Digital Black &White
Printing Information Index

www.PaulRoark.com


To update a well-known saying from Mr.Adams, "The image file is like the musical score, and the print is the performance of that score."

We photographers and printers make and sell photographs that are a combination of 2 major components: the image and the print. Part of my journey has been exploring the options and refining the processes and workflows relating to the B&W print.

In the past, we B&W photographers prided ourselves in the archival nature of our lightly selenium toned silver prints. With the advent of digital tools, the inkjet print was, for good reasons in the early days, considered very second rate. Most today still are. To overcome this stigma, achieving "silver print" class stability of the image has been a significant effort of mine and some other like-minded people.

Just to get your attention, here is a lightfastness comparison of an inkjet 100% carbon pigment print versus a selenium-toned silver print (fiber base, not RC). The testing was done by Aardenburg-Imaging.com. The midtone, Lab L = 50 test patch delta-e values (total change in density and color -- lower is better) after 100 Mlux-hours of light exposure (about 50 years of display) were as follows:

100% carbon pigment print: Delta-e = 0.1
Selenium toned silver print: Delta-e = 1.2

That is, this (MIS "Eboni") carbon print was, by this measure, 12 times more stable than the silver print. The point is really to stress that with the right materials, inkjet prints can be significantly more stable than the classic silver prints. But, the materials and processes are critical when it comes to making the best black and white prints. The higher the carbon pigment content, the better the likely stability. Of course the desired print tone may necessitate some added color, but for stability, that color needs to be held to a minimum and the quality of the color pigments used must be very high.

(See a screen shot of these test reports for 100 Mlux-hours light exposure here. For the full test reports, see Aardenburg Imaging and Archives. )

I consider 100% carbon pigment prints using "Eboni-6" inks (developed by me on an open source basis and sold by MIS Associates) on Arches watercolor paper to be my signature medium. I work under a lifetime limit of a maximum of one full sheet Arches carbon print per week. Most individual images are and will be limited to 20 full sheet carbon-Arches prints.

However, I also sell dye-based prints and smaller, matte, pigment-inkjet paper prints on an open edition basis. These are very appropriate for the gallery walk-by business we get in Los Olivos, CA.

These pages document the printing approaches I have developed and used since the transition from darkroom to digital.

Ars longa, Vita brevis
(Art is long, Life is short)

High carbon content images on cotton-based papers are for the long haul, while B&W dyes on metallic paper win the visual "wow" factor for many viewers.

Current Preferences and Top Recommendations

My current top project is to port Eboni-6 to the Epson 3880 (and 3800) in a "Variable-Tone" format, so that both 100% carbon as well as totally smooth, completely neutral prints can be made very easily using either the Epson driver or QTR. It is working very well. The PDF regarding this project is at www.PaulRoark.com/BW-Info/3880-Eboni-Variable-Tone.pdf.

As new information is developed about the materials we use for printing, my views have changed and may well change again in the future. As such, the dates of my various PDFs as well as my stated preferences here need to be taken into consideration. I try to base the opinions expressed here on the latest information available, including the findings of Aardenburg-Imaging.com, Wilhelm Research, the Digital Print Preservation project (dp3project.org), my own fade testing, as well as many other sources. In that respect, those who follow the forums I frequent will note that my initial top blue toner did very well on a fade test but failed in a long term ink stability test. So, my current top toner is a Canon-only pigment blend, which is currently in fade testing and did very well on the long term ink stability test.

1. "Carbon on Cotton" -- The Benchmark for Print Lightfastness

a. 100% Carbon Pigment Printing

An image composed of 100% carbon pigments and printed on high quality, cotton-based paper sets the benchmark with respect to lightfastness, and the cost of top quality carbon pigments can be very low ($20 for 4 oz./116 ml). The lightfastness of a 100% carbon pigment print is multiples of that of the best printer manufacturer B&W approaches. It's not just a minor difference. Note that the "gray" inks in the printer manufacturers' inksets are not 100% carbon. They are blends of carbon plus color pigments. I use and recommend MIS Associates' 100% carbon pigments, and there are also other competitive third party sources of carbon pigments.

See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/Eboni-6.pdf for general information about the Eboni-6 100% carbon inkset. Eboni-6 and its variations will run in a number of Epson printers from the WorkForce quads to 8-ink K3 printers.

Beware that some companies call their inks "carbon" pigments even though they may be blends of carbon plus weak color pigments. There is no such thing as a neutral 100% carbon pigment ink. Carbon pigments print with a warm tone by their nature. What is unique about Eboni carbon is that it is capable of making more neutral matte prints than the other popular carbon ink approaches.

