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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Printers For Black&White

For making gallery-quality prints, you need to have the right tool

Labels: Printers

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Dye-based inksets like the Canon ChromaLife100 have become much longer lasting as chemistry has improved.
The life of a digital print depends on the same factors as a traditional wet-darkroom print, but all digital prints made with inkjet printers have more in common with color processes, so even black-and-white digital prints have some significant challenges for longevity. Inkjet prints rely on several complex chemical reactions beginning with the inks themselves. We've mentioned that to make a fine black-and-white print you should be printing in full color. Don't be fooled into thinking that if you use only the black inks for your print you'll be making a stable image along the lines of a traditional wet-darkroom silver-halide print. The black and gray inks in an inkjet printer have the same fundamental chemical issues as the color inks in the same printer.

There are two types of ink technologies used in inkjet printers: dye-based and pigment-based. Of the two, pigment-based are the more stable and more archival because their pigments are mostly inert—they won't react with the air or fade with exposure to light. Dye-based systems contain more corrosive chemicals, making their images inherently less stable than pigment-based systems.

Does all of this mean you should avoid dye-based printers? Absolutely not! Dye-based systems are capable of producing beautiful black-and-white images. All other things being equal, they won't last as long as a pigment print, but even dye-based prints have improved dramatically in their longevity. Go to Wilhelm Imaging Research where longevity testing shows some dye-based prints lasting over 100 years (wilhelm-research.com). Also, in the digital world, some question the need for longevity because, unlike a film-based original, the actual image file doesn't fade or break down. You can make a perfect new print if you notice degradation.

Advanced pigment inksets like these Epson UltraChrome HDR and Canon LUCIA inks have migrated from high-end commercial printers to desktop models.
Pigment Inksets
For the purposes of this article, we're looking at a portion of the total universe of inkjet printers that are most geared to OP readers. These are printers for photographers who want a dedicated photo printer for producing outstanding images. We're limiting the scope to desktop printers.

As mentioned, all of the printer manufacturers have developed methods for improving the way color inks can make black-and-white images. Canon's LUCIA inksets and Epson's UltraChrome K3 inksets are excellent examples of pigment-based ink technologies that build on the basic cyan, magenta, yellow and black with photo colors like light cyan, light magenta, matte black, photo black, light black, light light black, gray, red, green and blue. The upshot of this cornucopia of color is, ironically, a black-and-white print that has deep, pure blacks and the sorts of smooth transitions from tone to tone that we see in silver-halide prints.

The Canon LUCIA system is available in the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II. There are 10 pigment-based inks in individual ink tanks. The inkset employs standard color inks as well as photo black, matte black and gray inks. These latter three inks, in particular, are said to help deliver a higher-contrast image with lesser metamerism and excellent neutrality—all qualities one needs to make top-level black-and-white prints.

Epson was the pioneer of pigment-based inkjet printers. Its current UltraChrome K3 inks feature eight individual tanks, and the system is available in the Stylus Pro 4880 and Stylus Pro 3880. Photo black, matte black, light black and light light black are used in conjunction with the pigment-based colors to create prints that have smooth tonality, strong contrast and rich blacks.


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