Black and White printing with the P700/P900
Epson P700/P900 black and white printing
Monochrome prints using the Epson P700 & P900
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This article is written in conjunction with Keith’s lengthy review of the Epson P700 printer.
After testing the P900, it became clear that from a B&W print POV, the two are the same
The main P700 and P900 reviews looks at black and white printing, but in limited detail.
There is a lot more detail here about B&W printing using the Epson ABW print mode and via Epson’s ‘Epson Print Layout’ software.
Rather than duplicate this article for the P900, I’ve linked to it from the P900 review, and added a few notes.
Black and white on the P700 (P900 too)
The Epson P700 have two grey inks as well as the standard photo and matte black inks, which with the P700, no longer need swapping when you change paper type. I’ve written a lot about B&W printing on the site, so I’ve included several links to specific articles related to black and white photography and printing.
In general I’d suggest that if you are not printing your black and white images using the ABW (Advanced Black and White) mode in the printer driver, then you are doing it wrong.
So, no printing with ICC printer profiles, even the nominally ‘B&W optimised’ ones of the i1Studio profiling system. [i1Studio review]. The only time I’d use a profile is for mixed images – monochrome, but with a splash of colour.
The ABW mode has been fine tuned to avoid colour casts and give a more uniformly neutral look. You can add tints but I’ll concentrate on ‘vanilla’ B&W here.
Printing on the P700/P900
I’m printing using Photoshop CS6 on a Mac, but windows systems and other software should offer similar functionality.
If I wanted to use an ICC profile, I’d print exactly as I do for colour, but here I want the driver to take charge of colour management .
This image is being printed borderless, but the key here is the selection of ‘Printer Manages Colors’
Going to the print settings, I’ve selected ‘Advanced B&W Photo’ in the colour options.
This example shows one of my B&W test images I use for detailed printer testing – versions are freely available here to download.
You can add some colour toning if you wanted, but I’ve left things set at neutral.
Below the toning are the options for print quality. As I’ll discuss in a bit, there are quite a few. In this instance I’ve left the slider at the mid setting of the 5 available, which I’ll just call Q3.
Fine tuning ABW
There are advanced fine-tuning options available too.
Don’t be confused by the tone set at ‘Darker’ this is the default setting.
You can tweak tones and contrast, but could I just say that this is the wrong place to be making edits of brightness/contrast.
There’s nothing specific to be set on the printer, other than the normal selection of paper type and size. printing roll paper is also just the same in terms of page layout and size.
The P700 screen can show the progress of prints as well as a view of the image being printed.
The screen can also show the current print settings.
I’d just note that you can print colour images using ABW. They come out in B&W, but converting your colour image to black and white first is a much more predictable route.
- Digital Black and White – converting and editing your colour photos
Using the EPL print software
Epson Print Layout is a free software package from Epson (Mac and PC) which can be used to print. I’ve covered some of its functionality in the main P700 review.
It’s quite a nicely designed package to use, whether standalone or as a plugin for other software. I used it from Photoshop via the Automate menu. You can transfer multiple images to it for use with its layout and template printing options.
Here’s a black and white print being set up on EPL. As you can see, most of the options are the same as you get with the normal printer driver.
There are a number of adjustments you can make, and these are reflected in the display.
This example changes the tone to ‘Light’.
Although I don’t normally recommend such changes at this stage, it may be worthwhile if you know a print is going in a dimly lit room. Something to experiment with on smaller sheets I’d suggest.
There’s only one minor issue I’d note with EPL and that concerns borderless printing.
The normal driver (i.e. printing via Photoshop) has ‘Borderless retain size’ and ‘Borderless auto expand’ as print options. The EPL software only has the auto version. This can make overprint/expansion tricky to judge, meaning I have quite a collection of A3+ prints with bits of white border and random cropping.
The auto expand only really works if the image is the correct aspect ratio. Far more predictable I find, is to print borderless directly from PS.
One thing I look for in B&W printing is linearity. That means that a good looking image on my (calibrated) monitor should make for a good print.
I don’t use soft proofing of any form for my B&W work. An accurately set up monitor, a moderately linear print setup and actual experience of looking at prints is all I need. A true understanding of printing comes from taking time to understand how screen images are just a step on the way to a print. Perfecting the view on screen and then just hoping to press some ‘print’ button is getting things the wrong way round. The print is the destination. I’ve written a lot more about this, and there are some links at the foot of the article.
I get the graphs below by printing and measuring my test image. I use the QTR software for making the graph from measurements – it does a lot more but that’s beyond the scope here. I’ve test images available for many different measurement methods, such as this rough and ready one that just uses a scanner.
This graph is using Epson Premium Luster at the mid quality level (Q3)
Note that P900 measurements are essentially identical to these.
