X-Equals Black and White


XeL:Black and White is the culmination of a year’s worth or research, analysis, development and testing – representing a major milestone release in support of the innovative X-Equals XeL platform.

XeL:Black and White breaks free from the traditional approach to Lightroom presets – utilizing a modular approach that allows users to quickly and efficiently create stunning black and white images in a completely non-destructive RAW-based workflow.

“We noticed a overwhelming interest in black and white processing from the photographic community, and considering the popularity of some Photoshop plug-ins that created black and white images and emulated black and white film, we felt that there should be another option.”

… says Brandon Oelling, XeL Product Manager at X-Equals. “We started to push Lightroom’s capabilities – working to simulate the traditional black and white darkroom experience and approach using only Lightroom.”


Sample image from XeL: Black and White Solarize

The soul of the XeL platform, and XeL:Black and White, comes from our passion for traditional film and dark room techniques. By melding this passion with the capabilities of Lightroom, we created this collection of presets that allows users to quickly create stunning black and white images directly from within Lightroom.


What’s included in the download?

XeL: Black and White is a massive collection of over 300 presets, consisting of:

  • Antiquated process emulations
  • Over 50 classic film emulations
  • A selection of digital color filters, emulating the use of filters in film photography.
  • A full range of presets simulating variable contrast paper effects
  • A selection of toning presets, to add that special touch.
  • Solarization, custom tone curves, basic B&W color mixes, and ND filters
  • Special graphic arts effects, including 2-Tone and Reduced Tone images.

Unlike other black and white toolkits, XeL:Black and White is not a stand alone application or a plug-in, but rather a collection of finely tuned presets that support a completely nondestructive workflow, while retaining all the benefits and flexibility of working in RAW.

Sample image from XeL: Black and White Curve Kick

Grab the User Guide and take a peek.

Here’s a full copy of the XeL:Black and White User Guide, which includes installation details,  some sample workflows, samples of the Presets included in the download, and tips on their usage!


Want to dig deep?

Here you go, all the details about each Preset family, their unique identifiers, and sample images!

XeL is the next logical extension of the X-Equals Preset Platform. We wanted to change the way people think about presets. It seems too many presets available are simple one-click fixes, adjusting a lot of the image and generally not playing well with other presets. Sometimes you want a specific effect, not a complete image style. Other times you want to combine aspects of multiple presets to create your vision. XeL makes this easy.

We at X-Equals feel presets should be modular tools that take the monotony out of making specific adjustments. So we have developed XeL to provide specific image adjustments and effects that you can combine to create the exact effect you desire.

XeL is modular, each group of presets in XeL focus on adjusting a specific set of adjustments in an effort to recreate specific photographic effects. Every XeL preset is designed to be used in unison with other XeL presets, used much like building blocks to create the desired effect.

This takes preset use from a simple stylistic choice to a collection of actual tools. By making modular presets, each application alters a specific part of the image, without altering any existing adjustments. Often you will find presets will adjust just about every slider in Lightroom. We strive for each preset to only change a few items.

So let us break down what XeL: Black and White has to offer, what each preset family adjusts and how to use these tools to bend your images to your will.

First, every preset in the XeL platform has a preset ID. This is a 6-7 character long alphanumeric ID, along the lines of XBA03C. The first 3 character denote the family in which the preset belongs. XBA means this preset belongs in the Antiquated Processes family. The following 2-3 numeric digits denoted the actual preset. 03 means this is the Ambrotype preset. If an ID ends in a letter, it denotes it is a single component of a preset. C in this id means it is the Toning preset for the Ambrotype emulation.

These ID’s are primarily used to facilitate in preset organization. When a preset is an emulation, it will usually have multiple components, and the letters at the end keep them in the desired order. You can also use the ID’s to help you note what presets were used, without writing down the full preset name.

Also, as we add presets to XeL, either as free downloads from the blog or digests or released in new collections, these ID’s will help you properly place the preset into the proper families.

Now let’s look at each group of presets in XeL. Below we list the preset family folder and family ID abbreviation, followed by details.

XeL-BW Antiquated Processes [XBA]

This family of presets attempts to emulate 4 different archaic photographic processes. The emulations consists of 4 unique presets; one for the color mix, one for image tone, one for image toning and one for lens effect.

The Antiquated Processes family currently consists of a Tintype, a Daguerreotype, a Cyanotype and Ambrotype emulation. The preset components break down as such:

-A- Mix: This preset sets the B&W Mixer settings in the Develop Module, allowing for the proper emulation of color response in the black and white conversion.

-B- Tone: This preset sets the Clarity and Tone Curve needed to produce the proper image tone and density required for the emulation.

