Print shops today offer a large range of services – everything from poster printing, vinyl banners, signage, tradeshow displays, car graphics and much more. So why not include black and white fine art printing? black and white art prints designed by artists are gaining popularity with wall-art distributors and aren’t that difficult to add to your list of services. So where do you start? Well, black and white prints have been tricky in the past. Achieving high quality black and white inkjet prints has traditionally been a difficult process, perhaps because black and white prints have no other information than contrast between tones in order to print a dynamic image.
Factors that affect inkjet prints. Inkjet printers have printheads that blend thousands of tiny dots into what looks like a continuous-tone image and fires them onto the media surface. Today, 99% of inkjet printers being used in the field are colour printers employing Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) inks – and sometimes Red, Green and Blue (RGB). Fine-art inkjet printers from Canon, HP and Epson also employ different combinations of black, matte black and grey inks to enhance the monochrome printing process. In theory, an even mix of very small dots of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow creates a grey tone, but not necessarily a good black and white print. Hence the challenges.
Smoothness and neutrality across the entire tonal range from black to white can be very difficult to achieve with an inkjet printer. However, thanks to manufacturers like Canon, HP and Epson, they’ve made the process easier due to their combinations of ink and the accompanying software. When you see a print produced by these fine-art inkjet printers, there’s an inner life and excitement that comes from viewing them. There are other factors as well that must be taken into consideration, such as the media you’re printing on and the temperature of the viewing lights in the room. All these factors can have an effect on how you perceive the print.
Media choices. The media you choose can have a significant impact on achieving high quality neutral prints. Hahnemuhle makes some of the finest media in the world. By combining the Hahnemuhle or other fine art papers and a fine-art printer, you can create beautiful black and white prints worthy of hanging on any wall.
Custom printer profiles. Custom ICC printer profiles are an ideal way of achieving great looking neutral black and white prints. Custom profiles are printer-specific and paper-specific, and most paper manufacturers will provide these media profiles free of charge (i.e. https://www.hahnemuehle.ca/icc-profile/_).
Monitor calibration. Monitor calibration is an equally important part of the digital printmaking process (but isn’t covered in the scope of this article). Companies such as X-Rite and Eizo provide excellent information in this regard.
Better printer = better prints. The easiest way to produce great prints is to upgrade your printer, especially if it’s a basic CMYK printer. This makes achieving smooth, neutral prints with an excellent tonal range relatively easy right out of the box. Canon makes an excellent 12-channel printer with 4 blacks on board to create this kind of images. The Drafting Clinic (Toronto) had a number of these printers on display when I visited them to perform the tests described below.
The pre-printing process. I usually like to shoot my photos in colour and then bring them into Photoshop to create black and white images. I use the NIK photo editing plug-ins to get a large range of creative effects. For the black and white series, I use the Silver Efex Pro plug-in to get the effect I’m looking for. A bit of tweaking afterwards in Photoshop and I’m ready to go. For those that don’t have Photoshop, I also like to use Picmonkey photo editing tools. The Inexpensive yearly subscription of $72 (CDN) is well worth it, even if you already have Photoshop.
The printing process. Special thanks to The Drafting Clinic for opening up their format-printing printing studio for me to run these tests and capture the process. The following printing process will explain how to print with a third-party ICC profile.
STEP 1: Select your paper profile from the Hahnemühle download website. The nice thing about the Canon imagePrograf printers is that they allow for the addition of “custom media types” into the printer’s firmware and driver. This is accomplished via the Media Configuration Tool (software that ships with all Prograf models). Using a custom media type offers several advantages over utilizing a generic media type – since it allows for ink density, vacuum strength, printhead height and much more to be built into the media file. This is done via the AM1 file, which requires you to use the Media Configuration Tool.
Download the custom paper AM1 configuration file. The Hahnemühle download website has excellent instructions on how to find the ICC profile and import in your computer and the software for your printer: https://www.hahnemuehle.ca/icc-profile/
Launch the Media Configuration Tool to install the custom paper AM1 configuration file
STEP 2: Choose the custom media type in your driver
(IMPORTANT: Turn the driver colour matching off and let Photoshop manage the colours).
I always like to use the Canon Driver Preview before printing. If you made a mistake in your print settings, this will catch the mistake before you print the image. Some adjustments to the print file can be done in the driver (brightness, contrast, etc.) but I like to do these adjustments in Photoshop instead.
If everything looks good, then let it RIP, as they say. For this test I used the Hahnemühle natural white matte bamboo paper. It is “the world’s first digital fine-art inkjet paper made from bamboo fibres.” This paper’s composition is 90% bamboo fibre and 10% cotton, which gives it a distinct look and feel. I really like the paper’s warmth and texture. It renders both colour and monochrome images very well and gives them an exceptional tone. Happy printing!
Peter Dulis is an award-winning photographer and large-format printing executive, having worked with Canon Canada for the past 14 years. He can speak to all manner of image-capture-to-printing excellence. Follow his adventures at www.photographyadventures.ca. Dulis is also available for consultation or keynote speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.