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MonoChromePro pigment inks for black and white printing
Inks from Permajet for monochrome printing
The MonoChromePro ink set from Permajet is a set of pigment based inks specifically designed for Black and White (Monochrome) printing.
They are available for the Epson 1290 and 2100 printers and in bulk for other ink supply systems.
Keith has tried the inks in his Epson 1290 and discusses his experiences here, along with notes on several Permajet papers. In particular he looks at their Delta Matte Fibre and Museum Classic papers with these inks. Also tried was the new Textured Art Silk (TAS) paper, although this is covered in more detail in another review (TAS review).
A Black and White ink set
In this review Keith looks at some of the issues involved in getting top quality black and white prints and discusses various printing techniques including the QuadToneRIP software.
If you have seen any of my landscape work (in the Gallery) you will see why I'm very interested in top quality black and white printing for many of my images. I've discussed the various ways of producing black and white images from colour and covered many other digital black and white photography issues elsewhere.
However, when it comes down to it I don't want to present my work on a computer monitor, I want (big) impressive prints.
The emotional impact of my work comes when people stop and look at 'real' pictures. I've considered several solutions and eventually settled upon using the ImagePrint RIP to drive an Epson 9600.
The combination gives me excellent prints that combine rich deep blacks with fine detail and tonal gradation - I can also use the printer for colour since I'm using Epson UltraChrome (UC) coloured pigment inks. OK, that's all good and well, but the 9600 and the RIP to drive it are not cheap. What can you use to get good quality prints at a reasonable size? (A3+ or 13"x19").
The Epson 1290 has been around a while and is an excellent colour printer. I use one sometimes for bright (very) glossy colour prints where the UC inks in the 9600 show a bit of uneven reflectiveness. However it uses dye based inks which will tend to fade over a few years, and getting good even black and white results requires careful profiling and or a RIP. There are newer solutions such as the Epson R2400 which have several densities of black ink and offer much better monochrome performance, but I'm looking for really good B/W results that are of the same kind of quality as prints I'd sell. This is where you might be looking to dedicate a printer to B/W.
If you are looking at this level of B/W quality then there are a number of third party ink suppliers catering to the specialist monochrome market.
I've used Lyson Small Gamut inks in an Epson 1160 in the past, but I didn't get the really neutral blacks that don't vary under changing lighting conditions that I get with my 9600 (the SG inks are also dye based and a few of my prints from a few years ago have shown slight colour shifts.
There are other ink sets available from a number of suppliers, but I'm going to look here at some new pigment based inks from Permajet.
The MonoChromePro inks are pigment based and supplied in either standard cartridges for your printer, or as bulk inks, if you have some form of continuous inking system. Fitting them is just like inserting a new ink cart. The inks are supposed to give good results on certain glossy papers where previous pigment inks just wouldn't work (they might just rub off the paper surface) These inks consist of relatively warm carbon black inks, cooler blue/blacks and a brownish ink for 'extra sepia' effect.
Since you are swapping ink types, there is the option of first using cleaning cartridges, which contain a clear cleaning fluid, to flush out the old coloured inks in your printer. If you have been using third party inks then this is quite important to prevent reactions that could build up deposits in your print heads and ruin the printer. With Epson inks the procedure is optional, but worth considering, along with a good clean of the printer anyway.
Although the 1290 I tried has only had Epson inks inside it, I used the cleaning cartridges and cleaned the heads by running some kitchen paper soaked in a cleaner through the printer. When it comes to cleaning inkjet printers, Windex is often suggested by people in the US - I've found Sainsbury's spray bathroom cleaner (UK) a most excellent printer cleaning solution (500ml sprayer product code 0045 5718) It shifts dried inks and helped me rejuvenate an Epson 3000 that had been standing idle for several years.
After installing the cleaning carts you just run a few head cleaning cycles and nozzle checks until there are no longer any colours being printed (you can see where the cleaning solution has been printed if you look carefully)
You can keep the cleaning carts for use if you ever switch to another ink set.
The inks come with information on printer settings to use with different papers. Using the standard Epson printer driver (Mac or WinPC) means you can be up and printing pretty quickly.
There are two basic method of printing with these inks.
Print with the standard Epson driver.
You set the driver settings as per the instructions and simply print. The combination of inks is such that the mixture of colours that the driver assumes gives a reasonable black and white print. This method is suggested for matt and fine art papers. There are slider settings for different papers, which allow some degree of control over the tone of the prints, from cool to warm to sepia (let me say now that I'm no fan of sepia, so that aspect of the ink performance is not covered in depth ;-)
Print with the Epson driver and custom curves.
Permajet provide a number of Photoshop (PS) adjustment curves that you can use to get better quality printing. You need to open up your greyscale image in PS and convert it to RGB in the Adobe98 colour space (it is still a B/W image). For some of the curves, you are applying some pretty steep adjustments, so it is best to change your mode to 16 bit before applying curves. This happens to be one of the main reasons I work in 16 bit anyway during my normal editing. Curves are available for different for papers and different toning effects from the Permajet web site (currently only for the 1290).