-C- Toning: This preset sets the Split Tone settings required to produce the proper toning or color cast over the black and white image to facilitate emulation.

-D- Lens: This preset completes the emulation of the archaic style. It first applies Grain and Post-Crop Vignette settings to add some depth to the image and follows up by applying a dual Graduated Filters, creating an adjustment layer over the image allowing alteration of Local Settings, completing the overall appearance of the emulation.

Using all 4 presets from a single emulation will create a complete emulation on your image.


What’s included in the download?

XeL-BW Cold Storage Films [XFB]

This family of presets features 54 presets emulating different black and white film stocks. These are all fresh emulations create using my current emulation process and feature grain presets. There is some variation from the original Cold Storage releases, and this is due to the change in my emulation process and the fact these are emulated from rolls I have recently shot.

Each of the 54 emulations consist of 3 presets; Mix, Tone and Grain. The Kodak HIE pseudo-infrared preset includes a 4th preset that uses local adjustments to produce a glowing halation effect. The component presets break down as such:

-A- Mix: This preset sets the B&W Mixer settings in the Develop Module, allowing for the proper emulation of color response of the original film.

-B- Tone: This preset sets the Clarity and Tone Curve needed to produce the proper image tone and density required for the emulation.

-C- Grain: This preset adjusts the Grain settings to simulate the grain structure of the original film stock. The accuracy here is not as precise as I would like, as the tools in Lightroom are rather limited, but it closely approximates the grain results I received in my test rolls.

-D- Halation: This is a special preset, just for the Kodak HIE emulation. It utilizes a dual Gradient Filter to apply a Local Adjustment across the entire image, attempting to simulate the glowing halation effect of the original film stock.

The use of all the components from a single emulation will produce a close approximation to the appearance of my test roll. However, feel free to mix and match between emulations to create your own look, by swapping a B for another B and so on.

XeL-BW Color Filters [XBL]

The Color Filter family of presets uses a hack to simulate the use of a Colored Filter in traditional B&W film photography. By adjusting White Balance to generate a specific color cast to the overall image, we can duplicate the function of a colored filter fairly reasonably.

The Color Filter family consists of 13 presets, which will provide a given color cast to an image. To fine tune the effect, simply adjust the two White Balance sliders, but be warned, you will quickly change the shade.

XeL-BW Color Mixes [XBM]

This family of presets allows you to generate a generic color mix, based on basic film concepts or upon some of our more popular past presets, Straight Muggin and Stark Raging Black.

7 presets are in this family, 5 of which emulate generic film styles and 2 duplicate the color response from prior presets.

Each of these presets adjusts only the B&W Mixer, to generate the desire color response.

XeL-BW Contrast Papers [XBP]

This family of presets is designed to simulate the effect of printing out on differing grades of traditional printing papers. The effect is created by hacking Lightrooom’s Graduated Filter tool, over laying two grad filters across the entire image, one from the top and one from the bottom (or left and right in portrait orientation).

By laying the two filters, we create a virtual Adjustment Layer, which provides a consistent amount of alteration to the image. Where one filter is weakening, the other is growing stronger, averaging out to a constant level of adjustment. This technology is also utilized in the Archaic Process Lens presets and The HIE Halation preset.

Once the layer is created, these presets proceed to alter Local Clarity, Local Contrast and Local Sharpness to simulate the effect of printing in the darkroom. There are 14 levels of effect from very soft, low contrast to very sharp high contrast.

While these presets are based off of actual paper prints I have made, I did not attempt to properly emulate the effect of different paper stocks. That is a project of greater scope, and I am still working on a process to simulate each paper’s tendencies. These presets are essentially an average of about 30 different prints I made. I need to develop a more refined process to call them proper paper emulations.

XeL-BW Curve Kick [XBC]

The Curve Kick family of presets consists of 30 unique, custom Tone Curves. Nothing else is modified besides the Tone Curve.

The family offers a wide selection of High and Low Contrast curves, as well as some defined S-Curves, Darkening and Brightening curves and a few designed to pop Shadows or Highlights.

XeL-BW Grad ND Filters [XBN]

This family of presets offers you a quick option for dropping in a Neutral Density Graduated Filter on your image. The preset will lower Local Exposure in the area covered by the filter, darkening that section of the image whilst leaving the lower portion of the frame alone.

There are 24 presets in this family, 12 for Portrait images and 12 for Landscape images. There are 3 coverage levels of application, 2/3 frames, 1/2 frame and 1/3 frame coverage. Each level of coverage offers 4 presets adjusting the Local Exposure; -0.5, -1, -1.5, and -2.

