One of my first major challenges when moving to digital photography was finding a digital B&W printing method that equaled or surpassed what I did in the darkroom.
I decided early on in my research a dedicated B&W ink set in an inkjet printer was the best fit for me. At that time there were only two B&W inks sets commercially available, one from MIS and another from Jon Cone. Although similar the two ink sets took different approaches to B&W.
The MIS inks had fewer shades of grey but had orange and blue inks that could be mixed in to make your prints warmer or cooler with software to adjust what part of the tonal range you wanted warm or cool. There were many photographers using this method because they liked the variability of warm and cool. What I also found to was most of these photographers were hobbyists that liked to experiment.
The Jon Cone inks took the approach of more shades of grey all in one tone. He offered three or four different tones of his original inks. If you wanted warm prints you bought warm inks, if you wanted cool prints you bought cool inks. Paper played a larger role in getting different tones with his inks. The photographers using the Cone inks were much more interested in stability and repeatability, they were professionals looking for a production system.
I got sample prints from both and decided to try the Jon Cone inks. I liked the idea of easily repeatable results and I thought there was a slight quality difference.
The next issue was paper. I bought different sample packs and tried almost all of them in an effort to match what I had gotten in the darkroom. I quickly realized that the matte papers needed for these inks were never going to look exactly a darkroom print. I also realized I was getting a prints that although they had a different surface were as good as what I was getting in the darkroom. Once framed and behind glass it was difficult to see the difference.
As I researched different papers two kept coming up, an Epson matte paper and Hahnemuhle Photo Rag. In side by side comparisons from my printer the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag was the clear winner in all areas.
Over the years Jon Cone has continued to improve his B&W inks. What started as a set of black and three shades of grey is now black and six shades in his Piezography K7 inks.
My current set up is a custom mix of warm/cool Piezography K7 inks in an Epson 24” 7890 printer on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308 gsm.
A note about print longevity.
Print longevity depends greatly on how the print is framed, displayed and stored. There is no means to accurately determine print life because of all the variables involved. The link below is a report from Aardenberg Imaging, an independent testing lab, on the estimated life in different situations.
Aardenberg measures two variables, color and density, in their testing and their ratings are based on the first of the two to exceed acceptable limits. In all tests this ink paper combination exceeded the color parameters first while density changes remained minimal.
What this means to you is although your prints may experience a slight color shift in 75 or more years they are not going to fade.