For those who expect their prints to be considered worthy successors to the silver (or noble metal) prints, the issue of longevity is very relevant. For those who don't care about long term image stability, the ease and economy of carbon pigment printing may still be enough to make the approaches I recommend worth considering.

I generally mix my own carbon inks using the formulas specified at http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/Ink-Mixing.pdf. I call these DIY mixes as "Carbon-6" to distinquish them from the MIS trademarked "Eboni-6" inks. They use the same profiles.

b. Carbon Plus Color Pigment Blends

Blends of carbon plus color pigments are not, per se, bad inks. In fact, as mentioned above, my latest efforts involve toning the carbon core inks with a light blue ink to achieve neutral/cool prints. For B&W printing, however, the most lightfast prints will be those that were printed with the maximum percentage of carbon and minimum percentage of color pigments needed to achieve the desired print tone. Additionally, the quality of the color pigments can vary widely from source to source. Thus, while I use third party carbon in most of my ink mixes, I have in recent years used OEM color pigments to tone the carbon.

One of the most critical problems of the third party blended carbon inks is print tone shifting, often to greenish, as one color (magenta) fades more quickly than the other (cyan). See, for example, this comparison of a 100% carbon print versus a typical third party blended carbon plus color inkset after 140 Mlux-hours of light exposure. In theory, we'd like to have a single, very high quality blue pigment that directly offsets the carbon warmth. Then, as it faded faster than the carbon, the print tone would simply warm in a straight line to the natural carbon warmth, which with Eboni is not bad to start with. Unfortunately, that ideal blue pigment does not exist. So, we have had to rely on alternative approaches, but using cheap cyan and magenta inks is not one of the successful ones.

HP's approach with its Z3200 PK, LK and LLK was to very carefully match the fade rates of the colors it uses in those blended inks. Fade tests of its Vivera inksets have shown impressive resistance to color shifting. Thus in several recent inksets, I have used the HP cool gray inks as the "toners." See, for example, http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/7800-EbHP-2013.pdf for the description of an Eboni plus HP toning option. However, the toning range when using the HP gray inks is minimal, and HP must start with warmer carbon (smaller particles due to the need for glossy compatibility and the thermal head technology) than I can use for matte printing only using Epson piezoelectric heads.

In my current variable-tone inkset approach I focus on finding the best color inks that come closest to the ideal blue color and thus minimize the "hue angle" between the two. This search has caused me to select Canon Lucia EX blue and, now (toner v. 2) the Canon Lucia Cyan (actually somewhat bluish itself) pigments for the toner. The hue angle between them is only 50 degrees, as opposed to the typical hue angle of 120 degrees that separate the C, M and Y inks in the typical color inkset. See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/LAB-color-wheel-2.jpg for a visual description of the strategy behind this approach. With this smaller hue angle difference, less color is needed and any differences in fade rates will have much less impact on the image.

The reality is that most inkjet papers will probably fail before the carbon image fades. As such, having a small amount of the highest quality color inks may have little impact on the print's expected life. 100% carbon is the ideal, but it is not needed for the vast majority of prints that most of us make. So, being able to print a truly neutral tone print has significant real world value. On the other hand, 100% carbon on Arches *watercolor* paper should outlast all of the inkjet prints, as noted below.

c. The Paper Used is a Critical Factor

One of the great advantages of inkjet printing is our ability to independently select the paper that best fits the style and look we prefer. Again, of course, there is no one paper that is best for all purposes. The choice of paper also can affect the expected longevity of the print. My preferences are currently for matte where the print will be displayed under glass or acrylic, or is expected to last a very long time. However, for cards, brochures, and display prints where looks and cost are more important than longevity, I prefer B&W dyes on high gloss, metallic paper, with no glazing (acrylic or glass) to interfere with the beauty of the image by itself.

Acid free and buffered paper is needed for any print that is expected to have a long life. Lignin in paper made from wood is typically the source of acids in cheaper paper. Even if there is sufficient buffering in the paper to absorb the acids formed by the breakdown of the lignin, the lignin itself will yellow the paper.

Cotton-based paper is often considered the best, in part, because cotton is virtually lignin free. However, without buffering in the paper, air-borne acids will still attack the cotton fibers. This is what I've seen happen to my well-processed wet darkroom prints that were stored in a manner that allowed air-borne acids to reach them.

