Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Gadget Bag: Inkjet Paper For B&W Prints
To make the very best black-and-white prints, you need to have a clean, high-resolution image file, a good printer and the right paper
Back in the days when having a darkroom in your home involved chemistry and safelights, black-and-white printing ruled supreme. In fact, many photographers used to cut their teeth on black-and-white film, then they would graduate to color—and when they finally became master photographers—they would return to black-and-white.
These days, color is forced upon us everywhere in life. Only the daily newspaper peers back at us in monochrome—and even it has some color on many pages. But don’t let this proliferation of color cause you to bypass one of the most elemental—and rewarding—aspects of photography.
Aside from the obvious, there are subtle differences between color and black-and-white printing, and a few of the nuances are worthy of mention. Some color printers, for example, use more than one shade of black ink. Canon, Epson and HP all offer models with this capability. The manner by which you convert your digital image to monochrome makes a big difference, too. Dedicated conversion programs, like Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro or Exposure from Alien Skin, offer extensive creative control over the process—right down to the ability to emulate the exact characteristics of certain films.
The biggest difference, however, is also the easiest to remember. When you create a black-and-white print with an inkjet printer, the blackness of the black portions (the darkest areas, in particular) is determined primarily by the ink. Conversely, the whiteness of the white areas (especially the pure white) is determined primarily by the paper. The midtones are influenced by both to varying degrees. So the printer and inking method are of somewhat importance, but the paper stock you print on is of paramount importance.
There’s virtually no limit to the number of paper choices that await you. The good news is that you can print on practically anything that will fit in your printer, although you’ll find that certaincombinations of printer and media yield better results than others, and in a few cases, some won’t play together at all. A Brand X printer performs reliably well when fed Brand X paper, that’s for sure, but that does not close the door on other brands.
Because your choice of papers is more dizzying than the lineup of breakfast cereal at the supermarket, we’ve collected a list of brands you should know about. This is by no means a complete list—there are several others worthy of your investigation. And we didn’t include the obvious (Canon, Epson, HP) despite the fact that all three offer outstanding, time-proven products because, in this article, we’re focusing on the other brands that aren’t under the umbrella of the printer manufacturers.
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