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The question is simple: How can one make decent black and white prints today, specially in large formats? But then answering it takes ridiculous dimensions each time I want to print a B&W photo. It seems nobody around me knows how to print B&W anymore. Where do all these art galleries print their black and whites then?

1) The enlargers I have access to are not able to make large (1m+ wide) prints, and even if they can, I don't have the equipment to properly develop and dry such prints.

2) Inkjet prints I have made are rather limited in their black and white tones. I have not used the all-black carbon ink sets as my local labs (in Montreal) do not have them, but if you have used any I would like to know about your experience. The typical pro ink sets (like Epson K3 system) don't seem to be able to produce rich B&Ws, despite having several black levels in the set.

3) Durst/C4 prints also produce very mild blacks and very thin mid-tones. After all, they use color photosensitive paper by default. I have heard that some Durst Thetas do take real B&W paper, but I have never seen the result, and none of my local labs seem to be aware of such a thing. Again, if you have had an experience with that, please let me know.

  • Any chance you've tried Canon Lucia EX with Canon's wide format printers? I like Epson printers, they are pheonomenal, but I too have not found that their B&W tonality is ideal. Canon also has some high quality pigment inks, and their 12-in system (Lucia EX) has a couple shades of gray. I've enjoyed my prints from Canon printers so far, good tonality and color, especially on decent papers. Which, BTW, using the right paper is paramount to getting good tonality...not every gloss, luster or satin is the same. – jrista Mar 16 '15 at 7:06
  • I have seen phenomenal B&W prints in hahnemuhle samplers, but I don't know what type of inc they use for that... – retrography Mar 16 '15 at 7:23
  • Those inks are usually Canon or Epson. I use Hahnenuhle paper myself, along with Moab. I like both brands, excellent papers either way. I have found that some of the Moab papers are better. One in particular produces some AMAZING deep shadow tonality, it's Lasal Photo Matte. This is an OBA paper, so it doesn't have the longevity of some acid free neutral white natural fiber papers, but it's tonality is vastly superior. Bright whites deep tonal blacks, smoothly graded between. If your looking for a nice matte for B&W, that is probably it. I'd say either Canon or Epson should do. – jrista Mar 16 '15 at 18:47
  • I used to use Hahnemuhle paper more, but found their quality inconsistent. It could be really good, or really unusuable. I'm using mostly Epson exhibition fiber these days, which I really love for almost every serious print... – chuqui Mar 16 '15 at 21:50
  • More on my paper usage here: photography.chuqui.com/2015/02/what-photo-paper-do-i-use -- FWIW, I really slimmed down the variety of papers because it's easy to spend lots of money and end up with a confusing mass of choices. Find a few key papers and learn how to excel on them. – chuqui Mar 16 '15 at 21:52
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Ok. This can get to be a very deep topic. But before I tell you what I do, there is a yahoo group called digitalblackandwhitetheprint@yahoogroups.com that you should join, and you also should read a fellow named Paul Roark's website, specifically the page http://www.paulroark.com/BW-Info/.

What I do is fairly simple, but the results I get are quite good. I have an Epson 1430 printer (13"), and I use a program called Quad Tone RIP by Roy Harrington (http://www.quadtonerip.com/html/QTRoverview.html). I use a single ink, either a pure carbon matte black (WJ1082) or a photo black (WJ1122). I buy both in bulk from http://www.printerfillingstation.com. I use the paper/ink profiles for Quad Tone RIP made by Paul Roark. Many folks use more than one ink, and the Quad Tone RIP program handles this very well, and the results are much smoother than with one ink, but you would be amazed at what one ink can do with a 1.5 picoliter drop printer like the 1430.

I print on either Epson Hot Press (for matte), or Red River Ultra Pro Satin, and Costco Glossy.

I think you'll find, with a bit of research and some experimentation, that you can print exceptional black and white prints with an inkjet printer.

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You need a good printer with inks optimized for black and white prints. That means you either need to find a lab that has these capabilities (as opposed to printing black adn whites using a color ink set) or do it yourself.

That said, you can get pretty good images out of a good large format inkjet with the standard ink sets today (IMHO), but if you want gallery quality, you'll need to go to the customized inks.

  • Any specific set of inks you have tried? I know a photo association here that may let me take my own set of inks to use with their printers. I have heard good and also bad things about black and white inks. Is there any specific brand or model you have used and trusted? – retrography Mar 16 '15 at 7:20
  • I typically use the standard Epson inks with my R2880. I'm not far enough down the path in B/W printing right now to warrant going for B/W specific prints. It's on my list... – chuqui Mar 16 '15 at 21:49
  • I'm not very advanced on digital B&W printing either. Just that when I compare with darkroom prints I get largely disappointed... – retrography Mar 17 '15 at 3:44
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I did darkroom photography for 25 years and I like the digital black and white prints that I produce today with Epson K3 better than anything I ever produced in the darkroom.

Dmax and the overall perception depend on the paper. Have your lab to print some samples on Canson papers. Glossier papers will give richer blacks, if this is what you want. some matte papers, on the other hand, give a feel that is impossible to achieve with traditional gelatin based paper. Try printing some well known test images and gradients to ensure that your data and their process actually utilize the whole bit depth.

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