This shows just how steep the various curves are that are applied. In this instance it is the neutral curve for Delta Matt Fibre (DMF) paper.
The image will turn blue after applying this curve, but this is perfectly OK since the different colours will be translated into the various black inks by the printer driver. The weird colours are what control the mixture of inks (see pics below)
The two techniques are both easy to use and require the installation of no special software. I tested them with an image that I know relies on subtle gradations of tone for its effect, and has important detail in the shadows.
Hood Canal, Washington State
Image opened as RGB and after curve application
I've printed this image many times using ImagePrint on my 9600 and know it well.
I'll cover detailed results later... However, the basic printing setup did not impress me, but the 'curves' result produced a reasonable looking print (on Permajet Delta Matt Fibre). That was until I printed the image out on my 9600 using a ColorByte Gray profile for Delta Matt Fibre and compared them. The (A4) print using the Epson driver (+ curves) looked inferior whether from 6 feet away or close up with a magnifying glass -- not that much, but not good enough!
One of the problems in using the Epson driver is that it is optimised for printing Epson inks, which are coloured inks for (mostly) colour printing. Creating an ink set that will produce reasonable results when printed with the normal drivers is not easy. The Lyson Small Gamut (SG) ink set takes the approach of using very dull Cyan, Magenta and Yellow inks. These are similar to the original inks, but much less vivid and so produce a range of colours that don't deviate far from neutral grey (hence the name - Small Gamut). The MonoChromePro inks make no pretence at emulating CMYK.
Fortunately there is a solution, some high quality software that will support your printer and has the advantage of being shareware. QuadToneRIP is based on the open source Gimp Print drivers for Linux (and Mac OSX) it is freely available from Roy Harrington's site, and is so good that it's even been ported to run on Window XP. The software consists of basic printer functionality and some utilities to help you create, edit and install the curves for any paper/ink combination (it is well worth the $50 shareware fee). I've dabbled with the software in the past but the ease of use and quality of results I got from ImagePrint meant I didn't take it further -- I also didn't have an Eye One spectrophotometer at the time.
There is very good documentation available with QTR so I'm not going into full details about the curve generation process, but I will cover a few things I found out along the way.
First of all, profiling and curve generation uses up quite a bit of paper and ink.
This is especially so when starting out (notice the duff print on the top LH side)
The MonoChromePro ink set for my 1290 consisted of six inks in the K,C,M,Y,Lc,Lm positions
First thing to do is to find your printer's ink limit
There is a test image and driver setting that allows you to print out each of the six inks independently.
After deciding on an ink limit (this is a bit of a 'suck it and see' decision) you reprint the ink test to measure the relative densities of the inks. In the example above the sheets to the left and right are at 82% and 100% ink limits on Museum Classic.
The middle two are using Delta Matt Fibre (top) and Textured Art Silk (bottom), note how the sheen of the TAS is quite visible on all inks except the black.
This is also shown in these step wedges (using all inks) - viewed directly and at an oblique angle.
It's not a good curve in this example, but the dullness of the black suggests that the TAS just isn't going to look good here.
Or at least that's with these inks -- see the Epson UltraChrome prints in my TAS review for how this paper is actually rather good.
From the individual ink channel curves you measure the relative density of the different inks. With a densitometer or spectrophotometer this is a fairly easy job, but do remember to let the inks dry properly first - I left them overnight. What if you don't have such kit? you can use a scanner, but my experience of trying this some time ago led to a very rapid appreciation of just how non-linear the response of my scanner was (info on scanner profiling)
With the DMF paper I chose the ink limit on my 1290 to be 80%, and 82% on the Museum Classic paper (MC)
For MC the density values (percent of black) were:
The Yellow is used as a toner when needed and does not have a relative density. The sepia curve just adds the sepia ink evenly to the whole curve. This extra ink meant that it tended to overload the paper at high densities, so I added a 60% ink limit to the yellow/sepia channel.
After putting the various values into a curve file, you use the supplied utility to 'install' the curves you have created into the printer driver. I generated 3 curves for each paper --'Cool', 'Warm' and 'Sepia-warm'. I could possibly have made a better 'sepia-warm' curve, but the one I did looked horrid enough to probably be OK ;-)
When you have generated curves you can print a step wedge and look to see how even your ink curves are. After various attempts I had curves that included a bit of 'black boost' and a bit of 'grey overlap' to give slightly more even results in the deep shadows (>95%). The paper surrounding my feet above is just some of what I ended up using!
The curves that you are generating are not 'linearised' -- they get dark too quickly. The picture below shows two non linearised 21 step grey wedges, and below them two wedges -after- linearisation. The very bottom wedge shows one of the key strengths of QTR - you can blend curves. In this case a pretty neutral greyscale results from a 60/40 blend of cool and warm.
