Digital In Black And White
The Status Of Ink Jet B&W Printing In 2005 Page 2

I realize that this report probably begs more questions than it answers. I am, of course, available to answer questions from readers via e-mail. But in my research I did find one website that I can recommend that has a substantial membership of active black and white printers, where I'm sure every one of the options I have identified is explored. It is: I spent a fair amount of time in this forum and met a number of knowledgeable, congenial people who were most generous with their time and who shared what they know about black and white digital printing from their personal experience.

It is only logical that if you want to print a black and white image you would use black ink to do it. In the old pre-digital days printing a black and white negative on color paper was an exercise in futility, and the best you could obtain after much fiddling with filters was a decent sepia print.

Considerations And Recommendations
First of all, to recap, printing color photographs with an ink jet printer is now well supported by several companies, by several imaging applications including Adobe Photoshop, by a number of companies providing color management tools and software, and by your operating system. Color inks do not, however, provide a very satisfactory black and white printing experience and results for many photographers, especially those who have had experience printing black and white in a wet darkroom. Converting a color ink jet printer to dedicated use by installing black inks resolves the shortcoming of trying to make black and white prints with color inks. However, none of the "color" standard color management tools and software utilities are directly applicable to printing with black inks.

There is one simple solution where black inks function in color printers effectively without any special intervention. But, for most printers converting it to black and white, installing a black ink set requires adding some kind of software control above and beyond the printer's native driver.

To acquire the same level of custom, precision calibration and profiling that is easily achieved printing color demands a considerable investment in a software RIP and some extra skill in using that sophisticated utility effectively, an investment photographers and printers who are professional and a few well-healed enthusiasts I am sure are willing to meet. Most of the easy intermediate solutions, however, are proprietary and, besides forcing you to make a substantial investment in software, lock you into using particular inks, which can add significantly to the cost per print.

As black and white digital ink jet printing becomes more popular with enthusiasts, as I am sure it will, another possibility may follow an already established path, that of making the use of black inks as easy and effective as using color inks. This established path is the providing of additional profiles for the use of popular and even art papers that will linearize a particular model printer for a combination of a black ink set and a specific paper. If an ICC compliant printer profile can be produced that includes that linearization, a user could print gray scale files converted to RGB using the same workflow for color managed color printing without any special software. This would yield results comparable to those now requiring expensive proprietary software. As I write this it is just a dream, a hope, but one that I believe is quite possible.

In the meantime, unlike my experience three years ago, I can recommend getting into digital black and white printing at whatever level you can afford, and be reasonably well assured you will obtain print results that are very satisfying, even to a very experienced wet black and white darkroom worker like myself.

With analog, wet darkroom capabilities in the past, creating extreme effects like this exaggerated high-key portrait were exceedingly difficult to carry off. Now, with a digital ink jet printer and black ink I found it quite easy to reproduce all of the extremely subtle tonal distinctions in this face made up with clown white face paint.

Where To Find The B&W Ink Jet Printing Options
Although some of you reading Shutterbug may have an Epson Stylus Photo 2000P and would like to get more use out of it by converting it to a dedicated black and white printer, I am sure many more may want to explore other possibilities. All of these possibilities are tied to one degree or another to the ink choices for black and white ink jet printing. So here
are the websites you may want to visit and explore:

Independent Software B&W Printing Solutions
Studio Print or
Quad Tone

Some Paper Resources
Moab Paper

Lyson was the first company offering Quad Black inks for ink jet printers I became aware of when I first began to explore the options available for black and white ink jet printing at least four years ago. It is also the first company that offered a black and white printing solution that allowed the use of standard printer drivers and profiles with the ability to adjust the color tone of a black and white ink jet print with their Small Gamut inks. In addition, it is also the only ink company I have discovered which offers a dye-ink black and white option with support for desktop printer models other than Epson's. And, Lyson is now offering an integrated black and white system supporting the Epson Stylus Photo 2200, as well as the Epson Stylus Pro 7600/9600 printers, including ink, software, and paper, called the Lyson Daylight Darkroom, that also includes a bulk ink feed system option for the 2200 printer.

Piezography is a proprietary black and white ink jet printing solution involving both black ink selections including PiezoTone inks, which support adjustable hue variations, and a Photoshop plug-in print control and driver software solution. Piezography's newest offering is called iQuads, and is a further refinement of their approach that involves calibrating and profiling of an individual user's printer to provide their proprietary profile custom made for each individual.

