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Technical

June 2009

Nick Wilcox-Brown

A portfolio is one of the most important documents that a photographer ever has to produce. Many hours of work will go into its preparation and the images are usually printed with painstaking care to show them off to best advantage to discerning art directors and clients. This is when the abilities of quality professional printers come into their own.

Building on a long legacy of Canon colour inkjet technology, Canon’s PIXMA Pro models have attained an excellent reputation for high quality printing, with their ability to print detailed and saturated prints on a wide range of media. Canon’s first full colour inkjet printer - the BJC 820 - appeared back in 1992. The PIXMA brand, with unique Full-Photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) print head technology, was launched to widespread acclaim in 2004.

The PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II offers faster, higher-quality monochrome printing, a wider range of supported media, and the new Ambient Light Correction feature.
 

The PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II offers faster, higher-quality monochrome printing, a wider range of supported media, and the new Ambient Light Correction feature.

The PIXMA printer print heads are made by integrating the heaters and nozzles into a single unit on a silicon wafer. The technology was developed to meet the challenge of increasing image quality while simultaneously realising faster print speeds. Canon's FINE ejection system ensures that all of the ink under the heater is pushed out in a single thrust that creates precise, uniform droplets. Additionally, by ejecting ink more efficiently, ink droplet ejection speed has been increased, reducing their susceptibility to airflow disturbances for increased placement accuracy. Improved paper handling in the PIXMA Pro Mark II printers has further increased this precision for even sharper prints.

The new PIXMA Pro Mark II models – the Pro9500 Mark II and the Pro9000 Mark II - build on, and enhance the capability of the first generation of printers, with carefully thought out features that are designed to further improve image quality and media handling. At first glance the two new models look almost exactly like the previous generation, save for the new Mark II badges. Internally though, there have been substantial changes.

New Features

The key new features of the PIXMA Pro Mark II printers are as follows:

  • Each PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is now individually colour-calibrated before leaving the factory for enhanced precision.
  • Increased media support on both models, including support for printing on gloss media with the Pro9500 Mark II.
  • The Ambient Light Correction feature that allows you to select the type of lighting under which a print will be displayed and print it exactly as you want.
  • The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is 30% faster in standard mode.
  • Improved media transport accuracy.

Two models

Just as with the previous PIXMA generation, there are two models in the PIXMA Pro Mark II range, both of them offering a flat paper path for borderless, A3+ printing with almost invisible 3pl droplet size (2pl on 9000), on media up to 1.2mm thick. The inks are unchanged from the original products, allowing continued use of your existing ink stocks.

The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is the slightly more versatile machine of the two new PIXMAs and is built around a sturdy 1.6mm thick steel chassis to endure heavy usage with consistent performance.
 

The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is the slightly more versatile machine of the two new PIXMAs and is built around a sturdy 1.6mm thick steel chassis to endure heavy usage with consistent performance.

The Pro9000 Mark II is the faster machine, utilising eight ChromaLife100 dye inks for ultimate speed, wide colour gamut and maximum saturation on wide range of glossy media.

The Pro9500 Mark II is the more versatile machine – it’s optimised for colour stability and archival printing on a wide range of Canon and third party fine art media. With 10 individual pigment ink cartridges, including Photo black, Matte black and grey inks, the machine is perfect for high quality monochrome or colour prints that are intended for exhibition and sale.

It is worth mentioning monochrome in more detail: the use of two black inks in the Pro9500 Mark II guarantees perfectly neutral black and white prints, while the addition of the grey ink ensures that images have a beautiful, even tonality that matches or exceeds traditional silver prints. The added advantage is that there is no need to change inks when swapping between gloss and matt papers.

Pigment ink and glossy paper

The 10 Lucia Pigment ink cartridges utilised by the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II.
 

The 10 Lucia Pigment ink cartridges utilised by the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II.

New to this second-generation PIXMA model is the ability for the pigment-based Pro9500 Mark II to print on glossy media, including Canon’s recently added, ultra high quality gloss paper ‘Photo Paper Pro Platinum’ (PT-101)

Printing on glossy paper with pigment inks is quite a challenge: unlike dye inks, where colour is dissolved in the liquid, pigment inks hold colour particles in suspension. Getting these particles to bond reliably to a glossy surface and give a pleasing look is not easy. Refinements in the ink droplet placement and increased precision in the print heads has made this possible: the results look good and Canon is justifiably proud of its achievement.

Similarly, printing with dye inks on a matt-surfaced, cotton-based fine art paper such as Hahnemühle’s Photo Rag is also a challenge, with prints that can frequently looking washed out and ‘thin’ as ink is absorbed by the paper. Again, the Canon engineers have persevered and, with this second generation printer technology, the Pro9000 Mark II manages to produce prints that have a very impressive depth and contrast on Photo Rag and other matt-surfaced art media.

When printing on glossy paper the dye ink (on the left of this diagram) will ‘sink’ into the paper whereas historically pigment ink has lain on top of glossy paper (right). However, Canon has now developed a system in which pigment ink is absorbed by the top layer of the paper thanks to refining ink droplet placement and increased precision in the print heads.
 

When printing on glossy paper the dye ink (on the left of this diagram) will ‘sink’ into the paper whereas historically pigment ink has lain on top of glossy paper (right). However, Canon has now developed a system in which pigment ink is absorbed by the top layer of the paper thanks to refining ink droplet placement and increased precision in the print heads.

