Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2002/05/09

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Subject: [Leica] what's Piezography?
From: "jeff corsiglia" <>
Date: Thu, 9 May 2002 21:55:40 -0700

Following is the reply to my question, "What's Piezography".  I thought it
might be of general interest.  I always like Allen's explanations.
Jeff C.

Piezography is a stupid name for large-format inkjet printing using nice
high-res (for the format size, usually about 400dpi) printers with at least
four shades of black. In some cases the printer is set up with as many as
6-7 colors, mostly greys but with one or two second colors for what in
offset printing is called duotones.

A typical duotone uses a dark sepia or purple to make the black regions
blacker, and often to give a subtle tint to the mid-tones. Often the color
portion is over-exposed so as to burn out the whites, allowing the simpler
light greys to remain untinted. The result is a much richer looking print.

With black and 3 grey inks (and these are all PIGMENTED inks), a large
format printer can produce results every bit as good as a darkroom. Although
the 400 dpi printhead leaves some visible dots, blowing up a photo that
large would leave grain anyway, unless the original is 4x5 or larger. These
printers are typically at least 24" wide (roll paper), and usually 45" wide.
So you can get strikingly intense BW photo enlargements of a 35mm original
on 45" x 60" paper, with tonal subtlety that Ansel Adams would be proud of.

A friend of mine has a 45" 6-ink color inkjet roll printer, and we're using
it to make the reproductions of Lawrence's paintings, printing directly on
specially made coated artist's canvas. He's considering getting a second
printer for BW work only, probably with 4 inks. I've seen some of his prints
(he's an excellent photographer) done on the black + 3 grey printers, and
they are incredible. Better than the finest lithography, since even the
finest lithography seldom uses more than two ink colors (and then only for

In the right hands, tri-tones are also done, and (unless they get fancy)
they can give a BW photo an incredible subtlety, with burned in tonal
hinting in the upper midrange, slightly different tonality in the shadow
detail, and an extra snap to the black. It really is a medium of its own.

Calling it piezography is just silly, though. It refers to the fact that
some of the inkjet printers use piezo activators to squirt the droplets.

The latest printers are now printing in drop sizes of 2 picoliters. Last
year it was 4, which is barely visible with a loupe. What you've seen is
usually about 12. The hottest of the gallery-quality inkjets was the Iris
printer, which was 8, and is now pretty much obsolete. Mary and I
investigated Iris printers, and visited Graham Nash's studio in Huntington
Beach (?), where he had 4 of them. The results were incredible. His company
is called Nash Editions, and is well known. They specialize in fine art
prints of photos & paintings. Like serigraphs, but more accurate and usually
of comparably striking perfection. And cheaper, once the first scan is made
and cleaned up.

Nash had a home-made scanner that was about 4 x 5 feet. He used it to scan
oils, instead of photographing them, and had also done some wild things
scanning solid objects (violin, etc.). With essentially 0 depth of field,
but no optics, it is a very neat image.

So if you decide to get some piezographs of your photos, let me know. It's
not cheap to get large-format prints in any medium, but my friend here is
good at it.


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