Thinking about printers

Presentation is the final and often over looked part of the photographic process. Unless an image is only ever intended for a web page, then printing, displaying and selling/gifting are to me the whole point of the exercise.

My ideal is to print genuine fine art prints from home, but I have several small issues that need to be addressed before I can consider this a serious proposition.

My flow would be something like; Print a file to the best of my skills at A3. When satisfied, print a run of 4 more. This should cover my outward needs and leave at least 1 print in storage as a permanent record of my work and reference. Archive the file settings (relying on good calibration for consistency).

I have 500 sheets of A3+ printing paper on hand which is my self imposed limit going forward for the fine art printing and photography experiment. Every time I think about fine art printing I come back to printers.

My current printer is the Pixma Pro 9000 mk2. It has many good points;

  • Low maintenance. It basically sits there, idle for months some times and prints as needed without issue. I have had maybe 2 roller marks at the leading page edge, both resolved with a little home maintenance and that is all.

  • It prints sharp, fine droplet images with brilliant colours (an ink-jet strength) and quite quickly.

  • I know it. The printer offers a lot less support to the user, but I am “in tune” with it. Like anything, my comfort level using the EM5 files through Lightroom to this printer is pretty high.

It has some minor issues going forward.

  • It is old and has done a reasonable amount of amateur work (7 years and about 15-20 full sets of ink - that is about $2000 au!). The heads have not been replaced yet, so that is a real consideration for the near future, especially if my work rate increases (still cheaper than a new printer though).

  • It is ink-jet ink not pigment dye. This means that, although it produces brilliant, colourful prints, it does not offer genuine museum grade longevity. The better estimates in good conditions come in at 20-25 years, which is realistically enough for domestic archival storage (how precious is my work going to be really?), but when displayed would probably reduce premium viewing life to about 5 years maximum.

  • It eats inks and annoyingly tends to ignore it’s red and green tanks* (curiously replaced with grey’s in the Pro 100, it’s successor), so buying the bulk packs leaves me with unwanted left overs, eliminating the benefit of buying that way. Also the support for this ink line seems to be dropping to half the range, supporting some cheaper printers, but not this 9 tank line, especially the photo magenta/cyan tanks, where the printer is hungriest.

  • Like a lot of ink-jet (and dye) units it likes some papers and less so others. Having one printer of each would cover most paper types.

  • There is little profile support and nothing “built in”, something the newer printers offer a lot more of.

  • It is ok at mono work (but I do lack anything to directly compare it to) and much of my displayed work is black and white. The owners of these prints seem happy, but I know that maybe I could have done better. The printer only has 1 black/grey cartridge, the Pro 100 has 3 (dropping the useless red and green) and the Pro 10 the same, but the Pro-1 has a 50% grey and colour ink split.

The things that I think are recurring issues for me are the running cost, printer age, ink colour range and print longevity. Lesser considerations are the ease of use and maintenance.

The contenders;

Nothing. Stick with the Pro 9000 and milk every bit of quality out of it, poring another $1000+ into inks and paper, even a new head if needed. Sell or gift my prints with the expectation they will only be displayed domestically for a period of relevance (tolerance) and their longevity will come from original electronic files or stored prints. The printer’s output is still relevant, probably exceeding my skills and knowing your tools has benefits. If a genuine archival print situation comes up, then I use a pro lab and align myself to their output.

Canon Pixma Pro 10. This has often been close to a real purchase. Pigment dyes are the main benefit as the inks are not a lot bigger, leaving me with the usual issue of constant drip feeding, but there is a lot of support from good third party suppliers and apparently you can refill and reset the chips on the cartridges easily. There are other smaller benefits such as WiFi and profile loading. It is priced well ($6-700 au), but some of this saving could be off set by running costs. A small commitment to addressing the main issue, archival dye instead of ink, but no other real benefit.

Canon Pixma Pro 1. Having a reputation as one of the best black and white printers in it’s class is not a strong pull for me. I would probably do a pretty even split between colour and mono, but it does use bigger tanks. The contradiction is there does not look to be much support for the printer by second party ink makers, nor a chip reset/refill option. A couple of sites actually rate it as the most expensive to run (+$1 per A3 print) and it is not much cheaper to buy than the model up. On the bright side, where I work keeps the cartridges on hand for a local pro. It is also huge for an A3+ printer with a foot print close to many A2 models. Premium quality with similar running issues to the printer I have? It looks also like Canon has dropped it in favour of the Pro 1000.

Canon Pixma Pro 1000 (way to be cryptic with your model numbers Canon). The premier desk mountable (just) printer from Canon, this prints A2, which to be fair is bigger than my paper hoard and likely bigger than I would ever print. The real draw is the print quality, printing support, head longevity and cartridge size. Although expensive, these cartridges are industrial sized, making them cheaper in the long run and less prone to sudden depletion surprises like the Pro 9000’s. A commitment to a printer on this scale would force the issue, almost demanding a commercial scale output, maybe even some custom printing. The only real problem I have with it is room, but it is Wifi, so it could realistically be set up in another room. Oddly, in Australia, it is not a lot more expensive than the Pro 1 (see above). Short term pain for long term gain?

No Epson? I still have an issue with some of the wastage and maintenance needs of Epson’s, but their cleanable heads (Canon heads are replaced) are enticing. I have not used one lately, but memories of banding especially after a period of disuse, ink feed wastage when switching paper surfaces and complicated cleaning have put me off. I may need to get over this and look at the P800 (still has the wastage issue) as a real option as their ink tanks are bigger generally. I do not feel there is any real quality difference between the two brands except in specific circumstances and the results are often evenly split.

*This wastage issue has been partly alleviated by using red and green for unimportant or draft document printing