Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A new photo printer for my office


R800: not the new printer
For years I've had an Epson R800 A4 printer in my office. This 8-ink pigment printer has been great at producing high-quality images (with a few limitations). I've printed a few 20cm-high panoramas using the roll paper attachment, and occasionally printed batches of DVDs and CDs with a logo template for use in delivering files to customers, but most of its work was in printing photos on A4 paper. Using my i1 Pro spectrophotometer I've generated custom profiles for a variety of papers.

Its lack of a grey ink (it has matte black and photo black inks, along with cyan, magenta, yellow, red, blue, and gloss-optimiser) has meant it's not great at monochrome prints (although at one stage I loaded it up with 8 shades of black PiezoTone ink for printing monochrome with QTR, with great results). But even so, for general-purpose photo printing it's been great. Prints from my R800 have been sold mounted and framed, and have even won prizes in international photography awards.

For images larger than could fit on A4 paper I usually print the images on larger printers such as at ImageScience, but over the last few years most of my images have been delivered in digital form and this has only occasionally been necessary. Being able to produce a quality result in-house on short notice is wonderful. I've occasionally considered getting a bigger (A3+) printer, but that's a big investment in both money and physical space. If I constantly produced prints larger than A4 it could be worthwhile though.

Time for a new printer?

Around the office we also have other printers for general printing, but the R800 was always the "photo" printer. But for most of 2011 the R800 sat idle. The cumulative months I spent abroad in South America, Antarctica, Norway, and east Africa with LuminOdyssey Photo Expeditions probably didn't help with that! Anyway, in late October I cleaned up the printer (surprisingly the nozzles came clear after just one cleaning cycle) and started printing again. I'd upgraded my profiling software to X-Rite's new i1Profiler, and used the printer to bed down the new profiling workflow.

In November I offered to print some custom CDs for a client, but then when I tried to do it I ran into all sorts of errors. I followed the usual procedures, but the printer always reported a mis-feed. It turns out the last time I printed CDs with the R800 was at least one OS version ago: I don't know if it's a hardware issue (I don't think so) or a software one. So I decided to finally look into the options for a different printer that could print CD/DVDs as well as generally replace the R800. I was aware that the R800's life was limited, as Epson's support for older printers under OS X Lion has been slow to arrive (unless we use the Gimp-print drivers, which is possible but different). I'm still running Snow Leopard, but the day will come...

I couldn't find any appropriate models in Epson's range unless I stepped up to much larger printers, and I'd heard good things about Canon's Pixma printers (and had got decent results with some that I'd profiled for customers). So I looked into Canon's range and drew up a list of the likely models and their features. I also compared this list to the models available at several nearby stores. At this point the printed CDs needed to be delivered to the customer in just over a day!