Getting Results with Digital Black and White

Acknowledging that this book can only be a snapshot in time as technology evolves, here are some equipment, supplies, and workflow choices to get you on the road to great digital black and white.

Image Capture

While you could certainly use a high-end digital camera or scanning back, many digital black-and-white pros shoot film and then scan it.

"Start with a well-cared-for black-and-white negative that is carefully scanned," says Los Angeles photographer and printmaker Antonis Ricos, who, with fine-art photographer Martin Wesley, runs one of the most important e-mail discussion lists for digital black-and-white pros ( "For large prints and 8 X 10 negs, drum scanner technology may still have significant advantages over a CCD, depending on the neg and the size of the final print. Scanning at resolutions beyond what the best CCDs offer and doing so with a single, focused point of light extracts more accurate information from certain originals like large format or high-contrast negs. Drum scanning is also able to keep any film (especially 35mm) flatter and therefore sharper than other scanners. However, for formats up to 4 X 5, you can get very decent results with the Imacon scanners, especially the latest models that offer autofocus and a cooled CCD."

Converting Color and Printing Monochrome

If you're starting from a color capture or scan, there are numerous ways of converting color images to monochrome for digital black-and-white printing, and Adobe Photoshop is the preferred software to do it. (There are some excellent Photoshop plug-ins for even more sophisticated conversions of color to black-and-white, too.) "Photoshop is the industry standard for image editing and with good reason," says black-and-white, fine-art photographer Amadou Diallo. Rarely a week goes by that I don't stop and say 'Wow' at the level of precision and control it affords. Because of its widespread use, Photoshop also provides a common language among imagers. I can talk about shadow values, gamma densities, and ink percentages with another photographer, and we're actually talking about the same numbers."

RGB > Grayscale

It's easy to convert a color image to a monochromatic grayscale in Photoshop (Image > Mode > Grayscale), but how you print this neutral image makes all the difference.

Print Grayscale with Black Ink Only: Most inkjet printer drivers give you a choice of "color" or "black" ink when printing (see Figure 11.5). Selecting the black-ink-only option might seem like a good way to print a monochrome image, but there are drawbacks. With the exception of newer printers using the smallest dot sizes, the prints sometimes lack detail and may have a course dot pattern since you're only working with one ink. Yet, some think black-ink-only prints on certain printers and on certain papers are beautiful. A lot depends on the image characteristics. Test it for yourself.

Figure 11.5 Most inkjet printer drivers give you the option of using black ink only.

One advantage with black-ink-only printing is that the prints are going to be fairly neutral, with only the color of the paper and the inherent tone of the black ink (usually warm, or possibly changing to warm) being the variables. And, any concerns about metamerism with pigment inks are reduced since that problem with shifting neutral tones is caused primarily by the colored inks, not black.

Print Grayscale with Color Inks: If you print a grayscale image selecting the color-inks option in the normal printer driver, you can usually see the difference in quality (see Figure 11.6). The image is smoother and fuller due to the added ink colors. (Even though the image is in Grayscale mode, most printers still recruit the color inks.) The major drawback to this method is that you will invariably get an overall color cast (the color will vary depending on the paper and the inks), and the ways to fix that problem are limited. In Grayscale mode, color-based adjustment layers in Photoshop are unavailable, and so are the Color Control sliders in the printer driver settings. A solution is to convert the image to a duotone or back to RGB (see below). Using specialized drivers or software is another solution; see that section later in this chapter.

RGB > Grayscale > Duotone

You can change the color balance of a grayscale image by converting it to Duotone mode in Photoshop (Image > Mode > Duotone) and selecting any custom color to go along with the base black (see Figure 11.7). If you then print the image with "color inks" selected, all the ink colors are used as above. The same lack of color image-editing adjustments exist, but now you have access to the color slider adjustments in the printer driver for tweaking the overall color balance.

Using the same technique, a Photoshop Tritone or Quadtone adds even more color options to the mix.

Figure 11.6 The coarseness of a grayscale image printed with a single black ink only (top) can be pronounced compared to the same image printed with color inks (bottom), depending on the type of printer.

RGB > Grayscale > RGB

This is similar to the first method, but by converting the image back into RGB mode, you have access to all the other colors to increase the tonal range. The result is much more color flexibility. If you don't like the overall color balance, it's easy to make it be either more or less neutral. For a sepia effect, for example, add a Color Balance adjustment layer and move the sliders to something like -15 Magenta and -15 Yellow (see Figure 11.8). The

Figure 11.6 The coarseness of a grayscale image printed with a single black ink only (top) can be pronounced compared to the same image printed with color inks (bottom), depending on the type of printer.

Figure 11.7 Switching from RGB to Duotone mode in Photoshop opens up interesting color possibilities for grayscale images.

same effect can be achieved by using the color control sliders in the advanced section on most inkjet printers. This is similar to darkroom photographers selecting warm or cool papers or toning chemicals to shift the overall colors of a black-and-white print. (You can also use canned printer presets like "sepia," but these have limited use since you typically have no ability to adjust the settings.)

