View Full Version : Getting a decent B&W print

08-27-2008, 16:34
I think I became lazy...

Let me elaborate. My B&W workflow for film cameras consists of self-developing the film, then scanning via an Epson V750 into Aperture 1.56 I have then generally keyworded and applied basic corrections such as levels and cropping to the image. In my infinite wisdom, that is all I have been doing, and then outputting to an Epson R800, sometimes via the QTR RIP. I've been a bit dissatisfied recently, but hey ho, there are always more images to try. However on this occasion I had made special effort to lug the Mamiya C330 and Berlebach tripod all the way up Helman Tor on the edge of Bodmin Moor. I loaded up with Neopan 400 my favorite film and set to work in gale force winds (beginning to get the picture?) Of course, I'd left my cable release in the car, several hundred feet below, but there were still two ways to release the shutter, and light levels were high giving 1/250th shutter speeds. Getting home, I developed the films, and first results looked promising, so I selected one image (not the best but decent enough) and went for a print on A4 premium semi-gloss.

And, oh dear, oh dear! Muddy, poor definition, soft, heavy magenta colour cast and worst of all, awful posterisation. OK it's Aperture's cr*p printing, so loaded the same picture up in Elements 4.0 and... worse still! an even heavier magenta cast, and darker, slightly less posterisation though. OK I thought, I've got QTR to hand, so I went through the tedious business of connecting the USB cable to the printer (no firewire on QTR) And?? Still dark, but posterisation minimal, colour cast still very strong though, but overall more punch. This however with quite a warm setup. Best yet, but still very far from acceptable. Right, maybe this is my software/hardware combination, so off to ASDA/Walmart for their take. And??? Still poor, but only slight blue colour cast. but still lacking in impact, and overall slightly worse than the QTR version.

Right!! need to do this properly, so I went back to how I used to do this stuff before Aperture arrived. That is, I used selective levels on foreground, middle distance and far distance objects separately, very carefully matching tonal ranges and contrast on the way. A kind of mini and very crude Zone system if you like. OK, so back off to print, again using QTR, this time with a cooler setup, a reasonable amount of USM, and matching all the profiles more carefully. And??? BINGO at last a decent (fairly) neutral print with crisp mid tones no nasty posterisation, and an overall tonal balance pleasing at least to my eye. PHEW!!
So here are my basic mistakes and some suggested solutions:
1) Flare was evident, so use a decent lenshood if possible.
2) The wind was so strong that despite a quality tripod I had camera shake softening the image, and the lack of cable release didn't help either.
3) A few quick fixes in Aperture were not enough to turn this picture into a printable image - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch
4) I just hit the print button without too much thought - checking all my print options first might have saved some wasted paper.

OK, so the lesson here is don't take shortcuts unless you want second rate output.

And FYI, here is the final image, still not perfect, but ok.

Regards to all


08-27-2008, 16:47
Makes the wet darkroom seem easier every time I read one of these threads...

08-27-2008, 17:06
Makes the wet darkroom seem easier every time I read one of these threads...

Exactly. I don't dare venture into that black and white digital world....

08-27-2008, 20:47
The problem I see here focuses on two things: (1) Profiling, and (2) printing b/w utilizing both the printer's black and color inks...placing enormous pressure upon (1).

Printing with all the printer's inks in the service of producing a black-and-white print (generally known as "composite" printing) is fraught with pratfalls, which vary depending on the printer used and the type of inks involved. For starters, pigment-based inks are more sensitive to metamerism and gloss differential than dye-based inks. Pigs are also more of a challenge to use on glossy or semi-gloss/satin papers, which tend to magnify the above-mentioned flaws. To top it off, the most-neutral b/w prints are produced with at least three dilutions of black ink, as offered by Epson's 2400/2880 series of 13"-carriage printers (and larger, of course) and the printer I use (HP Photosmart 8750). Some have claimed to get the composite-style printing technique to work for them, but for me it's a crazy-elaborate dance...if I can get great b/w without bringing all the yellows, magentas and cyans into play, and reduce or eliminate the need for a RIP along the way, then, to quote MAD magazine's age-old subscription pitch, why kill yourself?

I've been waiting–rather impatiently–for one of the Big Three (HP, Epson, Canon) to offer a turn-key quadtone printing option, but the best I've found is with the printer I currently use (recently discontinued...I'm thinking of buying a NOS or lightly-used 8750 to keep mothballed as a spare). If we're talking about digital b/w prints that hold their own, albeit in a different way, to silver prints (not "better", simply good in their own right), we're talking printing with at least three black inks (preferably four), in different dilutions, and only those inks, with a proper profile and driver. I see it on the horizon, but it's too hazy to tell the distance or arrival time.

- Barrett

08-27-2008, 20:54
Wet print...expose just slightly lighter than normal...dry (print will darken)...no problem...

