ColorByte Software Delivers
Phatte Black Printing
If you own Imageprint 6.1
you're ready for Phatte Black Printing.
If you don't know what Imageprint is, or even what a RIP is, then you should start
by reading my review of Imageprint 6.0.
Call it Phatte Black, as ColorByte does, or call it Dual Black if you don't want to be poetic, but whatever you call it – rejoice, because if you have an Epson 4800, 7800 or 9800 printer using Epson K3 inks, your ship has come in.
To understand what this all means, and why it is so exciting, we need to go back to 2004, before the new printers and inks. The previous generation Epson Pro 4000 was a 7 ink printer that had 8 cartridge slots. This meant that you could have both the Photo Black and the Matte Black inks loaded at the same time, and could therefore print on either glossy paper or matte paper without the need to do anything other than choose the correct printer profile.
But, with the K3 inks on the new X800 series printers, Epson removed the ability to have both blacks loaded at the same time. This came as quick a surpise to many users. The reason for this is that the second Black cartridge slot was replaced with a new cartridge, called Light Light Black, which is designed to reduced bronzing on glossy paper – a job which it does very well.
The means that you have to choose to use a 4800, 7800 or 9800 either for Matte paper or Glossy paper, not both. To switch from the Glossy to the Matte Black cartridge means running an ink purge routine that is tedious, time consuming and expensive. On average it costs US $75 in wasted ink to switch blacks, not to mention filling up the Maintenance Tank more quickly, and taking about 15-20 minutes of your time standing beside the machine flipping levers up and down.
If you are a user of the ImagePrint 6.1 RIP from ColorByte those days are about to be over.
Canon 5D with 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. ISO 400
The answer to our prayers is in the form of what ColorByte calls Phatte Black printing. If you already own Imageprint 6.1 then all you need to do is contact your ColorByte dealer and order a specially modified Matte Black cartridge (220ML size). These may also currently be ordered online from LexJet, Calumet and Vistek
You will also need to contact ColorByte so you can download the needed profiles. (More on these in a moment)
Simply replace the Light Light Black cartridge with its modified Epson Matte Black cart and run a routine provided by ColorByte to purge the printer's lines of Light Light Black ink. Don't neglect this step, as it's necessary. It involves printing about 20-30 8X10 sheets of plain inkjet paper, after which the last vestiges of LLK ink in the lines will be gone.
Using Imageprint 6.1 with this new ink configuration is simplicity itself. Delete all of the old matte and glossy profiles that you've downloaded (MK and PK) for ColorByte. They're not needed anymore. Download instead the new series of DK profiles; DK standing for Dual Black. These are available for all the matte and glossy papers that ColorByte supports (which is about every paper on the market). Once you have these profiles (you'll need to contact ColorByte to get the special FTP address to download them from), printing couldn't be simpler. Choose the paper you want to print on, either glossy – requiring Photo Black ink, or Matte – using Matte Black ink, and print. The profile automatically handles selecting which of the Black inks is used.
Let's look at image quality next, because as convenient as the ability to print on both glossy and matte papers alternately may be, unless image quality isn't compromised the loss may outweigh the gains.
I'm pleased to report that after making dozens of prints over several days, on a wide variety of papers, there is little or any difference to be seen between printing with the Phatte Black system and either the standard Matte or Photo black systems.
Matte Black printing on matte papers is essentially identical to normal matte printing. The reason is simple. Almost nothing has changed.
Photo black printing is first rate. I can see little significant difference between prints made using Imageprint 6.1 with their PK profile or the Phatte Black DK profile. Of course there is a difference, because the DK profiles can't use the Light Light Black ink, because it's no longer there. Apparently the purpose of the LLK ink is to minimize bronzing on glossy prints. ColorByte purportedly is able to control the remaining inks to accomplish almost the same thing. There have been some comments heard that there is slightly more bronzing with ColorByte's DK profiles, but frankly, on Pictorico High Gloss Film, Epson Premium Luster and Epson Premium Semi-Matte (a glossy paper regardless of its name), I see no bronzing to speak of on colour prints.
It's a similar story with B&W prints. One of Imageprint's traditional strengths has always been its ability to produce dead-neutral B&W prints with lovely tonality. This capability remains, except now one can choose the paper one wishes to use with greater freedom.
