"Carbon on Canvas," 32 x 40 inches
(Carbon toned with the minimum and best cool pigments to make a neutral print.)
For my 2016-17 "carbon on canvas" project, click here.
For information on my September 2017 show at Gallery Los Olivos,
click here, and
Why carbon? Because it is by far the strongest, most light-fast pigment we have. The carbon-carbon bond is nature's strongest. There is a reason life is based on carbon. Carbon pigments have also been around for thousands of years and are readily availble from competitive sources. I have worked with MIS Associates for years, as well as their supplier STS Inks. However, I suspect there are may be many sources of good carbon pigments. I do not recommend people try to grind their own. Preparing pigments for inkjet use involves equipment and economies of scale that are not realistic for individuals.
The printing approaches I recommend (one for matte paper only, and one that is glossy and matte compatible) are the most economical, as well as most archival, that I have found. They produce images that range in tone for warm, 100% carbon, to neutral, but still predominantly carbon pigment. They involve open-source, dedicated B&W inksets that usually involve, at a minimum, individuals loading their own cartridges, and for glossy printing also mixing PK with MIS Associates' clear (aka "amber") base (no scales or fancy equipment needed).
This is, in my view, today's version of the personal B&W darkroom of the silver print era. My darkroom is now my ink mixing room. If you want the best prints, with the most personal control, and for the least cost, this is it.
I make my profiles available, but this is not a "turnkey" approach for most printers and papers. I publish all that I do, but I am not in the ink or profile business. I am in the fine art B&W print "business," but it is also a passion for the medium and my determination to keep the very best B&W approaches affordable for both myself and others.
First, decide whether you need to print glossy paper, including the "baryta" type papers. If you are OK with strictly matte paper printing, then the "Eboni" MK carbon based inksets are the best and least expensive, not to mention potentially most archival. If you mix your own dilution base, using the formulas I provide, the cost can be close to 1% of the cost of ink in small Epson carts at full retail price. In terms of image longevity as well as value for cost, the Eboni Variable Tone inkset is the best there is -- as long as matte paper is your target. For display under glass or acrylic (that is, where the image is protected), matte paper is the easiest to deal with. It can be simply hung with two tapes in the back under the mat board.
Glossy/satin prints require some sort of dry mounting to look professional. Otherwise some waviness will show, and that is a major display problem, in my opinion. However, for large sizes, the ability to display prints without heavy glass/acrylic is important. Thus glossy carbon printing is also a significant option and will appeal to many. Most probably also believe glossy B&W makes better snapshots. For information on glossy printing, see further below.
See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/Eboni-Variable-Tone.pdf for a typical matte paper, carbon variable tone setup on a 6-ink printer like the 1430 (1500 in Europe), which are excellent printers that have a 13 inch wide paper capability.
See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/3880-Eboni-Variable-Tone.pdf for a typical setup on an 8-ink printer.
Thanks to Alain Oguse (firstname.lastname@example.org), the 3880 Carbon Variable Tone PDF is now available in French. See http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/3880-Eboni-Variable-Tone-01-2017-fr.pdf.
The various dilutions of Eboni are sold pre-mixed by MIS Associates, Inc (aka InkSupply.com) as part of its Eboni-6 inkset.
In general, bulk inputs for the inksets I formula can be found at https://www.inksupply.com/roarkslab.cfm. I am not connected to MIS, nor do I receive any royalties. Everything I do with respect to inks is open source, and there are alternative sources and inputs. That said, I am happy to have MIS make these well-tested inputs available to us in reasonable quantities and at good prices. I often buy in larger quantities from the wholesale supplier, STS Inks, but these inks are not sold from its web page. MIS (www.Inksupply.com, above) is usually the appropriate retail source for U.S. purchasers. Note that the blue toner MIS sells is based on its pigments and not the Canon Lucia color pigments I use for the most lightfast neutral printing. That said, the MIS version is probably as stable as any commercially available system, but I have not done a comparative fade test.
Second, if you want to print on glossy paper, as well as matte paper, then the Glossy Variable Tone approach using MIS glossy carbons is what I use and recommend. See, for example, http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/Glossy-Carbon-Variable-Tone.pdf for a typical setup. (For a French language version of this PDF, click here.)
The glossy carbon inksets cost more to mix because you cannot use the generic matte base that I've formulated. (Regarding that base, I recommend you use version c6b. For Eboni as well as Canon and HP pigments, it has worked perfectly for me for years.)
I have generally believed that glossy inksets clog a bit more than matte-only inksets because they have binders in them to stick the pigments to the glossy paper. However, I have found that these inks are still among the best in this regard.
The glossy carbon inksets I use are mixed from MIS ("UltraTone") PK and "amber" base. These are sold from MIS's https://www.inksupply.com/roarkslab.cfm page.
Universal neutral toner: For both the matte and glossy carbons we are most fortunate that the same light blue toner can be used to make neutral tone prints. MIS sells a version of this premixed with its pigments. I use Canon Lucia Blue and Cyan pigments with generic base c6b for my printing. The same profiles work with both. I expect the MIS premixed toner to be as stable as most third party B&W inks. The Canon based toner with carbon, particularlly on the best matte paper, makes what I believe to be the best neutral B&W -- more stable than the old silver prints. But 100% carbon is, of course, even more stable.
