Feb. 24, 2011, 5:42 p.m.
posted by redphone
Amazing B&W Prints from Your Inkjet Printer
For a couple hundred bucks you can convert your Epson or Canon printer into a high-end black-and-white darkroom.
Digital photography is based on a long history of techniques and tricks hammered out over a hundred years of film photography. The metaphors used by Photoshop are rooted in the lexicon of film photography. Filters, contrast, burning and dodging, color balance—all these terms come directly from analog photography.
This hack takes a sacred part of traditional photography, the silver halide print, and turns it on its head. How? By using the traditions of offset printing, in which different shades of black are applied in layers to create super-rich B&W prints. Go to one of your favorite bookstores and pick up a book by a photographer that has black-and-white photographs. That book is printed on an offset printer and the image is made up of thousands of tiny dots to trick your eye into seeing continuous tone.
Silver halide prints, on the other hand, are continuous tone and, because of this, are incredibly rich. A higher-quality black-and-white photography book will try to mimic this quality by printing duotones that use two layers of ink to create richness that can't be accomplished with just one layer of black ink. This results in a higher-quality image that looks closer to its continuous-tone original: the silver halide print. Many books are printed using tritones (three shades of black) or even quadtones (you guessed it, four shades of black). Quadtones will generally be richer than duotones.
So how in the heck does this apply to digital photography? Well, some pretty clever people out there have figured out how to turn your Epson printer into a quadtone black-and-white printer. That's right—you can take the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black cartridges out of your printer and replace them with cartridges that are four shades of black, as shown in Figure.
Replace color cartridges with special black ones for quadtone printing
Printing quadtone images is complicated, because it requires both a software and a hardware solution. Someone (or something) has to figure out which parts of the image should be printed in which tone. Then, that software needs to communicate with the printer to lay down the different shades of color correctly. Don't worry; you don't have to start draining your cartridges and putting in custom shades of gray, and you don't need to start writing software yourself. Piezography has done all of this for you by devising a system by which different shades of black ink are carefully controlled by your computer to create stunning B&W prints.
Piezography is a combination of ink cartridges and International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles that together will have you creating incredible digital black-and-white prints pretty quickly. The International Color Consortium created ICC profiles as a way to manage color across all computer platforms. ICC profiles that work on both Macs and PCs (all Macs and most versions of Windows—check the tech specs for more details) are available for most Epson inkjet printers and some Canon printers.
The ICC profile is specific to your printer and the kind of paper you are going to print on. Piezography can be performed on a surprisingly wide array of Epson inkjet printers, from the lowly Epson 8.5 11 photo printers all the way up to the super-large-format Epson 10000.
To start out, you should purchase a starter kit to see if Piezography is for you. The kit includes Piezography ICC media profiles, a set of piezotone ink cartridges, a set of flush cartridges, a manual, and 10 sheets of assorted sample papers. Expect to spend anywhere from US$200 to $400 for this kit, depending on which printer you own.
You can also purchase a bulk ink kit. This is cool, because it lets you run your printer for long periods of time without having to change cartridges. Instead, you have ink bottles that sit next to the printer and are connected, via small tubes, to the ink cartridges in your printer, feeding them ink. This also results in a significant cost savings over all those cartridges you end up buying and throwing out. Remember that bulk ink kits are simply a function of economics: the more you print, the more they make sense. Since you probably want to see how well Piezography works for you before investing in a bulk ink kit, you should probably try the cartridges first.
Since these inks are going to replace your current ink set, the first thing you need to do is thoroughly clean your printer so that there is no old ink to mix with the new. Piezography inks are purely pigment-based, which allows for a greater dynamic range and the creation of truly archival prints. Making sure that your old Epson ink is clear so that the Piezography inks can work properly is an important first step. Install the flushing cartridges and print an image provided on the included CD a few times. This will ensure that your inkjet heads are clean and ready for the new Piezography inks. Some of the larger printers have slightly different flushing procedures, so make sure you read the manual.
Now that your printer is ready to print with pigment-based, archival, black-and-white inks, you need to get your monitor ready. To get the best results, make sure your monitor is calibrated. Then, load up the ICC profiles included with your starter kit. What you see on your screen in Photoshop will match what you see when you print using Piezography inks. It's that easy.
The system works best when you calibrate your monitor (whether Mac or PC) to Gamma 1.8. You do all your work in the grayscale color space. Don't worry; you don't have to shoot your digital images in color. You can pick and convert your color images to grayscale.
When you are ready to print, you can soft-proof. This will display an image on your screen that is unbelievably close to how it will print. One important thing to remember, however, is that the ICC profiles take into consideration the kind of ink set you are using, the model of printer you are using, and the type of paper you are printing on. Therefore, if you want to try different types of paper, you need to buy and use the ICC profile for that particular paper. This allows for the soft-proofing feature, on a color-calibrated monitor, to be accurate. Once the image is where you want it and you have made the adjustments you need in Photoshop, it is time to print. Depending on your printer, expect the print job to take 2 to 10 minutes.
Print speeds vary depending on your printer. The Piezography print system is a true replacement for a traditional black-and-white darkroom. For a couple hundred bucks, this hack will turn you into a master printer of digital black-and-white photos.