I find the patterns that are printed to be barely useful so I'm trying to create my own test pattern so I can perhaps approach this from a more scientific standpoint. At the very least I would like to be able to measure a black patch.
I appreciate your frustration and desire for something more scientific. I've been working with RIPs and tweaking optimal media densities since the mid 90s and you'd think there would be a more impressive implementation than this. There are ways of scientifically determining optimal ink limits without subjective visual analysis.
One thing you can do (if you have the full version of ColorBurst) is to use ColorBurst's Linearization target for the MCT test image. Measure your test prints in CB SpectralVision utility and load the saved Lin file in CB. From there you can graph out the results and look for the density plateau, or even better, the chroma plateau. Yeay for science!
I figure if I measure them all and I hit a point where laying down more ink isn't making a difference, then there isn't much of a point in laying down any more ink.
The maximum density usually isn't necessarily the optimal one. When we compare ink densities next to chroma values you'll find that they increase together up to a certain point at which the chroma will start to fall as the density continues to increase. This chroma spike usually occurs pretty close to maximum density but the difference is important.
I look forward to the day when we can stick a new piece of paper into the printer and have the printer itself determine the optimal total ink limits and linearizations based on actual measurements from the media. The technology is here, the printer implementation is not (not even on the HP Z series that don't go this far).
Okay... on to my problem. My test image is a 16 bit TIFF, 300 ppi @ 23"x6.333..." (6900x1900 pixels). When I go to select that image in the MCT it tells me I can't use that TIFF image but it gives no reason as to why. Is it bit depth, is it the size??? The manual makes no mention of this.
The size is definitely too large! The max size is something like 4x7 inches at 300ppi - consult the literature on this as I can't recall off the top of my head. Make a small 4x5 inch 300ppi file and save it as both 16 and 8 bits and print them both. Then you'll have your answer as to bit depth!
Check out the "Onsight Media Selection Image" at http://www.on-sight.com/downloads/
It's not bad for basic measurement and the subjective visual analysis of linearity, gamut, shadow detail, and ink bleeding and smudging.