1200 is renowned for the quality of the colour prints it produces due
the variable dot technology. Using it, I could even produce reasonable
black and white prints using a mixture of the five colours and black,
although they were never truly neutral. However, try as I might shadow
detail was always lost in a mass of black ink. Print neutrality improved
with the aid of high quality profiling software and hardware, but still
shadows remained unacceptably blocked. The thought of mixing my own
concoctions of grey and black inks was never a serious runner. The
alternatives included the various Lyson, MIS, etc. ready mixed quadblack
inksets, but the more I read of these the more I became convinced that
they also to had their drawbacks.
summer (2000) passed, I began to see references to a new ink/software
combination designed for Black and White enthusiasts. The name
PiezographyBW caught my attention and I followed the links to Jon
Cones' Inkjet Mall web site (http://www.inkjetmall.com).
There I found lots of info on this new technology, but stumped again, it
was for the Epson 3000 only, although other Epson printer models were in
the pipeline. Then in early September, a reference to the Epson 1200
appeared suggesting the immanent release of PiezographyBW6 (a
special 6-ink version). By this time, the public commentary on
PiezographyBW was extremely encouraging. I could hardly wait!
So what is PiezographyBW?
PiezographyBW is a combination of a specially formulated quad black
ink-set (six tones for the Epson 1200) a Photoshop export plug-in and a
set of dedicated media profiles. Using this ink-set/driver/profile
combination, it is possible to use selected Epson inkjet printers as
dedicated Black and White printers.
first place an order for PiezographyBW, you must buy the software
and inks. The starter pack includes all that you need (except the
printer) to make black and white prints on your Epson: -
PiezographyBW Ink cartridges
b. PiezographyBW Photoshop software plug-in (includes the media
c. PiezographyBW User Manual on CD-ROM
printers include the Epson 3000, 1520, 1160, 860, 850, 800, 760 and most
recently the Epson Photo Stylus 1200. There is also support for a
continuous ink supply system for the Epson 760, 860, 1160, 1520 models.
Printer Setup and the PiezographyBW
PiezographyBW inks are pigmented black inks specially formulated for
Cone Editions to print with the degree of sharpness and density required
by the specially written software driver (more details later). The
present ink-set is carbon pigment based and is neutral going slightly
warm in appearance. With some types of media, this warm tone can be
quite pronounced, with others it's hardly noticeable. However, there are
strong indications that a cooler toned ink-set will be released sometime
in early 2001.
the Future :-)
still will be the new paper developed by Cone Editions that will print
much cooler tones than existing papers. Apparently, with some coatings
the hue can change, and it is as a result of this that we observe the
warming effect on some papers. This new paper includes a special coating
to eliminate this effect. Jon Cone tells me that it has been designed to
enable rich blacks and VERY cool neutral tones. All being well at the
mill, it should ship sometime in March 2001.
Okay, back to the present!
manual is quite specific in the procedure for setting up the printer,
installing the ink cartridges and head alignment, there are NO
shortcuts. New printers must have the original Epson coloured inks run
through the heads before even considering the installation of the
PiezographyBW inks. It is also advised that you then follow this up
with a special flushing agent (supplied at extra cost), finally the
Epson head alignment routine must be run. Head alignment should be
undertaken using the actual media that you intend to use.
Generally, it's found that after the inks are installed and the printer
purged (cleaning cycle) a few times some of the jets may still be
clogged. In such circumstances turn the printer off and leave overnight,
the clogs should be cleared when you power up the printer the next day.
If not, run another cleaning cycle and all should be well.
Epson Head Clean Utility
of actual output, my own experiences with the current inks are quite
positive and I find the slightly warm tone mentioned earlier quite
attractive. Actually, if you don't have a perfectly neutral print to
compare with, the warm tone is very hard to distinguish. That said I
have tended to concentrate my printing efforts to Epson Photo Paper
(glossy finish) and Epson Heavy Weight Matt, so I might not be seeing
the warm tone to the same extent as other users. The prints I made are
beautifully rendered and the smoothness of tones must be seen to be
believed. Personally, I have always preferred the look of Bromide type
photographic papers, but sometimes resin coated were the only option.
PiezographyBW produces the bromide look.
honest, the first couple of prints weren't as good as expected, but as
it turned out my images were at fault, not
PiezographyBW. I had neglected to read the excellent user manual
provided with the software. Only after viewing my miserably flat results
did I think to check the user manual and there it was, an explanation on
how to optimise the image for PiezographyBW, silly me!
Optimising the Image and Configuring
the PiezographyBW Plug-in
PiezographyBW is capable of printing a full range of tones from pure
white to black. The range of tones in between is exceptionally smooth
and the amount of detail held in the shadow regions is well beyond what
can be obtained by all but the very skilled conventional wet-darkroom
printers. In terms of the majority of black and white workers, the
quality of print that can be obtained from PiezographyBW is quite
to success lies in three areas:
Capturing a full range of tones from the scanner or digital camera
Careful editing of the image
Printing at the highest possible resolution without upsampling the
Photoshop 6 and PiezographyBW6
(Epson 1200) Plug-in Printer Driver
i) Capturing a full range of tones
from the scanner or digital camera
PiezographyBW is capable of rendering 100% of the greyscale tones.