Figure 11.8 Converting a grayscale image to RGB allows for a full range of color adjustments such as this sepia effect with the Color Balance tool.

You could also create a modified printer profile that automatically makes the same color shift for all your prints.

RGB > Desaturate

A simple way to remove color from an image is by desaturating it. Photoshop has a good tool for this: Hue/Saturation. Here's how it works with a slight twist:

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation) to the image. (I always use adjustment layers instead of making the adjustment directly to the image.) In the dialogue box, and with the Edit pull-down menu in the default "Master" position, move the Saturation slider to the left and watch the effect. A maximum saturation level of -100 is basically a grayscale image with no color. For an interesting multi-toned option, you can change the saturation of the individual Edit channels instead of the Master (see Figure 11.9). Alternatively, you can shift the colors by adding a separate Color Balance adjustment layer and playing with the sliders.

One drawback to this desaturation method is that you lose the distinction between some colors. To fix this, try the Channel Mixer technique next.

RGB > Channel Mixer

This is a good way to change the relationship of or to emphasize certain colors in monochrome. To do it, make a Channel Mixer adjustment layer, and in the dialogue box, check "Monochrome." The image instantly changes (if Preview is checked), and now the fun

can start. Use the Source Channels sliders to adjust the individual Red, Green, and Blue channels while watching the image change. Make sure that the three Channels add up to 100% if you want to hold the overall lightness-to-darkness range of the image.

For my palm tree, I wanted a dark, brooding sky. To accomplish that, I adjusted my Red, Green, and Blue Source Channels in the Channel Mixer to be +55, +55, -10 (see Figure 11.10).

Figure 11.10 Photoshop's Channel Mixer with the Monochrome option checked helps change the relationship of the color values.

Figure 11.10 Photoshop's Channel Mixer with the Monochrome option checked helps change the relationship of the color values.

(This is adapted from R9 Corporation's BWBatch program.)

With a flattened, color image open, create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer with the following settings: Hue—180, Saturation—100, Lightness-+100, and Mode—Saturation. Then convert to LAB mode (Image > Mode > Lab Color), selecting the flatten option, if needed. Next, open the Channels menu and get rid of the a and b color channels by simply trashing them. You'll be prompted to flatten the image, which leaves only the Lightness—now called Alpha 1—channel that contains all the light-to-dark information (see Figure 11.11). Convert to Grayscale and print.

Using Specialized Monochrome Inksets

An improvement in the digital printing of black-and-white images is the development of third-party, multi-toned, monochromatic inks that replace the color inks in inkjet printers. This is also called "quadtone" or "hextone" printing; the printer thinks it's printing in color, but the inks that come out are all shades of black or differing densities of gray. Popular inksets include: Lysonic Quad Black and Small Gamut (Lyson), PiezoTone (Inkjet Mall), Preservation Monochrome (Lumijet), the Quadtone B&W and UltraTone families that include both Monotone and Variable Tone inksets (MIS), and Septone (Sundance).

"Depending on a photographer's needs," says digital expert C. David Tobie, "a quad-tone/hextone gray ink system, or a tinted version of one, may be an excellent choice, although unless it is purchased at a significantly increased price as a proprietary matched system, it will require special knowledge and a fair amount of work to get ideal results. A small-gamut color ink system that uses CMYK-tinted gray inks requires a far less specialized process and offers a broader range of user-determined tint choices (warm, cool, sepia, platinum/paladium, etc.)."

Figure 11.11 Using Hue/Saturation and then LAB mode is another monochrome conversion technique.

Figure 11.11 Using Hue/Saturation and then LAB mode is another monochrome conversion technique.

Inkjet Mall's monochrome PiezoTone inks are 100 percent pigmented and come in different Hue Sets.

Courtesy ofJon Cone.

Inkjet Mall's monochrome PiezoTone inks are 100 percent pigmented and come in different Hue Sets.

Courtesy ofJon Cone.

One thing that some monochrome printmakers who use these special inks often do is dedicate a separate printer for the job. That way, they don't have to continually switch back and forth between color and monochrome inks, which is a lot of trouble and wastes ink. The older Epson 1160 and also the 3000, both four-color printers, are popular choices, although just about any inkjet printer will do, taking the restrictions of chipped-ink cartridges into account. If you have a thermal inkjet printer with replaceable heads, you could have one set for color and another for monochrome. Bulk ink systems are also popular add-ons for more efficient ink use.

Dedicating a separate printer to black-and-white makes sense for desktop inkjets, but doing so with wide-format becomes very costly.

The popularity of monochrome inks has not gone unnoticed by the OEM printer manufacturers. Epson introduced its seven-color, pigment inkjet printers (2200, 7600, 9600) in the spring of2002. With these printers, you now have the option of using an additional low-density black ink (only in color mode), which helps improve both metamerism and the monochrome image quality. (HP offers a similar solution with printers such as the Photosmart 7960, which includes three blacks.)

