The Path to Piezography

13th March 2015
Over the last couple of years, I have become very interested in black and white images. Initially, I just worked on finding a tool that could give me results that I liked. Nik Silver Efex Pro, after a lot of trial and error, is the tool that I have chosen. Like many of the tools around today, its presets are delivered with a push the slider to 11 approach. It took a bit of practice to get images that I’m happy with. It also took a lot of unlearning on my part. I’ve never been worried with colour, but, somehow, I had to shake off preconceptions of what a b&w image should be. I kept on trying to get the b&w aesthetic of the solid black and matching white with lots of contrast, and was never really happy. At some point, I decided to do what appeals to me, and that is where I am now.

Having got to this point, I started to look at how to get the best prints from my images. I am a very happy user of Mirage for colour but wanted to investigate the other options for b&w. A whole lot of digging led me to Epson ABW, Quadtone RIP with Epson inks, and Piezography inks developed by Jon Cone and QTR. The web is awash with opinions on these methods, many of them ill-informed. The ‘I tried it and couldn’t see any difference’ is common, but given the entry cost, I discount most of them. Piezography needs a different workflow to get the best from it. I suspect that this is the source of a lot of opinions. Here’s a link to a thread that I started on Luminous Landscape: B&W Printing Options It runs to six pages now, and is well worth a read if you are in the market. You even get to see me called an idiot by none other than Jeff Schewe.

The workflow with Piezography is different to normal preparation for printing. After getting what you like in colour, you convert to Grey Gamma 2.2. With colour, I would resize to 360DPI to print, with PZ, you leave it as it is. I now use PK Sharpener to set the DPI for my print size. This leaves me with an image of 12"x16" at 461DPI for a SA3 print. One advantage of this is that I no longer make images for a print size. I have the one image, and just resharpen at the new size to print. Sharpening is different too. No longer do I let PK Sharpener sharpen and take what it produces. Jon Cone says that you need to sharpen till the image looks good on the screen because Piezography shows blemishes which include any sharpening artefacts to overcome dithering in normal printing. What you see on the screen is what you will get in the print. This includes everything. Only a value of 0 prints black, and only 255 gets you white. With other methods, anything below about 10 will get you black. This can be a real surprise at times.

Softproofing is another important tool in the Piezography workflow. To make it work you need an Eizo or NEC monitor where you can set the colour temperature. I normally work with my monitor at 85CD and 6500K. For softproofing Piezography, I change to 5000K. I now get the best screen to print match that I have ever seen.

Another tool that helps a lot is a spectrophotometer. QTR has tools to build softproofing profiles, and Jon Cone provides a linearisation checker. Without a spectro, you will often be flying in the dark.

I had an old Epson R2400 sitting around that hadn't been used in a few years. I fired it up, got a clean nozzle check and decided to use it. That was a big mistake! With 20/20 hindsight, I should have bought a new printer. Printers are like boats. If you don't use them, things go wrong. I got my Piezography set up on the R2400 going and them then things started to go wrong. All the 3rd party carts leaked. There was probably nothing wrong with the carts but something between them and the capping station didn’t see eye to eye. 3rd party carts and Piezography bring a level of discipline to printer maintenance that most people ignore with Epson carts, to their own ultimate regret. The solution to the problem was a new 3880. When I factored in the new colour carts that were included, it was somewhat less painful.

Paper choice is another topic worth looking at. I have used Ilford Gold Fibre Silk for colour for years. However, it isn’t a great choice for Piezography. Printing gloss requires a second pass with a gloss overprint to even out bronzing. IGFS is very prone to bronzing, unfortunately. I have quite a stock of it in SA3 and A2. When it runs out, I will start using Epson Exhibition Fiber, which is called Epson Traditional Photo Paper in Australia, or anything better that may have appeared. The best paper is Jon Cone’s own paper but shipping paper to Australia is just too expensive

Jon Cone has Piezography.com, Conecolor.com, and Inkjetmall.com. Inkjetmall.com is the sales and support site. The three sites have loads of information, and they are working on getting it better organised, but, today, it is like an archaeological dig. Having said that, they support their product like no-one else. Fortunately, Jon is a night owl which works well for someone living in Australia. Ed Hamrick of Vuescan fame used to be my benchmark for support. These guys are better as they are supporting a lot more products.

Before committing to a purchase, I bought a set of sample prints from Inkjetmall. How anyone could be expected to make a decision on a few 5x5 prints is beyond me. They are the least impressive demonstration products that I have seen. Fortunately, I managed to get a sample via one of the yahoo groups. Yahoo has QTR and the Digital Black and White forums. Both are good sources of support, and are highly recommended.

It has been quite a journey, and occupied an inordinate amount of time over the last few months. I'm just getting to the point where I'm happy with the prints that I am making. It's not for the faint-hearted, and it's not cheap but it's worth the journey.

Jeff Hughes has also written of his recent conversion to Piezography printing. It's a good read: Jeff Hughes on Piezography

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