Over the course of the last few years, I became more interested in printing my work. First came calendars, simple photo books and a few framed photos on the wall. Seeing my photos in print changed how I perceive and value them. Printing itself adds an additional element of craftsmanship to the photographic process, and holding a print in ones hand is much more satisfying than viewing pixels on a screen. I found myself spending more time looking at printed photos, discovering new details and appreciating them more. So in mid-2017 I started to make plans for building a full printed portfolio and began considering different options for those prints.
Print at Home or Use a Lab
A good friend of mine, Kurt, has already been printing at home for a few years, and based on talks with him, I started to research if that would be a viable option for my upcoming projects. Or, to be honest, I was sold on the idea from the beginning and was just looking for arguments to justify that decision. And those came quite easy.
First, there are the costs. A quick calculation showed that with the amount of printing I had planned even in the immediate future, buying a home printer was going to be more cost-effective than ordering the prints from a local print lab. For comparison, one A2 print on fine art paper in a well-known Vienna print studio costs about 60 Euro. The same print done at home costs about 12 Euro for paper and ink. With that huge difference, the investment into a printer will pay off quickly.
Another big plus in my mind was that having a printer would allow me to experiment more and accelerate the learning process of how to optimize photos for print. One can print a photo, assess it immediately, make changes and print again. Coming from a print lab, less-than-perfect result may be accepted due to the effort of getting the print redone. But with a printer at home one can repeat the process until fully satisfied with the results.
And finally, with a printer at hand, I expected to print much more than when having to rely on a lab. Like, after a photo shoot print a few of the best pictures, archive them or give them to the participants. Or print personal photo greeting cards to accompany birthday and other presents. Or have a magnet board at home with a collection of recent photographs. With a printer at home much more photos will end up on paper, and my mind that is a good thing.
So, the decision to buy a printer was made, and next came the question which one is the right one.
Choosing a Printer
My basic requirements were:
- A maximum print size of A2
- Good results on matte and glossy paper
- High-quality black and white prints
A printer that can do up to A2 sized prints will cover almost all of my printing needs. I usually mat and frame prints that go on the wall, so A2 prints turn into quite large 80x60cm frames. If at some point a larger print is required, one can print smaller proofs at home and have a local lab do the final large print. Larger printers not only cost significantly more, they also take up more space and are designed for a higher print volume than an average home user will produce. On the other hand, a smaller printer in the A3+ range would in my view not save significant costs or space to justify the smaller print size.
I wanted to be able to easily experiment with both matte and glossy fine art paper, so the printer’s inks should be well-suited for both types of media. My portfolio is largely in black and white, so dedicated grey inks and generally good results in black and white are paramount.
After reading a bit online it became clear that the two printers that would fulfill those needs are the Canon PRO-1000 and the Epson SC-P800. The Epson SC-P5000 would fit the bill as well, but is pricier than the other two and its design for daily heavy use in a professional environment would be overkill for me.
The SC-P800 and the PRO-1000 are quite similar, but a closer look at reviews and into printing forums revealed a few key differences that seemed relevant to me:
- The SC-P800 supports roll paper (via an adapter that needs to be bought separately) and prints with a length of one meter and more (with reduced quality). The PRO-1000 only supports sheets with a maximum length of 64 cm.
- The PRO-1000 has separate tubes and nozzles for matte and glossy black in, while the SC-P800 uses the same tubes and nozzles for matte and glossy black ink. Switching between the two types of black ink on the P800 costs time and wastes precious ink. This also enables the PRO-1000 to use a mix of matte and glossy black ink on certain paper types to achieve optimal results.
- The PRO-1000’s paper feeding mechanics seems to be more reliable and gets better reviews.
- The PRO-1000 has a self-calibration feature that can help to keep the print quality stable over a longer period of time.
- The PRO-1000 executes more automatic nozzle cleaning cycles, which is an advantage if the printer is not used regularly but also wastes ink. The P-800 seems to use less ink for cleaning but to be more prone to clogging.
- The PRO-1000 has a user replaceable print head, the SC-P800 needs to go to Epson if the print head needs to be replaced.
This is of course not a comprehensive review or comparison of either printer, both of which are available in abundance on the Web. As a starting point for further research I would recommend you the excellent articles and reviews at Northlight Images (PRO-1000, P-800, P-5000).
All in all I concluded that Canon with the PRO-1000 offered a more well-rounded package for my needs. The better handling of matte and glossy black ink was what really tipped the scale towards the PRO-1000, together with the other smaller details mentioned above. The limitation on the print length is quite acceptable to me, since my portfolio has very few panorama shots and for the very few occasions where I may want to print large panoramas I will use a local lab.
Buying the Printer
On recommendation of my friend I made an appointment at LiWiener, a shop in Vienna specialized on photo printing equipment and supplies. They sat down with me for nearly an hour, confirmed many of the points I already had researched, showed me both printers and also offered lots of advice on their paper stock. In the end I left with a PRO-1000, a few packs of Hahnemühle paper (more on that in another article) and an appointment for an online meeting where they’d introduce me to the basic printing process. As a bonus, they would also provide custom ICC profiles for three papers of my choice, created for my individual printer.
If you live in the Vienna area and want to buy a photo printer, I highly recommend LiWiener. They stock not only the printers but also ink and a wide range of paper supplies, offer counsel and guidance and have very competitive prices.
The PRO-1000 weighs more than 30 kilograms and setting it up requires two pair of hands. Apart from that the setup and installation of the ink tanks is easy and the printer guides you through the process via its built-in LCD screen.
One notable finding in the setup was that while the printer comes with full 80ml ink tanks, 30-40% of that ink is required for the initial filling of the tubes that go from the tanks to the print head. These tubes will always stay full, that ink is thus “lost”. Still, what remains in the ink tanks will most likely carry you through your first few months of printing.
After getting the printer, the first weekend was spent making space for it in my tiny 11 sqm study, which was already full to its limit with (used) desk space and shelves with books and magazines. The printer itself is about 72 cm wide and 43 cm deep. With the paper feeding and output trays that depth extends to more than 110 cm. However, if you place the printer well on your desk, you can also use the space in front and on the back for other purposes, as you can see in the pictures below. Placing the printer sideways also has the advantage of easy access to the manual tray and the maintenance tank. The latter collects the ink that is spend on cleaning cycles or the overspray when printing borderless.
Now, this is the point where the fun starts and I will follow-up with articles on my experiences with the PRO-1000, the printing workflow in general and concrete printing projects. What I can say already is that my expectations on owning a printer were fully fulfilled - it adds a satisfying element to my photography that neither presentation on the web nor printing in a lab could provide.
If you have any questions on the Canon PRO-1000 please feel free to contact me.
All the best, Robert