I've looked at the Master's Thesis discussion on printers, but I'm interested in a more practical, here-and-now kind of thing. I haven't looked at printers recently, and reading reviews on CNet and the like doesn't tell me the things I want to know.

I need a printer that can:

  • print up to 10x15 or 12x12
  • ideally, not suck down ink like I suck down beer
  • use alternative papers (Hahnemuhle, etc)
  • ideally, require little to no calibration, or be easily calibrated
  • produce prints that I would be proud to sell.

For the longest time, my r800 did the third thing and the last thing (but only the last thing when I spent an hour or so fine-tuning the output). I need something bigger now, and something that takes less draft printing to get to a good final result.

What should I be looking for? Budget is less than $1k.

  • I'm really torn on this question. On the one hand, you're asking some kind of specific things (what percentage of people are replacing an R800 and have that exact list of needs for the replacement), making this question too localized to be really useful. But jrista's answer is good, and it seems like there could be more general good answers. And we don't really have a great "What do I look for in a photo printer" question. I'd be nice if this one were edited to be more broadly applicable (as presumably you've made your decision on the immediate replacement already anyway!)
    – mattdm
    Mar 26, 2011 at 4:47
  • @mattdm, I have indeed already gone with a decision, the canon 9500 mark II. It is a very specialized question, so if you can suggest a more generalized title, I'm all for it. But that list of requirements isn't so specialized, I think. I'd say that those are really the minimum for any photo printer.
    – mmr
    Mar 26, 2011 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


This is a difficult question to answer, as it is fairly subjective. Both Epson and Canon printers are excellent, and provide astonishing quality. I'll try to avoid the culture war here, so here are some basic statistics and important points about printers that meet your needs:

  1. One of the first things you need to decide is how valuable quality is to you:
    • The base cost of the printer is minimal compared to the long-term running cost
      • Cleaning and maintenance have an intrinsic cost due to ink usage and part replacement
    • Ink is the most costly part of creating your own prints
  2. Determine how long you hope to use your printer:
    • You may want to print 10x15 and 12x12 now, but what about the future
    • Will you ever need to print 17x22?
    • Will you ever need to print panoramics (i.e. roll paper)?
  3. What is the minimum quality bar you require:
    • If you intend to sell your prints, what you percieve as acceptable may be a far cry from what your customer percieves as acceptable
    • Does the printer you are looking to buy produce adequate resolution and tonal range to be "acceptable" to your customers?
  4. How long do you expect your prints to last?
    • Some papers and inks last for a few decades
    • Some papers and inks last for hundreds of years (theoretically)

Both Canon and Epson printers can serve your needs. Canon offers two types of professional photographer printers that use different types of ink. Epson printers all use the same type of ink, but offer progressively greater versatility in terms of paper sizes and variety, and some of the higher-end models produce some extended tonal range into areas even computer screens can't reach (i.e. deep vivid purple hues.)

When it comes to Canon, you have a choice between the PIXMA series, and the ProGraph series. The PIXMA series offers two printers, the 9000 and the 9500 Mk II. The 9000 uses dye inks, which are generally cheaper and do not dry out as easily, and are extremely economical. The ultimate tonal range and longevity of dye prints is generally on the lower end. The 9000 uses 8 individual ink tanks, allowing colors to be individually replaced.

The 9500 uses 10 pigment inks, including several black/gray shades for B&W printing. Pigment inks generally produce more accurate tonal range, and the longevity is up in the 105-200 year range. Pigment inks are generally preferred for archival and professional prints, however they do come at a greater cost. Pigment inks have a greater tendency to dry out if not used, and dry pigment ink can clog a print head, which generally costs about $120-$160 to replace. Canon ink tanks for the 9000/9500 are about 14ml in size...extremely small. These ink tanks do not last for a very long time, and the ratio of waste is fairly high. This increases the cost overall.

The Prograph series of Canon printers are a step up. They are generally geared towards the truly professional photographer and business class. All of the current Canon Prograph printers use the same Lucia pigment ink that the 9500 does. The advantage these printers have over the 9500 is greater paper size versatility (up to 17x22 or beyond) and considerably larger ink tanks. Lower end Prograph printers use 80ml ink tanks, and higher end (truly business class, probably well out of your interest range) use 160ml tanks.

