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black and white test print on ipf6300 printerTrue Black and White review

Black and white specialist print software for Canon iPF printers

Keith has been looking at the new Canon iPF6300 printer for our comprehensive review.

He took the opportunity to try out the 'True Black and White' software from BowHaus.

This software (currently Mac only) is entirely separate from the normal printer driver (and PS plugin).

It offers a printing solution, solely aimed at creating monochrome prints that match the capabilities of the inks found in the Canon iPF printers.

  • Update 2013: I've been looking at the latest version of this software whilst testing the iPF6450.
  • Some of my concerns about page layout have been addressed, and the range of preset profiles have been expanded.
  • It still produces excellent print output.

B/W printing issues

It comes as a great surprise when people find out that their colour printers just won't produce good quality black and white prints.

It seems odd if you have a film background, since working in black and white was always a lot cheaper and easier than colour.

I've written numerous product reviews on this site, many of which address issues in getting better looking prints. We even have a specific page on the site that pulls together all our B/W related material.

digital black and white logoFYI: I've set up a LinkedIn group (~6600 members) for people interested in all aspects of Digital Black and White photography: Digital Black and White

With many of the larger printers we've covered, there is a specialist black and white print mode which can give quite acceptable results for images printed on manufacturers' own papers.

These B/W modes can be tweaked through using correction curves created using the shareware software package QuadToneRIP (QTR), or for many Epson printers, you can use the QTR software itself as a printer driver.

QTR won't work for Canon printers and I was wanting to look at just how well the new Lucia EX inkset could pull off black and white prints on some of the papers that I use for my landscape prints.

I'm relatively new to Canon printers and after Canon dropped off the iPF6300, I was grateful for the suggestion on the LinkedIn Digital Black and White Group that I have a look at 'True Black and White' [TBW].

I'm looking at Version 2.03

Using True Black and White

The software consists of an application (drag to your applications folder to install) and some low level driver software that does the actual communication with the printer.

It's important to remember that you are not using the normal print driver at all, so any presets or other settings you might normally use when printing are irrelevant here.

The idea is that you open the application, select the file to print, adjust any settings needed, and print.

All your print settings are set up in this program.

The screen shot below shows me selecting a paper size to use - in this case A4.

application main print window

I'll come back to paper sizes later, but in this instance I'm going to print our standard Northlight Black and White test image.

The file was just dragged and dropped in the TBW main window.

main TBW window

printer selection and image infoI need to select a few parameters for printing.

The printer itself (an iPF6300) was sitting on our network and was found by the software.

The setting is retained after closing the application, so there is no need to repeat this (unless you have more than one printer...)

The software itself is licensed for use on three computers, with any printers that you have.

Basic file information is also displayed.

In this instance I'm printing a 16 bit version of the file. The software supports a 16 bit print path.

The placed image can be rotated, scaled and positioned in the print area.

image scaling and positioning

range of available profilesThere is no need to set a profile for the source file, but you will need to select a profile for printing.

Profiles are supplied for specific printer models and paper types.

Note that although they are called profiles, the files are nothing whatsoever to do with ICC printer profiles, such as you might use for your colour printing.

Whilst you can tell the application to only display profiles for the particular printer that you have, I've left it showing all the ones that are in the application's 'profiles' folder.

One of the strengths of the software is that it includes many of the tools you need to fine tune profiles and even create new ones for yourself.

I'll have a quick look at this process later, but first, note that profiles come in a variety of types, depending on whether the print will have an overall cool, neutral or warm tone.

There is a third 'composite' profile available that can be thought of as a 'mix' to provide just the tone you want for your print.

If you are using a composite profile, then a slider appears that allows you to smoothly alter the overall effect.

An example would be a profile running from cool to warm, where you could fine tune the tone of the print to match your exact needs.

tone adjustmentYou can enter numbers to be more precise.

BowHaus are building new sets of profiles for many papers and newer printers.

Since I only had the iPF6300 for a limited period, I was not able to test as wide a range of paper types as I'd hoped, but certainly enough to explore many aspects of the software.

It's worth noting that the software is available as a free 30 Day (watermarked) trial.

