Printer Drivers and RIPs
When Epson designed their printers, they did half the job. The hardware was capable of incredible black and white prints, but the drivers included with the machines were not! Photographers tried all sorts of ways to coax a good black and white print from these printers, such as custom made profiles and tweaking the driver settings. The problem was that the prints were never perfectly neutral; there was always a slight color cast and worse yet, the color changed as you went through the tonal range from the lightest tones to the darkest! Custom profiles helped, but still were not perfect.
The solution turned out to be simple but expensive: ditch the crappy Epson driver in favor of a third party solution designed for black and white printing. When I first began black and white printing on inkjet printers, I was using the Epson 2200 printer. This was a 13x19 printer that came out right before the larger Stylus Pro 4000, whih uses the same inkset. This was in 2003, and back then there was only one option:
Colorbyte software's Imageprint RIP is a self-contained printer driver that was designed to correct problems that Epson's driver had with both black and white and color printing. It corrected the Epson driver's tendency to push darker tones too low on the scale in both black and white and color, and it gave PERFECTLY neutral black and white prints. It also gave better color reproduction for color printing, and it allowed printing black and white prints with a slight color cast to simulate the use of toners on silver-gelatin prints in the darkroom. These toned prints had a consistant color all down the tonal scale, but required some trial and error to come up with settings that gave the right tones, since thesoftare did not come with any presets for common print toners.
Imageprint worked magnificently, but has one glaring flaw: cost. The software is incredibly expensive, and must be purchased seperately for every printer you own. The version for 13 inch printers like the 2200 and R2400 cost $500 when I got it many years ago for my 2200, and had increased in price to a whopping $700 by the time that my 2200 died and was replaced by the R2400 that I still have. The version for the larger 17 inch printers like the Stylus Pro 4000 is even more costly, at about $900! Needless to say, I did not buy it for the R2400. My 2200 died and had to be replaced soon after I moved back to Indiana after my time in Santa Fe. I was dead broke and would not have even bought the R2400 except that I had sold some prints that I couldn't make because the 2200 died when I tried to make them!
Advanced Black and White Mode on the R2400
Epson made some improvements to the driver on the newer printers, like the R2400. It included a printing mode labeled "Advanced Black and White". This worked similarly to Imageprint for black and white. With the standard settings, it gave perfectly neutral results, and you could also add slight color casts. Like Imageprint, setting the color tone took trial and error, but the prints were beautiful. A huge improvement over the old Epson driver. This didn't help with the Stylus Pro 4000, however, and I never did get the toned settings to perfectly match the look of selenium toned coldtone papers and untoned warmtone papers, which were both favorites of mine before health issues forced me to stop doing wet printing. Fortunately, I found a solution that gave the quality of Imageprint and the Epson Advanced Black and White Mode that worked on the 4000 and was priced for an artist like me.
Roy Harrington's Quadtone RIP is a self-contained driver, like Imageprint, that gives incredible black and white prints. Unlike Imageprint, Quadtone RIP is only for black and white printing, butit has some impressive features that the ultra-expensive Imageprint doesn't have. To begin with, it supports a lot of different printers, and you do not have to pay for each printer you want to use. It is shareware with a suggested donation of $50. Yeah, $50!
Not only is Quadtone RIP affordable, it makes it easy to create toned black and white prints. It installs with profiles for a number of different papers for each printer you choose to install with it. Most of the papers have four profiles, each designed to give a specific image tone, as we'll see.
Quadtone RIP installs as though it is a seperate printer, so when you choose a printer from the print dialogue box on your computer, you'll see each printer you have shown twice, once instance uses the manufacturer's driver and the other is labeled Quad(printer name), so my Stylus Pro 4000 would be Quad4000. Choose it as the printer both in the page setup and in the print controls.
The papers I like
I use three papers regularly. For proofing and pieces for portfolio books, I use Epson Ultra-Premium Presentation Matte paper. This paper used to be called Enhanced Matte, but its name was recently changed. Before that it was called Archival Matte. Hopefully they've settled on a name! This paper is not archival, but it is cheap and gives a beautiful image. Great for proofing and portfolio pieces that will get handled and probably messed up. Most inkjet photo papers are expensive, this stuff is $14 for 50 sheets of letter-size paper so its cheap enough to use for disposable stuff where you still need good quality.
For exhibition prints, I usually use Ilford Gold Fibre Silk. This beautiful paper makes a black and white print that is identical in look and feel to a fiber base glossy silver-gelatin (traditional darkroom print) print. I used to use Epson Velvet Fine Art for everything before the Ilford came out. The Velvet is a cotton etching paper coated with Epson's inkjet receiver. It gives the best black and white image quality of any fine art cotton or matte paper I have tried on an Epson Ultrachrome printer. I still use it for some of my work, and if you prefer matte or slightly textured surfaces, this is the best paper I have found.