UPDATE (2015-12-27): While most people won’t see a difference in their day-to-day black and white prints using this method, if you see any slight banding in light or dark areas in your Epson Stylus Pro 3880 or Epson SureColor P800 print, I detail how to fix the problem in another post.
Last time, I showed how to use ICC color profiles with the Epson 3880 in order to achieve stunning color prints. However, I don’t recommend following that process for black and white prints, especially since Epson has built some very powerful tools into the 3880 for precisely this purpose. What’s even better, it’s a much easier process, too. I have to thank Terry Cockerham for being the one who began teaching me this process. So thanks, Terry.
Before I continue, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hanhemühle, 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.
Also, I prefer to disclose that I’m a brand agnostic; if I choose to use a company’s materials or equipment, it’s because I’ve found them to be up to my own high standards (just ask my students), and I don’t stick to just one brand. I think that’s important for my readers, too, as it’s never any help to read someone’s work that is a parrot voice. If there’s a problem with something I’m reviewing, you’ll know about it. As one writing professor in my undergrad said about all life, perfection is something for which we strive, but seldom attain. The same is true for any product.
First, some technical details. I’d recommend against using a glossy paper with black-and-white prints, for a number of reasons. Most critically, glare on a black-and-white print tends to force darker tones to look…well, darker. Lots darker. Also, that same glare will tend to make taking the entire image difficult, which is counter to the point of photography–especially black-and-white work. This leads me to a paper recommendation of papers with satin, luster or matte finishes. The luster and satin papers will prove more resilient to handling and accidental scuff incidents; matte (especially papers like the Canson Infinity Arches Museum Velin Rag that is one of my personal favorites, but unavailable in anything larger than 19″ x 13″) will allow details to shine, but are rather fragile.
I use Red River Arctic Polar Luster or Aurora Art White 25″ x 17″ for most of my large prints. Click the link on the side of the page to visit Red River and help pay for the blog if these tutorials are helpful.
My goal for this lesson is to keep it simple; while there are a number of issues dealing with the black point on an inkjet printer that deal with a digital version of Ansel Adams’ Zone System, I’ll leave that for another time. Moreover, it’s helpful to know how to use Photoshop to properly adjust the black and white curve points in order to achieve the most desirable results. Long story short: Those two items will be the subjects for my next post. Enough said–on to the lesson.
Prepping the File
In the last post, I explained how to bypass the printer’s controls, setting our own carefully calibrated ICC profiles to match our paper choice. Here, we’ll still declare a paper type, but we’ll allow the printer to control the pigment management. Let’s begin with a digital file that has already been converted to grayscale, my photo “Cemetery Angel,” which I print on a satin paper (which I’ll use for this tutorial). You can test this process yourself and download the Cemetery Angel file, an 8 x 12 300 dpi JPEG (the photo that I’m using in this tutorial). The test file can be downloaded by right-clicking the link and choosing “Save as…”
Once you have it saved, open it in Photoshop and choose File > Print.
Prepping the Print Settings
The Photoshop dialog will appear with the same group of options we’ve seen before. However, this time we’ll disable Photoshop’s control of our file and let the Epson handle it. Let’s start this process by clicking the “Print Settings…” button to open the 3880’s dialog menu.
We need to first select a paper size (click the thumbnail to expand the photo). Since this is an 8″ x 12″ print, we’re left with a dilemma in that no paper companies make 8″ x 12″ paper (although some will cut custom sizes for you if you order in bulk, such as 500 sheets or more), and this forces us to use an A4 (8.7″ x 11.7″) size, and allow the printer to scale our image appropriately. The other option is to use an A3 (11.7″ x 16.7″), but this will precipitate a substantial amount of wasted paper. Either way, it’s not ideal, and in this case, we’re using A4, so in the Paper Size pull-down menu, select A4 (Manual – Rear) > A4 (Manual – Rear).
Next select the Color Matching submenu instead of the Layout submenu. Ensure “EPSON Color Controls” are selected.
Now choose Printer Settings instead of Color Matching.
Next to the Page Setup, “Manual – Rear” should be displayed. Media Type is more nuanced, since it will depend on the paper you choose; again, I’m using a satin paper for this tutorial, so we’ll select Photo Paper > Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster. All done here, and on to the tricky parts.
We’ll now tell the printer to override the color mode (disabling the color tanks and limiting us to the K (black), LK (light black), LLK (light light black), and PK (photo black) / MK (matte black) tanks). Under Print Mode, select Advanced B&W Photo. Don’t worry about any of the other two submenus (Color Toning & Output Resolution) just yet.
The Art of the Black and White Inkjet Print: Fine Adjustments
We’ll now do the fine adjustments, so click on the Advanced Color Settings tab. A somewhat complicated-looking submenu will appear, and you should see a photo of a blonde model, a color selection wheel, and five sliders. We can deal with how each of these work in turn, but know that the image of the model is meant to provide a rough display of the effects of the changes you are making to the print in each of your adjustments.
Turn your attention to the Tone pull-down menu. The official EPSON manual notes Dark is the default setting, but that Darker might be more appropriate. I haven’t found this to be the case, as either Dark (or worse, Darker) tends to block out lower zones (blacks and dark, dark greys that both contain texture), so I recommend using Normal. This will allow us to avoid making changes to the Brightness or Contrast sliders, and next I’ll explain why this is important.
Ansel Adams noted that a photograph was much like a piano, in that a print should make use of all the tones, just like a strong piece of piano music should utilize all 88 keys. The more contrast we add, the more harsh we make our print. In effect, extra contrast damages the subtle differences in the greys that make an interesting print–not our goal here in the beginning phases of learning how make a master print. So, long story short: Leave the brightness and contrast sliders alone if at all possible.
Next, let’s make sure our shadows and highlight retain the proper detail. Without going too deep into the Zone System, just know that the black textured areas and near-white textured areas should retain their details in this process. Think of it as moving the near-whites whiter, or more toward a grey. In “Cemetery Angel,” the clouds are dark, so I’ll move the shadow tones up by +5 to pull more detail, but I’ll also move the Highlight Tonality slider up to +15 to make the light areas in the sky pop. All done here.
Leave Max Optical Density alone; as you reduce this, the print focus will get softer.
Select On in the Highlight Point Shift pull-down, since this adds detail to highlight areas to compensate for the slight gloss on the satin paper we’re using. All done with this submenu.
Back under the Basic tab, select High Speed Printing (the quality benefit is negligible compared to print improvement, and it costs a lot more ink). Click Save.
As the British say, “Nearly done.” Since our print is slightly larger than our paper, under Scaled Print Size, select Scale to Fit Media.
Under Color Handling, select Printer Manages Colors (since the Epson will be doing the heavy lifting in this case).
Under Rendering Intent, select Perceptual, since this adapts the printing to keep relationships between the tones similar to our visual expectations, rather than a numerical relationship (which can be unpredictable in visual terms).
All done. Make a commitment by clicking print, and check the results on the finish. Compare what you get on paper to what you see on your monitor, and make finer adjustments as necessary.
I hope this is helpful in learning to make better black-and-white prints. Next time, I’ll go deeper into the Zone System and how to use it with the Epson to get a feel for tone visualization.