Even with these printer improvements, many experienced black-and-white pros, however, opt for all black-and-white, third-party systems. "For the best image quality, you need to use a dedicated black-and-white inkset," states Paul Roark. "As much as you try, the color inksets always end up with color cross-overs and tints. Even if they look great at first, printer instability and differential fading cause the problems to surface with time. Color inksets also suffer from metamerism (shifting colors under different types of lights). With a neutral black and white, the eye is extremely sensitive to slight color shifts. No color inkset has been able to solve this problem, whereas it is not a significant issue with the black-and-white pigment inksets. Most of us who print with black-and-white 'quad' inksets tried color first and just gave up on that approach."

Using Specialized Drivers and Software

Some of the highest-quality black-and-white digital prints being made today are the result of specialized printer drivers or RIPs. Popular examples include: ImagePrint (ColorByte), InkJet Control/OpenPrintmaker (BowHaus), PixelPixasso (R9), QuadToneRIP (Roy Harrington), and StudioPrint (ErgoSoft).

Brooklyn, New York, fine-art photographer Amadou Diallo uses ErgoSoft's StudioPrint RIP to produce his digital black-and-white prints on an Epson Stylus Pro 9000 using PiezoTone inks. Sunflower is shown. "With StudioPrint," says Diallo, "quadtone printmakers now have unprecedented control over their printer's behavior combined with the production gains offered by professional layout features. The output is among some of the finest printing I've ever done, darkroom or digital."

© 2001 Amadou Diallo

Using Specialized Printers

Non-inkjet printers have their own quirks when it comes to monochrome printing. "With LightJets, Lambdas, Frontiers, and other similar digital imaging devices," explains C. David Tobie, "the trick for black and white is to get a really accurate color profile for the device made and edit that profile yourself, if necessary, to nail the black-and-white or near black-and-white tones you want. And then apply that profile to your images before sending them out for printing on the machine you have built the profile for."

Inkjet is not the only way to print digital black-and-white, but for many, it's currently the method of choice. While there are no (at this writing) true, all black-and-white OEM inkjet printers, Epson raised some eyebrows with the introduction of its UltraChrome inkjet printer line a couple of years ago. As already mentioned, the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 and Stylus Pro 7600/9600 were groundbreaking by including the first use of seven ink colors (in separate tanks) with two different blacks—one full-strength, one diluted.

HP then raised the bar even further when it introduced several color/black-and-white Photosmart photo printers, led by the 7960. This is a desktop inkjet printer with eight ink colors including a separate cartridge (HP 59 Gray Photo) that includes three different black densities, which are only available when printing in grayscale mode (see Figure 11.12). This printer is capable of producing excellent black-and-white prints right out of the box; the primary drawback (besides the high cost of the prints) is the limited output size (U.S. Letter/Legal).

Figure 11.12 The HP Photosmart 7960 Photo Printer has a special 3-black cartridge (#59) that kicks in when the printer outputs in Grayscale mode.

Integrated Monochromatic Systems

Digital printmakers are used to piecing together black-and-white solutions from different sources, but there is a trend toward integrated inkjet systems all under one roof. One example is Jon Cone's PiezographyBW ICC system that combines monochromatic inks (PiezoTones) and Piezography ICC profiles on CD-ROM. (Cone also provides a personalized profiling system through his iQuads program.) In fact, the PiezographyBW ICC entry (also including Piezography Museum Bright White paper) won the 2004 DIMA Printer Shoot-Out award in the black-and-white category. It's currently for select Epson and soon Canon printers from Inkjet Mall.

Lyson's Daylight Darkroom digital black-and-white printing system, newly announced at the time of this writing consists of: (1) Quad Black inks in carts or in bulk feed, (2) printer driver software licensed from BowHaus, (3) Lyson Darkroom range of inkjet media, (4) a set of cleaning cartridges for removal of the standard color inks from the printer, and (5) optional Lyson PrintGuard protection spray. The initial list of supported printers includes Epson 2200, 7600, and 9600, with plans to expand to the Epson 4000 and newer Canons.

Another system is the combination of Sundance Septone inks and R9 PixelPixasso RIP software. It provides wide variation in tonal representation using simple software adjustments. Adjustment of the degree of "warmth" and "coolness" over three density channels is available within the ICQ settings of PixelPixasso." The PixelPixasso RIP, which supports the Epson 2200 and Epson 7600/9600 as Septone printers is Windows-only. PixelPixasso also supports these printers as ICC CMYK printers and as "pure" 7-channel printers (you can send them 7-channel RAW files). A Septone Photoshop export plug-in is available for both Windows and Macintosh. Available from BWGuys.

The R9/Sundance black-and-white system includes: (top) the PixelPixasso RIP for Windows with adjustments for selecting warm to cool results; (left) roses show variations of Warm, Mixed Warm, and Cool from top to bottom; (right) the Septone Photoshop plug-in for Mac OS X (the Mac Classic and Win versions have the same functionality but conform to the standards of their respective OS's.).

Courtesy of R9 Corporation. Rose photo © 2001 Ken Niles.

Beyond the Digital Print

Cards, books, portfolios, emulsion transfers, lenticular prints, and other alternative processes—these are just a few of the ways imagemakers are experimenting with the definitions of digital printing.

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