A number of dedicated B&W inksets and printing workflows are discussed on my web pages.
There is no one system that will do all things for all people.
For the maximum lightfastness and image stability, 100% carbon pigments on cotton-based matte paper are the medium of choice.
Carbon pigment prints which are matted, framed and glazed the traditional manner grace the walls of my office, darkroom, and home.
Eboni-6 carbon pigments on Arches watercolor paper, in my opinion, sets the benchmark for
collectible, high-end, museum-grade B&W fine art.
For maximum visual impact, high-gloss, non-glazed prints using B&W dyes can make dramatic statements.
B&W dyes from the Epson-Noritsu inkset, printed on Red River metallic paper, result in a print with sharpness and a
three-dimensional look that is beyond other B&W print media.
Ars longa, Vita brevis
(Art is long, Life is short)
My current personal approach to Eboni-6 for the 7800 (K3) and flexible, neutral-tone matte prints -- Eboni-6 plus HP neutral inks for the 7800;
My latest B&W dye approach for K2 and K3 printers -- Epson-Noritsu dyes in an Epson 4000;
The best B&W dye approach for the 1400/1430 -- Epson Claria/Noritsu 2K-2LK B&W inkset.
-- For good B&W from a standard Claria 1400/1430 type printer -- Claria "Advanced B&W" approach with QTR.
The OEM (Epson, HP, and Canon) printing systems serve the general color market very well. For those who want the best, most lightfast color prints, it's probably impossible to do better than the OEM systems.
However, what makes the best color inkset does not make the best B&W printing system. For example, the color systems compete to see which one can get the highest gamut, brightest colors. B&W systems, on the other hand, need to avoid unwanted color casts and color shifts. The original dedicated B&W printing systems were developed after many hopeful B&W photographers discovered that it is impossible to make a high quality B&W print from color inks.
The OEMs also found that while high gamut colors are a primary goal for them, having one or two neutral gray inks in the printer makes the neutral or low gamut portions of color images much better. These relatively neutral gray inks also had the benefit of allowing at least reasonably good B&W prints. Thus the "K3" printer types and "Advanced B&W" printing mode were developed.
However, just as the color printers benefit from having more than 3 color inks, B&W systems benefit from having more than 2 grays and a black. The more gray inks that a system has, the smoother the output can be. Not only do lighter gray inks allow smoother highlights, but more gray inks firing in the midtones is more likely to avoid microbanding. Dedicated B&W systems use more gray inks for more smoothness.
Similarly, within the B&W inkset category, the more specialized the inkset, the better it can achieve the narrower range of print types that it targets. The most lightfast pigments available for inkjet printing are composed of 100% carbon. Carbon pigments have been used in imaging (including caves) and writing for thousands of years. Carbon pigments are readily available to the third party ink sellers.
The OEMs do not sell any gray pigments that are 100% carbon. Thus, they cannot make the most lightfast B&W prints. Sophisticated, independent fade testing has found the fade rates of the best OEM K3 neutral and B&W 50% gray print test patches to have fade rates of at least 3 times that of the 100% carbon pigment, third party B&W inksets.
The OEMs also do not make a dedicated or suitable dye inkset for B&W printing. However, the Epson-Noritsu inks are an excellent source of bulk inks that B&W digital darkroom photographers and printers can tap into.
B&W inkjet printing lends itself to a more hands-on approach to inks and printing than does color printing. Between the third party ink sources and the printer manufacturers, we have excellent inputs available to us that can be used to make custom B&W inksets that will outperform the "one size fits all" OEM approaches. As usual, specialization has its rewards.
Several companies sell dedicated B&W inksets. Many photographers use these with success. I designed most of the MIS Associates (inksupply.com) B&W systems, not as an employee or contractor of MIS but as an independent photographer who simply wanted a system for my own use that had the features I wanted. MIS founder Bob Zeiss (now retired) was very helpful in my efforts, and our joint efforts to find the best carbon pigments resulted in what is now the most lightfast inkset and most neutral-printing 100% carbon inkset. However, I also use and recommend a number of inks from Epson and HP. They can run side-by-side in Epson printers to give a wide range of high quality, reliable, and cost-effective B&W options.
