My passion for B&W photography began years ago in a high school darkroom. The first time I watched my print magically appear in the developer tray I was hooked. I was captivated by the chemical process before me and felt an immediate sense of empowerment and knew endless creative opportunities awaited.
So what is one to do when it’s time to print your digital B&W masterpieces? It seems most photographers send their images off to a printing service while others who are a bit more ambitious make prints themselves on photo inkjet printers. An inkjet printer seems like a great choice at first but it uses color inks that give B&W photos strange color casts (a phenomenon called metamerism) when viewed under various lighting conditions. Color inks also contain dyes that inevitably lead to faded and color shifted prints.
Anyone who is passionate about B&W photography should question the results that can be achieved by printing monochromatic images on a system designed for color printing.
I explored many options but wasn’t able to find a digital equivalent to traditional fine art B&W darkroom printing. For a while I was creating digital negatives then contact printing them on platinum paper.
|Pier Study III|
Piezography inksets are available in Neutral, Warm Neutral, Sepia, Selenium, and Special Edition for creating split-tone prints. It’s also possible to formulate your own custom inkset by mixing and blending inks of different tones. You can also achieve various results by using different papers; using neutral inks on a warmer toned paper will yield a warmer toned print. There are virtually limitless combinations to explore.
It’s not just the inks alone that offer such excellent results. The real power behind Piezography printing lies in the software. With Piezography the standard Epson printer driver which controls CMYK inks can no longer be used. The creators of Piezography have created media profiles that control ink output for different printer, ink and paper combinations. These media profiles are provided free of charge with Roy Harrington’s $50 shareware application Quad Tone RIP. If desired you can also have a custom profile designed for your individual printing setup.
|Zen Benches - Piezography Print|
I have experimented with other B&W inksets such as MIS Ultratone with a fair amount of success. MIS Ultratone2 (UT2) inks are variable-tone which allow you to alter the print tone from sepia to cool silver by adjusting the color control sliders in the Epson driver or by loading different curves to your image prior to printing. I still believe the Piezography system is superior to anything else currently available but some of these other inksets may be worth experimenting with.
|Architektura I - Piezography Print|
It seems that pigment based inks tend to introduce more nozzle clogging problems than Epson’s stock inks so it’s essential to keep ink moving through your printer and use it as often as possible. At a minimum, you should print a test pattern at least weekly. If you are not going to be printing for an extended period of time, I recommend installing flush cartridges and running a few cleaning cycles before putting your printer into long term storage. I learned this the hard way and had to disassemble my printer and purge the print heads with isopropyl alcohol in order to remove some pretty stubborn clogs. Putting a few drops of ammonia based glass cleaner such as Windex on the foam cleaning pad where the print head parks will also help dissolve small clogs.
|25 Cent View - Piezography Print|
Working through some of these custom setup issues was a bit frustrating at times, but once I had everything worked out the results were well worth the effort.
This article is not meant to be a technical explanation of digital monochromatic printing but to share my passion for the beauty of a well crafted print and inspire those that are passionate about B&W photography to integrate high-quality monochromatic printmaking into their digital photographic workflow.
|Architektura II - Piezography Print|
For further information on Piezography and digital B&W printing, see the resources below.