Black & white photographs are widely accepted as the purest form of photography. A b&w picture presents the viewer with pure image tonality, line, form, shape and texture, totally free from colour distraction and influence. The b&w print is regarded by many ‘artistic’ photographers as the ultimate in creative expression. Producing a high-quality print in the darkroom is a skilled craft, but with today’s inkjet printers you can produce prints that will rival anything produced via wet chemistry. In this article, I will be looking at the various options for producing stunning prints with an inkjet printer.
Shooting for B&W
Most digital cameras have an option to capture in B&W or sepia – our advice is to shoot in colour and convert the images to greyscale using your image-editing software. This offers far more tonal control than the simple desaturate that digital cameras perform.
Sending a greyscale image to your inkjet printer should produce a reasonable-looking monochrome print, but it can result in prints that display a slight colour cast. For most colour printing this cast may not be visible, but when you produce prints with grey tones, any shift in colour will be instantly visible.
Grey tones on an inkjet printer are made up from an equal mixture of the colour inks, for example, 128 red, 128 green, 128 blue produces a midtone grey (200 R, 200 G, 200 B produces a lighter shade of grey). If the mixture is not spot on, or your media doesn’t quite match the profile, then you may see a slight shift in colour in your prints.
In general, greyscale inkjet prints are made up by using a mixture (composite) of all the colour inks to produce all the subtle shades of grey. Besides a colour cast, a monochrome print can also suffer with metamerism, an effect that produces a different colour cast under varying lighting conditions, such as tungsten, daylight or fluorescent. Metamerism can be a nightmare for photographers who display their work at exhibitions or sell prints to collectors. However, many photo printers are now fitted with extra grey ink cartridges, which eliminate the need to mix colour inks to produce the subtle grey shades and address the metamerism problem.
Dedicated Monochrome Inks
Epson and HP produce printers with dedicated grey inks. Epson has the K3 inks, which are available on the R2400 (A3 printer) and its large-format printers, but unfortunately not on its A4 printers. HP has photo grey inks for the 8450 (A4) and 8750 (A3), as well as larger-format printers. Using these cartridges, the monochrome printing dramatically improves over-simulated greys using a composite of the coloured inks. Colour casts and metamerism are virtually eliminated. Besides manufacturers’ own inks, you can fit several (mainly Epson) printers with third-party monochrome inks.
Some products worth trying are Lyson Quad Black inks, available from www.lyson.com. Once fitted, these inks replace the printer’s colour cartridges, thereby creating a dedicated monochrome printer. To resume colour printing you would have to run several deep cleaning cycles using the normal colour ink set, to remove all traces of monochrome ink. This can be a costly process. If you are serious about monochrome printing, consider buying a printer purely for monochrome – it may be a cheaper option in the long run.
Black and White Printing Tips: Page 2
Setting Up for Printing
Assuming you have optimised your image as a visually acceptable-looking photograph. Most inkjet printers offer an option to print in greyscale as, with a digital camera, this is a simple desaturate process. This may suffice if you need a quick greyscale print, but it will not produce the best results. Depending on your working methods, you can send the monochrome picture to your printer as a RGB file or as a greyscale. If you intend sending the picture as a greyscale image then, once you have finished your manipulations, flatten the layers (if any) before converting the image to greyscale.
Converting from RGB to greyscale mode flattens the layers automatically, but in some cases it may not apply an adjustment layer you may have made; this is especially true if you’re using a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. Keeping your image file as an RGB file will give you more options to finetune the final image. Depending on your printer’s driver, you may have an option to print using grey inks only or composite grey, select the ‘grey inks only’ option. This ensures a cast-free photograph.
When printing black and white images, remember to let your printer know by setting the correct option in the driver. Some printer prompts, such as the HP device shown on the right, will also allow you to select grey inks.
What is a B&W Picture?
Black and white, monochrome, and greyscale are generic terms used for what we loosely call black and white photography. Black and white is, by its very name, the wrong title – almost all prints have countless shades of grey rather than the implied black and white only. Monochrome is the correct title for prints produced in the darkroom, and greyscale correctly sums up prints produced by a computer.
Due to their longer life and ability to produce stunning monochrome prints, many photographers are switching to pigment inks. However, one of the main drawbacks is a rather dull appearance when printing with glossy media. Epson introduced a Gloss optimiser ink with its R800 (A4) and R1800 (A3) printers, but neither printer has the K3 grey inks.
HP has also just launched its B9180 printer, but this lacks a gloss optimiser. Pigment ink is thicker than dye ink and sits on top of the print surface – this produces a raised image effect. This is especially noticeable on glossy media and large areas of white (paper base). Dye inks penetrate the media and do not display this effect; the HP 8450, 8750, and 7960 use dye-based photo black inks. Pigment printers work well with semigloss and matte media and produce prints that can last up to 200 years.