B&W prints on matte paper are as excellent as ever. B&W prints on glossy paper similarly are first rate. Even on the glossiest paper I know of, Pictorico Hi Gloss White Film, I see very little gloss differential. On some prints, if you hold them to the light just so, you may see a bit of it in the darkest areas, but frankly, I had to struggle to see it. Under normal light conditions, even with close examination, bronzing simply isn't an issue – to my eye at least.
Understanding the Special Cartridge
Though understanding how it works isn't a requirement, most photographers will want to know what magic is involved. Here's how it works.
Epson printer cartridges for the 4800, 7800 and 9800 contain chips which are read by the printer. If the chip doesn't report that it's a genuine Epson cartridge, or that the correct cartridge isn't in the proper slot, it will reject it. What needs to happen for Phatte Black to work is for a genuine Epson Matte Black cartridge to have its chip reprogrammed to think that it's a Light Light Black cartridge. A small tab on the cartridge that prevents the wrong one from being inserted into the wrong slot also needs to be removed.
Since Imageprint completely bypasses the Epson printer driver, once the printer's hardware is satisfied that it has a real Epson cartridge installed (though in the wrong slot), it's happy. Epson driver software isn't invoked so there's no issue there. Imageprint directly controls the printer's head and nozzles so that's under control.
Bottom line? Imageprint uses Photo Black when needed and Matte Black when that type of paper is used. It's as simple as that.
Where do these cartridges come from? Your ImagePrint dealer will be able to provide you with them, as can some online dealers, including LexJet, Calumet and Vistek. Or, you can buy your own Epson Matte Black carts, and purchase LLK chips from a number of vendors, when available, and replace the existing chip on the Matte Black Cartridge. But buying one of the preprogrammed carts is the simplest way, at about a $15 premium over a standard Matte cartridge.
Canon 5D with 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. ISO 400
Matte Vs. Glossy
Most fine art printers prefer matte paper. Many commercial clients prefer glossy prints. There's no right or wrong, it's simply a matter of taste and personal preference.
I do mostly fine-art printing for individual print sales, portfolios and gallery exhibitions. When I sold my Epson 4000 and purchased a 4800, I didn't think much about the black ink issue, until one of my commercial clients called and asked for about a dozen 13X19" glossy prints. Normally it would have meant simply replacing one stack of paper in the tray with another. But with the 4800 it involved a significant cost and delay while I switched black inks. Then at the end of the job, because I was in the midst of printing some portfolio prints, I had to switch back to Matte.
Wouldn't you know it, a couple of days later that client called and asked for another half dozen glossy prints. Groan.
So, when ColorByte released ImagePrint 6.1 a few months ago I was thrilled not to have to use the Epson printer driver once more, along with Apple's brain dead Mac printer routines. Back to my familiar and oh so efficient Imageprint workflow. But though I knew that the ability to use both blacks simultaneously was in the cards it was some months until it became a reality.
But now that it has, I am once again free to switch back and forth between matte and glossy paper as my and my client's needs require.
There's little more to say about using Imageprint 6.1 with Phatte Black. It simply works transparently. Load your preferred paper, select a profile, and print. The installation process is straightforward, and only requires that you insert the special Matte Black cartridge and run a purge routine. This involves loading a special TIFF file and printing about 20-30 sheets of plain paper using a special purge profile. This removes any Light Light Black ink in the printers lines. You only need to do this the first time.
The instructions that are available from ColorByte are straightforward to follow, but in the version that I have (likely to be changed following this review) the assumption is that you have a Photo Black cartridge in the left hand slot. If you already are printing with Matte ink you'll need to first do a standard Epson black ink swap (and yes – waste another $75, while you stand beside the printer flipping levers and cursing).
The consolation though is that this is the last time that you'll ever incur that expense or bother.
You can read a bit about the product on this PDF file, that is currently circulating among dealers. When you have obtained a special Matte Cartridge from your Imageprint dealer, you'll need to contact ColorByte with your user ID for information on downloading the special DK profiles and obtaining the installation instructions.
My thanks to Colorbyte for solving this problem, and for doing it so effectively. My only question has to be – why didn't Epson figure this out themselves? Good thing there are small entrepreneurial companies like ColorByte to give us the features and capabilities that we need and that the big corporations seem to ignore.
