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I am looking for a new photo printer, something in the price range of Canon PIXMA Pro9000/9500 Mark II or Epson Stylus Photo 1400/R2880.

If I am using papers and colour profiles provided by the printer manufacturer, can I expect reasonably accurate and consistent colours without any colour calibration?

(Or, put otherwise, would I get clearly visible differences if I used a colour calibration system?)


I am currently using an old and cheap Canon PIXMA iP6000D, and the main problem is that the colours are inaccurate. Prints on a glossy paper have very different colours in comparison with prints on a matte paper (even though I am using Canon papers and the right colour profiles provided by Canon for this particular combination of paper and printer). Even worse, the results are not consistent: if I print the same photo twice in a row (using exactly the same settings), often the prints have noticeably different colours.

I would like to know if this kind of problems are "normal" and to be expected in any relatively cheap (< $1000) consumer-level printer, or if I would be better off by buying a now one.

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I assume that you are using a calibration system of some kind for your screen? Otherwise, it won't matter whether the printer is calbrated or not. –  Staale S Jan 30 '11 at 19:22

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When printing with a custom ICC profile, you need to make sure that you disable color correction in the printer driver. By default, the printer performs color correction on its own, and Canon printers tend to oversaturate prints. If you print from Photoshop or Lightroom, make certain that before you actually print, you configure the printer driver correctly each time. Make absolutely certain that the color correction setting is set to "None", then manually select your ICC profile before printing.

That said, glossy papers have a higher dynamic range than matte papers, so images that have a lot of contrast between the brightest and darkest shades will usually have smoother tonal gradations on luster or glossy paper. Glossy, semi-glossy, satin, and luster papers can all cause gloss differential with ink jet printers, particularly with pigment based inks, but even so with dye based inks (like your iP6000D). Print color is based on reflected light and light wave absorption by inks (and to some degree, the paper substrate). There are several factors that affect the color and tone of light reflected by a paper. With glossy papers, particularly bright white glossy papers, there are often whitening and brightening agents included. Optical brighteners are usually most sensitive to UV light, so viewing a glossy and a matte print under indoor tungsten lighting will cause the color rendition to look different. Glossy papers with brighteners will look best when viewed in bright "natural" light, either produced by a bulb that outputs around 5000K with some UV component, or under actual sunlight.

The color of the paper substrate itself will also play a role in how colors look. Glossy papers often tend to be on the cooler side of white, although there are some brands (Moab, Hahnemuhle, etc.) that offer some "natural" white gloss and luster papers. Most matte papers have a more natural white than bright white (although again, high quality third party brands like Moab, Museo, Hahnemuhle, etc. have some bright white matte papers). Natural whites usually range from very warm to natural warm, and will change the look and feel of a print in comparison with bright white glossy or luster papers.

It is important to use the right paper for the job. Papers are by no means equal, and have more differences than just glossy or matte. The "temperature" of the paper itself, the purity of its white, the texture of the paper surface, the use or lack thereof of brighteners, the level and type of gloss, etc. all affect how a resulting print looks. Some things look superb on glossy paper, but lack depth and punch on matte. Some things have fantastic warmth and feeling on matte, but look unrealistic on gloss. You will need to experiment a bit to determine which of your photos look good on gloss, and which look good on matte. You might also want to try a few third-party papers, as they often have FAR more variety than Canon does. Most quality papers, like Hahanemuhle, offer their own custom ICC profiles that ensure correct color reproduction with Canon printers and their papers.

In my own experience, photo rag matte papers are FANTASTIC for landscape photos. They bring a warmth and texture that makes the best of expansive nature scenes. Luster papers, or soft gloss papers, bring out smoother tonal gradations and slightly more dynamic range for portraits. I generally try to avoid papers with optical brighteners, as their color reproduction changes depending on the light the print is viewed in. There are some quality bleached white papers from Museo that offer a middle or neutral white, brighter than the common natural white, that just makes the most stunning black and white prints. I highly recommend looking into Museo, Hahanemuhle, Moab, Ilford, and Breathing Color. Find the tones, weights, and textures that bring out the most in your prints.

