April 9, 2009

New Photo Surface B&W Print Service

Filed under Additional Services,Announcements,Technical Articles | by Tyler Boley @ 5:26 pm

After well over a year of testing various new papers and ink setups I now have much more finessed photo surface black and white output options available. While they do not mimic, each was designed to impart some of the qualities of lightly selenium toned silver papers, one a more neutral bromide like look, the other a more warmish chlorobromide appearance.

Hahnemuhle came out with several papers intended to meet this need over the course of the past year or so, but with Photo Rag Baryta things finally fell into place. The paper has a nice surface with a subtle unimposing texture and sheen. It is 100% cotton, uses no optical brighteners, and utilizes barium sulphate in the inkjet coating like darkroom papers to achieve it’s look. It’s base tone appears fairly neutral without the overly brightened bluish look many other new papers seem to have and works very well for the neutral to cool ink setups.

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta- bromide hue

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta- bromide hue

Introduced over three years ago by Crane, Museo Silver Rag consistently resulted in prints that rose above other papers that have come out in it’s wake. It is also 100% cotton rag, with no optical brighteners, and has a surface similar to the Hahnemuhle. The base hue is very slightly warm, making it ideal for a warm image tone. A lot of papers were tried before coming back to Silver Rag, now manufactured by InteliCoat Technologies.

Museo Silver Rag- chlorobromide hue

Museo Silver Rag- chlorobromide hue

Literally everything else available has been tested here, from Innova, Epson, Ilford, Harman, etc., and though I will happily print on any paper for customers who prefer them and have special projects, these two papers achieve the highest performance levels, have very desirable makeup for longevity concerns, and subjectively result in the nicest photo surface prints so far.

Special ink setups in the RIP allow for Dmax up over 2.5 for both papers, high resolution, the bare minimum of color ink usage to maintain the highest possible longevity, and tunable hue from sepia to very cold, and everything in between including split tones on both papers.

Of course full color setups are available for both papers as well. For those with interest and patience for more in depth technical information, keep reading. For those who just want to see some prints, I will have a sample order page up soon, or just come by to take a look at some prints.

A major problem with inkjet output for B&W has always been the presence of unnecessarily high percentage of very saturated color ink dots making up the image. That each of these colors, carefully balanced to hit your desired monochromatic subtle hue, or neutral, will fade at different rates is alarming for B&W photographers. Density fade is one thing, but visible hue shift is most disturbing. The Cone inks used here for B&W output on fine art matte papers obviously minimizes this potential, the process remains one of the most beautiful B&W photography systems available, and it will stay available here indefinitely. Despite months of R&D, and sharing the results with many photographers, I could not optimize a similar monochromatic ink system that will work reliably in a production environment for the photo surfaces. Believe me, I tried. Until something develops, these new setups use the Ultrachrome K3 inks with photo black to take advantage of the existence of these new papers. The Epson driver, with it’s Advanced Black and White mode gave users much better easy B&W than was previously available, but it still uses a high percentage of color inks, and also dithers them in a manner that results in less than optimal image resolution.

These ink setups use photo black, light black, and light light black in a carefully linearized tritone system very similar to the special monochromatic Cone ink systems, all the way from the lightest tones to full black. This is the core of the image, and the majority of the ink makeup of the print. Then, small amounts of color inks are added as desired using spot channels, these are not CMYK setups. To achieve the hues used for the basic setups above, only small amounts of cyan and magenta are needed, even for the warm setup. Only when going for a full Sepia is any yellow ink introduced if needed, and then of course no cyan ink will be required. In nearly all setups, only small amounts of 2 colors would be used along with the majority of black and light black inks. Metamerism failure is also kept to a minimum by reducing color ink content to only what is absolutely required for the desired hue. The RIP used here offers a resolution setting not available with the Epson driver ideal for these setups, 1440 x 1440. It prints slower than the standard 1440 x 720, but is worth the wait for these setups. Firstly, unlike 2880 it still allows variable dot, so at full black the largest dot size is available to yield very high dmax desirable for this kind of B&W printing. Since it puts down twice as many dots in the previous 720 direction, there is less “space” between, more coverage, and more dot positions available to describe file detail. Lastly, the pattern is more symmetrical with the same capability both horizontally and vertically, so the potential of any detectable linear image structure is minimized considerably. This tends not to be problematic for color, but when fewer ink channels are dithering together like this, it can make a difference. During testing it was noticed that certain tones displayed more bronzing at high percentages of some dot sizes in the light black inks than others. Therefore even bronzing performance was part of the criteria for optimizing the dot controls in the RIP.

A high resolution scan of the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta setup side by side with Epson ABW output highlights all of these differences easily. Less color ink dots, higher resolution, smoother output, etc..

The use of image derived spot channels, and controlling their content in Photoshop, allows fully customizable hues for any project. Of course a more neutral or even cool setup can be put on Silver Rag, and Photo Rag Baryta looks very nice with a warm image as well. More aggressive hues are easily designed, full sepias, cyanotype cool, split tones, whatever one may want can be developed. Ink setups are then profiled as a total monochromatic system using QTR tools, so predictable, fully managed conversion from a B&W file to any ink setup is achieved.

A variety of standard setups will continue to be developed here and made available “off the shelf”, and with a little lead time a custom setup can be worked up for your special project or edition. Right now this setup is in a 24″ 7800 printer, but the 44″ 9800 is easily switched to to PK for orders requiring larger prints, but please plan ahead if possible.

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