It is therefore important that we capture the full range. When scanning
a negative, we should attempt to set the highlight point at level 255
and shadow point at level 0. Most Photoshop users should already be
familiar with "Histograms", and how to read them, so I'll not bother
with it here.
screen grab below shows an example histogram for a negative that I have
managed to capture all the available information. Notice that neither
the shadow nor highlights have been clipped, there is still room for
manoeuvre. The histogram also shows that the bulk of the image data lies
in the 3/4 tones (darker greys), although there is still plenty to work
with in the lighter regions.
Maximising the range of captured
manual supplied with PiezographyBW explains the subject of
optimising the range of tones for the image in considerable detail, so
as before I won't repeat it here.
ii) Careful editing of the image
this heading might appear to be a repeat of the previous section, but it
isn't. This section differs; in so far as, it deals with calibrating the
monitor and setting up Photoshop for PiezographyBW. I' now use
Photoshop 6, so the screen grabs shown relate to that version of
Photoshop. Nevertheless, the concept is similar for Photoshop 5 and of
course, the PiezographyBW manual provides lots of help.
gain of the PiezographyBW inks vary with the media used, so
achieving an accurate preview of the print on the monitor is important.
This must be done before we can even begin to consider editing an image.
What follows may appear a tad complicated, but once completed you'll
immediately realise the benefit. The process involves modifying
(customising) the Photoshop "Dot Gain Curve".
get Photoshop Color Setting setup correct for PiezographyBW. This
is achieved by selecting the Photoshop Edit menu, followed by Color
Settings. I discuss the configuration of this dialog in considerable
detail in the article
Colour Management and
Adobe Photoshop 6, so I won't repeat it here.
screen grab below shows the settings I use. Notice that "Gray" has a
label Epson Photo Paper (PiezoBW). This label reminds me that the
selected dot gain curve for greyscale images is set for the paper I
normally use when printing PiezographyBW.
Photoshop 6 - Color Settings Dialog
manual also recommends that the "Color Management Policy" for greyscale
images is OFF. This means that NO profile will be embedded in the image
when it is saved. It also means that we can accurately preview our
greyscale images using the custom dot gain curve.
our first print (which ideally includes the 21-step greyscale) and once
finished compare it with the monitor image. Making sure the custom dot
gain curve is open we now adjust the curve so that the image on screen
appears like the print. Once satisfied we make another print. It may be
necessary to go through this exercise a couple of times to refine the
"dot gain" curve.
few trial prints that included the supplied "21-step greyscale" image, I
arrived at the following dot gain curve for Epson Photo Paper. Other
users will probably find different values, so don't take it as gospel!
Custom Dot Gain Curve for Epson
curve has NO effect on the actual image data, only the preview and with
it in place I am assured of a print that replicates the image as viewed
on my monitor.
the comments that I often read regarding PiezographyBW is that it
doesn't produce deep blacks. This is absolute nonsense! PiezographyBW
will produce deep blacks with little effort, if that is what the user
decides to print. However, the key to getting deep blacks is to have
areas of true black within the image.
Histogram I show above does NOT have pure blacks within it. No part of
the image that it represented (see the Cathedral Interior screen grab,
on page 1) is at Level 0. However, getting some of the image to be at
Level 0 is relatively easy. The secret is to edit the shadows and leave
he remainder of the image alone.
Cone comes to the rescue, he has produced an excellent tutorial on the
subject of editing our image files for better blacks. The tutorial can
be fond at the following URL: - http://www.piezography.com/ts/shadows.html
Basically, the technique involves making a "Channel" mask as shown in
the screen grab below.
Channel Masking for Selective
that the histogram only includes data in the shadow region of the image,
all other data is masked and therefore protected from the edit. In the
example shown (see the Info Palette) I pulled the shadow point towards
the centre so that an area that originally had a value of RGB Level 31
became RGB Level 15 (K-88% became K-94% black). Even at K-94% black,
this region will print with detail, but now the print will have a bit
more depth to it.
iii) Printing the Image
PiezographyBW actually prints at 2160dpi and likes to have as much image
data in the form of pixels as it is possible to get. When using
PiezographyBW it is better to keep the image resolution as high as
possible without upsampling. Most of my images were printed with Photoshop
set for anywhere between 240 and 360ppi. Precise values do not seem to be
important so size the print according to your needs and if the Photoshop
output resolution falls above 240ppi, great. If it's less then make the
print smaller, do not upsample if you want to retain all the qualities of
print in PiezographyBW is slightly different to the normal process of
selecting Print from the Photoshop File menu. With PiezographyBW you
actually print via the Export command, again found under the Photoshop
and "Dot Density" options are designed to allow the user the opportunity
to fine tune the printer output. The user manual explains both in detail,
so I'll give them a miss. Nevertheless, I never found any need to use
the printer is also fully explained in the user manual. However, you
should notice the option for Page Setup in the PiezographyBW dialog shown
below. The option will give you access to the standard Epson driver from
where you will choose the media type, printer resolution (ideally 1440dpi)
and paper size. The other settings are all pretty much irrelevant;
PiezographyBW does its own thing.