Some of the slight colour variations you may be able to see in the image above are due to a combination of JPEG compression and image noise - it's not there in the actual print
Linearisation as a very simple process - if you have an Eye One spectrophotometer. I printed out special targets (the ones looking like DNA fingerprints on the left hand side of the image with my feet). There is software available as part of the QTR package that takes the raw data file from measuring the patches and creates a set of numbers that you include in your curve description file.
Once again you could use a scanner or any other densitometer, or there are settings in the curve file that you could tweak to do it 'by eye'. All these methods are going to need even more ink and paper if you are going to get it right.
When I was trying to linearise the MC-Cool curve I got errors telling me that the linearisation curve was not even enough, so I went back and tweaked the relative density of the ink in the Lc position (light blue/grey) - that's more paper and ink to test.
Eventually I ended up with curves that gave good smooth results. The picture below is a 100 step wedge on DMF using a 50/50 blend of cool and warm curves. If you cannot see the gradations properly then you might want to check your monitor set-up and calibration.
I used the Hood Canal image for looking at light tonal gradations and this one of the Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde for shadow detail
There is a downloadable Black and White test print available that uses both the Hood Canal and Mesa Verde pictures to give a very harsh (but fair) test for any B/W printing set-up. It will easily show up faults in your monitor calibration and printing -- I won't consider a printing system/paper suitable for making prints that I'd put my name to unless it prints this file correctly.
I tried taking some photos of the test images but the differences were very difficult to show in a meaningful and accurate way (even more so on the web)
Since the MonoChromePro inks use very slightly coloured pigments there were no odd colours appearing in the prints other than the general tone set by the curve being used or the printer settings. This immediately gives an advantage over printing with normal coloured inks where very good profiling is normally needed to remove colour casts. The inks gave very rich blacks on the DMF and MC papers, but performed rather poorly on the TAS paper.
The DMF and TAS papers gave very good results with ColorByte supplied greyscale profiles (MC was not available at the time of testing). In particular, the DMF produced results that I would be happy to put my name to and sell.
Museum Classic is:
Using the DMF and MC papers with MonoChromePro inks showed just how important it is to get the right printing software to match up your inks/printer/paper
Note -- See at the end of the article for a list of all the PermaJet papers that I've currently created linearised 1290 curves for.
I'm being fairly picky here, but the papers and ink are not cheap and you will be devoting a printer just to B/W printing, so you want the best combination you can get.
Using the Epson driver on its own produced somewhat lacklustre prints with blocked up shadows and and uneven greyscale - this was very noticeable in the sky of the Hood Canal picture. I suspect that some people would think it looked OK :-)
Using the supplied curves produced much better results, which might be acceptable to many people, but not me. The prints came out slightly darker than I'd normally print them and also lacked some shadow definition - the skies were much better than without the curve adjustment.
Using my own QTR curves led to a very noticeable improvement. The curves have the advantage of using the same printer they were created on and thus allow for any of its own personal idiosyncrasies. That means that my curves may not work quite so well on your own 1290. Blended curves produce slightly better results as well, presumably this is because you are using more of the inks and slight errors in the two curves are likely to be smoothed out - I'm not sure about this one, if you know for sure do let me know.
The QTR prints were just as good as ones printed on my 9600 with ImagePrint. Depending on curve mixes they were slightly warmer or cooler than the default neutral settings I use with the 9600. Going into ultra picky mode I could see very small parts of the shadow detail that were not quite even, but this is at the level where if you gave me two prints, one with this 'fault' and one without I'd only be able to see the difference 60% of the time. No, back in the real world, they were excellent -- nothing wrong. Now if you can convince yourself that you see a particular fault and still want to do something about it, then you can go back and tweak the curves again - more ink and paper :-) I'm sure the curves I created could be improved upon, but I've got photos to take...
Oh, I almost forgot ... the sepia look works as well :-)
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A great set of inks that can produce really high quality and long lived prints compared to what you can get using normal coloured inks. You need to devote a printer just to black and white printing but the results can easily justify this. The inks produced excellent prints on the PermaJet Delta Matt Fibre and Museum Classic papers I tried and I expect this would be repeated on most matt or semi matt papers with suitable print settings or curves. There is more details about the inks and their papers at the PermaJet web site.
The biggest problem is that to get the very best results you will need to use software like QuadToneRIP to drive the printer. The good bit is that the basic printer driver is shareware and a bargain at $50 -- see the QTR site for the full licensing details
I'm sure more curves will become available as this ink set gets better known. I've also not included any specific Eye One measurements of the ink's spectral characterisics - let me know if there is some specific info that is of use.
Note -- All of the linearised QTR ink curve files I've created are available for download on the paper info page
They are currently available for download for the following Permajet papers.
Remember that the curves were created for QTR on a Mac, so you may have to change their name for use with the PC version of QTR (I don't have a PC in the building, so I've not tested them, but I've had email from people who have used them on a PC)
All the black and white related information on this site is collected together in our digital black and white section
Update January 2011 - Unwanted colour tints with monochrome - article looking at some aspects of B/W printing
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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