The one ink that most magnifies the effect of choosing a different coating/paper in order to control final color tone is Piezography Selenium K7. This ink was introduced to be glossy compatible. While all of the other third-party ink brands have used resin as an ink base to improve glossy adhesion, we developed an alternative triple-encapsulation of polyester. By producing three actual physical encapsulations of the pigment particle, we not only produced our first glossy compatible ink, we also magnified the phenomena that befuddled several of the Digital BW, The Print users, and is the topic of this opine. Piezography Selenium K7 (we call this generation of ink MPS) has some of the most interesting reactions to coating/papers that have ever been observed. One example, which is my favorite, is for the tendency of this normally puplish gray (selenium tone) ink to turn chocolate brown on the new Canson Rag Photographique paper. Canson maintains that they do not use any OBAs whatsoever. Rather they carefully control brightness and tone with pigment. They have a unique strategy that pays off big for true monochromatic ink users because it opens up new possibilities.

Anyways, the phenomena has nothing to do with the chemical bonding or ink spread that the color ink users were hypothesizing. Encapsulation actually prevents the pigment molecules from interacting with the coating molecules. Also, we’ve been observing the effects of ink bleed on a series of non-standardized batches of Hahnemuhle Photo Rag since 2007. There have been dozens and dozens of coating issues on HPR that have caused our K7 inks to bleed slightly or heavily. In fact, HPR is so notorious for batch to batch QC that we introduced custom K7 profiling in order to eliminate the bleed on sub-standard batches and facilitate its die-hard users who refused to find an alternative paper. We have been able to measure the *a*b of these test targets and fully appreciate that ink spread does not impact final color tone to any significant degree. While ink spreading on an absorbent paper towel will reveal individual pigment components as described on the users list, it does not stand as a reasonable conjecture as to why light being absorbed and reflected back through pigment to the observer changes from coating/paper to coating/paper.

If the users of color toning ink systems were to go back to the traditional methods of quad black printing (oh boy…here it comes…) – they would unlock the myriad potential for subtleties that paper choice gives to Piezography K7 users. The argument today is that Epson ABW is good enough. But, the reality is that even as far back as 2000 a black ink only print was argued as “good enough” until it was placed side-by-side with a PiezographyBW print. Many of the Digital BW, The Print users are often printing with black ink only and a color toner – and thinking it’s “good enough”. They have no comparison to K7 to realize that its totally not “good enough” unless their standards are not as high as traditional photography has been.

Electron Microscope image of a tick.

For the last two days at Cone Editions Press, we have been printing with a scientist who images with an electron-microscope and who had been using Epson ABW to make prints. We were printing an exhibition of prints that have been made in collaboration with a photographer. The electron-microscope images 256 indexed values of gray. It differentiates between 256 levels of gray, but they can not see this on their displays, nor have they been able to reveal these gray separations using Epson ABW (which is arguably more sensitive than MIS UT-7 systems). Piezography K7 is revealing to the scientist information which she has been able to measure and quantify, knows that it exists theoretically, but has not been able to visualize it. This is the sensitivity in K7 that is permitted by dividing a grayscale image into seven shades of linearized black ink.

The prints we are producing for her, are some of the most beautiful and subtle gray transitions I have ever witnessed. They are akin to the 30,000 pixel wide rendering we reproduced for JPL’s Hubble experimental ultra wide-field panoramic capture of 2007 (a whole story in itself). We chose an ink set and paper combination in order to realize the electron-microscope project in a beautiful aesthetic. We are printing with Piezography Warm Neutral K7 inks on Premier Alise Bright White paper. The final tone produced by this combination is reminiscent of the “bromide” greenish cast of traditional darkroom paper of the 60s. I chose this combination because I imagine the electron-microscope as a remnant of science-fiction lore and I wanted a final tone that had a historical context. The dMax of this paper is 1.63 (like Hahnemuhle Photo Rag) which is very dark by matte paper standards. The white is very similar to HPR, but the graytone produced is more pleasing and the detail is crisper while still remaining smooth. (By the way, this particular electron-microscope is only three years old and hardly the lore of science fiction.)

Could I have made this same tone using Epson ABW? I could have found a tone that was near matching, but not exact. Could I have made this same tone with MIS UT-7? That would have been considerably more challenging to accomplish because of the software system it requires, but some tone near would be probable. However, there would have been two elements missing in the final prints if I had used either of those ink systems. First of all, neither MIS nor EPSON can realize the separation of detail and smoothness of grayscale the Piezography K7 can accomplish with seven shades of ink. Second, and aesthetically important, is that these color ink systems simply do not reflect back light with the same depth and quality as Piezography ink does. The actual color tone would not have been the same visually – by human perception. Perhaps in Lab values, but not in how we perceive a black & white photograph.

Would anyone notice that? Well, that question begs another; whether anyone can still notice an original Ansel Adams or Edward Weston silver or palladium print for its subjective beauty as a medium as well as its subject matter? That may always become an increasingly narrower distribution of the population – perhaps as narrow as the distribution band of pigment particle size in Piezography K7 inks.