Epson Stylus Photo 2200/2100
Matte Black Ink
Taking it to The Matte
There's no doubt in my mind that the Epson 2200/2100 printer is a milestone product. For the first time since photo-quality inkjet printers first appeared in the mid-90's we have a reasonably priced desktop printer that produces superb image quality along with archival print life.
It is also the first desktop printer that utilizes 7 inks. In addition to the now standard 6 inks of most other photo printers (Photo Black / Cyan / Light Cyan / Magenta / Light Magenta / Yellow) the 2200 adds Light Black. This aids with fine transitions in dark areas and enhances the image quality.
But, there's also a third (optional) black ink. It's called Matte Black and it is designed to replace the Photo Black cartridge when printing on matte papers. The Epson part # is T0348.
The 2200 is Epson's first printer with individual ink cartridges. This makes replacing just the black ink a snap. Literally. Press the "Ink" button on the printer, lift out the Photo Black cartridge and replace it with the Matte Black cartridge. Because the cartridges are "chipped", so-called intelligent cartridges, the printer and the printer driver software knows that you have changed cartridges.
In fact when you go to print with the new cartridge for the first time you'll find that if you've created any "Custom Settings" in the printer set-up section of the driver, they are no longer visible as long as the cartridge has been changed, and you'll have to create new ones for use with this ink. Very nice. No chance of using the wrong settings.
Aside: When Epson started "chipping" their ink cartridges a couple of years ago most people thought that this was simply a cheap (actually expensive) ploy to force users to buy Epson cartridges rather than less expensive third party inks. We now see that while this may have been part of the motivation, Epson is now able to make real use of their smart cartridge technology.
When you swap between the Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges Epson advises that you check to see that the correct ink is set by looking at the Utility tab of the Printer Setting screen. This isn't really necessary. Also, the screen that shows which black ink has been chosen is there, as mentioned in the manual on the PC, but is not there on the Mac under OS 9.2 (though the manual says it should be). Speaking of the Mac, changing the black ink isn't support under OS X. Booo!
Update: Here is a technique (which I haven't tried myself yet) which should allows Mac OS X users to use this ink...
Under OS X change to the Matt Black cartridge and then turn the printer off. Delete the printer from the printer list in Print Manager. Turn the printer back on and then re-add it to the printer list in the Print Manager. The Matt Ink should now be recognized.
Aside: The Matte Black cartridge is also available for the Ultrachrome ink set on the 2200's big sisters, the 7600 and 9600 models. But, the fly in the ointment there is that changing cartridges on these printers before the ink has run out wastes a huge amount of ink. The reason for this is the large quality of ink held in the feed lines. This makes switching back and forth between inks problematic and expensive. Chalk up one advantage to the smaller desktop 2200, where the amount of ink "wasted" as the printer flushes itself out between cartridges is minimal. Be aware though that all 7 inks are flushed in each of these printers, and so even on a 2200 there is some wastage when changing back and forth frequently.
Proofing The Pudding
Since Archival Matte paper (now called Enhanced Matte) was made available with the introduction of the Epson 2000P it has become my favourite paper for exhibition and sale prints. Prints on this paper totally eliminate reflections, and therefore have a depth that is not seen in glossy papers. It's almost as if one is looking into the print at the image rather that at the image sitting on the paper. Hard to describe, but very appealing.
The only downside till now, both with the 2000P as well as the 5500, and the pigment-based inks used on these printers, has been that the blacks have lacked punch. They are a bit flat. I've lived with this deficiency because of this paper's other advantages.
When I first plugged the Matte Black cartridge into the 2200 I was hoping for a modest improvement, but I was completely floored by what I saw. Not just blacks and dark tones but the entire brightness range of the prints is enhanced. Finally prints on matte paper look as rich and saturated as those done on glossier papers, like Premium Luster and Premium Semigloss. Really.
While the example above is quite exaggerated — (so that viewers with poorly adjusted monitors call still see a difference) — it gives something of the impression of how dramatic the improvement in density and saturation are when using Matte Black ink.
If you're used to printing on Heavy Weight Matte or Archival Matte paper on one of Epson's previous pigment inks printers (even on their dye-based printers like the 1270/80/90), I know that you may be wondering what I've been smoking. All I can tell you is that you have to see it for yourself.
Oh yes, do be sure to use the provided printer profiles that end in "MK". These are designed specifically for the Matte Black ink on selected Epson matte papers. (If you have a Windows PC and the profiles did not automatically install when you ran the installation disk, have a look at the solution to this problem.)
Update: Anyone interested in a some numbers showing the Dmax of Matte Black Vs. Photo Black ink as well as a subjective evaluation when doing B&W printing can find them here.
There is one problem with this ink — it isn't as resistant to physical abrasion as the Photo Black or other inks. If there is a large area of black, such as in the Puffin photograph above, firmly rubbing that area with the thumb or a finger will cause the ink to take on a "buffed" appearance. This problem is accentuated on Velvet Fine Art Paper, where the physical texture of the paper shows through the buffed ink.
It's not something to be terribly concerned about, but if your prints are going to be getting a lot of handling this may be something you want to examine closely yourself.