A single light blue toner is what I've found is the best compromise between flexibility and ease of use. I have found that very few people can master good B&W profiling of a two-color (cyan and magenta) ink system.
The best printer to start with is probably the Epson 1430 (1500 outside the USA). I have had 3 of this series, and they have been among the most reliable printers I've used. Most Epson printers are compatible with the inks I use and recommend. HP and Canon printers are not.
More detail on carbon printing and the approaches is found below.
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 second rate. Most today still are if one is interested in fine art black and white. While today's best color pigments are very good and better than the "wet darkroom" color processes, those pigments are not up to the silver print standard. Developing the digital and inkjet processes to achieve "silver print" class image stability and quality has been a significant effort of mine and some other like-minded people.
Today, the best carbon pigment prints we are making from dedicated B&W printing systems have exceeded the silver print
in a number of ways, including image stability.
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. Most of this difference is in the paper tone stability of the substrates. A good inkjet paper that has to optical brighteners can be very stable. The silver and carbon are both stable, but it's the paper that is the weak link.
The point is really to stress that with the right materials -- carbon pigments and good, non-OBA paper -- inkjet prints can be significantly more stable than the classic silver prints. However, 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. )
The visual image quality of, particularly, B&W prints from inkjet printers designed mostly for color printing, and composed mostly of bright color inks, has also been a problem. A good, appropriately toned, B&W image is best and most reliably obtained by having a B&W printing system that is dedicated to B&W, having carbon inks in most if not all of its channels. I use an approach that has carbon in all but one of the positions (8 carbon inks) and one light blue pigment toner position that offsets the slight carbon warmth when, for example, I want snow or clouds to be totally neutral white.
In short, a predominantly carbon image is best for B&W, and a printing system made just for B&W printing can make a print that is objectively better than the old silver print technology. The need to serve the mainstream color printing market has made the OEM systems very good at color printing, but for B&W the higher percentage of carbon used by specialized carbon inksets can provide greater quality as well as value.
For my top prints I use "Eboni-6" carbon pigment inks (developed by me on an open source basis and sold by MIS Associates). These are made on cotton-based fine art papers.
These pages document the printing approaches I have developed and used since the transition from darkroom to digital.
The best B&W printing approach I have found for fine art that is going to be displayed under glass or acrylic is to use an "Eboni" MK carbon based inkset with a single light blue toner. I call these by various names, such as "Eboni Variable Tone." In 2015 I set up an Epson 1400, a 7800, a 3880, and, finally, a 9800 with these types of inksets. All of the PDFs relating to these projects, linked above, are similar. There are two main variations. With the 1400 and 3880, the toner is in the Yellow position so that control with the Epson driver is very easy. With the 7800 and 9800, the toner is in the LLK position because I use the Y position for a second MK, which is needed to achieve the best dmax with Arches watercolor paper. I assume people using this wide format professional printers will be comfortable with QuadToneRip.
All of the matte paper only inksets in the above paragraph are variations of "Eboni-6," which is sold by MIS Associates or can be mixed (diluted from the MK) by the user. The light blue toner is a blend of Canon Lucia Blue (55%) and Cyan (45%) pigment, then this is diluted with the generic base, which is sold pre-mixed by MIS. The toner itself is not sold by MIS and needs to be mixed by the user. The 1400 and 7800 setups diluted the Canon pigment with 90% base. The more recent ones dilute the Canon mix with 75% base, which is plenty light and puts less water and chemical on the paper.
For most who do not want to do any mixing, Eboni-6 alone works very well, and MIS has a number of older B&w inksets that I've designed. Eboni-6 without a toner, being 100% carbon, will print with a warm tone. The ability to print a range of tones from carbon warm to neutral using these Variable tone Eboni inksets are, I believe, make these variable tone Eboni inksets the best ones yet for matte paper.
In reading my various PDF, it's important to note that, 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. So far, nothing has come close to the stability of carbon as the basis for modern B&W printing.
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.
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 (not inkjet) paper should outlast all of the inkjet prints, as noted below.
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 one-degree light meter readings that the best matte papers often 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. However, when the glossy or satin paper is displayed without any glass/acrylic over it, the greater dmax of the glossy paper type can give a print a significant advantage. It's all about the display situation and reflections, balanced against other factors like preferred style and degree of protection of the image.
The amount of color needed to neutralize carbon warmth tends to be least with matte papers and most with glossy papers. My favorite natural, un-coated paper -- Arches watercolor paper -- tends to make a relatively neutral print even with 100% carbon. (Profiles can be made to use the inks in a way that allows a 100% carbon image to have a maximum warmth over the paper base of only 3 Lab B units.) 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. In general Arches is not quite as smooth as coated inkjet papers, but more than adequate for large display prints. Note that the backside of the paper is much less likely than the front side to have fibers sticking out of the surface. 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.
Note also that B&W images made with dyes 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 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.
"Carbon on Cotton" for best image stability and low cost;
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