Classic-the personification of black-and-white images. Weaving that classic look of black-and-white printing into the digital realm is easier than ever today. Software has a range of effects that enables greater control over your images in a way that traditional black-and-white film printing never could. In addition, plug-ins, specialized inks and papers are available that, when combined, produce beautiful high-quality prints with smooth tonal transitions, depth and detail.
Transforming Your Color Images To Black & White
I had a teacher in college who said, “It’s always easier to start with a good negative and do as much as you can to make a good picture before you go to print.” I find this is true with digital work. When my image file looks great on screen, printing is so much easier. Here are a few ways to convert your digital color images to black-and-white.
Converting To Grayscale: Not My First Choice. I personally don’t find any advantages in directly converting an image to grayscale. Unless you have a color image with enough contrast, you’ll often end up with a flat, monochrome image that will need extensive editing to make it look good.
Plug-Ins: Easy And Effective. Plug-ins offer a simple way to transform your color image into black-and-white. Digital Film Tools 55mm is a relatively inexpensive plug-in, which includes conversion tools that act like traditional lens filters for black-and-white film. Another plug-in that works well at this conversion is nik Color Efex Pro, which allows you to control the color of filtration by simply adjusting a slider in the interface window. As you move the slider, you can watch the effect, make complementary adjustments and click OK when you’re happy with what you see.
Check Your Image
Once you have your black-and-white image, take a look at the overall tonal range and contrast. Check to see how saturated your blacks are and if there’s detail in the shadow areas. You may want to perform some Curves or Levels adjustments to increase contrast as well as dodging and burning effects to perfect your image.
A huge advantage to working in the digital darkroom is the ability to see the work you’re doing and make necessary adjustments right away. I like to make a background copy and make adjustments to it. This allows me to compare the changes to the original image and correct any mistakes.
Color Channels: Quick And Accurate. With an image open, click on your Channel palette. You’ll see four layers: the color image labeled RGB; the other three layers show the red, green and blue channels as black-and-white images. Click on each channel individually so you can see the differences. Each one gives an idea of what a traditional lens filter of those colors would do to black-and-white film. Choose the channel that you think renders the best black-and-white, then go to Image > Mode > Grayscale (this will discard the color information).
Channel Mixer: More Control. The channel mixer is another way to convert your image, but provides you with more immediate control over tonalities, much like the plug-ins mentioned previously. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer and follow these steps:
• Click the Monochrome checkbox at the bottom of the dialog box.
• The image converts to black-and-white.
• Experiment by dragging the different sliders of red, green and blue to change how colors are affected in contrast and tones.
• Use the Constant slider to adjust overall brightness.
• Click OK.
Making The Print
Standard Color Printers And Toning. Printing a pure black-and-white photo from a standard color inkjet printer can be difficult, as there most likely will be a color cast to your image. You still can create a pleasing print, however, and also use the color to your advantage. If you’re in Grayscale mode, change your file to RGB; this gives you access to color channels so you can tone your image and take advantage of a classic technique.
To achieve a color tone, try using Color Balance or Hue/Saturation on an Adjustment layer. Play around with the RGB sliders in Color Balance (focus mainly on the cyan/red, yellow/blue sliders) to create a cool selenium or warm sepia tone. In Hue/Saturation, click the Colorize box and play with the sliders for more effects. Additionally, your printer driver may have a feature that allows you to control the color output to achieve the same effect.
New Color Printers With Black-And-White Capabilities. Color photo printers are being manufactured with the black-and-white print in mind. Some are capable of rendering truer black-and-whites very well. Both the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 and Hewlett-Packard Photosmart 8750 printers incorporate light and dark gray cartridges, or photo blacks, to increase the quality of black-and-white prints from color printers. I’ve seen work from both of these units and they produce true black-and-white images.
Black-And-White Inks. To achieve true blacks and consistent tones from print to print, you also can dedicate a specific printer for this task and use black-and-white-specific inks.
A relatively inexpensive way to set up a dedicated black-and-white printer is by buying a low-cost unit, such as the Epson Stylus Photo R200, which is now on the market for less than $100. You also can check online for a good refurbished unit from a reliable source. Another idea is to convert an old printer that you thought might be headed for the trash and clean out any old color ink that may be clogging the heads. If you aren’t secure in cleaning it yourself, check out a mom-and-pop service in your area. InkjetMall, Lumijet, Lyson and Media Street all offer inksets with different-colored black and gray cartridges that are designed to work with a variety of different printers.