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Piezography Manual

Forward by Jon Cone

Piezography started off many years ago with an idea that I could break down a photograph into tonal separations and use silkscreen to make it appear continuous tone. The computer had not yet been popularized.

My experiment as an undergraduate at Ohio University in 1977, under the guidance of my mentor Mary Manusos, was to make my own inks and figure out my own method for making the tonal separation films, and to produce a photo-silkscreen that was decidedly continuous-tone. I was studying photography with Arnold Gassan at the same time. Combining printmaking and photography was, for me, a very natural process and it would eventually guide my professional life.

At the time I wanted to avoid using a photo-mechanical halftone in order to assimilate tone. Piezography seeks to avoid using a dithering pattern in order to assimilate tone.

I sourced powdered graphite from a company that specialized in graphite lubricants. The graphite was ground as finely as possible so that it could be used as a lubricant. I learned how to bind graphite with varnishes to ethyl cellulose bases to make my own silkscreen ink. I understood the Zone System so making a set of film separations with the values I needed was a simple matter of math. The final printing methodology required acid-free archival printmaking paper, a careful system of registration, and lots of photo-silkscreens, and the careful squeegeeing of my home-made inks using a vacuum table I had to build myself. I think I got an A in that class!

 As a professional printmaker for artists in New York City I would avail myself of this method in a much more refined state - using the highest standard of materials and equipment. I made continuous-tone color silkscreens without using a single dot - requiring up to 10 separations each of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

By 1984, I had my own professional digital printmaking studio. I actually founded Cone Editions Press in 1981. The computer became second-nature to me. I learned how to program. I had to write my first graphics software because Adobe had not yet thought of me, or others like me. And that made me into a pioneer (to not have to rely on others) and I have continued that concept as a printmaker ever since.

Because I did not rely on others, I forged my way forward developing methods and materials before they were fashionable, and I always ended upsetting apple carts along the way. Being the ultimate outsider has its rewards and it has its own difficulties. Sharing my knowledge along the way - seems to be the most upsetting to those other professionals trying to capitalize early on in the digital industry. However, I believed that the democratization of the medium is what would spread its acceptance quickly and efficiently. Keeping it all mysterious or unattainable was of no interest to me whatsoever. 

By 1994, I was the Marketing and Development Partner in Fine Arts for IRIS GRAPHICS. I was manufacturing archival dye inks for IRIS printers and producing my own software. I installed and trained the first 50 Giclée studios in the USA. By 1997, I had developed the first quad black inkjet system Digital Platinum for IRIS. This nearly became an Ilford product. IRIS wanted to make it exclusively Ilford by repackaging it with their printers. But, IRIS Graphics controlled by Scitex was in a downwards spiral and Epson had just introduced a 4 ink 13” wide printer for 1% of the cost of an IRIS 3047 printer.

Whereas IRIS had nowhere to go but down, Epson seemed to have a future of improvement for me to look forward to. I introduced my first Epson product in 1998 as a multi-toning monochromatic system controlled by ICC profiles - just way too ahead of itself at a time when ICC profiles were not yet adopted nor really understood by the imaging public. Then I introduced quad-black inks, and finally I introduced software to control them.

So many developments followed. And all the time, I was busy making prints for artists and photographers. I was Richard Avedon’s printer. I was Gordon Park’s printer. I was Peter Falk’s printer and David Bowie’s printer. I was the printmaker for countless photographers and painters and even some sculptors. I was a Master Printer in aquatint photogravure, intaglio etching, woodcut, screen print and of course experimental printing (using computers). The IRIS printers shared the same space in my studio as the etching press or silkscreen table. And it all felt so natural.

These seem like two different worlds - technology development and printmaking. But, they have always been one and the same for me. Most of the products I have developed have been either for myself or for artists and photographers working in my studio. In the early 1990s I made the first IRIS archival dye inks for Richard Avedon in order to print his In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort portfolio. He had to have a bright orange which took two years to perfect as a new archival magenta dye. The encapsulation of pigment particles (now used with Piezography inks) was perfected for the enormous Ashes and Snow Nomadic Museum exhibitions for photographer Gregory Colbert - printed on massive 8x14 foot handmade papers without inkjet receptor coatings. Piezography transitioned from PiezoTone to K7 during that period. I made the Piezography Digital Negative system to satisfy my own curiosity of whether or not I could design a superior system - while at the same time itching to spend time back in the darkroom.

Always I have thought that I am not a digital pioneer - but rather trying to preserve Photography as long as possible or until the day when images become designed only for viewing on displays. For now, and as long as you are reading this, my goal is always to make the best possible print.

The concept of turnkey systems is not new. Usually they are reserved for amateur kit. Piezography is the absolute highest standard in black & white photographic printmaking. It is highest-standard not because it is turnkey, but rather because of the standards I subscribe to. That Piezography is also turnkey is a benefit to its users.

By turnkey, I mean that it works out of the box and would allow anyone to make the same quality print whether they are a Sunday photographer or Ansel Adams. It is a democratic process that does not differentiate between skill sets, when it is used as instructed in this manual. Of course, I am referring to the quality of the Print as opposed to the quality of the photograph. But, for photographers of greater or lesser skills, Piezography produces a quality of print that is second to none.

What begins to separate one user from another, besides their own photographic vision and awareness, is the technical preparation and maintenance of their equipment, and the skills in finessing more out of the system in relationship to their own photographic vision. But, because Piezography prints at a much higher resolution than is expected from an ordinary Epson printer, it reveals flaws and defects in imaging technique. That which allows Piezography to print with more detail than Epson’s own b&w process (ABW) also allows Piezography to replicate over-sharpening and poor masking. The “that” is the Piezography Curve which is produced by the Piezography Profiler and is what makes the system turnkey. 

Piezography uses the QTR driver - but it does not use the QTR workflow. This manual is designed to explain our very precise workflow. You should not combine the QTR manual with this manual. 

Happy Printing!