PiezographyBW Export Plug-in (Epson
Stylus Photo 1200)
the correct media profile is important. Each paper type listed has been
profiled to achieve the best possible output. If you find yourself testing
a paper that is not listed, try the "Unsupported" option. However, you'll
probably have to create a new dot gain curve for previewing the image.
Some users have reported that using the "Unsupported" option produces very
good results with many of the Epson papers. I haven't tried this for
myself but do keep it mind for future reference.
PiezographyBW Media List
that becomes very apparent with PiezographyBW is the speed of printing, it
is much quicker than the standard Epson driver.
little effort in Photoshop and the PiezographyBW system, just about anyone
is capable of producing superb Black and White prints from even the most
ordinary of negatives (also colour slides converted to greyscale).
It takes a
while to get used to the nuances of PiezographyBW, but once you kick off
the shackles of conventional black and white printing (wet darkroom) and
begin to make use of its properties you will be converted. The incredible
shadow detail and smooth midtones are what PiezographyBW is all about.
Prints have a depth and quality that resin coated media can never achieve,
and they look even better under glass. It really does give the appearance
of a Bromide print except of course, we can forget the prolonged washing
and drying process of that medium.
only tried two papers, I'm told they aren't even the best at the showing
the full potential of PiezographyBW. If this is true, then black and white
printing has entered a new era, an era were drop dead gorgeous black and
white prints will for many, become the norm rather than the exception.
As I have
mentioned above, the warm tone appears to be a function of the paper
coating, some papers apparently print more neutral than others.
Thankfully, Cone Editions have a very extensive range of papers on sale at
their web site. They also provide details of the expected tonal shift with
each. A sample pack of various papers is also provided at very reasonable
cost, so we really have very few excuses for not trying various
alternatives. You should also recall my mention of new cooler toned inks
and specially coated paper that should be available shortly.
presented below is the one from which the histograms and screen grabs were
taken. The final print was scanned back into Photoshop in 36 bit RGB mode
using LaserSoft SilverFast software. The image has undergone NO
adjustment, the tone you see below is the tone of the final print
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin
I make no
claims to be a "good" black and white printer, but that does not mean
that I do not know a good print when I see one. PiezographyBW prints are
exceptionally good. I have shown my prints to many other individuals
whom I know to be very keen and able black and white darkroom workers
(two of whom are "International" award winning B&W printers). At time of
writing this review I have not received one dissenting voice about the
quality of the prints shown. In fact many have commented that, had they
not seen and handled the prints, they would not have believed that
inkjet printing has come so far.
warned, PiezographyBW is a system, inks, driver and media profiles.
Therefore, it is not appropriate to compare it with a simple quad black
ink set and the standard Epson printer drivers. To do so would be a
gross injustice to PiezographyBW.
In the last
paragraph of the user manual "Introduction" Jon Cone writes the following:
first started to use the PiezographyBW system, this paragraph was of no
significance to me. Judging by the comments I read on the dedicated
PiezographyBW user group forum it appears that a majority of users to date
are of similar mind. We all appear to be trying to replicate the processes
of the conventional darkroom. Worse, we appear to be tied up in scanning,
resolution, ink-tone, degree of sharpening, etc. I agree that all these
point are important. However, I also believe that when Jon Cone wrote that
paragraph he had something more in mind.
who have used the system agree that PiezographyBW has the ability to
reproduce a much wider tonal range than conventional darkroom paper. Many
users have remarked at the ability of PiezographyBW to print into an area
of the negative that is well beyond conventional photographic prints. It
also has a much greater ability to render the subtlety lit highlight
areas. The tonal range PiezographyBW is to all intents and purposes
infinite. However, many of the scanners we use simply cannot deliver the
goods when it comes to TRUE shadow detail. We think we see detail, we
think we see grain, but are we just kidding ourselves?
digital image of a Canon D30, Nikon D1 or even the Olympus E10 will show
very little, if any, noise in even the deepest shadows. The dynamic range
of today's digital cameras probably exceeds that of conventional film and
so the shadow regions in particular will contain significant detail. Even
after interpolating the image up to a reasonable print size, say 14 by 11
inches and printing at 240 dpi the quality of the shadows in a
PiezographyBW print can surpass a 35mm scanned at 4000ppi. The sample
images that I have printed (small sections) from Canon D30 raw files are
nothing short of amazing in terms of shadow detail. As things stand,
these cameras still provide an insufficient number of pixels to truly
allow the larger black and white prints we so require for exhibition sized
images, but given the pace of digicam development, that may soon been
rectified. When that day comes, I think we will understand the full
capability of PiezographyBW.
stand today, I'm satisfied enough with the PiezographyBW print quality
obtained from the Canon D30 images that I've just bought one! The D30 that
is :-) Although, my serious black and white photography will continue to
be undertaken my trusty Mamiya 645 Super loaded with Agfa APX film.