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Technical

May 2010

by Edmond Terakopian

I remember being initially somewhat disappointed by my switch over to digital in 1999 but, as time went on, things got better. For me the Canon EOS 5D was the first DSLR I was totally happy with and I was ecstatic about the arrival of the EOS 5D Mark II. However, whilst cameras could produce images on a par with, and sometimes better than, slide film, printing was a different matter.

Being an award-winning hand printer, I had certain expectations and looked for a very high standard in my prints. For years I experimented with desktop printers from all of the manufacturers and gave up, preferring to outsource all of my printing needs to labs like Metro.

The first thing to change my mind was a multi-function printer I bought for office use; the Canon PIXMA MP830. I needed it for scanning, faxing and the printing of office documents but one day I decided to make an A4 photographic print on it and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. This led me into researching printers and to the desktop A3+ Canon PIXMA Pro 9500 Mark II.

 

The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II uses 10 fade resistant Lucia pigment inks to produce prints from 15x10cm up to its maximum A3+, or 14” wide prints.

PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II

This printer uses 10 Lucia pigment inks (which are fade resistant) and produces truly wonderful prints from as small as 15x10cm all the way to its maximum A3+ or 14” wide prints. The 10 inks, including both gloss and black inks (negating the need to swap out cartridges, depending on paper type being used), and the extra red and green cartridges mean that the colour gamut this printer is capable of would have been unheard of previously in its class.

I’ve been using this printer for several months and it produces beautifully vibrant colours and very accurate and neutral black and white prints. Upon hearing that I had the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II a friend asked for help in printing her portfolio. Her work is in black and white and she specifically wanted to use Ilford’s Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper. I had already used Canon and Hahnemuhle papers with the 9500 Mark II, so I was a little bit nervous at first, thinking that many test prints would need to be done.

Having downloaded the ICC profile from Ilford’s website, I jumped straight into these gorgeous black and white images from Africa. Astonishingly the first print was almost perfect. With a little bit of tweaking of the image in Aperture the second print was spot-on perfect. Not only were we both pleased with the results, the picture editor who saw the portfolio commented on the quality of the prints, and asked where they had been printed.

The printer isn't only capable of very high quality printing, it is also extremely fast and quiet when working. To top this off nicely its rear and front trays shut, reducing its footprint nicely, making it easier to find room for it on your desk. For anyone on a tighter budget, but still craving high quality images, Canon also has the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II which has eight inks but shares several of the features of the Pro9500 Mark II, including the A3+ printing ability.

imagePROGRAF iPF6300 large format printer

The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II was proving to be a great ‘little’ printer, but I needed larger prints and felt that there was more to gain in terms of quality. With perfect timing, Canon contacted me asking if I’d be interested in evaluating one of its new large format printers – the imagePROGRAF iPF6300. This was launched earlier in 2010 alongside the iPF6350 and iPF8300 large format printers, with the iPF8300 offering prints up to 44” wide.

 

Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF6300 large format printer features increased colour gamut, the Media Configuration Tool for enhanced precision and quality with third party media, and an 80GB hard disk drive for faster spooling of large files.

What sets the iPF6300 apart from previous Canon large format printers is that this model is targeted towards photographers and not just labs and graphics studios. The iPF6300 prints A1+ sized prints, or prints at up to 24” wide, and for as long as your roll of paper will allow. Although primarily a roll printer, it can also accommodate cut sheets of paper and can even print on thick card.

The iPF6300 uses 12 Lucia EX pigment inks that, with their new formulation, means they cover 20% more of the colour gamut. The addition of grey and photo grey means smooth gradations, creating crisp and natural black and whites. For increased print longevity, there is more polymer coating for the photo inks compared to previous inks. Previous Lucia inks were quoted as giving 120 years of ‘lightfastness’ and no doubt the Lucia EX, with its newer technology, will go beyond that. The newer inks are also much more scratch resistant and reduce bronzing.

The print heads and the new inks also result in smaller droplets that, as well as finer detail reproduction, reduce reflection scatter resulting in higher saturation. This increased small dot accuracy results in extremely sharp detail in text as well as photographic subtleties. All of this is achieved by using two print heads, each with 2,560 nozzles, delivering four picolitre droplets at a print resolution of 2400x1200 dots per inch.