Some companies call their inks "carbon" pigments even though they may be blends of carbon plus weak color pigments. Color pigments will fade faster and, unless very carefully matched, at different rates from each other. The differential fade will cause print tone to shift. Analysis of fade test reports is needed to be sure the print will have a life that is long enough for the intended use.
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 any given print tone, the more carbon and the less color used, the more likely the print will look good many years from now. 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.
If a more neutral print tone is needed than 100% carbon can achieve, using high quality magenta and cyan pigments is the most flexible approach, but a rip like QTR is needed for printing, and profiling can be difficult. Additionally, with separate cyan and magenta inks, how are we to know that their fade rates have been matched such that a neutralized carbon blend will not shift to green?
A simpler and safer approach is to use neutral/cool inks that are blends of carbon plus the color pigments. Where a sophisticated company has carefully matched the ingredients in the neutral/cool gray ink, and there are tests available that indicate its performance, we can have much higher confidence that our prints will not suffer undesirable tone shifts. Additionally, with this type of approach an inkset can be made that prints well with the Epson driver and simple profiles. I have, for a number of years, successfully combined Eboni-6 carbon with HP Z3100/3200 neutral/cool pigments in both the Epson 1400 and 7800 with excellent results.
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, and high gloss paper for cards, brochures, and usually for any use where the print is not under glass or acrylic. Of course, any time a print is not protected by glazing, it will likely get damaged sooner or later. So, for collectible fine art, "carbon on cotton" (matte) paper under glass/acrylic is benchmark for longevity.
Of course, for any print that is expected to have a long life, the papers should be acid free and buffered.
Optical Brightening Agents (OBA's) can make a print look brighter. However, photographers should understand that OBAs in the paper are dyes that will fade, causing the paper to warm. OBAs are not, per se, bad, but I prefer them to be absent or low in amount for top fine art prints that are expected by be stable for many years. Note that natural paper bleaches with light exposure. So some OBA fade is offset by paper bleaching, and natural, OBA-free papers are not necessarily the most stable in tone. However, most papers brightened with OBAs use far more OBAs that would be needed to offset natural paper bleaching.
The amount of color ink needed to neutralize carbon pigment warmth tends to be least with matte papers and most with glossy papers. As such, relatively neutral images on high quality matte paper will ultimately be more stable than similar neutral images on glossy papers. With MIS Eboni-based inksets, there are a few matte papers that result in quite neutral appearing images with no color pigment toning at all. Glossy papers, on the other hand, tend to print sepia tone with just carbon. As such, they require heavy toning with color inks to make a neutral image, and these color pigments will fade relatively quickly and at different rates, causing color shifting. For longevity, using the least and best color pigments is a worthy goal.
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 longevity of different paper types is difficult, if not impossible. The coatings and laminations on the paper 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.
Then there is the problem of airborne pollutants. Different types of coatings and the different types of paper may react differently. There seem to be a large number of variables and unknowns. Historical evidence may be our best guide.
In my own old photo digital restoration work, I find physical damage to the image on the paper from handling often worse than the fading. Additionally, what I call "micro-cracking" of the emulsion appeared 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. For the best longevity, protecting the image from physical damage, such as mounting display prints under glass or acrylic, is highly recommended.
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 very good for large display prints. While there are other high quality watercolor papers, Arches achieves the highest dmax of any un-coated paper I've tested -- competitive with many fine art inkjet papers, though not as deep as the best. Again, on the wall in typical indoor display settings, the Arches dmax is fine. With no coatings or laminations to crack or flake off, these un-coated watercolor papers are likely to age better than coated inkjet papers. Again, I suggest this paper as a benchmark, and I use it. However, it requires special workflows and inks; it's not what I recommend for most people. There are many very good inkjet papers that are much easier to use, and I note and profile many of these in the various PDFs I have posted on printer and ink workflows.