OBA's (Optical Brightening Agents) are dyes added to papers that convert UV into visible light and make the papers appear brighter. They are widely used even in cheap "plain" papers made for copying and text printing. However, not only will the OBA dyes fade, causing the paper to warm, but they also appear to be implicated in reactions that will cause staining of dark stored prints. This issue is under-reported in the materials and testing most photographers rely on. The best explanation I've seen is that of Mark H. McCormick-Goodhart, Director, Aardenburg Imaging & Archives, in his August 29, 2015, comment on the Luminous Landscape forum, near the bottom of the page.

The bottom line for OBAs is to avoid them for prints desinged to last a long time.

Good, deep blacks are a characteristic I, like most B&W photographers, expect in a top quality B&W print. Here, I have found and verified with 1 degree light meter readings that the best matte papers usually have a deeper black than do the glossy papers when both types are displayed indoors, on the walls, under glass/acrylic in normal office and home environments. Glossy papers can have a great dmax in ideal and very bright lighting (including spectrophotometers). However, in typical indoor display environments, and when protected under standard picture glass or acrylic, the reflections from the glossy surfaces and glazing usually give the matte papers an edge. It's all about the reflections.

On the other hand, if the print is going to be viewed with no glass or acrylic over it, the "glossy" papers can have a substantial visual advantage. B&W dyes on Red River's glossy "metallic" paper is my formula for the prints with the most "pop" and "three dimensional" feeling. Dyes go into the paper coating rather than lying on top. The latest Epson dyes are very good, and with a proper acrylic spray the coating and dyes can be significantly protected. Here, the particular characteristics of the paper surface can make a major difference. Some papers seem to have an anti-reflection coating built in. Some have hard surfaces that resist fingerprints and abrasion significantly better than others. These may not do well in torture testing, but for medium term home or office display, they can be very good indeed. Pigments and an inappropriate protective spray on top of the highly-engineered surface of a modern glossy paper can seriously affect the potential of a paper-ink combination. As usual, which approach is best varies with the circumstances.

The amount of color needed to neutralize carbon warmth tends to be least with matte papers and most with glossy papers. The natural, un-coated papers tend to be more neutral by nature. With MIS Eboni-based inksets, there are a few coated matte papers that are also quite neutral. Glossy papers tend to print sepia tone with just carbon. As such, they require heavy toning with color pigments.

Physical deterioration of the paper is a factor that is not well tested. While it is likely that an image composed of 100% carbon would outlive the paper base, finding objective data on the relative expected longevity of different paper types is difficult. The coatings and laminations on inkjet papers appear to be the most likely to cause problems. Differential expansion and contraction caused by humidity and temperature fluctuations tend to crack and separate laminated paper substrates over time. These factors are not being tested in popular long term storage testing protocols, where humidity and temperature are kept constant and not cycled. Historical evidence is probably our best guide. See http://www.dp3project.org/preservation#crackinginkjetlight for the Digital Print Preservation Project's look at cracking of inkjet coatings. See also http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=87926.0 for a comparison of how different types of inkjet paper did after 6 months of sun exposure through a window. Both of the tests, above, involve treatment of the paper that no one would subject a valued photograph to, but they probably also indicate what will happen eventually to these coated papers.

In the past, the photographic "RC" papers had the worst reputation. The extent of that reputation that was due to specific photo paper characteristics as opposed to the nature of that type of laminated substrate is unclear.

In my own old photo digital restoration work, I find what I call "micro-cracking" of the emulsion rather typical of many of the oldest photos. This surface deterioration is often the limiting factor in pulling information off the old prints. Some conservators have opined that all coated or laminated substrates will eventually crack and/or delaminate.

Arches un-coated watercolor papers have an outstanding reputation in the painting world, where they have been used for hundreds of years by artists. And they can make excellent carbon pigment B&W prints -- not quite as smooth as coated inkjet papers, but more than adequate for large display prints. While there are other high quality watercolor papers, Arches achieves the highest dmax (deepest blacks) of any un-coated paper I've tested. In fact, Eboni v. 1.1 achieves a dmax that is better than the vast majority of inkjet papers with OEM MK. With no coatings or laminations to crack or flake off, these un-coated watercolor papers are likely to age much better than coated inkjet papers. While I suggest this paper as a benchmark, and I use it, uncoated watercolor papers require special workflows and inks to make good images. They are not what I recommend for most people. There are many very good inkjet papers. The best matte papers look excellent and will last a very long time with proper handling and display. I note and profile many of these in the various PDFs I have posted on printer and ink workflows.


