PIEZOGRAPHY…why I use a monochrome converted printer

A few years back after I had bought an Epson photo printer, a R2880 model, I started printing my monochrome images and found them rather disappointing. This Epson model had 8 inks, but it only used 3 for monochrome as far as I understood it. It had an ‘Advanced Black and White’ mode that I used but sometimes I was aware of a slight colour cast and I didn’t think the darkest tones were ‘black enough’.

However I was still learning how to adjust my images in Photoshop and I hadn’t got a calibrated monitor for my PC.

I looked around and discovered the system devised by American Jon Cone called Piezography.

Their ink system fits a wide range of Epson printers from desktop to the large free standing roll paper models. Many of the best ones being outdated but they have worked hard to overcome Epson’s ‘protectionist marketing’ and you can now run the inks on some new models as well, but I believe that only Epson models can be converted.
Jon Cone requires you to refit your printer with a set of strictly monochrome inks, all shades of grey and in the case of the Epson R2880 I had it was 7 inks, plus an 8th filled with his ‘flush’ fluid. I was no longer able to print colour, so a step into the unknown.
Although the Piezography system did allow either matt or gloss printing, it required a change of the darkest black ink bottle and a further ‘overcoat’ of gloss to each print.
I however only wanted to print on matt photo paper and was looking to match the images I got in the darkroom with say Agfa Brovira paper, which had a distinctive warm tone to the finished image. I always found ‘pure greys’ a bit dull and had played a lot with selenium toning in my darkroom days.

Piezography was available in a selection of toned inks such as Neutral, Warm Neutral, Carbon and Special Edition. The later being a ‘split toned’ version. Jon Cone produced a set of prints to judge the possible results of each ink, although this of course would also matter which paper you used. These prints were about postcard size, so a bit difficult to judge accurately but I opted for the Warm Neutral as possibly giving me the finish I was after.

Running the R2880 printer with even Epson inks was expensive as after all ink was what printer manufacturers make lots of their money from. Cones inks weren’t cheap either but seemed to be well worth a try.

He’s pulled all his documentation it into one document recently, that I link to below, but you still have to know a few of the concepts of printer management.

The results once I’d changed over my printer to all monochrome inks using the Warm Neutral I chose was a revelation. The smoothness in the image from black to white was wonderful and a good print exceeds anything I could get in the old darkroom….and using Photoshop exceeds anything I could do in the darkroom as well…a double win!

I had settled on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper, which I’ve stayed with. The whites aren’t the brightest available because the paper doesn’t use ‘brighteners’ like some and being a matt paper I get the beautiful tones I was after…but I do have to fight a bit to get them. The fight being between getting a good print match to what I edited on my PC and also getting a newly refilled set of ink cartridges to actually let the ink flow..machines do have ‘personalities’ I believe and my R2880 fights me at every refill!

It’s made difficult because Piezography requires the use of special software to produce the mixing of the 7 inks I use in the correct amounts. It’s a 3rd party thing called QuadTone RIP that was put together by Roy Harrington, a shareware $50 download. I’ve never needed to update this and it is the tool you open to print instead of say Epson Print. It comes with a set of curves that map your ink to the paper, however these only drive the software to spray out the ink correctly…proper ‘soft proofing’ to see the image as it will print is somewhat more tricky.

Computer screens are always high contrast devices…they are ‘back lit’ where as your printed paper image is decidedly ‘front lit’!
QTR Rip and the Piezography method doesn’t allow the sort of ‘soft proofing’ that I would expect, well not easily. Soft Proofing, as available in Lightroom and Photoshop relies on an ICC Profile that matches your ink and paper, so ‘on screen’ you see a representation of what you’ll actually get when you print, provided your computer monitor is accurately set of course. I now have a BenQ monitor that has it’s own inbuilt software to give a full AdobeRGB match, or in the case of Piezography monochrome, an Gamma 2.2 image. However the downloaded ICC profiles for my Warm Neutral ink and Hahnemuhle paper don’t always match quite what I’m going to get. So I have to judge my prints by eye and then ‘tweak the numbers’ in Photoshop to get my preferred result.

All sounding rather off putting! No …. don’t think that, the results really are wonderful (after all the hardwork)!
Piezography and the QuadTone RIP software does exceed the graduation of tones and detail that even the latest Epson K3 inks will produce.

To make things even more complicated…but hopefully better still, Jon Cone has now brought out a Pro version of Piezography that has an extremely black, black inkset…. the darkest ‘DMax’ that is possible on matt paper he believes. Other things have changed and now you can mix your own split toned prints, using the facilities inside QuadToneRIP and you can get very technical and make your own ICC curves, although this requires a very expensive spectrophotometer and only works on a Mac. I will gravitate to this new inkset when I’ve used a bit more of my existing precious ink up though, probably via just adding the new black ink to my existing Warm Neutral for awhile.

Considering that it’s such a great idea to adapt a printer to be a specialist monochromatic device and squeeze more out the grey scale pallet, there isn’t that much on the web about Piezography, but Brian Stewart wrote a series of posts that are interesting if you wish to explore more:

Jon Cones’ world is divided into his workshops and print teaching base in Vermont called Cone Editions Press: https://cone-editions.com/ and his web based shop
https://shop.inkjetmall.com/ which sells the Piezography inks and his colour replacement ink system ‘Cone Color’.

The tome he wrote, ‘The Piezography Community Edition’, giving details of the system and various other information is downloadable from his Piezography web site:

There isn’t a UK dealer selling the inks but there is a French one Taos Photo: https://taosphoto.fr/en/
We just need to stay in the EU (No Brexit here please) and avoid anymore import charges!

Taos Photo sell both the Piezography and the Cone Color inks.

If you want to talk about Piezography at anytime do send me an email.

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