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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.

Variety Of Substrates

There's yet another paradigm shift. You can print on any media. Wood, canvas, silk, rice paper, watercolor paper, matte, semi-matte, semi-gloss, glossy, glossy film, transparency, foil, metal—today, the range of substrates available for inkjet printing is extraordinary. There has been a renaissance in paper-making. Arches, Crane's, Epson, Hahnemühle, Ilford, Legion, Moab and Red River all make wonderful papers. Manufacturers' substrates typically produce superior performance, but may not offer the same surface characteristics as exotics. Of course, with all third-party and exotic substrates, you'll need to create or purchase an appropriate ICC profile.

You can use any material as a substrate. As long as the ink will stick to it, you can print on it. Specially formulated inkjet coatings produce the best blacks and widest gamut, and reduce dot gain, offering superior detail and gradation.

InkAID can be used to coat exotic substrates. Take precautions to reduce the impact of printhead strike with uneven surfaces and lint clogging with extremely fibrous surfaces. Be mindful of printer manufacturer specifications for maximum thickness (1.5mm for Epson).

In addition, there are many options, drawn from classical printmaking for enhancing or coating prints after printing—bleaches or stains, paints or pastels, metallic leafs or appliqués, oils or polymers, varnishes or encaustics. You can define your practice within printmaking as narrowly or broadly as you desire.

Aesthetics Of Black-And-White Prints

What do we mean by black-and-white? Silver gelatin, platinum, gravure, cyanotype? Inkjet on a variety of substrates? There have been many black-and-white printing media, each with its own unique characteristics. Ultimately, after noting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each medium, the artist chooses the medium that best enhances his or her unique images and vision.

The methods of making black-and-white images may have changed dramatically, but the aesthetics haven't. Precise rendering of detail, invisible dot structure, smooth gradations, subtle separation of closely matched tones, open shadows, full highlights, bright whites, rich blacks, and the reintroduction of hue (typically, subtle semi-neutrals but occasionally more saturated treatments are called for) globally, in specific ranges of tone, or selectively (let's not forget longevity)—these are the hallmarks of the fine black-and-white print. This won't shift. If there's a paradigm shift in the aesthetics of black-and-white printing, it will be to expand its sensibilities to become even more encompassing of varied media.

Anything under the sun can be achieved using a digital image file. Today, your choice of medium is simply a matter of subjective preference. My recommendation is that you spend some time exploring your options by savoring the many possibilities available to you. Bon appétit!

Author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class, John Paul Caponigro is an internationally acclaimed fine artist. A passionate teacher, he offers workshops in his studio throughout the year. Get a free PDF on advanced color to black-and-white conversion methods at www.adobe.com. Get a free PDF “Epson Black and White in Color” and a free subscription to his e-news Insights at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com.




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