2. Claria & Epson-Noritsu Advanced Dyes

Although carbon is well established as the display medium of choice for the most archival prints, my images composed of dyes and printed do high gloss, "metallic" paper (Red River Polar Pearl Metallic) have been the only B&W medium I have ever used that can compete side-by-side with high gamut color paintings in gallery sales. There is a three-dimensional quality to this medium that is unique. I currently make and sell more of these prints, while moving my more expensive carbon prints up-scale for the serious B&W photo and art collectors. "Life is short," and for current enjoyment, B&W dyes with the highest quality image files can be visually beautiful. On the other hand, as the saying goes, "art is long." Museums and art collectors may prefer carbon pigments for the images. Carbon on cotton-based papers are the only medium that may look visually unchanged after a hundred years of display. These are two separate B&W photographic media for different aesthetics and markets.

With respect to the unique visual quality of the dyes, it is probably the fact that pigments lie on top of the glossy surface, whereas dyes take the image into the coating and off the high gloss surface that makes the difference. The pigments on top of the paper result in a number of artifacts and relatively veiled highlights. The unique look of the metallic paper with dye results in an image quality that is, in some important respects, beyond what I've seen before.

Note that advances in the molecular structure of dyes have made the best dyes reasonably lightfast. Epson's advanced dyes (perhaps based on Fujifilm R&D) have been rated by Wilhelm Research at close to 100 years of display under glass. Epson's latest "dry lab" professional printer uses the "UltraChrome D6" inkset, which uses dyes and is marketed as producing "archival" prints, although their literature also indicates a projected display life of "over 80 years," which some might think is a bit shy of what the vague term "archival" usually implies. Other, more detailed and critical tests suggest that, particularly when a protective spray is used (and I do for all display dye prints), a reasonable, what I would call medium term display life is likely with advanced dyes, and photo album life may, in fact, be good enough to justify Epson's claimed "generations."

A priority of mine has been to find ways to improve the quality of prints made with advanced dyes. In this regard, in 2014 I changed my (Epson-Noritsu) dye inkset approach using an Epson 4000. Ironically, I switched from a dedicated B&W approach to a typical OEM "K2" ink arrangement. Unlike with pigments, the color Claria/Noritsu dyes are more lightfast than the black dye. This change should result in a significant increase in the likely display life of the dye-based prints I make. See this current approach, which should work for any Epson K2 and K3 printers, at www.PaulRoark.com/BW-Info/4000-Noritsu-2K.pdf.

I have been using the Epson 4000 and the dyes with a 17" roll of Red River Polar Pearl Metallic paper to make most of my display prints during the last year. After spraying them with Lascaux Fixativ, I dry mount the prints on foam core and use a simply black frame for display -- no glazing and no mat board.

The main visual weakness of this medium is that it can display color shifts when viewed under different lighting conditions. This was mostly a problem with old-style fluorescent lights. Older lights with Color Rendering Indices (CRI's) of less than 80 may result in a green/cyan tone shift that is significant. I and the gallery I most often show in have switched to LED lights. For me, that has essentially solved this problem.

I have made B&W profiles for the Epson 1400 and its OEM Claria inks, using QTR, and have outlined my recommended approaches in a PDF at http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/1400-Claria-BW.pdf. I currently use a 1400 with Claria and Noritsu inks, in the standard (color) arrangement both as my color printer (using the Epson driver in its usual manner) and B&W printer (where QTR is really needed) for cards, brochures and other high glossy output.

Another alternative is a dedicated B&W approach with the 1400/1430. This does requier the mixng of an "LK" inkd. With this approach the Epson driver becomes a viable way to print good B&W with the dyes. Dedicated B&W inksets like this are much easier to profile, though, ironically, the black dyes are not as lightfast as the color dyes. See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/1400-Claria-Noritsu-2K2LK.pdf.


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Help Keep My Open Source Ink Formulas and Profiles Open and Free

Contributions to the cause of the best B&W printing to all for the least amount of money are most appreciated.

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Other Inkset and Workflow Links

Inkset List by Printer and Inkset Name

For a list of inksets I've made for various printers, click here. This list includes some inksets that are fairly new and that I would still recommend. It also includes some legacy inksets that were made before we knew as much as we do now about ink longevity and might not recommend today.


Workflow Notes;

"Carbon on Cotton" for best image stability and low cost;

Why Dyes;

MIS 100% carbon pigment inksets;
-- Eboni-6 for smoothness;
-- Eboni-6 details, including for the 1400;

Ink Mixing, including for Carbon-6, HP, and dyes; for former darkroom workers and others so inclined;

High Sierra Workshops at the historic Golden Trout Camp;

Paul's Gallery and Home Page

For my gallery of B&W photos and other information not related to the above inksets, click here.

Paul Roark
Solvang, CA, USA
www.PaulRoark.com