Pete Myers is a fine art B&W photographer and printer who has written several article for this site over the past couple of years. He has just published on OutBack Photo a very informative and fascinating new article on Monochrome Photographic Printmaking with the Epson UltraChrome K3 Inkset using Imageprint with Pictorico Photo Gallery Hi-gloss White Film. Though not specific to Phatte Black technology, if you are using a K3 ink printer you will likely find it of great interest.
A Personal Observation
By the year 2000 Inkjet printing had reached a certain level of maturity. The Epson 1270 and the 2000P were at that time the pinnacles of dye-based and pigment-based printing, offering on the one hand rich saturated colours, and in the case of the 2000P, the world's first archival quality pigment based inks. (These suffered terribly from metamerism, but that's another story).
For some 20 years prior I had specialized in Cibachrome printing, teaching it at the community college level, writing magazine articles about it, and using it for my own fine-art prints. On the one hand I loved its rich saturated colours, while on the other – dealing with its high contrast was a technical challenge, requiring the tedious making of contrast masks (not virtual ones as we do now in Photoshop, but real ones on film, using pin registration systems).
The other characteristic that I loved about Cibachrome (AKA Ilfochrome) was the "depth" of the images due to its extremely high gloss finish. Nothing else in the photography world looked like a Ciba print, and when you added to that the fact that it offered among the best archival keeping qualities of any readily accessible colour process (about 50-70 years; double Type C or Type R colour prints) it became a favourite of fine-art photographers for its richness and longevity.
In 1999 Pictorico came out with an inkjet paper called Photo Gallery Hi-Gloss White Film. (Though the word "film" is in its name, it is indeed a paper). This was then and still is the closest thing to the Ciba look yet available. And when combined with the advantages of image preparation using Photoshop, vs the masking challenges and toxic vapours of Cibachrome chemistry, the dye was cast – so to speak.
But not quite. The problem was that while PGHG worked well with dye-based ink, it didn't with pigment inks such as those on the 2000P. When Epson brought out the 2200/4000/7600/9600 series of printers with their improved Ultrachrome pigment inks, it meant a revolution in image quality and longevity on matte papers. But these inks were duller on glossy papers than dye inks. (See Pete Myers' article reference above for more on this). So for the past 3-4 years I have moved away from printing on glossy papers and have fallen in love with matte. There are so many lovely matte papers on the market, and Ultrachrome inks mate so well with them, that I learned to love them and use them in my portfolios and print exhibitions.
When Epson introduced Ultrachrome K3 inks with the X800 series of printers (and the 2400 for that matter), things changed again. These printers worked much better with glossy papers because of the use of a gloss resin for pigment particle microencapsulation. I saw this when doing some commercial prints on glossy papers with my 4800, but because of the cost of swapping black inks I remained with matte papers for my fine-art work.
Now though, with ColorByte's Phatte Black ink system and ImagePrint I have rediscovered Pictorico PGHP, because I can freely switch between matte and glossy papers again. Print quality with the new Ultrachrome K3 inks on this paper are spectacular. There is a richness and depth to the images that I haven't seen in years – since my Cibachrome days ended in the mid-90's.
For those who've been working on fine-art matte papers for the past 5-10 years, the PGHP look will be found to be striking, but may not be to your taste. It's in many ways like looking at a print in a mirror. But, if the light is shone properly on a print, there's nothing like it. And if you ever printed Cibachrome, all I can add is that K3 inks using Photo Black on Photo Gallery Hi-Gloss White Film is as close as current technology can provide to that classic look.
It needs to be noted that although the Epson 2400 is a K3 ink based printer as well, and Imageprint is available for this model, the Phatte Black system will not be available for it. The reason for this is that because of the small ink cartridges the cost of modifying the carts themselves would be prohibitively high relative to the inks themselves.
Anyone using their own profiles with Imageprint (I do occasionally) should note that Imageprint 6.1 does not currently support other than Imageprint DK profiles when using Phatte Black. I am told that there will be an update, hopefully before the end of 2005, that will allow this.
Photographs used on this page are
simply for visual interest,
and bear no relation to print quality using the Phatte Black System