In the first two posts for this series, I showed how Epson’s Advanced Color Mode Printing panel toning settings can affect black and white images by using Ansel Adams’ Zone System, and how the contrast and brightness settings can have a nuanced effect on the densities in your prints. If you read those articles, you hopefully began to understand how Epson’s advanced black and white controls are very powerful features on your Epson printer.
This is the second-to-last testing post in this series; while the next will detail the color toning abilities of the panel, the final installment—in about four weeks’ time—will be a chart detailing the various luminance changes each adjustment imparts on a black and white print. So, in the meantime, for this testing article I’ll show how the Shadow Tonality and Highlight Tonality sliders affect the zones.
Before I continue, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hahnemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson or Moab, please do so using the links on this blog. Dick Blick Art Materials provides all the papers listed except for Red River, which provides its paper direct. Whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these posts. Thanks in advance.
This article assumes you’ve read a previous post in which I explained how to use Ansel Adams’ Zone System to visualize tones, as well as the article explaining how toning settings affect black and white images that was first in this series. This time, we’ll be looking at the final two, and most subtle, of the fine adjustment tools and how they affect the zones on paper.
As a reminder, in this series I’m using a basic 11-step Zone System/Zone-to-Lab image, seen here in Figure 01, to print nine different 4×6″ images on my standard proofing paper, Red River Aurora Art White. Feel free to save it and use it yourself.
For the first image, I accessed the Advanced Color Settings dialog (in Photoshop: Print > Print Settings > Printer Settings > Advanced Color Settings) with all values set to neutral, and with the tone control set to Dark. I then printed 2 of these as the control prints for the experiment. I then printed Shadow Tonality and Highlight Tonality each at –25, –12, +12, and +25 settings, resulting in 10 total prints (2 control prints, 4 shadow tonality prints, and 4 highlight tonality prints).
I then took these prints to the copy stand (a Beseler CS-21) and shot high-resolution images of each on a Sony A7R using the exact same settings for each image (ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/30 sec.). The images were then cleaned up in Lightroom to 5000 K, +10 contrast, to ensure comparability. I then exported them to Photoshop, compiled the zones for comparison, and using the Info tool, measured the luminance values of each of the zones. You can see them labeled in Figures 02 and 03.
Like many design and photography students, I have read and studied Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, a landmark series on how tones and colors interact. Anyone who has had this kind of training understands how the human eye doesn’t do so well determining tones without the aid of comparison (actually, that’s why Adams’ Zone System, and this series of posts, works so well for folks, and has proven so popular. Hats off to Professor Albers).
With that fact in mind, I couldn’t discern any difference between the different prints with my naked eye, and I found myself thinking, “Are shadow tonality and highlight tonality simply Epson printing dialog gimmicks?” They’re not, and to know why, read on.
As I wrote above, I couldn’t determine any visual differences between the prints with my naked eye, so my rigorous testing method paid off in spades here. The truly astounding fact about the shadow tonality changes were that the shifts occurred only in Zone I, and in increments of 1 luminance value. At –25, Zone I read with a L value of 10, while at +25, it read at 14, explaining why I couldn’t tell much difference—it’s an extremely nuanced change. Moreover, the adjacent zones—0 and II—are not changed at all by this adjustment. Zone 0 remained consistent at 6 during the test, and Zone II remained at 18.
What does this mean? In short, moving the slider from –25 to –12 means Zone I gets a tiny, tiny bit brighter, while moving the slider from –25 to +25 means Zone I gets 4 to 5 points brighter, ultimately telling us that this feature is for very, very, VERY subtle tweaking of prints. Need just a touch more texture in that black t-shirt? This is your tool.
The results here mirrored those of shadow tonality, except that those changes take place in Zone IX instead of Zone I. The L value of Zone IX moved from 86 with the Highlight Tonality slider set at –25, while at +25, the Zone IX L value was measured at 90. Zones VIII and X were unchanged. Again, a very subtle difference, best used to pull more detail from print elements like snow in brighter shadows, or a white cowboy hat in the sun.
As I wrote in parts I and II in this series, keep in mind that these results are going to be impacted by paper choice. While I proof on Red River Aurora Art White, it’s not my gallery paper. I also have Lab grids for my final papers, such as Hahnemühle Museum Etching 350gsm, which tends to have slightly brighter low-zone values (about 10 percent higher than the Red River). The lesson is to download my Zone-RGB-Lab image above, and test your papers before printing.
Be sure to check back for the last two installments in this series–the color panel, and the effects chart. Until then, I hope your next print, is your best print.