-and-white and color, provides free access to high-quality viewing, light temperature-specific profiles for third-party media, handles vector-based graphics, and easily coordinates complex print queues and page imposition for large jobs. If these kinds of controls are useful to you, you'd do well to consider this investment.


One of the relatively recent advances in printing technology has been the dramatic improvement of printing profiles. Not all manufacturers or profile-making service providers have caught up, but the field is evolving rapidly. There have been a few watershed moments in the past few years.

John Panazzo created ImagePrint, a replacement RIP for many printer manufacturers and models that delivers neutrality and gray balance while separating black-and-white files by reducing the use of yellow ink and thereby reducing metamerism and increasing longevity. It offers sophisticated ink-limit controls that preserve subtle shadow detail and reduce gloss differential, provides a useful Saturation rendering intent, and makes accessible free-viewing, light-temperature-specific profiles for substrates made by most major manufacturers.

Bill Atkinson developed extremely sophisticated new software and routines for building profiles that delivered exceptional neutrality and gray balance using the Epson driver for Ultra-Chrome printers (4000, 7600, 9600), made accessible in the Professional Graphics section of www.epson.com.

Epson took note and began building premium-level profiles for its professional line of printers and linearized those printers before they left the factory. Profile advances have been moving so quickly that new and improved profiles were posted on www.epson.com for the 2400 models, shortly after the models shipped. (Check manufacturer Websites frequently for their most recent offerings.) This created a paradigm shift specific to digital printing. The manufacturers' profiles are so good that you may not need to create custom profiles for your individual printer if you're using Epson printers and media. Hopefully, other manufacturers will follow suit.

If you do, remember, profiles are inkset-, substrate- and RIP-specific (and to some extent, ink lot- and limit-specific). Change any one factor and you need another profile, which may mean you need to create one (with tools like GretagMacbeth's Eye-One Pro) or have one created for you (through services like www.digitaldog.net).


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