08-27-2008, 21:00
Wet print...expose just slightly lighter than normal...dry (print will darken)...no problem...
I know, I know...but even a half-baked darkroom of my own is clearly out of the question, leaving the digital option. I'm not alone in this, and most of the solutions are frustrating, but quality output is possible.

- Barrett

08-27-2008, 22:09
What about the piezo ink sets with up to 9 different shades of pure carbon ?

08-27-2008, 23:16
What about the piezo ink sets with up to 9 different shades of pure carbon ?
That can work, if you're willing to do the technical leg-work, but it gets back to nailing the details, dealing with third-party carts and ink, and the potential pitfalls (clogging, profile mismatches, paper mismatches, and so on). And you're generally better off sticking to matte paper with a setup like this, a major deal-breaker for me (as if all the other stuff wasn't). Plus, any printer you set up this way will be a dedicated black and white printer: if you want color, you need to pony up for a second printer (major deal-breaker #2 for me; been there, done that, had better things to do with my time than fight with two printers rather than just one).

- Barrett

08-27-2008, 23:34
I am looking into this system myself:

08-28-2008, 00:15
I am so lucky to have all the resources here that I have for printing. If you look in my flickr there is a couple shots of images of exhibitions I did. I have fine tuned a really good workflow for black and white film, scanned then printed and get good tones and excellent quality. I very much dislike using lightroom or aperture for things besides first level raw tweeking. All my pictures go into photoshop one way or the other for serious fine tunning. Lughtroom is really great when I am doing a job and it's in digital and I can easily tween a bulk of the shots then do the detail stuff in photoshop. I still treat those programs kind of like a preview thing, but for me the meat sill gets the photoshop, also because it has been my solid method for a while now.

08-28-2008, 00:29
I've done some B&W scanned 35mm onto 13x19 sized paper (Ilford Gallerie Premium with Pearle finish) using an Epson R2400 and the expensive (K3 I think) inks. I downloaded the profile from Epson, and select Color Management OFF and LET Photoshop determine colors in the various dialogs. The prints came out looking very close to what I would get by wet printing onto RC paper with a similar finish. The grain on the scanned prints is somewhat more pronounced than wet prints at (almost) the same size.

Once I got the printer set, I could produce prints in about half the time as a wet print, but it took some time to set it up, as well as scan and digitally spot the negatives. So all in all, the time factor is a wash. The digital prints are made sitting down, while I stand continuously during a darkroom session - up to 6 hours this is in wet printing's favor. Cost wise, again it is pretty close. It's about $100 for a full set of inks, which will make a few dozen good prints, accounting for a near miss every now and then. Paper either way is two bucks a sheet give or take, depending on the quantity and source. Chemistry for a dozen wet prints is maybe twenty bucks (add in two for the water and sewer fees.)

So the costs and quality is similar for both methods. I find the darkroom experience exhilarating, and the digital experience a chore, but that's due to the fact that I spend more time outside of photography on a computer. Back when I had a darkroom at home ... it was still a blast!

08-28-2008, 14:05
Some really thoughtful replies here, and... some not so thoughtful ones. Wet print? no thanks, not practicable for me. Similarly, i'd love to be able to dedicate a printer to B&W, but I can't We have just the one printer and it has to do everything. I think the point about my post that pretty well everyone has missed is that at some point it's necessary to re-assess and re-calibrate your workflow. That pretty much goes for all kinds of workflow, be it pure digital, digital/analogue (like mine) or pure analogue. I certainly feel better about my work in general, and B&W in particular as a result of the process. My motivation has returned, and I'm not assessing myself in such a negative light. I now feel that my ultimate goal of being able to mount an exhibition of my work is attainable, even if a long way away. The doubts that were mounting are now lessened.



08-28-2008, 15:46
Andy: I think you've got the gist in terms of what you want and need. It's more a matter of fine-tuning the setup once you've got it together. Once you've got the initial tweaking done, it does get easier. Just like working with cameras and film, it's all about knowing your materials.

As it happens, I'm the middle of preparing my first one-person exhibit, including printing (find the right frames has been another story, but I'm rolling with it), and it's always good to hear of someone motivated to do the same. Good luck with it, and keep us posted!

- Barrett

10-20-2008, 06:07
The Piezography NK7 system is extremely good. However, the inks are expensive and you can control coolness/warness only by changing the paper. I accepted it until I accidentely mismatched the inks while refilling the bottle... twice. Too expensive mistakes.

I went back to MIS (http://www.inksupply.com), using the old UT7 inkset with QTR. QTR has been my driver for years now. I do my own QTR curves using a GretagMacbeth EyeOne for measurements.

The one drawback I find to the MIS inkset is that it is quite warm, needing a lot of blue ink to neutralize. It is much cheaper, though, and I never mismatched the inks with that one :-)