Epson R1800 and R800
100% Carbon Pigment Digital Black and White
Plus Full Color Printing


Paul Roark

Photo quality, 100% carbon pigment (no color inks), neutral black and white digital printing has arrived with the tiny 1.5 picoliter dots of the R800 & R1800 printers -- if the right carbon pigments and workflow are used. For those who value the most stable B&W images, not to mention the lowest possible ink costs, this is significant.

This article deals primarily with configuring the Epson R800 and R1800 inkjet printers to print pure carbon pigment B&W, utilizing three channels of neutral matte black ink. This workflow is sometimes referred to as the "3-MK" workflow. A side benefit to the approach is that it allows the R800/1800 to also print full color on matte paper with the usual Epson driver and settings without changing any inks.

In some respects it helps bring B&W photography back to its roots. While the links in this web page sometimes discuss color tones in depth, a user can ignore the technical discussions. Color inks and artifacts, as well as complex color profiling and theory play no part in the medium. It's just B&W -- black carbon on white paper.

This page serves as an overview of the approach, with links to more in-depth, separate pages.

Carbon Pigment Prints are the Most Lightfast and Stable

Most of the popular digital black and white printing approaches use carbon pigments as their base because a good carbon pigment is vastly more lightfast than the average color pigment. Nonetheless, most of the popular B&W printing approaches also use significant amounts of color inks because the dilute carbon needed to make older printers capable of prinitng acceptably smooth prints was too warm. Thus relatively fugative color inks were used to obtain an acceptable print tone. Now, the tiny 1.5 pico liter drops of the Epson R800 and R1800 printers, in addition to the relatively neutral "Eboni" carbon pigment ink from MIS Associates, have given us the ability to print photo quality, neutral B&W prints with no color inks. This results in prints with the best lightfastness and longevity. It also avoids the tone shifts that color inks will cause as the prints age and the color pigments fade at different rates.

For further information concerning lightfastness and print stability, click here.

Image Structure and Smoothness

The primary problem with previous attempts to print with nothing but neutral Eboni matte black (MK) ink was that its high density produced prints that were too rough and often banded. On top of this, efforts to use Espon UC MK were very brown in tone. Using three channels of MK takes care of the banding, and the tiny 1.5 pl drop size takes care of most of the dots. While the smoothest dilute ink approachs are still smoother, the R800/1800 prints have been judged by most traditional fine art B&W printers to be excellent and smooth. There are no visible dots in the highlights at normal viewing distances, but the prints do show a very fine grained structure in the midtones.

For more information relating to image structure and smoothness, click here.

Note that there is now also a 100% carbon solution that uses the dilute Eboni-6 inks in the 1800 and can print a relatively neutral image on some papers. Thus, an R1800/800 can be set up to print both the "3-MK" process as well as the super-smooth, 6-dilution Eboni-6 approach.

For more information on using Eboni-6 in an 1800 or 800, click here.

For more information on Eboni-6 in non-1800 printers, click here.

Ink Positions and Costs

The approach outlined here uses 3 channels of MIS Eboni matte black ink. Thus it is often referred to as the "3-MK" or multi-channel black-only approach. The profiles that have been made for this approach assume Eboni is in the printer's MK, PK and GL (Gloss optimizer) positions. This allows the normal full color inkset to still be installed, although glossy printing requires that at least one cart be changed (PK). (Note also that a new option -- as of September 2008 -- is to use Eboni-6 in the color positions, and, in fact, that is how I have my 1800 configured.)

When bulk MIS Eboni ink is used and cartridges refilled, the per print cost of this approach is so low as to be trivial -- only a few percent of the OEM ink print costs.

For further information on ink positions, options, and costs, click here.

Printing Workflow

With the recommended ink setup described above, the Epson driver continues to print color in the usual fashion. However, for B&W a special printing utility is needed. QuadToneRip ("QTR") is the most popular B&W "raster image processor" ("rip"), both due to its low price and powerful features.

For more information regarding this B&W workflow, click here.

Paper Selection and Print Tone Control

While only one type of carbon pigment is used in this prinitng approach, the print tone can be varied to a significant degree by the paper that is used -- very similar to what we did in the wet darkroom.

Graphs (Excel charts) of the print tones of papers provide an objective way to describe and compare paper printing characteristics.

For more information on how to interpret the graphs showing the paper tones, click here.

Papers with no OBAs

In general, for long term paper tone stability, I prefer papers with no optical brightening agents ("OBAs"). OBAs are dyes that will fade relatively quickly and make a paper appear to be yellowing. As such, I've listed papers with no OBAs first. As a benchmark for comparing other papers, I recommend using Epson Premier Art (205) Scrapbook paper. It is said to be their most archival paper, is widely available, a bargain, feeds into printers well, and prints smoothly.

For information on un-brightened papers, click here.

Papers with OBAs

Most papers have OBAs and tend to have split tones, with the highlights being cool due to the OBAs and the shadows being warmer. However, the degree of this split tone and the overall tone of the papers varies considerably. The papers with OBAs are listed in order from that with a very even response to those with a large split tone and warm shadows.

For information on brightened papers, click here.

Glossy Papers & Prints

Although the 1800 3-MK workflow was designed for matte paper printing, and the Eboni ink will not, by itself, stick well on glossy papers, there are at least 2 workflows that can make glossy prints with this 100% carbon printing approach. First, one can use a spray coating such as Premier Art Print Shield. Second, Gloss Optimizer and Photo Black installed in the printer allow one to make neutral glossy-satin prints.

If the default ink placement is used -- Eboni MK in the MK, PK and GL positions, and color inks in the OEM spots -- then a post-printing spray is probably most appropriate.

For information on spraying with Print Shield to make glossy prints, click here.

If no color inks are used in the R800/1800, then we can use those spots for additional inks -- MIS Photo Black ("PK") and Gloss Optimizer ("Glop" or "GO"). This approach makes prints with the highest dmax -- deepest blacks -- possible. This approach is promising but still experimental.

For information on using PK & Glop to create glossy prints with the 3-MK process, click here.

Finally, if color pigments are not installed in the R1800 and one does not mind using carbon inks that have been blended with color pigments to make them neutral, or if one wants warm prints, standard MIS glossy-compatible inks can be installed. I recommend the MIS UT-RC bulk inks for this. To purchase MIS UT-RC bulk inks, click here. For neutral prints these inks can either be set up as a "3-PK" arrangement, or, for the ultimate in smoothness, the dilute versions can be used in the highlights and midtones. There are 3 shades (warm carbon, neutral and cool) and 3 densities (PK, dark midtone, and light midtone). I have not made profiles for these approaches, but Carl Schofield has posted 3-PK profiles in the Files section of the Yahoo QTR forum, located here. Or, they can be downloaded directly from here.

Toning Carbon Prints with Color Inks

Although a primary goal of this effort is to get to the most stable prints, the option to tone prints is wide open with the full color inkset of the R1800 available.

For more information on toning, click here.

Larger Prints and Other Desktop Printers

Large format printers are not using the small 1.5 pl dots of the R1800. However, the older large format printers, including the 7500 and 7600, can make excellent, relatively neutral 100% carbon pigment prints by using an inkset composed of not only Eboni but also dilutions of Eboni.

For more information on 100% carbon printing in larger sizes, click here.

For information on other inksets, printers and workflows, click here.

If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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

Paul Roark
Solvang, California