By Ellis Vener
Should you be making your own prints? I think you should.
Printing your work closes the circle of creation.
Holding a print in your hands and being able to show it to others makes you look at your work in ways that don’t happen when you only look at your work flashing by on a monitor, even the best monitor.
The longer you look at a photo, the more you see, and the more you see into your work, the more you learn about it and the way you see, and that makes you a better photographer. I think you should make your own prints even if you have no intention to sell fine art prints or never plan on entering your work in competitions or exhibits, and even if you already work with a trusted lab. By taking full responsibility for what you create you get a solid psychological boost in confidence, which also helps when selling your services. Finally, a print is the photograph. What you see on a screen is just an ephemeral visual event, evanescent images flickering in and out of consciousness one after the other. And one more thing: prints make wonderful, personal thank you gifts.
Printing used to be difficult, but it isn’t anymore, not really. As the equipment has gotten better, paper manufacturers have stepped up their game as well. It used to be that to get a really good print you needed to learn how to make your own ICC-compliant profiles and that required expensive equipment, complex software, and time invested in overcoming an arcane learning curve. To be honest, making profiles was boring and expensive. But over the past two years companies like Canon and Epson working together with media manufacturers like Legion’s Moab division have made great strides in eliminating the entire profiling workflow. It’s far simpler to consistently making great quality prints than in any other time in the photographic history. The intuitive and elegant interface of the print engine in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 has also helped simplify the printing process.
The Canon Pixma Pro-10 is a great example of the progress in making affordable and easy-to-use desktop printers. The Pro-10 is a 10-ink pigment printer capable of printing on media up to 13x19 inches. It cannot be classified as a machine built for high production environments—the width limit and lack of a roll feed option rule that out—but for small editions of portfolio and fine art work it does a great job. It can even print on optical disks to customize image delivery.
The Pixma Pro-10 uses a 10-color LUCIA pigment ink system and Chroma Optimizer; input resolution is best set to either 300 or 600ppi depending on the size of the print and media surface. On rough-textured canvas media you can get excellent results with even lower input resolution, down to about 200ppi. The ink droplet size is 4 picoliters and the print head is equipped with 7,680 nozzles or 768 per ink. In my experience, because of the inkjet technology and sheer number of nozzles per color Canon printers are less prone to the clogging issues that bedevil competing printers. Like its big sister the Pro-1 and the large-format Canon imagePrograf printers, the Pixma Pro-10 uses Canon Lucia Pigment ink system—cyan, gray, magenta, matte black, photo black, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, yellow, and a Chroma Optimizer—each in individual PGI-72 tanks. It’s no secret that ink isn’t cheap, and with individual replacement ink cartridges costing approximately $15.00 each or about $133.00 for a full 10-ink set, cost is a consideration. As do other Canon printers, however, it sips ink compared to its competitors.
More important than ink cost is quality of color. For a printer in this class and price range, print and color quality is excellent and compares favorably to more expensive printers. This general statement holds true whether the subject is portraiture, landscape, or still life, and whether you are printing in high definition on super glossy media or on lower-resolution matte surfaces. An 8x10-inch image prints in three and a half minutes and a 13x19-inch print takes around six minutes.
The Chroma Optimizer is clear coating that Canon says reduces the difference in ink droplet height to form a flat and smooth ink layer, which is especially important with the glossy print surfaces. You can see this to full effect on metallic papers like the very shiny, high contrast Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 260. That’s not an appropriate paper choice for most portraits, but if you are shooting highly saturated landscape or still life work, the dynamic visual effect achieved with Canon’s Lucia Inks is impressive.
To test the capabilities of the Pixma Pro-10 for color portraits I worked with a set of images shot for a local school’s annual fifth grade dance. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the theme, so the color gamut of the costumes ran from extremely saturated to extremely delicate. I chose this set of images as it represents a full panoply of human skin tones from very dark to very pale along with an equally wide array of hair color. In Lightroom 5.3 I created a custom template for printing nine 4x6-inch images on a single A3 (13 x 19inch) sheet of Moab Lasal Photo Gloss 270, at 600dpi. Rather than use my own custom profile, I first tried Canon’s profile for that paper in the Pixma Pro-10. I used the profile available at http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/standard_display/3rd_party_papers and was quite happy with the results.
The next test was to see how well it did with black-and-white imagery. Getting monochrome prints to look right can be trickier than color because of its visual simplicity. In a neutral black-and-white print you want to see a large and smooth tonal gradient from deep blacks to pure crisp paper white without unexpected color tints or shifts. Here the Pixma Pro-10 did an excellent job of keeping tones neutral from the highlights down into the blacks. Matte-surface papers are generally a better choice with images where the exciting essence of a well-made print is found in the separation down in the dark tones because matte surfaces absorb more light. Canon thinks enough people will be using the Pixma Pro-10 to print black-and-white that they sell a four-ink package containing only matte black, photo black (gloss), gray and Chroma Optimizer.
Beyond print quality the Pixma Pro-10 has a slew of useful features including Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint wireless printing options, and the ability to print directly from PictBridge equipped cameras, or print directly onto printable CD-R/DVD and Blu-Ray disks.
What it doesn’t have: Beyond being limited to the 13-inch media width, there is no roll-feed option and wired connections are limited to USB 2.0 and Ethernet. For photography purposes the auto-load is limited to 20 4x6 sheets, 10 8x10 sheets or a single A3 (13 x 19 inch) sheet. The printer is largish—27.2 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, 8.5 inches tall—and at 43.9 pounds, heavy. You’ll also want to leave a fair amount of room free both behind and in front of the printer. While you could call this a desktop printer, the desk should be pretty sturdy with a fair amount of room around it.
Over the past year my usage pattern with the Pixma Pro-10 has been spasmodic: intense weeks of daily printing sessions separated by long periods of making no prints at all. Except for a color nozzle that clogged due to user error (I had mistakenly left the printer off for three months), which was quickly resolved, I have had no operating issues with it. Two standard cleaning cycles cleared the clog and I was back in business. To prevent this from happening again I simply leave the printer turned on and in standby mode and make a small print once a week. This keeps the nozzles warm and prevents the ink in them from drying out.
All in all I’ve been very happy with the Pixma Pro-10. Though I’d like to be able to larger format prints, the print quality easily lives up to the marketing claims and with the one exception noted above, I’ve had no operating issues. This real-world performance explains why it picked up several awards in 2013, including a Professional Photographer Magazine Hot One for Inkjet Printer between $500 and $1,000.