My journey into dedicated B&W printing

With the recent fall in prices on the Epson 1400 printer, I decided it was a good time to take the opportunity to set up a dedicated B&W printer. I’ve been using an Epson 870 for years to do color and B&W toned prints using only Epson inks. Being a dye ink printer, the 870 has a ton of issues with the papers, and the archival properties of the inks.

*** Disclaimer : I am only providing this information to help those that may find it useful. Epson will not warranty any printer when it is modified or used with 3rd party inks or cartridges, or CIS systems. I am not making any recommendations or endorsing any products here. I am just sharing my experience with these products.

Before diving into the world of 3rd party inks and papers there were some questions I needed to resolve, so I’ll take you through my decision making process…

Q) Which printer should I buy?

A) For me, this question was answered buy the price drop and rebates offered on the Epson 1400. This printer is capable of print sizes up to 13×19 Sheets. It has an ink dot resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi. It also features an ink droplet size of 1.5 picoliters, which is extremely fine. Because the printer features a piezo style print head, pigment inks should not cause a clogging problem. I managed to get my printer for $150 (assuming the rebate goes through), which seems to be quite a bargain.

Q) Do i need to get a CIS?

A) I struggled with this question for a while. I may only turn my printer on every few weeks. My printing volume is not going to be very large. A CIS may have problems with clogging if it sits around not moving ink. I’ve also read about ink pooling on the printer sponges. Due to these 2 issues, I decided to start out by using refillable cartridges from Michigan Ink Supply (aka MIS). I’ve never used refillable cartridges before. I haven’t had to refill yet, so I’m not sure how easy, messy, or reliable they are going to be. I’ll post again when I refill them.

Q) Which ink should I use?

A) My goal is to print high quality, archival prints on matte paper. I was originally set to purchase the Ultratone UT14 ink set from MIS. This ink set caught my eye for a few reasons. It contains a black ink, 2 warm gray inks, 2 cool gray inks, and a gloss optimizer (aka glop) for glossy papers. It allows you to tone your prints by tweaking the driver from warm to cool. This also gives you the ability to make a neutral print on papers that may normally introduce their own tone when the ink is laid down.

But wait! I was about to push the “Buy” button on the UT14 inks, when I discovered something that seemed to be an even better fit for me. Tucked away under some pages on the MIS site is information about an inkset called EB-6. This ink set is based on the highly regarded MIS Eboni black ink. The 6 in the EB-6 refers to the 6 dilutions of black that will go in each ink position, providing varying shades from black to very light gray . The inks contain no additional toning compounds like the Ultratone inks do. According to ink and printing guru Paul Roark, this ink will produce neutral to warm tone depending on the paper used. I have a personal preference for warm toned B&W, so I am good to go there. Finally, this ink set is not really intended for glossy printing. It does not contain a “Glop” position, and while glossy paper may be used, the prints must be sprayed with sealer to protect them. Again, perfect for me, since I am going to be using matte paper only. I suggest reading this pdf from Paul Roark if you want very detailed info about this ink set. MIS offers refillable cartridges filled with EB-6 ink for the Epson 1400 printer on this page.

Q) What paper should I use?

A) My goal is to have archival quality prints on matte paper. I found a lot of information around the web, especially on Clayton Jones’ site. He has a specific page about his findings on papers with the Eboni inks here. Based on my goals, I’m going to give the Photo Rag 308 by Hahnemuhle a try. I’ll be using Epson Enhanced Matte for proofing as it will be cheaper, and provide similar results (but not longevity). I have not purchased the Photo Rag yet, and I have some concerns about it’s thickness with the 1400, but from what I have read, it will feed through in single sheets just fine. I will follow up when I have some results to report.

Q) Do I need to use Quad Tone Rip or not?

A) I’m still working on that question. I’d prefer to avoid an additional work flow step, but it may be needed to get the ultimate quality from the ink set. I’ll follow up with more info as I make come to a conclusion.

Where I am at right now

The 1400 is working fine so far with the MIS Carts and EB-6 inks. I have only done some proof prints on some old Epson Matte Heavyweight stock, but the results so far are very nice. I think this paper is the old version of the Epson Enhanced Matte. The results are just to the warm side of neutral. The deep blacks are very smooth, with no sign of any banding. I need to experiment with the Quad Tone Rip program to see if the results warrant the extra work flow steps required over using the Epson drivers.

I plan on some follow up posts as I progress with this set up and gain some experience with it. I hope you find this post helpful if you are exploring any of these topics.

— Sean

5 thoughts on “My journey into dedicated B&W printing”

  1. When you refill the ink cartridges you’ll probably get a little ink on your hands the first few times, until you get used to it. I refill ink over some newspaper or an old towel or T-shirt I’m about to throw away. Also, if you can afford it, you could have two cartridges of each color and keep one full cartridge in a Ziploc bag to keep it from drying out, and keep one cartridge in the printer that you refill every time you need to from the cartridge in the Ziploc bag.

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