Black and white printing with the PRO-200
Black and white printing for the PRO-200
Printing monochrome images with the Canon PRO-200
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This article accompanies Keith’s detailed review of the Canon PRO-200 printer.
It expands on the section of the review covering the printing of black and white images.
How to avoid colour casts and ways of using the B&W print mode available in the printer driver and via Canon’s Professional Print and Layout (PPL) software.
Printing B&W on the PRO-200
I’m testing the Canon Pixma PRO-200 connected to my Macs, but if you’re using a PC the results should be the same.
Effectively there are two ways to print a monochrome black and white image on the PRO-200.
- Treat it the same as a colour image, printing with an ICC profile for the paper
- Use the B&W printing mode in the printer driver
I’m assuming you have a B&W image to print. If in colour I’d usually convert it to B&W before printing. If you’re new to B&W I’d suggest having a look at my recent article:
Here, I’ll first look at the basic methods of printing and then look in more detail about refining the process. The article includes links to more detailed discussions of some processes.
There is some relatively advanced information in this article – you don’t need to know it all. It’s mainly there for people like me who like to tinker and experiment. The basics are covered in the main PRO-200 review
Printing in monochrome
The PRO-200 has black and two grey inks, which should mean that not too much coloured ink is used to get a truly neutral grey. It might be thought that B&W printing was just ‘turning off the colour’ but the black and greys are often not quite neutral when put down on a paper, which of course has its own colour.
First up, printing from Photoshop (other applications will be similar). This is just how I’d print a colour image.
[Note that you can click on most images here to see larger versions]
The paper ICC profile is set in the Photoshop dialog, whilst in the driver settings I’ve specified the paper type and size.
I like to save settings as a named preset. This ensures consistency and reduces errors, especially if I’m perhaps testing a dozen different papers on a new printer.
The media setting is a standard media – you can of course create your own custom media settings, which work for B&W as well as colour. I discuss custom media in the PRO-200 review and there is more detail in using it with the very similar PRO-300
You might note the ‘Black and White Photo Print’ checkbox in the driver settings above?
Selecting this enables the driver B&W print mode. This no longer needs an ICC profile. Note how I’ve also set the Photoshop dialog to ‘Printer Manages Color’.
You still need to set the correct media type, since this is what tells the driver how to mix inks for different greys.
At this point the driver is only treating your image as a greyscale one. Any colour in the image is discarded. I’d not usually suggest this as a way of converting colour to B&W, but it works.
Since the driver is in charge of which inks to use, it can be used to fine tune the tint/tone of the print.
Why give the print a greenish or magenta tinge?
Well it’s here we can run up against one of the problems you get with printing B&W with dye based inks.
‘Illuminant metamerism’ – colour casts
Look at this shot, taken under ‘Warm white’ LED lighting. It has been white balanced for the Colorchecker passport card in the middle.
The paper is Canon Fine Art Museum Etching. I’ve printed my B&W test image using the B&W print mode, the Canon ICC profile for this paper and two ICC profile versions I created during testing.
There is a slight colour cast. Showing this in web photos can be problematic, so I’ve increased the image colour saturation to show what are slight colour tints.
The B&W print mode looks best in this instance. I’ll look at some measurements in a bit, but for Canon Fine Art Museum Etching, printed with the Heavy Fine Art paper setting, B&W mode looks OK.
However, that’s under LED lighting – what about daylight?
There are colours, but not so obvious.
So, for this paper, the B&W mode works well, and there is always that tint adjustment if you want to tweak the colour the opposite way to the colour tint you are seeing (i.e. a greenish tint to correct a magenta tinged print).
Before you rush off to try that though, have a look at Canon’s free PPL software.
Using Canon’s Professional Print and Layout software
Canon’s software works as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop /Lightroom /Elements. There are several examples of using it in the main PRO-200 review.
There’s a download link in the PRO-200 on-line manual
I’m just firing up PPL from the File>Automate menu in Photoshop.
As before, I’ve selected paper type/size/print quality. I’ve also selected the black and White option.
PPL gives me quite a few more options with regards to settings.
