For gallery-ready images, the days of having to go to a lab for an Iris print or a dye-transfer are long gone. Some photographers still choose to take their work to a professional lab, but that’s more for the convenience of having a technician who really knows the ins and outs of printing or to be able to do special projects rather than because it’s your only access to a printer that’s capable of producing the work.
In the professional space, the three main players are Canon, Epson and HP. Each manufacturer has its own following, and each has a variety of models capable of 17- and 24-inch prints. We chose 24 inches as the maximum for this article because it’s a sweet spot for DSLR shooters. There are printers you can get for your studio that can print to 60 inches or even wider, but unless you have a need to make such large images on a regular basis, these printers would be overkill, and justifying the high costs might be very difficult.
If you talk to the printer manufacturers about how the business is going, they will tell you that their biggest problem is getting the word out that there’s a good reason to upgrade. In the past few years, printer technology achieved such a high level that many pros who have models built in 2006 or 2007 are sufficiently pleased with the images they get that there isn’t much motivation to look at the latest products. When you do look at what’s out there right now, you’ll quickly see that the newer printers offer distinct advantages.
Ink technology has continued to improve, and combined with the latest papers, prints not only are capable of rendering a larger color space, but they’re also longer-lasting as well. Of course, speeds also have increased, which is useful when you’re making several large prints at a time. In this article, our aim is to give you a brief overview of what’s available. Every studio has its own specific needs, and the best printer for one isn’t going to be the best for another.
PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II. Featuring an 8-color ink system and Canon’s advanced software, the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II renders sharp prints and solid color rendition. Canon’s FINE technology takes advantage of a 6,144-nozzle print head, 2-picoliter ink droplets and 4800×2400 dpi capability to generate prints that are up to the standards of a professional. FINE, or Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering, is Canon’s signature technology for both the PIXMA Pro9000 and Pro9500. The ChromaLife 100 dye-based ink system works in combination with the print head and Canon papers to produce prints that will last. Maximum print size is 13×19 inches.
PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II. Building on the technology in the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II, the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II adds two ink cartridges for a total of 10 LUCIA dye-based inks for vibrant color, as well as rich black-and-white prints. The print head lays down ink droplets as small as 3 picoliters at 4800×1200 dpi. The printer can make a borderless print up to 13×19 inches, and Canon’s ambient light-correction technology optimizes color output for the ambient lighting conditions of the room in which you’re planning to display the image. You select the type of light and the printer makes adjustments automatically. This is a particularly interesting feature if you know that a client is planning on hanging a print in a windowless room, for example. The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II also prints in 16 bits per channel, opening up a huge color space for your photographs.
imagePROGRAF iPF6100 and iPF5100. In the 24-inch printer market, the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6100 makes use of a 12-color LUCIA pigment-based inkset for archival print longevity, vivid colors and stunning black-and-white prints. You can make full-bleed prints on paper up to the maximum 24-inch width, and with roll paper, you can print full-bleed panoramas. The iPF6100 uses the Canon PF-03 print head, which can lay down a 4-picoliter droplet at 2400×1200 dpi. The printer monitors itself with built-in calibration sensors. When these sensors detect a variation in print head performance or ink drop density, the printer automatically recalibrates itself. This feature helps to ensure absolute consistency in prints no matter when you make them. If you want the performance and features of the iPF6100, but you don’t have the need or the space for a 24-inch printer, the iPF5100 offers essentially the same inks, print head and feature set in a smaller model, which is capable of full-bleed prints up to 17 inches wide.
imagePROGRAF iPF6200. If you have a need for a printer that’s optimized for proofing applications, the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6200 is a 24-inch model that comes with an EFI Colorproof eXpress RIP and an 80 GB hard drive. Under the hood, it uses the 12-color, pigment-based LUCIA inkset and the PF-03 dual print head. Maximum resolution is 1200×2400 dpi, and the print head lays down ink droplets as small as 4 picoliters. The Colorproof eXpress system is what sets this printer apart. It has a set-up wizard and an interface that are designed to get you up to speed quickly, and it includes predefined modes for a variety of final output.
