After having it on my to-buy list for a couple of years I finally went ahead and got the Epson R2880. The initial reason I wanted one was to print better quality digital negatives for my Vandyke brown process. However I did a couple of really nice shoots in the past month so I thought why not actually make a really nice black and white print on proper paper and see what I could end up with. A quick trip to the photography store where I went completely nuts and bought 10 sheets of Ilford Gold Fiber Silk A3+ paper, which set me back about 50 bucks. You might think that just going to a lab and having them print your image is way cheaper, and you would be right, however in my experience they usually don’t manage to make proper black and white prints. When you do have a lab that’s able to do so you usually want them to print samples first and then decide. That means a lot of driving to and fro and still not really being in control of the process. In short I much prefer to just do it all myself.
So with my nice box of paper under my arm I headed home. I spend a week looking at my photos deciding which would be best to print. While processing photos in the back of my mind I dove into books and posts to figure out how to get the most out of the printer but also how to not waste a piece of paper that costs 5 bucks.
In the end I went with the experience I have printing negatives and the ICC paper profile from Ilford. I double checked my print for details that might not be so obvious on screen but would stick out like a sore thumb on a print. I zoomed in at a 100% print size and went over the photo inch by inch. We’re talking here about a 21 megapixel file at 300dpi so I took my time doing this.
After I was satisfied with all the details I did some extra sharpening and decided to open up a levels adjustment layer in photoshop and set my black out put to 5 instead of zero. Now this isn’t strictly necessary when working with profiles but this image has a lot of blacks in it and I felt that on semi glossy reflective material the blacks at this level would be black enough.
Alright next step. I loaded up the color profile from the Ilford site into photoshop, I’m not going into the details on that as the documentation on the Ilford site is perfect and the ICC profiles are very easy to find, kudos to Ilford on that one.
So here we go. I always resize my prints myself and never let the printer software do it, I’d recommend that you do the same. Often times it’s best to let your printer manage color but using the Gold Fiber Silk profile I didn’t go that route this time. I let photoshop manage color, and selected the Ilford Gold Fiber Silk profile from the drop down list. Next step was to set color matching to Relative and of course, send 16-bit data to the printer. I generally avoid printing in 8-bit mode, I feel it’s much safer for nice gradations when you just opt for 16-bit. If you have the information why throw it away, right?
Alright, next step is to also in your printer configure dialog to setup photoshop to manage colors (anything but colorsync). When you accidentally forget this photoshop will detect that you fumbled up your color settings so don’t worry.
Now this is very important, printing on fiber paper even if it isn’t glossy it’s very important to:
- Have your photo black cartridge loaded (you can exchange them as long as you put the cartridge you removed in a sealed plastique bag).
- Set the paper type in the printer config to Epson Premium Glossy.
Really make sure that you have those 2 points setup correctly.
Okay moving on to things-I-do-because-they-make-me-feel-good. While still being in the printer dialog I set the Epson R2880 to print with Super Photo 5760dpi (so highest quality). Then I switch off fast printing, almost everyone leaves this switch on, however I’m not in a hurry and I like to give the ink some extra time to dry before it roles out, dust is our mortal enemy in printing.
So last step is to clean my printer and the space around it with a very soft lightly moist cloth to remove any dust that might fall onto my print (yeah I know I go a bit nuts, but I have had instances where I had to reprint because of this).
So after hitting print it was waiting for the first stroke of the print to pop out so I could judge it. If I don’t like what I see I can hit cancel and save ink, the rest of the paper I would then use to test print settings. However in this case that wasn’t necessary at all, I could immediately see that the blacks were really black and didn’t have any color fringing going on when gradating to lighter grays. With the biggest smile on my face I just waited for the rest of the print to finish.
Am I such a brilliant printer? No, I’m not. Without getting any money from Ilford for saying this, but the reason I got such a wonderful print on the first go is because they did their work properly! Ilford provides seriously perfect color profiles for their papers and there’s nothing in my article about printing to it that you can’t read in their documentation. In short they did a really superb job.
And of course the lovely Epson R2880 with Epsons K3 inks. Especially for the money they go for these days you just can’t go wrong with it.