Not only is Art Wolfe’s Human Canvas Project a milestone in his career, it marks the advent of a new, better way to print black & white images. When we were given The Human Canvas Project, the question was asked, how do we do black & white reproduction better than its ever been done before? There are currently several ways to print black & white images, but all of them have their drawbacks. Art Wolfe’s book needed a method of printing commensurate with his stunning photography.

What Makes Great Black & White Reproduction?

In fine printing, great black & white reproduction is much more difficult than color. There are two main factors that make it so complicated: color balance and tone reproduction. The color balance is skewed if the image has a color cast–meaning a red, green, or yellow tint–or if the neutral tones are not grey. Tone reproduction is the hardest to manage. It refers to the overall contrast. If this is off, the viewer will instantly know there’s a problem, even if they can’t tell what it is.

Current Techniques for Managing Black & White Reproduction

There are several common techniques used for black & white reproduction. They all aim to increase image richness, emulating a silver gelatin photographic print. The cheapest is to use one color of ink. This rarely reaches the density needed to give a faithful look, but if cost is a factor, it can be necessary. The next technique involves combining other inks with the black. It’s called duotone, tritone, or quadtone–depending on how many colors are used in conjunction with black. This method can be very expensive because perfecting all the variables requires a great deal of setup and testing.

Another method iocolor has used for years we’ve named MaxBlack. It involves using a modified 4-color process that alters the curves to make black the main ink from highlight to shadow. Using standard 4-color curves for black & white can be disastrous because any adjustment on press turns the black & white into a rainbow of color. Changing the curves eliminates this and allows us to use the CMY inks just to add weight and some color where needed.

 

Our New Black & White Technique

The Human Canvas Project provided us with an opportunity to craft a new, superior technique. After lots of contemplation and experimentation, we developed a new approach that uses a special set of 4-color inks with diminished color strength in the yellow, magenta, and cyan. This provides the same amount of richness with added consistency. It has to be run on a separate form, but is priced exactly the same as a traditional 4-color form. The subtle coloration allows for extreme fidelity to traditional silver gelatin printing. Combined with stochastic screening, we have finally found a state-of-the-art, affordable way to print spectacularly sharp, full-range neutral images.

Book and Shell for Human Canvas by Art Wolfe

The Human Canvas Project

With his Human Canvas Project, Art Wolfe moves in a different direction–taking a step away from the beautiful nature photography he’s known for and venturing into the abstract. The Human Canvas Project is a collection of 86 images of human bodies, painted and obscured to create not just photography, but art. The men and women literally become canvases, framed by Art’s eye. For more information visit The Human Canvas Project website.

If you have further questions about our black & white or color printing processes, send us a message or give us a call.