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There are essentially three stages involved in creating a digital monochrome print. The first is capturing the image, the second is preparing the image file on a computer monitor, and the third is transferring this manipulated image to a piece of paper.

Many photographers consider digital cameras as recorders of red, green, and blue pixels. This is not quite true. Every pixel is actually sensitive to a range of colours but sees the world through a minute coloured filter. It is therefore more accurate to think of each pixel as contributing to a greyscale image, known as a channel, representing values of mostly red, mostly green and mostly blue. This concept gives rise to one of the simplest conversion techniques, which involves nothing more than selecting one of the channels. If the red channel looks the best, just delete the green and blue channels and change the image mode to greyscale. The only problem is that two-thirds of the picture information is discarded.

When using a film-based camera, many monochrome photographers use coloured filters to enhance skies and contrast in general. Red filters remove some of the blue from a sky but allow the red component of the white light reflected from clouds to pass. The result is a darker sky which emphasizes the clouds. A comparable process exists for digital images, but it must be undertaken after the image is captured. This also has the advantage that a photographer can change his mind after capturing an image, and decided that a yellow filter might have produced a better result.

Once satisfied with a monochrome image on a computer monitor, the challenge is to transfer it successfully onto a print. A key ingredient of success is to use a printer capable of producing top-quality tonal gradation - that is, a large number of different shades of grey. This is much more likely to be achievable when the printer has several different black inks. Basic printers have only one, but better models have two or three black inks typically known by names such as "light black" and "light light black". Other systems, such as those produced by Lyson and Permajet, replace all the colour inks in a standard colour printer with a range of monochrome inks. To solve the problem of colour and monochrome printing, the most modern printers are equipped with two or three black inks in addition to standard colour inks.

It is also important to make sure that the printer driver software is appropriate for the chosen ink-set. There is little point in installing Lyson or Permajet inks and expecting to obtain good results with an Epson printer driver software. Printer drivers are designed to work with a particular printer, ink-set and type of paper. If any one of these elements is changed, a new profile should be produced to get the best results.


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