Welcome to the Darkside: Fine Art B&W Printing Comes of Age

A portrait of a dear departed friend, Mateo. ©2007 Ken Doo. Phase One P30; 150mm f/8 @ 1/60th. Printed recently on a newly converted K7 dedicated B&W printer on Canson Platine Fibre Rag.

Ken Doo Photography has gone to the darkside.  And when you’re talking about fine art B&W printing, that’s a good thing.  I have been printing everything from family wall portraits, to banners, to stunning archival gallery wrapped canvas portraits in-house to insure the highest quality possible.  There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of print and fine art medias offered by my studio exceeds that of any typical pro-lab, whether for color or B&W images.  For B&W images, state of the art printers (such as the Epson 9900) use three blacks (K3) producing beautiful prints rivaled only by those of the wet (and toxic!) darkroom.  Only a dedicated B&W printer can produce better quality images that can rival those produced by a traditional wet darkroom.   My 9900 has become a steady workhorse, consistently producing exceptional portraits for my clients.  But having an extra wide-format printer, I decided to convert my old 9800 to a dedicated B&W K7 (seven blacks!) in an effort to push the quality envelope of fine art B&W printing further.

Bodie General Store. ©2012 Ken Doo. Phase DF, IQ180. Sensor+ iso 140, f/4 @ 1/80. Schneider 55mm. Printed on dedicated K7 B&W printer on Harman Gloss Baryta warmtone.

The conversion to a dedicated seven black (K7) piezography printer for B&W selenium glossy wasn’t easy; it was more difficult than I thought it would be.  A fellow photographer friend of mine was going through the same conversion on a similar but smaller wide format printer.  Her printer died on the operating table.  Not all patients make it, but those that do are exceptional.  After about a week’s time to work out the kinks, I have started testing various fine art medias on my new B&W printer using a glossy selenium inkset.  All I can say is, wow.   B&W prints from the 9900 are excellent.  But B&W prints from the new dedicated K7 printer are stunning.  This particular glossy selenium K7 inkset also utilizes an “eighth” K-ink slot, which is really a gloss optimizer, applied by the K7 printer after the initial printing.  It is a bit more labor intensive, but the advantages well-worth the extra effort.  I also foresee advantages of color prints generated on the 9900 utilizing the gloss optimizer process using the K7 printer.  This isn’t just printing; this is print-making, and that’s really what embodies a Signature Series Portrait made for my clients at my boutique portrait studio in Carmel.

To be fair, a dedicated K7 B&W printer won’t make a mediocre image better.  But it can make an excellent image print better with more smoothness and tonality, with a presence reminiscent of an air-dried wet darkroom print.  The workflow and post-processing is a bit different than images prepared for the 9900.  I’m really excited about being able to offer the best in both color and B&W images for my clients.   I recently visited Death Valley, Mono Lake, and the ghost town of Bodie, CA (images above) and felt very fortunate to capture some exciting new landscape images.  I definitely look forward to offering more B&W landscape images!

For more information on fine art printing, high-resolution medium format digital copywork and reproduction, and portraiture, contact me at (831) 626-1844 or at my boutique photography studio in Carmel, CA.  ken

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