imagePROGRAF iPF6300 and iPF6350. With a new pigment-based LUCIA EX inkset, the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6300 is a 24-inch model that pro photographers will want to consider. The new inkset promises improved color and black-and-white imagery, as well as improved longevity. You can process images in 16-bit for an exceptionally wide color gamut. The printer has a built in calibration monitoring system, and it can automatically recalibrate itself when it detects a decrease in performance. The iPF6300 driver has two new options, including a high-precision mode for photographs that was specifically designed for photographers seeking to generate prints with reduced graininess, sharper blacks and deeper dark tones. The high-precision mode also increases glossiness in the final print. The print head lays down a 4-picoliter droplet at resolutions up to 1200×2400 dpi. If you have a need to print large-volume jobs, the iPF6350 adds an 80 GB hard drive that helps to streamline the workflow and speed of big jobs.
Stylus Pro 3880. Epson’s 17-inch professional model is the Stylus Pro 3880. It’s capable of 17×22-inch prints, and it uses the
pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 inks with Vivid Magenta. The 8-color inkset also features three-level black technology for rich shadow detail and beautiful black-and-white prints. The MicroPiezo AMC print head delivers droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters, and it has a maximum resolution of 1440×2880 dpi. Black-and-white prints made on Epson papers are rated to 200 years and color prints to 108 years.
Stylus Pro 4880. Another 17-inch printer from Epson is the 4880, which made headlines when it first appeared for its ability to print in 16-bit. The 4880 features the pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 system with the Vivid Magenta and three-level black technology.
Stylus Pro 4900. At Photokina this September, Epson introduced the new Stylus Pro 4900. If you follow Epson’s naming system, this printer is part of the 4000 lineup of 17-inch printers, but unlike the 4880, it has a 900-series print engine inside. In other words, the Stylus Pro 4900 has the print engine found on the lab-type 7900 and 9900 printers, but it’s in a smaller desktop chassis (okay, it’s around 80 pounds so you’ll want a sturdy desk, but it doesn’t need to have its own stand system, which is nice). This new printer is designed squarely for professional photographers who want the high-volume 900-series print engine. It makes use of 11 UltraChrome HDR inks to generate maximum image detail, color reproduction and excellent black-and-white prints.
Stylus Pro 7880. Stepping into the 24-inch arena, the Epson Stylus 7880 features the 880-series print engine with the pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 8-color inkset. This inkset incorporates the Vivid Magenta and three-level black technology. Maximum print size is 24 inches wide, and you can print full bleed on cut sheets or roll papers. Epson rates the longevity of prints from the Stylus Pro 7880 to be 200 years in color or black-and-white. The print head lays down ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters and its maximum resolution is 1440×2880 dpi. A nice feature that many pros will appreciate is the built-in print cutter, which can automatically trim the paper to your predetermined size.
Stylus Pro 7900. Another 24-inch model from Epson is the Stylus Pro 7900, which is built with the 900-series print engine. The printer uses the MicroPiezo TFP print head and pigment-based 10-color Epson UltraChrome HDR inkset. The 7900 is built for particularly demanding professionals. A built-in spectrophotometer, developed in conjunction with X-Rite, can monitor your prints, and it works with a RIP to automate color management in a proofing situation. Ink droplet size is as small as 3.5 picoliters, and maximum resolution is 1440×2880 dpi.
Designjet 130. Using a 6-ink pigment-based system, the Designjet 130 can make prints up to 24 inches wide, and with the optional roll paper adapter, you’re almost unlimited in the length of the image. The HP Vivera inks are pigment-based for longevity, as well as excellent color reproduction. The printer also has a built-in calibration function. Using the HP driver, you can print a test image, then the printer will pull it back through and scan it, and calibrate the system accordingly. The calibration function makes the Designjet a good choice for proofing situations or anytime you want to be sure you’re getting all of your colors just right.