I’ve measured the chart with an i1iSis (UV cut). You can ignore most of it, just look at the straightness of the line of ‘L’s
The line of ‘L’s is good and straight showing that there’s no undue crunching of shadows. This is printed using the default ‘darker’ setting for ABW (yes – not a name for the default I’d have chosen either…)
The curve for Q5 or maximum quality, shows a slightly stronger compression of shadows – slight though.
The darkest black (2.57) is very slightly darker, but not a lot though.
Going back to the lowest quality setting, we get a good straight line, but the maximum black is somewhat less (2.48)
So, higher quality settings with the black enhancement give slightly deeper blacks.
The Dmax problem
Sounds like a result? Unfortunately the difference between 2.48 and 2.57 is pretty minimal in the context of a real print hanging on the wall.
Yes, but the number is bigger (some will say)
This from my general look at ink use and waste: “You may see the term Dmax mentioned with respect to the darkest black a printer can produce on a particular paper. It’s a perfectly reasonable measurement to take, but the problem is that without context it is meaningless.
Let’s take the example of two different art papers, both similar in type. On paper 1 we measure a Dmax of 1.55 and on paper 2 a Dmax of 1.65. OK, we now know that 100% black on paper 2 is slightly darker than the other. However it tells us nothing of what 98% or 95% or 90% black looks like.
So, for example, paper 2 could print all deep blacks around ~1.6 (crunching up shadows) whilst paper 1 could drop away steadily to show clear shadow detail. In this respect I’d choose paper 1 any day for my B&W photos. If you just looked at (or were only shown) a Dmax number you might easily assume the reverse.”
Go back and look at the values for 98% compared with 100%. I print images where I’ve edited the shadows so definition in the 95-100% area matters. That means that my choice of quality settings matters in this respect.
As we’ll see there are other reasons that I may avoid the highest quality settings for some papers.
A matte art paper
During testing I was particularly taken with the quality of prints on matte papers. Even matte photo papers produced some nice prints – as long as your not looking for the deep blacks you get with glossier papers.
I’ve long appreciated the Epson Hot Press Bright paper (a smooth matte art paper) and tried the test image to see how the print linearity was looking.
At the highest quality setting (Q5), a slight crunch of shadow detail is apparent, but the dmax is a fairly good 1.7
Switching to Q4 gives a slightly more linear response, but at the cost of a slight reduction in Dmax. Note that for matte papers you only get Q4 and Q5 to choose from.
That’s a smooth enough curve that I’d be happy printing directly using the ABW mode – the mid tones may be a tad light, but not enough I’d probably look to do any correction before printing.
Bronzing – colour where it shouldn’t be
One thing I look at with B&W printing is how the prints look when viewed at an oblique angle. I’ve not seen a B&W print on a gloss/luster paper yet where there wasn’t some visible difference between paper and inked areas. It comes from the inked areas having a slightly different reflectiveness than the paper. It’s one thing I consider when choosing a paper for my B&W prints on a particular printer.
There’s a second effect, known as bronzing, where a slight bronze colour is imparted to the reflected light. It used to be quite bad with some printers, and back when I reviewed the HP Z3200 it rendered B&W prints on some papers as unusable, if you didn’t include the gloss optimiser coat.
With the P700 and Epson Premium Luster paper I’ve observed a new version of this, where there is a rainbow of colour visible and the intensity is directly related to the quality setting. That means that printing at the highest resolution settings is worst for this colour.
Whilst I don’t know for sure, the way the colours change makes me think its an interference effect. I’f you’ve ever seen interference colours from oxidation of a heated bit of steel you’ll know what I mean.
An oblique view. The print is on a table looking towards a window on a cloudy day.
Not all so bad…
Not wanting to give the wrong impression – here’s a view of the same test print.
I’ve lit it the same way but am looking directly down on it.
What to make of this?
Well, the effect is considerably reduced a lower quality settings, so for this paper I’d stick to Q2. It does vary with papers, but I’ve not seen one where I’d want to use the highest settings.
The effect isn’t there on matt media, where you only get Q4/Q5 – Q4 would be my choice.
Towards a better B&W print
One of the reasons I test B&W print performance for printers is to reduce unpredictability and uncertainty in my journey from camera to print.
I prefer working on my photography and editing knowing that printing will ‘just work’. The testing really does help.
More of my articles
- The basics of digital black and white photography
- What goes into a great photo print
- Better photography through printing your photos
- Choosing the best paper for your photos
- Bigger prints from old photos: 2020 vs 2004
- Printer test image and explanatory notes
- B&W related articles and reviews index page
See also my detailed review of the P700
I always welcome comments and questions – please feel free to comment below or email me.
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