Media and colour

Media support for third party papers and canvas has been increased considerably for the new printers. Canon now supports ICC colour profiles for a wide range of other manufacturers’ products, meaning that it is no longer necessary to create custom profiles for specialist papers. Brands supported include Hahnemühle, Innova, Somerset Enhanced, Canson, Moab, Crane, PCM and Pictorio.

It is worth noting that many paper manufacturers, like Ilford and PermaJet, also provide their own printer ICC profiles, allowing a wide range of media to be successfully used in PIXMA Pro printers.

Now, with the individually calibrated Pro9500 Mark II, colour that was already good in the previous generation has been taken to a new level of precision.

Colour management is now built into the Pro9500 Mark II, so for perfectionists out there, the Pro9500 Mark II is compatible with Color Management Tool Pro 2, which is now available as a free download. This software is designed to work with select XRite spectro-photometers and allows calibration data to be written back to the printer to ensure that it is working optimally for each paper type, before quickly & easily creating ICC profiles for use with Easy-PhotoPrint Pro (EPP Pro) or any other ICC aware application. Downloaded profiles from non-supported paper manufacturers can also be written to the printer, making them available to any user who accesses the printer.

Improvements in the colour precision of the printers make it essential to accurately calibrate your monitor for a true ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (WYSIWYG) colour experience.

The top view of PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II showing the paper supports extended to provide a flat paper path for art papers and extra thick media.
 

The top view of PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II showing the paper supports extended to provide a flat paper path for art papers and extra thick media.

Software & plug-ins

One of the great features of the PIXMA Pro printer range is how easy it is to get perfect, colour accurate prints without the need for complex driver settings. Easy-PhotoPrint Pro is the reason for this. Included bundled free in the box, EPP Pro is a plug-in for Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, as well as Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements (the latter is also included in the box). EPP Pro takes all the effort out of making perfect prints as well as adding 16-bit colour support on both Windows and Mac.

After installing the software from the install CD, printmaking is incredibly straightforward:

  • Open an image in DPP or Photoshop.
  • From DPP go File > Plug-in Printing > Print with Easy-PhotoPrint Pro or from Photoshop, go File > Automate > Canon Easy-PhotoPrint Pro

In either case a dialogue opens and the whole process of making prints becomes intuitive. By using the plug-in, a direct connection to the printer is created, bypassing the OS printing completely and allowing the direct printing of RAW images without the need to process them first. Because the printer has a wide range of third party media support, all that’s necessary for perfect colour on these media is to choose the paper name from the media menu. EPP Pro does the rest.

A screen grab of the colour management Ambient Light Correction options within Windows Vista.
 

A screen grab of the colour management Ambient Light Correction options within Windows Vista.

For maximum image quality, 16-bit printing is important to ensure that all of the colour information in the file is preserved; this minimises the effect called 'posterisation' where banding becomes visible in colour gradients, due to a lack of image data. EPP Pro utilises the image EXIF (metadata) embedded by the camera to ensure that the image is printed optimally on supported media with little need for the user to change settings.

For users who prefer to post-produce their images to change or enhance them manually, EPP Pro has a ‘Linear tone’ mode to ensure that images will print exactly as they appear on a calibrated screen.

For Windows Vista users, Canon has been working in close collaboration with Microsoft to develop an improved colour management system. The benefit of this for users of the PIXMA Pro Mark II models is the ‘Ambient Light Correction’ feature - this has been specially designed to allow images to be printed for viewing in galleries with specific lighting types.

In EPP Pro, load the image(s) and select ‘Colour Adjustments’ and then ‘Colour Management’. From the drop down, select ‘Ambient Light Correction’ and select the lighting conditions closest to those where the print(s) will be displayed. The printed image may differ from the screen as the colour temperature is shifted to match the display environment.

Internal improvements

Tucked away inside the printers are several physical changes that have dramatically improved performance.

The internal workings of the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II – it has a 1.6mm steel chassis for stable operation and thick dual rails for precise print head mounting and transport which improves print quality.
 

The internal workings of the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II – it has a 1.6mm steel chassis for stable operation and thick dual rails for precise print head mounting and transport which improves print quality.

From the off PIXMA Pro printers have been designed for durability: the print head is now mounted on an enhanced dual rail system, ensuring that the fast-moving print head remains absolutely parallel to the paper at all times. Combined with an improved paper control system, and enhanced ink deposition, the print speed has increased by 30% for a typical photo print. More significantly though, the new mounting dramatically increases the accuracy of the ink spray, resulting in prints that are very visibly sharper to the end user.

For wedding photographers in particular the improvements will make a difference: a classic wedding shot that appears in most albums and portfolios involves an image that has been totally de-saturated to black and white bar the flowers, wedding dress or other detail that is left in vibrant colour. The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II's mixed mode (‘Colour Popping’) ability means that this shot can be executed to perfection.

Which printer?

The new PIXMA Pro Mark II machines represent excellent value and the finest image quality, but which printer should you be looking to invest in?

The eight ChromaLife100 single-ink cartridges utilised by the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II offer a wider range of colour than their pigment counterparts.
 

The eight ChromaLife100 single-ink cartridges utilised by the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II offer a wider range of colour than their pigment counterparts.

For speed and the ultimate saturated and glossy print, the dye-based PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II takes a lot of beating. Dye inks are capable of reproducing a much wider range of colour than their pigment counterparts and will give the best results on a very wide range of high gloss paper.

If you want to sell your prints or work with specialist fine art papers, the pigment-based PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II may represent the best printer option. Offering over 100 years print life (exceeding most silver halide prints), outstanding image quality on art papers, and good prints on gloss media, this is one very versatile photographic printer.