As for the question about your particular printer being lower than par for professional prints, yes, it is. That particular printer model is a consumer grade photo printer that is designed more for your average home user who just wants to spit out 4x6 or 5x7 photos of their family, friends, and vacations, or the occasional word or business document. It is not designed as a professional grade photographic printer. The Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 II and 9500 II are Canon's professional grade home photographic printers. The 9000 is a dye based printer, and the 9500 is a pigment based printer. Both of those printers can produce VERY high quality prints up to 13x19" in size. The 9500 is comparable to Epson printers, although it is more tuned to saturated greens, blues, and reds (where as Epsons tend to cater towards more saturated oranges and magentas.) Unless you print a lot of prints with highly saturated magenta, a Canon 9500 or any one of the Canon imagePrograph printers that use Lucia or Lucia II pigment inks will produce the highest quality prints you can get from an ink jet printer these days.

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In my experience, Epson's profiles are quite accurate, and the results quite repeatable. Canon printers seem to me to place a greater emphasis on speed than quality.

Edit: Canon only claims coverage of 90% of Pantone for Lucia EX inks. Epson Ultrachrome HDR covers 98% of Pantone (and not just "claims" but "is certified by Pantone.")

Attempting to claim either that Epson provides only about 90% coverage, or that Canon provides about 98% coverage are simply false. Canon has certainly improved in this regard over the past few years. Nonetheless, Epson is clearly still ahead in this category.

For those who care about print longevity, the story is similar. The newest Canon printers claim about 75 years, while the latest Epson printers claim around 200 years.

Simply put, while Canon's printers (and, perhaps more importantly, inks) have certainly become more competitive in the last few years, Epson's printers and inks remain measurably superior in a number of respects.

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This is entirely untrue. Canon printers produce very accurate prints when used properly, its just that they tend to try color-correcting in the driver itslef by default. Disabling printer ICM and using a custom ICC profile allows Canon printers to produce prints that are just as accurate as an Epson. –  jrista Jan 30 '11 at 19:32
    
@jrista: That simply doesn't match my experience. For most people, getting nearly as accurate a profile simply isn't possible (I can't afford nearly as good a photospectrometer as Epson can). When using profiles provided by a high-end RIP vendor, Canons come a lot closer, but IME still come out inferior to Epsons. –  Jerry Coffin Jan 30 '11 at 19:46
    
@Jerry Coffin: Canon, as well as the third-party paper manufacturers I use, all use high quality spectrophotometers to generate their color profiles. Outside of the few paper types I have not been able to find color profiles for, the color rendition and accuracy of a professionally created color profile with my Canon PIXMA Pro9500 is stellar, and when I compare prints side-by-side with Epson prints, the differences are minimal. The key differences are simply gamut, as Canon's gamut extends into areas of green and red more, while Epsons extend into deep magenta and orange more. –  jrista Jan 30 '11 at 19:59
    
I think the argument that Epson print quality was better was true a number of years ago, before Canon started using pigment inks. Canon printers are into their second generation of Lucia pigment inks, and the differences in gamut, color reproduction quality, and archival longevity between Canon and Epson are slim to none these days. I think the primary differences really just boil down to ink colors used, which affects the gamut of the device. Regarding gloss differential, metamerism, bronzing, etc., Canon Lucia/LuciaII inks have progressed considerably, and solidly rival Ultrachrome K3. –  jrista Jan 30 '11 at 20:04
    
Yes, if you compare Lucia II to Ultrachrome K3, it looks pretty solid. Unfortunately, that's competing with what Epson introduced ~5 years ago. They're still well behind Epson's current Ultrachrome HDR though. –  Jerry Coffin Jan 30 '11 at 22:19

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