While adding a Graduated Filter to an image is not difficult, these presets allow you to add it with one click whilst prototyping you image, leaving you only needing to further tweak placement and Local Exposure.

XeL-BW Solarize [XBS]

Solarization is the partial reversal of image tone created from white light of a partly developed sheet of film or paper. The effect causes highlights to go dark and shadows to go bright, often with thick black or white lines between solid areas.

This family of presets alters the Tone Curve drastically, simulating this effect. No other adjustments are made. This process is done for graphic effect, and can be heightened by adding subtle colors with the Local Adjustment Brush, simulating the Sabbatier Chromoskedasic effect, where the image is reversed and color is artificially introduced to the image.

There are a total of 11 Solorize curve presets in this family.


What’s included in the download?

XeL-BW Special Effects [XBX]

The Special Effects family of presets is more varied in its application of adjustments. Currently, the Special effects family contains Detail Enhancement presets, 2 Color High Contrast presets, Tonal Cutoff Presets and Negative presets. There is a total of 14 special effect presets in this family.

The Detail Enhancement presets alter Clarity, Contrast, Fill, Recovery and Blacks in unison to enhance detail. There are 4 presets that vary the level of enhancement. These presets directly affect the Basic Tone adjustments and create an effect much like an HDR image or work by Dave Hill.

The 2 Color High Contrast presets utilize a hard cutoff Tone Curve, in concert with Clarity, Contrast, Fill, Recovery and Blacks to create a stark black and white image, using only black and white in varying levels of detail. This is hard core graphic art stuff here.

The Tonal Cutoff presets are much like the 2 Color High Contrast presets, but allow for a moderate level of tonality between black and white. Again, the preset uses a highly modified Tone Curve, in concert with Clarity, Contrast, Fill, Recovery and Blacks to create images with an almost line art feel, with varying levels of tonality.

Finally, the Negative presets invert the Tone Curve, creating a negative image within Lightroom. One is a flat negative curve; the other is an S-Curve. The negative image can be used for graphic art needs or if you wish to print negative on transparency to print in a traditional darkroom. But keep in mind, the Lightroom adjustment sliders respond in the opposite manner you are used to when working with a negative tone curve.

XeL-BW Toning [XBT]

This family of presets presents 17 options for toning of your black and white images. By using the Split Toning adjustment in Lightroom to simulate the appearance of classic darkroom print toning.

This XeL family offers differing renditions of the following classical toning methods: Sepia, Selenium, Copper, Palladium, Cyan, Polysulphide and Uranium.

Using XeL: Black and White

Now that we covered XeL’s current offerings, let’s have a quick detail on getting results quickly. I am going to share with you my XeL workflow, but you may find a differing process that works best for your needs.

Phase 1: Black and White Mix

My first step in perfecting a Black and White image in Lightroom is to find the color mix that best suits my needs. I would start with the Cold Storage Films applying the Mix presets until I find one that fits my image. You can also use the Color Mixor Archaic Process Mixpresets.

Once I find what I like I move on.

Phase 2: Tone and Grain

The next step is tone and grain. If I chose a Cold Storage Film, I will go ahead and apply the Tone and Grain presets at this time. If I like the mix, but not the toning, I will try other film tones or try the Curve Kick tone curves. With the Grain presets, I may try a few others as well, especially if I desire coarse grain.

Phase 3: Toning and Detail

Now that I have the basis for my image ready, I will start considering its further enhancement. First, I will apply a color tone, if I need one, by selecting one from the Toning family.

Now, I will apply any special effects I desire from the Special Effects family. Often this will be a simple Detail Enhance, but I often find myself using a Tonal Cutoff as well.

Phase 4: Paper

Finally, to complete my image, I will try a few presets from the Contrast Papers to find my final look.

If I am looking for an archaic look, I will simply apply only the 4 presets from a given Archaic Process preset. You can mix them up, or switch out their Mix or Tone with that of another process or film stock as well. Throw in a Solarize curve or a 2 Color High Contrast preset for that unique look.

Once you get the look about where you want it, then its time to do your final tweaks. Adjust the tone curve, basic tone adjustments sharpen and so forth.

As you play around with the XeL presets, you will start to get a feel for what you can do with these tools and how you can utilize them to expedite your workflow. When you find a combination that really works for you, you may want to consider saving that combination as a new preset to further speed your editing.

We really hope these tools will unlock your creativity and get you away from simply presets and basic black and white conversions. We believe that XeL will change the way you think about presets and possibly the functionality of Lightroom itself.


Thank You!

All of us at X-Equals welcome your feedback and comments as we continue to focus on delivering no-nonsense advice and innovative products to keep you inspired!

My personal thanks goes out to you for taking the journey with us.

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