Selecting a printer is both a technical decision and a very personal, even artistic decision. On the artistic side, will the printer you choose give your work wings or will stand in your way? Now – only you can say that for sure but it might help you to reflect on both my technical analysis and my feelings as I selected a printer.
I work as a visual artist and make big prints with an HP z3200, 44-inch roll fed printer. That’s great for huge images, but awkward when I want to make a portfolio of smaller work. Sheets of paper have to be loaded individually. That’s a problem since the printer is located on another floor from my computer. It also takes considerable time to load a sheet. If I use roll stock, the paper can have significant curl, which requires and additional flattening step and chances are it will need to be trimmed to size as well. So I went looking for a smaller sheet-fed printer.
While it is awkward for sheet-fed jobs, the big HP printer with its 12 inks consistently makes beautiful, flaw-free images. I just adore using it for jobs that suit a roll fed printer. I wanted to add a printer that would equal or exceed its outstanding print quality. I also desired a printer that was more typical of the ones owned by the students in the printing workshops that I co-present for The Camera Store. I wanted to have a more specific idea of what they were experiencing. With this in mind, I made my list of what I was looking for in a new printer:
• Enough different inks to offer great excellent colour gamut and tone transitions
• Archival, pigment inks
• Multiple black/gray inks for smooth transitions in B&W reproduction
• Dense blacks on matte paper
• Minimal gloss defects – smooth, even finish on luster and glossy papers
• No black ink loss when swapping among matte and glossy papers
• Good build quality
• Reputation for few ink clogs or maintenance issues
• Large ink cartridges – and reasonable ink prices
• Connects to computer via USB with either Ethernet or wireless as an option, and
• Paper width – at least 13 inches.
In an overall sense, I wanted a printer that would make prints that were both artistically satisfying and technically excellent with a minimum of issues.
A number of years had passed since I last shopped for a sheet-fed printer and I expected I’d have a variety of choices that hit all of these points.
Not so! When I went shopping I was surprised to find that HP has exited the sheet-fed, fine art printer market. Epson has not addressed the issue of black ink loss when swapping between matte and glossy inks. The Epson printers have to purge expensive ink to make this switch and Canon doesn’t. So – by elimination that left Canon. I’d seen high quality work done on Canon’s large roll-fed printers – thus I took a hard look at their smaller sheet-fed machines.
Canon makes three machines in the 13” size range as well as a heavy duty 17” roll and sheet-fed machine, the iPF5100. I didn’t need a machine that large so I focused on the three 13 inch machines.
Here is my quick take on the three:
While the dyes inks in the Pro-100 make prints with a lifetime equal to or greater than conventional film-based colour print materials, I needed a printer with pigment inks – the most permanent type available. I was also looking for a printer that would make excellent black and white images so the added gray and black inks of the Pro-1 were appealing.
The Pro-1 is also the most expensive of the three printers. Thinking about cost brings me to perhaps the most important part of the discussion about inviting a printer into your life. You are making two significant investments. In order of size they go this way:
1. The cost of paper and ink plus framing materials and/or portfolios and albums to store and display your work.
2. The cost of the printer – the smaller of the two costs.
While the cost of the printer itself is not unimportant, it is useful to think about it as the investment that will enable you to get the best out of all those supplies you purchase. Thus paying an increment more to get the printer that best suits your needs makes a lot of sense.
When I compared the price of the Pro-1 to the Pro-10 the difference was about the same as a couple of boxes of high-quality 13×19 inch paper. In addition ink for the Pro-10 cost 16% more per millilitre than for the Pro-1, and anything you can save on ink helps. Here is how the ink cost for the three Canon 13×19 in. printers compares: (The Camera Store Prices, Jan. 2015):
• Canon Pro-1 – $1.11/ml
• Canon Pro-10 – $1.29/ml
• Canon Pro-100 – $1.54/ml
I can compare the ink cost among printers of the same type in the same product line and know which will be cheaper to run with some confidence. The Pro-100, with its dye inks, is a different type of printer so I can’t say it will use ink more or less sparingly than its siblings – only that the unit cost of its ink is more. Likewise, it is difficult to compare ink costs across different brands. Some printers use more ink to print a picture than competitors. Epson printers use up ink in head cleaning cycles and they make you pay for ink reservoirs to catch this ink. The Canon Pro-1 and my HP don’t use replaceable reservoirs.
For desktop printers there is little data available to make a true ink cost comparison of different brands based on use. However, it is safe to say that the ink costs for printers that use large cartridges are somewhat lower than for same-brand small cartridge printers.
Now printer ink is a truly amazing substance. Imagine something that can be sprayed on paper in pico-liter drops that dry almost instantly and create stunningly beautiful images that may last hundreds of years. Printer ink is wonderful but it is breathtakingly expensive, costing more per millilitre as a $750 bottle of whiskey. It’s enough to drive one to drink!
OK – I’ve made this sound more alarming than it really is. Basically I wanted to know if making prints on the Canon Pro-1 would be affordable.
Some research revealed that the Canon Pro-1 will use about $2.61 worth of ink to fully cover a 13×19 in. sheet. With 1” borders on the 13×19 sheet that comes down to $1.96. For a borderless 8×10 in. the cost is $0.91. That seemed reasonable and affordable. (Again, The Camera Store ink prices, Jan. 2015.) These prices will vary somewhat depending upon image subject matter and the type of paper used. Different papers absorb different amounts of if ink and printers accommodate that.
Then I wondered – is Epson’s black swapping really that big a cost? I found it costs an average of $2.62 to swap inks on the Epson R3000 and $2.55 on the Epson 3880. So every time I swap inks on an Epson I’m paying about what it costs to make a full bleed 13×19 in. print. I owned Epson printers for quite a while and frequently swapped among coated and matte papers. I found this cost discouraging, as well as the time the printer took to make the switch. It is a non-issue if you don’t swap between matte and glossy/lustre paper very much.
Before I made the purchase decision I not only looked at costs and convenience but I questioned other users about functionality, and read the early reviews. I also looked at example prints. As far as I could tell the Canon Pixma Pro-1 hit all my image quality and functionality requirements. So I made the decision the bought the Pro-1.
Now I’ve had the Canon Pixma Pro-1 for many months and given it a really good workout. I’m well into my third ink set and I’ve hauled the printer to photo workshops. The big thing I like is that so far the printer has been maintenance free – no connection problems, no babying, no paper feed glitches and no head clogs, even after leaving it turned off for three months. It just keeps pumping out really appealing prints. All I’ve done is change ink cartridges, and that’s a breeze.
A sixty pound printer takes a bit of planning and work to get set-up so in Part 2 of this article, I’ll talk about how to set up and get going with the Pixma Pro-1. I have also found a few things that will help you get the very best out of the printer and a couple of minor limitations. I’ll get to these in the next parts of the review.
Part 3 – Canon Pixma Pro-1 Printing & Print Quality
(Disclaimer: I co-teach digital printing workshops for The Camera Store. After I decided I wanted the Canon Pro-1, I asked and Canon agreed to sell one to me at a discount. )