In the picture above you can see my new toy, a printer! More on printers and the technology later, and I will try to explain it clearly, but first something more philosophical.
Printing your photo's is one of those things that you either see the benefit of, or you question why would we even bother, everything is digital after all! Well, to that last group I would say that actually holding your picture in your hands on high quality paper is not just a great feeling, but it also is a great way of sharing your pictures, or showcasing them. In addition it opens up a whole spectrum of new things you can try, like colours, paper types and sizes, ways of displaying your images. I found that I even started looking through older pictures to see if there were any pictures that I thought of as particularly well suited for printing. So it can be a lot of fun, and it can give your photography a new boost, direction or angle.
The wonderful world of printers
But first things first, how to even start with choosing the right type of printer, and what to look at when buying a printer. For me I decided that I want a larger than a4 printer, and I can tell you, filtering on that characteristic leaves you with a rather limited selection of printers. I eventually compared three printers; the Canon Pixma iP8750, the Canon Pixma Pro 100S and the Canon Pixma Pro-10S. (I can reveal already, that as with many things in my life I went for the expensive option :) )
So what is the difference between printers, after all when printing photo's there is a rather limited set of features that are really important; image quality, image quality and image quality.
Let's start with the basics of printing, you have in general two types of printers; Inktjet and laser. The last category is not interesting for pictures as it cannot achieve the resolution that is needed for photo's since toner (the 'ink' in laser printers) are particles that are deposited on the paper and then 'etched' onto the paper with a laser. Since these particles cannot be applied very precise, and the particles itself have a certain 'coarseness' to them, that category is of no interest for photographers.
What about those INKjets
Alright inktjets, there is a wide variety of printers, from very cheap to very expensive. Relatively speaking the printers mentioned above fall in the latter category. Technically speaking better printers have more resolution (which means that they can produce smaller droplets of ink that are deposited on the paper with greater precision) and in general better colours. The last characteristic is achieved by using more ink colours. For example the 8750 uses 6 cartridges, the pro-100s uses 8 and the pro-10s uses 10 (technically 9, more on that later). Especially the black and grey tone performance differs between the aforementioned printers because of the types of black paint is used. Also the pro-100s has a photo cyan and a photo magenta colour on top of the 8750's 6 colours (that already contains a grey and a photo-black cartridge and CMYK). The pro-10s adds a red and a chroma optimiser ink tank. The chroma optimiser is added because of the three printers, the pro-10s uses a different type of ink then the other two. Still following along?Now I hear you thinking, "my head is exploding!" But bear with me, within the realm of inkjet printers there are some interesting differences. Most 'cheaper' and also some more expensive, of which the pro-100s is an example, use dye based inks. This is basically coloured fluid, and when printed this liquid is absorbed into the paper. The other type is pigment ink, which is used by the pro-10s. This type of ink contains solids that are 'carried' by a liquid. When printed the liquid evaporates, and the solids stay behind. Now for the pro's and cons for one or the other.
Dye inks generally have one big advantage, they provide better more vivid colours due to optical compounds that are added to the ink. In addition they are a bit cheaper. They do however fade quicker when exposed to UV, although modern inks from Canon or Epson can hold out a long time (50 years quoted by canon). Also when the ink is deposited onto the paper the ink tends to be absorbed into the paper a bit and some smearing can occur, which reduces the resolution. However modern papers have ink receiving layers that prevent this from happening, and also improve longevity.
Pigment based inks
Pigment inks are not absorbed into the paper, but sit on top of the paper. this theoretically gives them better resolution. Also due to the solid material of which the pigment is made, they withstand UV light much better, and last 100+ years. They are a little less vivid in terms of colour however. The major difference between pigment and dye's is however the paper that they shine on! And shine has a double meaning here, as pigment inks don't really work well on glossy surfaces. You can imagine that when you start adding small blobs of ink onto of a glossy surface the gloss is reduced. This does not happen with dye based inks, as these are absorbed into the glossy ink receiving layer. Canon has tried to overcome this issue by using a clear coating, the 10th ink tank in the pro-10s. This chroma optimiser is used to "improve the gloss and colour spectrum". Pigment based inks are however much better suited for fine art papers with a matte surface, and for black and white/grey tone printing.
I hope you are still with me! If so, let's have a short look at paper!
Rock, paper, scissors
I just mentioned glossy paper and art paper, so what is that all about? In general paper is divided into roughly three types, glossy (which is exactly that), matt (which is also exactly that) and semi-gloss (or pearl, satin and whatever term paper companies have come up with). The latter sits between glossy and matt, and has some shine to it, but not the real reflection glossy has. But there are a huge amount of paper types that differ in finish, weight, thickness, texture, colour, feel, and there are even paper types with torn edges (deckle edge from Hahnemuhle for instance).
More specifically art paper is also available in all the finishes mentioned above, but is made of 100% cotton and is acid free. This greatly improves the colour and archivability of the paper.
There is no real good or bad and it really comes down to taste and the type of photographs you intent to print. For instance high contrast colourful punchy images tend to 'pop' more on glossy paper. Where more abstract or painterly photo's work better on a matt type of paper.
So, what does this all boil down to for me?
I chose to buy the Canon pro-10s for the archivable abilities of the pigment inks, but even more because of the way pigment inks work with matt paper and the better compatibility with art paper which I wanted to use. Now I hear you think: "Stefan, you silly bastard, most of your images on this website are more suitable for glossy paper I just read! Punchy, contrast, colourful, the stuff that makes you want to print glossy!" To these folks I say: Baryta! "Barywhatnow?"
First I was a bit put off because of the reduced option to use glossy papers with the pro-10s, but I never really liked the high-gloss prints to begin with. So I investigated some more into paper types and learned that in the recent years paper manufacturers have created papers that have a nice shine, but are very good at keeping this shine with pigment based inks. This in combination with the clear coat option the pro-10s gives lead me to buy this printer! In my next post I will go deeper into the process of colour matching, printing, some more on papers and my future plans for printing! Happy shooting! and leave comments below :)
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