What distinguishes "Eboni" carbon pigments from others is that it prints on most matte papers with a more neutral image tone than other carbon pigments. All carbon pigments tend to be warm, but Eboni on some matte papers, including Epson's Hot Press (particularly "natural"/no OBA version), is close to neutral. (As background, finding the carbon pigment that MIS Associates calls "Eboni" involved an extensive search by me, as an independent photographer, as well as the founder of MIS Associates. Eboni was the pigment that not only was the most neutral, but also gave the best dmax on many papers of choice.)
MIS "Eboni" matte-paper-only carbon has now been used for a number of years and continues to be the most neutral carbon pigment as well as producing the most lightfast prints tested so far. In the most detailed and sophisticated fade testing, by Aardenburg Imaging & Archives, the best performance yet was by an Eboni print on PremierArt Fine Art Smooth paper, also sold as Epson Scrapbook paper. After 100 mega-lux hours of exposure (equivalent to 51 years of display as used by Wilhelm Research), the average delta-e (a measure of total fade and color change - lower is better) for all test patches was 0.2. The paper base delta-e was 0.5. The 50% test patch delta-e was 0.1. See ID#144 at Aardenburg-Imaging, where fade test data for many papers and inks is available from free (but I urge you to make a contribution to this tremendous photographic resource).
Where a more neutral image is needed than is possible with 100% carbon, starting with the most neutral carbon and then adding the least amount of color needed makes the most stable prints for any given degree of neutrality. To accomplish this, I have combined Eboni-6 with blended, neutral pigments. See Eboni-4 Plus for this inkset approach on an Epson 1400.
My latest inkset combines Eboni-6 with HP neutral/cool pigments in the Epson 7800. See 7800-EbHP-2013.pdf for this inkset approach. This approach would probably work well on all Epson K3 printers. The approach allows essentially neutral printing on most matte papers with the minimum (and best) color and maximum carbon use. I have a high level of confidence that this approach will result in prints that will last as long as I expect the inkjet papers to last.
Note that other good quality 100% carbon inksets, though warmer, would also produce outstanding fade test results. Eboni is not unique in that respect, it's just the most neutral of the options.
MIS Associate's glossy-compatible carbon pigments -- including their usual LLK, LK, and PK for Epson K3 printers -- are warmer than Eboni on coated inkjet papers. On glossy, including the new baryta, papers they are a sepia tone. This is what I've used for museum old-photo reproductions where sepia tone was desired and prints were going to be displayed un-glazed. (Matte rag paper is used for archiving and protected wall display.) Note that the MIS glossy carbons are only about 1 Lab B unit warmer than Eboni-6 on Arches watercolor paper. On most matte papers, the glossy carbon is significantly warmer than Eboni.
While the dye prints are not in the same league as carbon pigments in terms of longevity, advances in the molecular structure of dyes have made the best ones far better than the older dyes and suitable for many uses. When sprayed with a protective coat, the B&W dyes I use are in the same league with Epson color prints. Color prints made with Claria dyes have been rated by Wilhelm Research at close to 100 years of display.
The main visual weakness of this medium is that it can display color shifts when viewed under fluorescent lights. Particularly older lights with Color Rendering Indices (CRI's) of less than 80 may result in an unpleasant green/cyan tone shift. This is mostly annoying if they are displayed next to carbon-based prints, which are essentially immune to color shifts.
I have made B&W profiles for the Epson 1400 and 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 often use a 1400 with Claria -- and Epson's similar "Noritsu" -- inks, in the standard (color) arrangement, both as my color printer and for B&W cards and brochures.
With an easily mixed "LK" added, a superior dedicated B&W inkset can be made with the these inks, and the Epson driver also becomes a viable way to print good B&W with the dyes. See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/1400-Claria-Noritsu-2K2LK.pdf. This inkset and non-glazed framing has made some of my fastest selling prints. However, collectors should stay with carbon on cotton under glass/acrylic.
- QTR Profiling with a flatbed scanner - simplified;
- QTR Printing in Windows - my current workflow;
- Other 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;
Solvang, CA, USA