The display below shows an indication of the tone, when I've selected a warm profile.

printing with a warm profile

For newer Canon printers, there is a 32 pass printing option that provides finer detail and smoother printing.

Much as with our testing of colour prints on the iPF6300, I do have to say that it will be a very high quality image, looked at very carefully, that will show the difference.

I produced two sets of identical test prints, one at 16 pass and another at 32 pass and 'one way' (unidirectional).

I made a small mark on the back of the 32 pass print. The next day I picked them up, and much as I'd like to compliment my print analysis skills, I couldn't reliably tell the difference without getting my pocket microscope out.

As they say, 'Your Mileage May Vary', but be honest with yourself when testing ;-)

Print Sizes

software preferencesIn the preferences, there is a setting for metric or imperial units.

I'm in the UK where we still have a bit of a mixture, so I can work happily in either, although I use 'A' sizes for sheets.

Let's say I'm in part of the world where only metric sizes are used (such as most of the rest of Europe)

I'd set my units to metric.

That's not so bad when I'm using sheet paper sizes, but unfortunately 'A' sizes are the only ones listed as roll sizes too.

If I look at a 24" roll of paper in our print room, I note that it's marked 610mm, not an 'A' size.

metric sheet paper sizesI can use custom sizes for sheet paper, but not for roll printing.

As such, I reverted to imperial sizes, where I can use 24" roll paper and have a range of lengths available (although once again not custom sizes) .

You do have the option to use a 'save media' setting, but unless your image contains its own border, this chops the paper quite close (quarter inch) to the end of a print.

Another area of uncertainty is margins.

There is no setting for margins, which in the standard driver varies with media type and media settings.

Things turned out fine for some test prints I made, but I really would like more certainty over what is going to happen, with savable custom page sizes, custom lengths for roll paper and a big make-over for the representation and usage of metric units.

I should add that I identified a problem in one area of the software's functionality and a fix was produced pretty quickly, which is more than you'd get with a lot of software.

roll paper sizes - inchessheet paper sizes - inches

I'd prefer it if the roll pages sizes were a bit more flexible too - I've printed 24"x120" for example.

Image adjustments

Whilst I'd generally prefer to sort out image adjustments before printing, there are a range of adjustment features available for the loaded image.

Move your mouse over the image below to see the effect of the shadow detail adjustment (look carefully to see the effects - this assumes your monitor is up to the job...)

adjusting image shadow detail

A more dramatic adjustment from the contrast slider

adjusting image contrast

It's worth noting the RGB controls above the graph.

These allow you to print a colour image in black and white - the sliders are the equivalent of a basic channel mixer conversion of colour to black and white in Photoshop.

Given the amount of effort I go to, in getting just the right B/W conversion from colour, I can't actually see why I'd ever want to do the colour to B/W conversion at this stage. In software that emphasises top quality printing and offering as it does, the chance to set things up very carefully and precisely, this feature seems strangely out of place.

Customising for other papers

linearisation curveThe way ink builds up on different papers varies considerably.

Whilst the largest variations can be dealt with by adjusting ink amounts, fine tuning is aided with a linearisation curve.

The example to the right shows an example of such a curve.

As I'll show below, it's quite easy to build such a correction curve, but I'd note that the axes of the graph have no indication of just what is being graphed?

If you've read any of my printer reviews where I've used QTR to build a correcting ICC profile, then the process is similar.

You print out a linearisation target that consists of patches from white to black.

This is measured and the difference between what is measured and what was printed is used to build the correction curve.

There is an included target that can be used, or you could print a set of patches of your own making, since there is a trade-off between patch size and ease of measurement.

If, for example, I only had A4 paper to test, the supplied target is not easy to read.

selecting linearisation target

You can enter density values directly into the linearisation table, or if you have an i1 Pro spectrophotometer, the software can directly read patch measurements from the device.

Before taking measurements, you will need to calibrate your spectro on its base unit.

measuring test target with i1 pro

density readings for linearisationMeasurements need to be quite carefully taken for this stage.

Unfortunately there is no facility for importing measurement files.