The default ‘strength’ setting should be left at ‘Hard tone’ – by all means experiment, but I’d suggest that the print settings are not the place to be experimenting with the tonal balance of your image? For myself I don’t want to start adjusting tones in the printer driver/software. That job should have been done before in my image editing workflow. The same goes for any use of sharpening, a critical element in print quality.
An example setting would be the option for darkening white areas in your print.
I guess it could make the edge of the print stand out against the border/margin, but if I’d wanted that effect, I’d have done it before deciding to print.
If my concerns seem a little picky, then consider that any adjustment you make at this stage is not saved for your image. Let’s say you need to reprint it a year later – will you know what adjustment you used in the printer settings? I certainly wouldn’t.
There are other adjustments for tonality and contrast which may be of help if you’re displaying the print in dim lighting. It’s often forgotten that a print that looks great in a well lit office, looks distinctly dark when viewed in lower levels of light, such as people’s homes.
Note that Soft Proofing is enabled for B&W – this gives an indication of how adjustments affect a print, but only an estimate.
Note the tint adjustment panel previously seen in the driver settings.
There is a nifty tool available here called ‘Pattern Print’ which makes slight tonal adjustments a lot easier to estimate.
You can print a sheet of thumbnail images, all with a slightly different tint.
Take this print to where you want your prints to be viewed and see which patch looks the most neutral. These are the settings for your paper. If you try this and have difficulty seeing which is the most neutral, print larger samples. You can limit the range of variation to narrow things down.
But remember, these settings are for the one type of paper just in that one particular light setting. I’ve written some more about using a tint adjustment approach a while ago with my Canon iPF8300 printer
There are reasons for the light related colour variation and it’s important to realise that this effect will vary with every different paper type/brand you try.
If you want to print black and white don’t assume your favourite paper from your last printer will be fine
Here are two prints made on 3rd party papers that I’ve happily used for B&W printing with pigment ink based printers (Epson and Canon) in the past. They are using my own profiles, since these gave much more neutral results than the Canon B&W mode for these papers.
I’ve some B&W prints on the Baryta paper that I recently did for a friend’s upcoming exhibition (on a pigment ink printer) – they do not have a colour cast.
What I did notice (and I’ve some numbers in a bit) is that on most art papers, the blacks are noticeably deeper than you get with pigment inks. This is not so for the gloss/lustre papers.
In the example above, if you measure the blacks with a spectrophotometer, it is actually darker for the Baryta print. The difference in the photos above is entirely due to glare/reflection.
Sizes / Borderless
The paper options for B&W printing are no different to those for colour.
- A3+ / A3 / A4 / A5 / B4 / B5 / LTR / LGL / Ledger / Hagaki / 7″×10″/12×12L (3.5″×5″) / KG (4″x6″) / 2L(5″×7″) / 8″×10“ / 10″×12“ / Square (127 mm) / 210 ×594 mm
- Custom size (width 89 mm – 329 mm length, 127 mm – 990.6 mm)
- Envelopes (DL, COM10)
A subset of these are available for borderless printing.
- A3+ / A3 / A4 / A5 / LTR / Ledger / Hagaki / 7×10 /12×12 / 5×7/L (3.5″×5″) / KG (4″x6″) / 2L(5″×7″) / 8″×10“ / 10″×12“ /Square (127 mm) / 210 ×594 mm
If I go to the trouble and expense of having a good monitor that’s been accurately calibrated, for editing my images, I’d like to think that my printing process won’t unduly distort the tonal balance I’ve chosen.
At its simplest, I don’t want important shadow detail lost in crunched up shadows, so I’d like to start from knowing that my print setup is linearly reproducing what I’m editing on screen.
As part of this process I always test new papers with my standard B&W test image.
I’ve quite a few test images available (for colour too). The image (and many others) are available for free download on this site.
I’ve slightly different versions of this image, depending on what tool I’m using to measure the step patches.
The image has various features that make this easier to spot visually. See the article about the test image for details.
During the course of testing the PRO-200 I’ve made a lot of test prints. Here are a few using Canon’s Pro-Platinum gloss paper. You can see some colour variation, even though I’ve not processed this image to show that.
I read in the 51 step wedge with my X-Rite iSis and create data files of measurements.