It also has a built-in calibrator that is used on initial installation of the printer to optimise the print heads and ink settings. The calibrator uses a special reference roll of paper that’s shipped with the printer and sets it up for all the Canon papers, resulting in absolute precision.

Media Configuration Tool

When setting up new papers, including those from other manufacturers, the excellent Media Configuration Tool makes it an extremely easy task. Different weights and textures in varying papers mean that for perfect results the print head height, vacuum strength and paper feed need to be precise. This software tool, combined with the printer’s calibrator, can set the optimum results for practically any paper by printing sets of patterns and reading these all in one smooth manoeuvre, resulting in perfect media set up. Each time a new media is set up, this information is transferred from the computer to the printer where it is stored for future use.

© Edmond Terakopian

A human exhibition showing four A1+ sized prints from the Canon iPF6300 in a London park. The print on the left was printed on Canon Glacier Photo Quality Paper whilst the rest were on Canon's Glossy Photo Quality Paper.

Along with the standard print driver and the Media Configuration Tool, Canon also bundles a printer plug-in for Photoshop and Digital Photo Professional which works an absolute treat, allowing very easy and absolutely precise control over all that the printer is capable of, in one neat dialogue box. It also offers a roll paper view that shows exactly how the print will be. To top this off, it remembers previous settings.

The way the iPF6300 can be configured for different media so precisely – along with the Lucia EX inks with their wider colour gamut and longevity, and handy additions like built-in ethernet – really elevates it above the smaller desktop models. Although the initial outlay is higher, the cost of printing actually works out to be significantly cheaper as the higher capacity cartridges last longer and roll paper is cheaper than cut paper.

The printer is of such a high standard that to the naked eye printing on the standard setting and the highest setting seemingly produce no difference to the quality of the print. What it does do is produce such a speedy output, using less ink.

However, when ultra critical detail and subtleties have to be resolved, on very close inspection the highest print settings produce this. I was looking at the pupil and eyelashes from a studio model shoot and at the highest setting every single eyelash is visible; every single line in the pupil, every colour change is rendered perfectly, no matter how subtle. The highest print setting does double the printing times, but compared to other printers in its class it is still extremely speedy.

With good paper demanding a premium and everyone being aware of conservation issues, paper wastage is an absolute no-no. With the bundled Free Layout software, images of any size can be sent to this software and laid out; maximising space usage and saving paper. Another bundled software allows the measurement of ambient light; if the location where the print is to be displayed is known, the light can be measured (sensor not supplied); this information is loaded into the printer driver and an absolutely perfect print, purpose-made for that location can be created.

Paper barcoding

There are other very neat touches like the barcoding option for paper rolls. This is extremely useful as it stops mix-ups and is an idea that is to be commended; with good quality paper demanding a premium, the last thing I would want is to mix up papers and have wastage. I also must comment on the printer’s quietness in use. My office is generally pretty quiet and is quite compact. Considering the size of prints it’s capable of, the unit’s relatively compact and is quiet when printing. The fact that it’s also such a speedy machine means the printing is done quickly and total silence returns at once; a must in a creative environment.

During my evaluation I used 15 different papers from Canon, Hahnemuhle, Innova and Olmec; ranging from glossy to matt and from lightweight to heavyweight. Every single paper type performed amazingly, with one from Olmec showing bronzing when viewed at an angle. I calibrated my monitor with X-Rite’s ColorMunki and also used this to calibrate ICC profiles for the papers that had yet to have profiles ready for the printer.

As long as the correct media type and ICC was used, the results were astonishing. In fact after my very first print, which was a quick test print, I was left speechless. Print after print was stunning. It didn’t matter which paper I was using, and didn’t matter if the shot was a vibrant colour one or a subtle black and white; if it was a ‘pastelly’ coloured image or a contrasty black and white.

This printer has allowed me to bring all of my printing needs in-house. This not only allows me to save money on outsourcing prints, but also gives me complete control over print quality, and meet tight deadlines when a lab may not be able to.

I was recently invited to an exhibition opening in one of London’s major galleries. Looking around the lovely black and white hand prints, I realised that for the first time in my career, I could match all that I saw using a digital workflow. The iPF6300 is simply that good.