Black and white printing with the PRO-300
Black and white printing for the PRO-300
Printing monochrome images with the Canon PRO-300
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This article accompanies Keith’s detailed review of the Canon PRO-300 printer,
It expands on the section of the review covering the printing of black and white images.
In particular it looks at the B&W print mode available in the printer driver and via Canon’s new Professional Print and Layout software.
Printing B&W on the PRO-300
I’m testing the PRO-300 connected to my Macs, but if you’re using a PC the results should be the same. I’ll first look at the basic methods of printing and then look in more detail about refining the process. The article has links to more detailed discussions of some processes and where I look at broader print and photography issues related to B&W,
Whilst it’s possible to print a B&W image using a normal ICC printer profile, using the specialist B&W print mode almost always produces better results. One exception to this would be strongly coloured/tinted monochrome images where the effect you are looking for is beyond what the B&W mode can offer.
The info for the PRO-300 mentions a new Matte black ink formulation “…offering greater black density, smooth gradations and details in darker areas”. However I don’t have a PRO-10 to compare, so can only say that it works fine (as did the PRO-10 IIRC).
Printing in monochrome
I normally print directly from Photoshop. For the printer’s B&W print mode the settings are managed in the driver, so I hand off colour management. This is the ‘Printer manages colours’ setting.
You may need to select driver colour matching. This is one of those things that will vary depending on computer and operating system. This is on a Mac running 10.13
B&W printing is selected via this checkbox.
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.
There are fine adjustments to the tone of the print available. I’ll come back to this in more detail in a bit.
It’s a pretty easy process, and my more advanced testing (below) shows that for many images you’ll need no more adjustment for many papers.
Using Canon’s Professional Print and Layout software
Canon’s software works as a standalone application, or as a plugin for Photoshop /Lightroom /Elements.
It offers a lot of custom print set-ups including multi image layout and gallery wraps, but here I’m just looking at B&W printing.
Here’s a photo of the Oregon coast showing why it’s one of my favourite drives…
[click on images to enlarge]
In the two tabs at the right, this is the basic settings one, where I set page size and layout. I’ve selected the paper type and size (A3).
Under the colour management section I’ve selected ‘Black and White Photo’.
Switching to the right tab (colour settings) is where I can fine tune the look of my print.
A simple switch to ‘Warm Tone’. You can fine tune this with the colour shift box below the setting. However I’d just suggest being subtle with this. For myself I get all the tonal variation I want through my paper choices – YMMV.
A more important setting is the ‘Strength’ option.
As you can see I’ve selected ‘Hard Tone’ – this (as I’ll show in a bit) gives the best match between the tones on my calibrated screen to the tones reproduced in the print.
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 much, then consider that any adjustment you make at this stage are not saved for your image. Let’s say you need to re-print 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.
One way of giving prints a boost for darker display environments is to add a gentle adjustment curve. The Canon software allows you to apply such curves, as well as save and load them.
The example below shows a rather strong ‘S’ curve.
This adjustment curve function has another more advanced use, in correcting print linearity.
Borderless printing can be set for the following print sizes.
- A3+ /A3 /A4 /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
Depending on the paper you may see a warning about margins.
I tried a range of heavier media through the rear loading slot and they worked just fine. With borderless printing do take extra care that your paper doesn’t have excessive curl or turned up corners.
The paper is Canon Museum Etching paper, a slightly rough surface paper.
I showed the tone adjustments earlier as a creative effect. They also have a more subtle use in correcting for slight colour casts caused in B&W prints from different lighting sources.
One of the improvements I’ve noticed over the years is the steady improvement in neutrality for B&W printing, especially when using B&W print modes. However it’s still possible that some papers will show a slight colour tint (greenish or magenta) under some lighting. This can be tuned out, but how to decide on a setting?
Using the pattern print option lets you make a contact sheet of images all with subtly different tints.
Take this along and view it under your problematic lighting to help decide if any adjustment will help.
I’ve written some more about using this approach a while ago with my Canon iPF8300 printer
Ideally, when doing black and white editing for print, I’d like a straight match between the tonality on my monitor and what’s reproduced in a print. I will probably have to make allowances for the differing tonal range of matte and glossy papers and maybe lighting type.
However 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.
Here’s a test print via Photoshop, for use with the i1iSis spectro.
It’s important to print the test print exactly as you would a B&W photo.
The image is NOT a profiling target.
An initial look over the prints showed no obvious non-linearity or unwanted colours. The biggest problem I come across when testing is that shadows get crunched up.
The image has various features that make this easier to spot visually. See the article about the test image for details.
In the course of testing I created rather a lot of A4 test prints…
I read the 51 step wedge with the iSis and create a data file of measurements. This gives ‘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 the iSis linearisation article.
Here’s the graph form printing B&W via Photoshop, on Pro-Luster paper
Don’t worry about the numbers, it’s the (broad) shape of the curve I’m interested in.
It’s pretty straight until 90% where it flattens out quite a bit. That suggests that my print will lose some definition in deeper shadows.
A similar curve for Canon’s Museum Etching fine art paper. The maximum darkness (dmax) is lower as expected with a matte art paper, but note the similarity of the curve shape.
Ok. that’s for the B&W setting via the driver and Photoshop.
What about the settings in the Canon print software? [click to enlarge]
I’ve marked the 50% and 90% levels.
The hard setting gives the smoothest coverage, with 0% to 50% being very good.
What to do about the slight nonlinearity?
First up, how much does it matter? The curves here are not bad and don’t show the strong kinks/flats you can get when a paper is seriously mismatched to the ink and/or media settings. I printed quite a few B&W images using the hard setting – after all, this is what you get if you use print from Photoshop.
Curves for correction
Remember that strong S curve I showed earlier. Well, 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.
Here’s the curve data for the curve shown above.
ToneCurveMaster=0,0 18,25 55,63 128,128 192,192 255,255
I leave as an exercise to a reader somewhere to write some code that takes the QTR (or source) data and creates an linearising .pcv file for any media…
The curves are similar for the museum etching paper, and none of the papers I tried deviated much from this. That bodes well for using the B&W print mode for other papers.
My only issue detected with some lustre/gloss papers was a slight bronzing, visible if you get the lighting on the print just right.
I’d emphasise that you do need to get the light just right to see it – I’ve seen far worse on many other printers in the past.
I suspect that changing gloss coat settings may alter this, but you’ll need to experiment if you find it in a paper you’re trying. Don’t forget that with any new printer you really do need to test a lot of things from scratch. Your paper choices should come -after- your printer choice.
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-300
I do welcome comments and questions – please feel free to comment below or email me.
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