The unique imaging science and art capabilities at RIT create a perfect equation to push the limits of digital printing.
Expanding on prior work that used the HP Indigo 5500 Digital Press to achieve near absolute fidelity in the color reproductions of posters, a cross-disciplinary team from the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, and Printing Applications Laboratory (PAL) has now created a process that uses the press to produce black-and-white photography while maintaining near absolute fidelity.
"As far as we can tell, this approach has never been done before. The competitive photo book market, along with the interesting technical challenges, made this an attractive opportunity for RIT," says Bill Garno, director of PAL.
"Creating black-and-white reproductions on a digital press presents an even greater challenge than color," says David Pankow, director of the RIT Cary Graphics Art Press. "With black and white you need to be able to capture all of the smooth tonal richness of the originals, in addition to the technical challenges of maintaining neutrality, as well as good midtone, highlight, and shadow details."
Using the HP Indigo 5500 Press, the team developed a process that uses a custom four-color ink set that consists of black and three grays (GGGK), instead of the traditional black and three other colors (CMYK). One of the features of the HP Indigo Press is the ability for end-users to mix custom inks and, in this case, develop a custom palette of grays—similar to traditional duotone or tritone offset printing where several grays provide an extended range.
Nitin Sampat, associate professor in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, Franz Sigg, research scientist at the School of Print Media, and Jeremy Vanslette, manager of the Digital Printing Lab at PAL, conducted extensive characterization tests of the equipment, designed the custom inks, and worked on custom software to develop a process that enabled high-quality reproductions of black-andwhite silver halide originals.
The novel process was developed in collaboration with photographer Elaine O'Neil, retired professor of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, for the publishing of her photographic book called MOTHER DAUGHTER Posing as Ourselves. "My concern as an artist has always been that when you are dealing with ink on paper, as opposed to photographic emulsion, at some point it has always been a compromise. In this case, the aesthetic quality of looking at the book is as close to the real thing as anything I have ever seen," says O'Neil.
"This is a perfect example of what can happen when the left brain and right brain come together," says Garno. "The results are remarkable and this speaks to the unbelievable amount of cooperation, commitment, and intensity from everyone on the project."