When it comes to Epson, all of their printers use their stellar UltraChrome K3 pigment inks. Epson printers tend to use a higher native print resolution than Canon printers, however they have a lower DPI. Like the Canon 9500, the ink tank size for the lower end of their Stylus line are about 15ml, and like Canon this increases cost due to general operating waste. Higher end Epson Stylus printers use larger ink tank sizes, and offer the same benefit that the Canon ProGraph line does. One of the benefits of Epson is greater paper versatility. Epson provides an extremely diverse line of papers, including paper roles for panoramic and banner printing (up to several feet long.)

HP is also an alternative, as they also make a professional photography printer. I've read reviews about HP printers, however I have never used one, and can no personally provide an objective review of their capabilities. I would look into some reviews if you are interested, however Epson and Canon are the top dogs in the professional photo printing arena.

Alternative papers may be used on either Epson or Canon printers. Canon fine art papers are in actuality just Hahnemuhle under the Canon label. I use a Canon 9500 MkII myself, and I use the Hahnemuhle ICC profiles for Fine Art, Museum, and Matte papers, which produce significantly better results than the Canon default ICC profiles.

Before you make a decision, I highly recommend seeing if you can print some of your own work on a couple different Epson and Canon printers. Determine if you yourself like the results, and see what some of your potential customers (or friends/family who you think are similar to your potential customers), and choose the printer that best fits you and your potential customers needs. The Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 runs around $400 or so, while the PIXMA Pro 9500 is about $600-$700. Canon Prograph printers run from around $1200 to many thousands of dollars for the top end business class. The iPF5000 or iPF6000 series are at the lower end of that price range, and are very efficient printers. Epson Stylus printers run anywhere from about $500 up through $4000 or more.

  • Wow, thanks for the thorough and detailed response! I'll definitely have to see if I can get some samples. You're right, I don't need business class, but I do want to step up from the r800 in terms of ink viability and paper sizes.
    – mmr
    Aug 3, 2010 at 20:13
  • The Canon PIXMA 9500 Pro or the Epson R2880 are both great printers with wide print size versatility (up to 13x19", or A3+, I believe.) They are well within your price range, and offer excellent tonal range. The type of work you do may dictate which one you choose. The Canon has a red and green ink pigment, which allow for extended gamut in those areas. Excellent for landscapes. The Epson, on the other hand, has greater tonal range in the blues & violets, or oranges (depends on the model.) That makes it better for floral closeups, sea and coral reef shots, anything very vibrant, or portraints.
    – jrista
    Aug 3, 2010 at 20:43
  • I'd add one (potential) fly to the ointment: if you are one of the rare few who might or currently print digital negatives then you might want to look at Epson's simply because that's the brand used by most all who print digital negs. I'm not sure that there is a really good technical reason at the root of this, but it has evolved to the tools and lore having a a definite Epson bent in this tiny niche.
    – Kevin Won
    Jan 25, 2011 at 0:36

I've been very happy with my Canon Pixma Pro 9000. It does 13 x 19, 8 individual ink tanks (that are reasonable in price), and even months between prints are clog free. In any case, they claim photolab quality and I, personally, cannot detect a reason to disagree with them. I've also had no problem with specialty paper, seems to be fuss free there.

Anyways, Canadian price for the Mk II version is about $600, so I'd imagine that it's in your budget.

  • That is indeed in my budget. I shall look to reviews!
    – mmr
    Aug 3, 2010 at 19:20

Great article and advise. I'm wondering if you know a good site for doing digital negatives on the Pixma 9500 II? I've been hunting all over. Thank you so much in advance.

  • Hi Francesca, and welcome to Photo.SE. If you have a question that you need answers to, you should use the "ask question" link in the header, rather than asking in an answer to another question. Answers to questions that pose additional questions will usually be voted down and ultimately deleted. I recommend asking your question about printing with the PIXMA 9500 II using the "ask question" link at the top of the page.
    – jrista
    Feb 16, 2011 at 3:45

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