This is the first in a series of articles (currently nine in total) about printing monochrome images using an Epson inkjet printer, and specifically using the Piezography system. In order to explain what Piezography is, this first article briefly explains the various alternative ways to print monochrome images with a recent model Epson inkjet printer.
Printing Using a Colour ICC Profile
1. Perhaps the most obvious approach is to print a monochrome image like any colour image. That is, use an ICC colour profile for the combination of paper, ink and printer in use, and convert the image to that profile when printing. This certainly works and it works much better now with Epson K3 printers than it did with earlier K2 printers or even with current K1 hi-gloss printers. Unlike the R2100 / R2200 and the R1800 / R1900 / R2000, the current K3 printers deliver fairly neutral prints this way. By neutral, I mean with no colour cast, so not warm (with a yellow colour cast) or cool (blue cast) or with a green tint, and so on. The use of an ICC means that you can soft-proof the print. Many people would be satisfied with this approach. But even so, the prints are not generally as neutral as they could be, and there’s a risk of metamerism (the apparent neutrality of the print changes depending on the type of light source used for viewing) from the greater use of colour inks compared to options #2, #3 and #4.
Epson’s Advanced Black and White (ABW)
2. ABW mode is a more sophisticated way of printing monochrome on Epson K3 printers. ABW is a setting in the printer driver which enables printing mostly with just the three black inks, although a little colour ink must be used to neutralise the inherent tint of the black inks. Also, ABW provides the option to make the print warm or cool to varying degrees, which in turn will use more colour ink to achieve these effects. There are a number of good tutorials around on how to use ABW (see the competing ones by Eric Chan).and
One weakness for me is that there’s a degree of trial and error in getting a good screen-to-print match, made worse by there being quite a few options in the ABW section of the driver to experiment with. This weakness is compounded by there not being any built-in way to soft-proof the print, although some of the tools used in options #3 & #4 allow you to create an ICC for soft-proofing. There are also issues in printing ABW direct from Photoshop, because of the way that colour management is handled in recent versions when using the “Printer Manages Colours” setting. And finally, it’s just as well that there’s the capacity to vary the toning of the print, as I find the default ABW neutral setting a touch cool, even on slightly warm gloss papers.
3. An alternative to printing with ABW is to use a raster image processor (RIP), which is printing software that interacts with the printer directly, bypassing the Epson driver. There are several available, although they tend not to be cheap. ImagePrint and StudioPrint are sometimes mentioned for monochrome, and while they come highly recommended and seem very powerful, most people will find them far too expensive. An exception is QuadToneRIP (QTR), which is a $US50 black-and-white only RIP for Epson K2 and K3 printers. There seems to be a consensus that QTR will produce better prints than ABW, although with more effort and complexity.
QTR comes with tools that allow you to create your own “curves” for various combinations of printer / paper / ink combinations and to create soft-proofing ICCs. A QTR “curve” is a configuration file that specifies how much of each ink to use when printing. However if you want to create your own curves and ICCs, you will need a measurement device like an i1 Photo or an X-rite ColorMunki Photo (note my comments on another article on the usefulness of these devices). QTR also allows for split-toning (e.g. warm shadows and cool highlights) if you’re using a K3 colour inkset, whereas ABW only has single toning (warm or cool), although it can be adjusted to taste anywhere along this spectrum.
4. An alternative approach is to replace the Epson inks with refillable cartridges containing a custom monochrome inkset. So the printer contains no colour ink whatsoever. I use Piezography inks, which in most cases contain either six (K6) or seven (K7) black inks, although there are also other monochrome inksets available.
In Piezography, shade 1 is the darkest, and like Epson inks, there are different shades 1 for matte and gloss. Shade 2 is lighter and shade 7 is very light. Perhaps it’s more correct to say that there are two alternative blacks (one for matte and one for gloss) plus five or six shades of grey. According to Jon Cone, the designer of the system, shade 4 Piezography ink is roughly equivalent to Epson LK and shade 5 Piezography ink is equivalent to Epson LLK, so one way of viewing Piezography is that it fills in the gaps and extends the range of ABW.
Because Piezography doesn’t use Epson inks, you can’t print using the Epson driver – you must use QTR, and if you’re on Mac OS X, then since 10.6.8 you must also use the companion program Print Tool in order to avoid some of the vagaries that Apple and Adobe have introduced into colour management in Mac OS X.
If you want to tone your prints, then as I discuss in a later article, you need to switch to another Piezography inkset, which is less flexible that toning with either ABW or QTR using K3 inks.
Anyone who wants to read a more rambling discussion of these options can read this long thread on The Luminous Landscape, where noted landscape photographer Jeff Grant ask what others were using to print monochrome, and as you’d expect, the ensuing discussion went on for pages and pages. As that thread indicated, you can get good monochrome prints out of any of these four approaches, if you know how to use them and if you have mastered the technical aspects of the one you’ve selected. I mostly use Piezography for monochrome printing. Subsequent posts in this section of the site will explain why and how, particularly the next article Is Piezography Worth The Trouble?
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