(or Falling Head-First Down the Rabbit Hole of Fine Art Printing)
TL:DR; You can’t; buy a real photo printer and start to enjoy printing.
I’ve been interested in printing my own photos for several years but always resisted the urge, mainly because of the cost of a quality larger-format photo printer. But my old office printer recently gave out and I was able to replace it with this Epson XP-7100. Since it includes a “Photo Black” cartridge, how could I not give it a try?
I’m sure most people would start with a simple color image, maybe some family snapshots, but I decided to jump right in and create an 8” x 10” print of a fine art black and white image-infrared, no less-with subtle color toning. The print looked beautiful but seemed to have a slight greenish color cast in the midtones and shadows.
A quick search confirmed that subtle color casts are common with black and white inkjet prints, but no solutions were offered other than using the Epson Advanced Black and White print driver (not available for my printer) or creating a custom printer/paper profile (requiring the use of an expensive profiling system and a lot of time and effort). Fortunately, there is a fairly simple and straightforward solution that can provide, if not great, then almost “good enough” results.
This photo was captured in August 2019. I was out with my infrared camera during golden hour as some midsummer thunderstorms were clearing over the Spanish Peaks. I remember being disappointed with the photos because I never got this kind of dramatic light on the West Spanish Peak. Obviously I was impressed with the light on the East Peak as I was watching with my camera, but for some reason this image never got my attention on the screen until recently. I think perhaps it was overlooked because I had not developed an eye for seeing images in black and white. When I recently rediscovered this photo, it grabbed my attention immediately.
The Epson Expression Premium XP-7100 is a consumer-grade all-in-one printer capable of producing high-quality photo prints. It lacks some more professional features, like Epson’s Advanced Black and White print driver, available on the higher-end photo printers, but it still uses quality Epson Claria Premium inks with 5 cartridges (CMYK plus Photo Black). However, as I had just discovered, the default print settings are not optimized for black and white images. This post explains how to change that.
After reading what little reliable info I could find (particularly the recommendations from Red River Paper), I decided to try changing the Color Management option from the default “Color Controls” to “No Color Adjustment” in the Advanced Color Correction settings dialog. The next step is to select an appropriate Epson paper profile in the print module in Lightroom. In this instance, I was using HP Advanced Semi-Gloss Photo Paper rather than an Epson paper, so I selected the “Epson XP-7100 Premium Semi-Gloss” profile. It appears to be close enough.
Subsequent prints of a black and white test image and a pure monochrome version of my photo were almost perfectly neutral. Surprisingly, I also noticed an increase in detail in the print, particularly in deep shadow areas such as the trees and rock formation in the foreground of this image.
The comparison image below shows the digital image side-by-side with a photograph of the print with a gray card. For this photo, I set the print on the floor by the open door to my office so that it is lit by indirect sunlight. Including the gray card in the photo allows for neutral white balancing in Lightroom so that we can then evaluate the neutrality of the tones by moving the pointer across the image in the Develop module.
The neutral print appears to be mostly free of any color casts although there is a hint of magenta in the brighter midtones and a slight green cast in the darker midtones. These casts are visible in the photo of the print in the area between the right side of the mountain and the bottom of the brighter clouds in the upper center part of the image. I think this is probably the best I can hope for out of the printer with this particular paper-perhaps an Epson-branded paper would do better.
With the color cast issues seemingly resolved (at least for neutral monochrome prints), I realized that the printed image was not quite what I wanted and made some additional changes to the image including further darkening of the sky and adding some light to the rock formation in the foreground. I also decided to give the toned image another try using the paper profile.
With the updated print settings, the toned print is much closer to the digital version, and the color cast has been greatly reduced from my first attempt. Based on some additional testing with some smaller prints, I added a stronger blue tone to everything except the highlights for the print shown here. The print is still less blue than the digital version but it is close. I prefer the toned print to the neutral version shown below, but the color shifts are slightly more prevalent in the toned version (most visible as a cyan-ish/green cast just above and to the left of the mountain peak and in the shadows in the lower left side of the print).
The neutral print is very good, but not quite good enough. While the color casts are much less noticeable, they are still there, primarily a slight magenta in the midtones.
There is one other option for printing black and white with the Epson XP-7100. Within the Color Correction menu there is a “Fix Photo” option that includes a Gray setting for monochrome images. I made one final print of this image using this setting, and I would say it is comparable to the print of the neutral image made using the ICC profile for semi-gloss paper.
I plan to frame one of these prints (probably the toned one) and hang it somewhere in my office. With the dim lighting, no one will ever notice the color cast except me. But this is not a print that I could sell, and it’s not one that I would want to include in a printed portfolio. I’m not quite ready to give up on the Epson XP-7100 for black and white-I will definitely try some Epson paper just to make sure that doesn’t resolve the issue.
Besides learning a lot about printing photos through this exercise, I also discovered the joy and excitement of printing my own photos. Through the process of printing, I was able to significantly improve this image because looking at the print I saw what was lacking in the image. On paper, the white summit of the mountain against the inky black sky is just gorgeous and is truly more dimensional than how it appears on the screen. It has now become one of my favorite fine art photos in my portfolio. Unfortunately, I think I’m hooked and had better start saving up for a pro printer.
Update: My birthday is coming up next week, and a Canon PIXMA Pro-200 printer is on the way!