Black & white printing

black white

 We all want the best possible prints, but when printing black & white do you use a film or digital camera, print by hand or with a digital printer?

Tim Coleman looks at what a lab can offer and what is possible from home

TODAY a photograph can be viewed directly on a television, computer monitor, tablet device or even a lightbox, but for many there is still nothing like producing a print and feeling it in the hand.

Before digital technology, black & white printing was achieved by hand in the darkroom on dedicated black & white paper. In the early days of digital photography, the quality of home digital black & white printing left a little to be desired, with photographic labs producing the best results.

Yet home printing has improved in the past few years, with some significant developments for black & white print makers. With a variety of options for printing at home as well as those offered by photographic labs for film and digital users, we look at the options and how the quality compares.

IMPROVEMENTS TO PRINTING FROM HOME

Most home photo printers have a single black ink system, and use one of two methods when creating a black & white print. One method is to mix the cyan, magenta and yellow inks (CMY) in equal measures to provide a black & white result. However, it is difficult to remove colour variants in all tones over the image area for viewing in various lighting conditions using this type of system. Alternatively, using just the black ink eliminates colour casts for a neutral grey result, but the degree of tones in the image cannot match those from a CMY print and the reproduction is often grainy.

Black & white printing was revolutionised through the introduction of blacks’an inkset containing four cartridges of ’of black rather than CMYK. This system improved the tonal range of prints no end, although its set-up is impractical for those who print in both colour and black & white.

In 2005, Epson introduced its K3 eight-ink system, the first of its kind to use both colour inks and multiple black inks, offering the best of both colour and black & white worlds. This new system rendered quad blacks redundant. Other manufacturers have introduced multi-black ink systems, too, which are used in today s more expensive A3+ and larger printers, while the smaller units and less expensive A3 printers still use the single black set-up.

Producing a good-quality print is not solely down to the printer, though. Paper for home printers has also improved, with a wide variety of surfaces for different finishes. Baryta inkjet paper replicates the feel, quality and even smell of darkroom silver-halide paper with a layer of barium under the surface layer.

GOING TO THE LAB

What the photographic labs have to offer and how much they are likely to charge

WITH photographers using both film and digital technology, and many people experimenting with the way images are processed and displayed, there is a lot for aspiring black & white print makers to consider.

In this article I want to compare the quality of prints that have been produced in a photographic lab with those that have been printed at home. For all the black & white printing tests I have used a high-contrast black &

white digital portrait taken using a Leica M Monochrom camera, and another portrait with more subtle tones taken using a Mamiya 6x7 and Ilford HP5 negative film.

To compare the quality of the photographs produced, I have created similar-sized prints to see what differences there are in the results for the various print processes and techniques You can see all the prints, along with a description of

the processes and techniques used to produce them, on page 50.

First, let s consider the printing options, and we ll start with the photographic lab.

From budget online services and high-street self-service stations to bespoke photographic labs, the labs available offering a variety of print services and producing different types of results. To get a full appreciation of what is on offer, I took my digital

files and negatives to three top London-based photographic labs-Bayeux (www.bayeux.co.uk), Michael Dyer Associates (www.michaeldyer. co.uk) and Metro Imaging (www. metroimaging.co.uk)-and spoke at length with staff members. With large, clean workspaces and staff dedicated to the art of printing and getting the best results, there is little wonder that some people choose the lab over printing from home.

SCANNING

A FEW labs have drum scanners that can scan images up to 11,000dpi. Such large files enable enlargements up to a claimed 2000x. An A3 print from a 35mm transparency is approximately a 14x enlargement. These drum-scanning machines are no longer made, so once broken, they will disappear for ever.

The wet-mount process for attaching negatives to the drum is very precise and requires skilled hands. With the negative or reflective image attached, a scan is taken from the drum, which rotates at approximately 500rpm. Drum scans are rather pricey, with rates starting at ?30 per image, based on file size

Michael Dyer Associates offers another type of  scan  that involves converting a digital file into a negative using a Kodak LVT The machine, which looks much like a drum scanner, is connected to the computer containing the digital file and unexposed film is attached to the drum under controlled (no) lighting. The digital information is applied onto the film using lasers.

