If you are a black and white photographer and your most important criteria for your work is longevity – no other ink system has arrived at the 70 megalux point at Aardenburg Imaging & Archives labs with a greater longevity rating than Piezography Carbon (formerly Piezography Sepia) inks on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper. It is still at a near perfect state and has not yet begun a fade rate. I blogged on this feat earlier. Piezography already provides a significantly higher visual quality black & white printing method than that of the Epson Advanced Black & White system. Piezography Carbon is comparable to etching a photograph in granite. Actually its better than that. It’s etching a photograph with pure unadulterated carbon pigment in an incredibly pure and stable formulation base. Think of it as silver on steroids and perfect for photographs that might make it to a hall of fame!
So what about Carbon inks from Piezography?
A few facts worth noting is that it is our least popular ink, yet one of the most beautiful inks for those who like their photos warm. Piezography Carbon K7 and K6 is the same pigment as found in PiezoTone CarbonSepia. This is the only unmodified carbon pigment in the Piezography line of inks. Piezography Carbon and PiezoTone CarbonSepia are the most “colorful” of the Piezography inks. Theirs is the color and the warmth of pure un-modified carbon. Of course, we grind and shape carbon pigment in a unique process, encapsulate it in a micro-layer of acrylic co-polymer, then filter it five times by osmosis process to a very narrow band distribution of particle size before formulating into seven separate shades from lightest to darkest. We drop the seventh shade in the K6 formulation. Actually, we formulated K6 first and added a seventh later. K6 was conceived for the Epson 1280 but released for the Epson 2200 as a seven shaded ink set. The PiezoTone CarbonSepia is available in three shades that have no comparable K7 shade. We offer light, medium and dark PiezoTone shades which are used with the Piezography Museum Black to form a “quad tone” set of ink. Incidentally, Piezography Shade 1 black is an encapsulated version of Museum Black and is interchangeable with it.
Even though I do not necessarily stress about longevity nor make a big deal in advertising it much, I decided to spend 5 days in my studio in a non-stop Piezography Carbon printfest to see what this ink is all about. I normally print Selenium and Warm Neutral for my own photography. In fact, I haven’t really printed much of my work in Carbon. When I did, I was not necessarily drawn to it. I supposed I just missed the Agfa Portriga days when I studied photography at Ohio University. We were using Ilford papers and making selenium toning baths. Perhaps the 1970s was more about the cold of selenium than the warmth associated with the preceding era. But, many of the “old school” photographers that I chat with lament the loss of Agfa Portriga and Agfa Brovira. I never knew them really. And yet the last great Piezography product is a recreation of it. Piezography Warm Neutral Glossy on JonCone Studio Type 5 paper is a dead ringer for a smooth version of Agfa Portriga…but that’s another blog entry.
Carbon is definitely worth a second look to Piezography fans of the Neutral, Selenium, Warm Neutral and Special Edition ink sets. And for those who have used my PiezoTone CarbonSepia quad inks – Carbon K7 is a seven shaded encapsulated version of the same pigment that would allow a user to upgrade from a six or seven ink printer to an eight ink printer such as the 3880, 4880, 7880 or 9880.
Initially, I thought that Carbon might be overpowering. I supposed that the “warmth” would become dominant. So, I decided to rid my studio of all prints I made with the other ink tones and to give Carbon a real chance. I concentrated solely on Carbon printing. At first, I concentrated as I usually do in printing a group of photographs to do some visual “editing” after the first proofing. Fighting the warmth, I began printing on papers that would not add to the warmth, and might actually subtract from it. I tried the Premier Alise paper and the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Bright. But, these papers are not necessarily dMax champions and the “life” of the ink was not showing through. These papers were carbon antidotes. All they permitted was getting me through the first “cut” of a 30 print portfolio; reducing it to 12 favorites.
Over the next few days I began to experiment with papers. I knew that I had to really embrace the warmth of carbon. This time I tried the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag which is my “development” standard white on which I define the color specifications of my inks, and create the initial ink curves architecture. Carbon was warm and beautiful on this sheet and the black was deep. It was the first time that I actually began to get drawn in to the warmth. I felt I could begin to warm up to the use of the inks now. I shifted to Canson Rag Photographique which slightly colded the Carbon into a browner tone. It didn’t nullify it, and I think it may be worth returning to one day. But, I wanted real warmth. I produce my own paper that is OBA-free and has a “natural” white appearance called JonCone Studio Type 2 paper. On the fourth day when I began to really develop out each image – I began printing on my Type 2 paper. For the first time probably, I really saw what Piezography Carbon inks can do.
In fact, allowing the warmth of the inks permitted me to backtrack in my edited versions. I actually reverted back to original files to see what the ink brought out in them.
What I mean is that the prints had finally acquired a “life” on their own. The qualities of the ink were really self-evident when I warmed the paper base. Printing warm inks on colder papers is not the way to go (for me) because it creates a conflict in the perception of long tone. But when allowed to be warm from highlight to shadow, the tonal range suddenly expanded. It expanded in ways I have never seen before in Piezography.
Type 2 while similar in white tone to Photo Rag, has a coating that is just slightly superior, and really compliments the Carbon inks. Type 2 paper could actually support the inks, compliment the inks, rather than contrast to the inks. It made me edit differently. It’s difficult to say how exactly other than that I began to see things in the work I did not prior to switching to the warmer sheet. I found I had less work to do in order to get the full tone out of the print. I spent less time trying to work the shadows. And when I did work the shadows, the dMax had a better meaning. I found however, that I could let the tone curve drop where it did even if it did not necessarily include pure black pixels. Now, I am overly proud to say that the most beautiful results and best dMax are coming from my JonCone Studio Type 2 paper (which also just happens to be an OBA free paper).
So, Piezography Carbon actually turns out to be drop-dead-beautiful-to-die-for, etc…if printed on the right paper. And to know that any photo I print with it on non-OBA papers has the chance to far outlive any other process made today (or at any time in the history of photography) is very, very cool. I don’t know if I will ever make a photograph that someone would want to preserve until the end of time, but I do know that many of my ink customers are capable of doing that. I design Piezography systems for its superior quality over the OEM, or really as a system of its own standards…but longevity this good might be something to consider for those who have not taken a real look at Carbon inks.
I produced two portfolios with Carbon inks that I am incredibly happy about. The warmth of the ink and the depth of the black fully supports my intent. I’ve gone from being a photographer with Selenium tendencies to one with a Carbon prejudice. And weirdly, the longevity thing seems to matter all of a sudden to me. Worse, it makes me think that I need to really be definite about what I print now. I almost feel that I must produce prints which are worthy of standing such a long test of time. I can’t say that Piezography Carbon will make you a better photographer, but it will serve and preserve your photographs in ways that the other Piezography inks can not. Certainly, it deserves a spot in the Piezography arsenal. If you’re a desktop printer you can easily adapt an extra set of refillable carts with Carbon to compliment your other choice in Piezography ink. Large format printers can’t easily swap cartridge sets without incurring ink waste (but it’s doable).