These contain ‘Lab’ values for each patch from 0% (paper white) to 100% (solid black) in 2% steps. I then take this data and make use of the QTR software to create a graph of the data. There’s lots more about this in my iSis linearisation article.
Here are three resulting graphs from Canon Fine Art Photo Rag paper.
The first is using the Canon B&W print mode
Normally I just concentrate on the line of ‘L’s, which show that apart from a slight tendency to crush shadows, the print is fairly linear.
What is definitely not a welcome sight are the wandering ‘a’ and ‘b’ lines with their sharp kinks. Even without looking at the print I know that it will show some colour casts and that these will vary from white to black.
Looking next at a graph for using the Canon profile for the paper, the a/b lines are better behaved, but with the flattening of the ‘L’ line at the dark end it doesn’t look good.
Lastly, a print with my own custom paper profile.
The colour variations are much better controlled and there is a manageable crushing of shadows.
It’s important to realise though that these curves don’t tell you whether the print will look green or magenta under a particular household lighting.
That tint adjustment can be tried with the B&W print mode, but if it’s giving results like the first graph, it might well be an indication that no matter how much you like this paper, it’s going to have issues when used for B&W prints.
It’s quite possible that you could print hundreds of great looking colour prints on this paper (with the Canon profile, or better still my custom one) and never notice the illuminant metamerism issues.
Curves for correction
One thing that PPL offers with using the B&W mode is the option to apply a simple correction curve to level out that kink in the ‘L’ curve you can see in the shadows.
It only takes a simple curve to tweak the linearity. It shouldn’t be that ‘strong’ for any setting. Here’s one that worked for the ‘Hard’ setting.
The curve can be saved as a .pcv file.
What’s inside it? It’s actually a simple text file with sets of points for R/G/B/Master channels.
If more than a slight adjustment is needed, take it as a hint that either settings or paper need changing.
I leave as an exercise to a reader somewhere to write some code that takes the QTR (or source) data and creates a linearising .pcv file for any media… I wish someone at Canon would help make better use of this feature, but then again I wished that when I first came across it ten years ago…
Why should some papers work best with the B&W print mode, whilst others work better with profiles? Why should some papers show unwanted tints under some lighting?
Part of this comes from the difference between dye and pigment inks and how they absorb light at different wavelengths.
This screenshot is from when I was measuring an ICC profiling target for the Canon Museum Etching paper. It shows the measurements for solid black.
The density measurements at the bottom (~1.9) show a darkness that is visibly darker than what I’d expect with pigment ink on the same paper (~1.6). This is in addition to the effects shown in the photos earlier due to surface sheen.
What I notice is the rise in the reflectance curve above ~660nm (a somewhat deeper red than a red laser pointer).
Add to this the potential peak in the blue for papers with optical brighteners (OBAs) in them (under some lighting) and the variable light emission spectrum of modern low-energy lighting, and you have good reasons for the variability in B&W print performance I’m seeing.
This similar example from Canon’s Pro Platinum Gloss also shows the bump at the right, but also a slight rise at the blue end (~400nm) of the spectrum from the OBA – this is a paper where it takes some real work to get consistently good B&W results.
For both papers I’d expect to see an essentially flat line with pigment inks.
So, you can’t get really good B&W from the PRO-200?
Far from it – the PRO-200 can give me very good B&W prints. The performance of the black ink in the new PRO-200 ‘Chromalife 100+’ ink set is ‘improved’ over the PRO-100, so could well be somewhat easier to use for B&W printing, although I don’t have test data for this (no PRO-100).
It just takes a bit more work and experimentation for B&W than colour if you are picky about colour casts. that and as I’ve mentioned, you need to pick your media and settings carefully.
That means you pick papers by results, not by brand or ‘reputation’.
Yes, I’m sticking with pigment inks for my own B&W work, but if Canon came out with a larger format printer, with an even better black, I’d give it serious consideration for some of my work.
Getting a better B&W print
My goals in testing B&W print performance is to introduce a bit more predictability and less uncertainty into my workflow. I want to be able to work on my photography and image editing and know that my printing will ‘just work’.
It may seem tedious to do much testing, but I firmly believe that a good reliable print setup benefits all of your photography.
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 PRO-200
I do welcome comments and questions – please feel free to comment below or email me.
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