There are a number of widely used standards for representing such data and it would be nice to be able to use a measurement tool of my choice and just feed in the results.

With such an import mechanism I could then easily create targets for my iSis spectrophotometer, or any of the other measurement devices we have here (ColorMunki, Spyder3Print, i1 iO)

Creating profiles

One of the difficulties with software such as QTR for Epson printers is that whilst it has powerful curve creation facilities, these are not easily accessible to the average user.

I'm not going into great detail about how curves are made with TBW, since I didn't have the printer for long enough to experiment in great detail. However, the process feels easier and the graphic displays help visualise what is going on much more easily.

  • A warning though - you will still need to make quite an effort to truly understand what is going on. This is not trivial stuff, and most certainly requires appropriate measuring equipment.

The display below shows how which inks are to be used and the ink limits for them are set.

ink controls and ink limits

Curves can be edited for individual inks

This for Cyan. The left curve is scaled by the set ink limit for the colour, whilst the right is normalised.

ink tranfer curves - cyan

And below for Red - curves are built with splines from moveable points.

Curves can be imported and exported, so as to set ink curves exactly the same for different inks

ink tranfer curves - red

creating composite profilesThere are some additional training material at the TBW web site, but you're most likely to start off modifying existing paper curves.

Being able to build composite curves may give the amount of variation you are looking for.

From looking at the QTR support forums in recent years, the proportion of users of the software expected to actually really get their hands dirty with curve creation is likely quite small.

Print Quality

With the limited testing period and (at the time) relatively limited availability of profiles for the iPF6300, I was only able to make a few large B/W prints on heavy matt papers.

The prints of the Northlight test image were all very good, with excellent detail in the shadows and a very good neutral look to them in a number of different lighting conditions.

  • Update 2013 - testing the software with the iPF6450 produces excellent results. There are now a good range of paper types that you can use to create custom profiles.

black and white test print on ipf6300 printer

The Hood Canal print kept all the fine detail in the clouds well defined, and didn't show any loss of detail in the dark parts of the print.

hood canal, washington state

I'd need to do quite a bit of testing to see exactly how different papers performed, but it looks promising.

Conclusions

True Black and White is a nicely conceived bit of software that does its essential job of producing top quality black and white prints very well.

If I have issues with the software, they are almost all usability related, especially the handling of paper sizes.

I'd like to see presets available in roll paper, and inclusion of margin settings, which vary according to paper type set in the printer. Metric paper handling in particular is problematic - I've yet to see roll paper at A3 for example, and the inclusion of A10 is odd, to say the least.

  • Note - A10 is 1"x1.5" (26mmx37mm) ...ideal for printing your own stamps ;-) [Paper sizes - WP]

I should admit that I am rather picky over usability issues - I spent many years doing research and consultancy in this area. It's one of the reasons I do quite a lot of behind the scenes testing of software and hardware for different manufacturers.

The built in profile editing and linearisation are very well set out, however I'd like to see more flexibility in the choice of targets and a mechanism for importing measurement files.

The software may not seem cheap at almost $200, but compared to other specialist print solutions such a RIPs it's well worth trying, if getting the very best B/W performance from your Canon large format printer is of importance to you.

Unlike more expensive solutions, its licensing is based on the computers you are using, not a license per printer, so that $200 looks even better value.

With a free 30 day trial, I'd suggest trying it out for any one with a big Canon printer, who's interested in getting that bit more from their black and white print work.

  • Update 2013 - tested with the Canon iPF6450, very good results. The paper size handling is still the weakest area of the software package IMHO, and data file import for linearisation would make the process less error prone (and allow, for example, creating averaged sets of measurements)

Comments and Questions are welcome below or via this article's blog entry

Summary

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Black and white custom printer driver software for Canon iPF printers - specifically offering control of inks for black and white printing.

Available from BowHaus.

A single-user license ($199.95) allows an individual to use True Black and White on up to 3 computers.

A free 30 day trial version is fully functional. Images are watermarked while printing and you are unable to save new profiles.

System Requirements (Mac only at the moment)

Supported Canon Printers

 

More Info that may be of interest

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