HAND PRINTING

AN EXPERIENCED print maker can take over the creative control of the printing process at a photographic lab by hand printing your images Mark Alden at Bayeux says that nine out of ten of his clients leave him to do the work, possibly because there is a 100% mark-up on by direction  whereby the client is personally involved in the print-making process Once familiarised with individual styles, the printer can produce exactly what each client wants. As a costlier and lengthier process, hand printing has become more of an art form for the few, and less about day-to-day production for the many.

A clear advantage to hand printing over inkjet printing is that darkroom paper can be dedicated for black & white use, unlike  colour  inkjet paper. Choices of paper are limited, with warm-tone and cold-tone versions of resin and fibre types, the last of which is seen to give the best quality and costs at least twice as much as resin paper.

Select photographers choose hand printing over digital printing, as the value of a hand print is greater down to its uniqueness. This is because even with the enlarger kept to the same settings, and with the paper in the developer and fix for a set amount of time, no two prints are exactly the same.

DIGITAL PRINTING

GICLEE. canvas and inkjet prints are usually created using an inkjet printer, with giclee the most expensive option and supposedly the best-quality print. C-type prints are made on the very large  lambda’or  lightjet  print machines (see above) for large format prints. Only a few labs offer all these printing options. As the name suggests, lightjet prints are created using light rather than ink (like a hand print), and in this case RGB lasers that move over the paper. Lambda machines have static RGB lasers and the roll of paper moves through the machine instead.

Labs say there is little advantage to final print quality using any one machine over the other, but the maximum print size and the available paper varies for each machine, with rolls of paper up to 6ft in some cases. Metro Imaging has created a hybrid  darkroom’paper that can be printed on digitally. The advantage of this paper is that it is designed for black & white printing, while inkjet paper is technically colour paper

STAYING AT HOME

What you can expect from home printing, whether using a low-cost printer or a more expensive unit

HOME printing, in theory, should be a cheaper option than using a professional photographic lab. However, you do have to bear in mind the initial outlay of equipment, such as printer, inks and paper

For the prints shown on page 50,1 have used an Epson Stylus Photo 1500W (?349.99) and an Epson Stylus Photo R3000 (?669.99), which is a multi-black ink printer. I have scanned a medium-format negative using an Epson Perfection V750 Pro (?669.99) and made a print from the digital file using a multi-black-ink printer.

I have also printed a drum scan of the same negative produced by the Bayeux photographic lab to see how much better the costly drum scan is over a scanner like the V750.

I have created a negative from a digital file using Fotospeed s Digital Contact Film. DCF By inverting the digital file in editing software (achieved in Photoshop via Image Adjustments>lnvertor Cmd+I), I can print directly onto the acetate-like DCF. In this case, I have printed the same 6x7cm size as the digital negative produced by Michael Dyer Associates. Adjustments to the levels may need to be made by darkening the highlights and midtones.

PHOTO AND MATT BLACK INK

MOST OF today s top black & white home print systems use pigment ink. However, black ink is optimised for the type of paper used, with  photo black’(dye ink) the best for glossy paper and black  (pigment ink) for matt paper. Some printers have only one slot for the two cartridges, so switching between gloss and matt prints requires the cartridges to be changed, too, which can take time and waste ink. If you are likely to use both gloss and matt paper, consider buying a printer with a separate slot for each.

INKJET WORKFLOW

IT IS vital to prepare an image and process it correctly to get the best results. Although most printers offer basic tone adjustments in the print process, we recommend making these adjustments using editing software beforehand.

Ensuring the monitor is correctly calibrated using a calibration device (see www.colorconfidence.com or www.datacolour.com for more details), the main adjustments for black & white printing are to the shadow and highlight tonality. Basic changes to exposure, levels and contrast are easy to make using editing tools such as Photoshop Elements or Nik Software s Silver Efex Pro 2, which is a plug-in specifically designed to recreate the classic look of black & white film for digital photographers.

Scans should be made with a flat tone to preserve as much information in the original scan,

and then they should be edited to taste for contrast, levels and exposure. Finally, look at the image size. There is no point exceeding the printer s resolution, which will be either 300dpi or 360dpi. Whichever it is, select this resolution as ppi in Image Size.

PRINT PROCESS

Processing a print correctly is a vital part of producing a great black & white print and the following are some key points to check before clicking the OK button.