When I tested the various options that were available three years ago, I included a trial of the Piezography system. The software worked very effectively, but I encountered considerable problems with the ink cartridges resulting in head clogging problems. At that time ink cartridge problems and unreliability was endemic with all of the suppliers. In addition, the printed maximum image density was somewhat less than optimal. In the three years that have intervened ink cartridge difficulties have been reduced significantly in the industry, and continuing research and development of the inks now supports a reproduced image density as high as the paper used will support. My only reservation remaining about Piezography is that it is a relatively costly option in terms of both the initial software investment and the price of the inks that support the system.

Media Street is an ink company that has been of most interest because of their Niagara II Continuous Ink Flow System that is available for many ink jet printer models. This setup provides the ability to use bulk inks at considerable savings over the use of separate ink cartridges. Although Media Street has until now only a selection of color inks sold under their brand name, at the time of this writing news was that Media Street would soon have a line of black inks to support black and white printing.

MIS Associates has long been established as a source of ink jet inks, for both color and black and white printing. In addition, MIS Associates make their own CFS continuous flow bulk ink systems that support a wide range of printer models. Besides the Easy UltraTone ink set for the Epson C-series printers, and the UT-FS ink I used to test the 1270/2000P family of printers, other black and white ink choices include UltraTone2, Variable-Tone carbon pigment ink sets supporting adjustable black shades from sepia to a cold bluish black. MIS Associates offers ink sets in a very wide range of cartridges for a variety of different Epson printers as well as in bulk. And, I think, users will find that for a fine quality pigment ink with a tested print life, MIS Associates' prices are quite moderate.

Sundance/R9 is an ink company that grew out of a black and white printing set of software solutions. The Sundance inks include a variable color tone Septone ink set supporting the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 and the Epson Pro 7600/9600 printers accompanied by the R9 PixelPixasso software RIP (Raster Image Processor) which supports an ICC color management module and its unique ICQ multi-density component. This specially programmed software RIP specifically supports both the control of the ink applied adjusted to the printer used and the balance of cool to warm image tones. In addition, the Sundance ink sets include a Quadtone and R9 software support by means of a Photoshop plug-in that utilizes the ICQ color management function. Sundance and R9 offer a range of inks and software support for a broad selection of Epson printers at a range of prices for both enthusiast users and professionals.

Studio Print RIP is a software raster image processor specifically designed for black and white printing with the Epson Stylus Photo 2200, as well as the Pro 4000, 7600, and 9600 printers, in addition to the previous Epson Pro printer models. It supports a number of advanced professional functions, full ICC compliant color management as well as the ability to linearize ink application with all channels using any black and white ink set to produce tightly controlled custom performance that matches printer, ink, and paper characteristics.

Quad Tone RIP is a shareware and inexpensive software facility made possible through development on the basis of GIMP, a Linux open source image-editing application. Quad Tone RIP as it is now available supports a large number of Epson printers and will run on both Windows XP and Apple Macintosh OS 10.3. It contains support for a number of popular black and white ink sets including the MIS UltraTone Full Spectrum inks as well as their Piezo-Mix and Epson-Mix selections, plus the MIS Variable-Tone ink sets, and the Epson UltraChrome ink set. From what I could gather from user comments Quad Tone RIP does demand a considerable level of computer experience and expertise. However, just reading the instructions for its installation and use on the Apple Mac OS 10.3 did not seem to be that difficult, at least if everything works as it should, but I cannot from experience confirm this impression is real. Fortunately, the admission ticket is modest, so if you want really precise printer control of ink application performance for black and white printing with any of the supported printers, including now even the Epson Stylus Pro 4000, it is an intriguing possibility.

The goal of software to control a digital printer loaded with black inks is to make the printer apply the inks in direct linear proportion to the densities recorded in your Photoshop gray scale image file. Once this is achieved you can expect the reproduction of detail and tone across the print in highlights, mid tones, and shadows.

Linearize refers to an analogous function to color matching using calibration and profiling to obtain a print color result that matches what is displayed on screen. The term refers directly to the use of a gray scale step tablet, a digital image that has 20 equally spaced steps of increasing density from pure white to pure black with each step of equal greater or lesser density than the one on each side of it, describing a straight line or linear progression of density increase/decrease. The goal is to be able to reproduce this step tablet gray scale image to result in an image that, when measured, also has equal increments of density. Any discrepancy in density measured by a densitometer is then recorded and plotted to form a curve that, when applied to the image data to be printed, will assure straight line or "linearized" ink application performance.