PRINTER/PHOTOSHOP MANAGES COLOURS

Letting the printer manage the colours is a good option for those using the same brand of printer, paper and inks. If the printer manages the colours, select the black & white mode (in the

case of Epson it is the Advanced Black & White Mode). With this mode selected, the use of the colour inks is dramatically reduced, although they are still used to prevent grain in the final print.

With a black & white mode selected in the print settings, most printers offer a choice of colour toning to achieve warm or cool results.

Selecting the software to manage colours is best when the printer, paper and ink are not from the same brand. It is in this option where ICC profiles are used to ensure the correct output of ink for accurate results. Most paper manufacturers offer basic ICC profiles for a number of printers and their own paper, or a custom profile service specific to your own printer can be made by sending prints made with that printer to the paper manufacturer

SELECT CORRECT PAPER TYPE

Whether using an ICC profile or a black & white mode, the second phase of the print menu requires the correct paper type be selected, to ensure the right amount of ink is outputted by the printer head onto the paper The paper types are general and not specific to the paper name, with options including gloss, matt and semi-gloss.

PRINT SPEED AND PRINT QUALITY

Setting the print speed to low ensures that the finest level of detail is reproduced by the printer without any print lines in the final result.

For Epson printers, this is achieved by ticking out of the  High Speed  box. Print quality should be set to the highest possible. These factors combined will slow the print speed, but produce the best results.

 

PRINTS & SCANS COMPARED

We compare like-for-like prints created using home and lab print methods

AS EXPLAINED on page 4a prints have been made of the digital file using two home printers (Epson Stylus Photo 1500W and Epson Stylus Photo R3000) and on lambda, lightjet and inkjet lab machines, while a hand print has been made from a transparency. Home prints have been made using Epson s own Traditional paper, Ilford s Galerie Gold Fibre Silk and Fotospeed s Baryta paper with the ICC profiles, while lab prints are

made on various papers, including C-type, giclee and digital silver halide As expected, black & white prints created using the single-ink 1500W are not a patch on those made on a multi-black ink printer like the R3000 Midtones are not as rich and there are unwanted colour casts. Put simply, b&w home printers must use a multiblack ink printer for best results.

Comparing the R3000 print to an inkjet lab print shows virtually no

difference. For those printing small scale, there is little advantage in terms of print quality to printing in a lab, unless making a print larger than A3.

The lab papers give differing results. A giclee print has been made on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag (which is also available for home users and is on a par with the C-type print on Fujicolor Crystal Archive as the crispest print in this test. The Photo Rag has excellent detail in shadow areas, although its

overall finish is less punchy, with the blacks deeper in the more lustre-type finish of the C-type print.

While the tonal quality from a hand print is excellent, detail is not as sharp as on an inkjet print. One lab described to me how it adds in 0.2 blur to the digital files in order to get like-for-like results to film prints. Hand-print results vary from the same transparency, which can be frustrating, but makes each print unique.

THE TRANSPARENCY has

been scanned at Bayeux using a drum scanner and at home using the Epson Perfection V750 Pro scanner, and processed for flatter tones to keep as much detail as possible, with adjustments to the levels and contrast achieved post-scan. Prints were made from each scan using the multi-black--

ink home printer. The larger file size of the drum scan means it does not need to be enlarged as much as the home scan for an A3 print, resulting in a print with greater tonal information and slightly sharper detail. There are purpose-made medium-format scanners available that produce a crisper scan than a flatbed such as the

V750, although a flatbed is a great option for large-format film. Drum scans are not cheap, though, costing ?30-?90 per image. For smaller prints, certainly at A4, the difference between the prints is not discernible.

The digital file has been used to make a negative with the R3000 onto Fotospeed s Digital Contact Film and

the Kodak LVT lab machine, with a print made from each negative using the multi-black-ink home printer The lab machine gives sharper results and greater depth of tone. The combination of printing onto DCF and scanning using the V750 takes its toll on the result, but quality is acceptable for smaller-scale production.

Conclusion

PROVIDED one uses the right media, an accurate workflow, a multi-black-ink printer and top-quality paper, the results possible from home now match those at the lab, and digital printing even exceeds the technical quality of hand printing.

So, if an A3 or even A2 multi-black-ink printer is within budget, there is little need to go to the lab unless larger prints and scans, expert advice and niche printing techniques are needed.

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