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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Printers For Big Landscapes

An Ansel Adams-esque landscape is up to being displayed big. We’ll show you the best of the best in inkjet printers and explain the technology of printing.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Epson Stylus Pro 4900
Higher Image Quality And Longevity
Image quality and print longevity are two major benefits that you can immediately see and understand, and may be willing to pay for. The fact is that most prints made in pro labs are printed on silver-halide photo papers, which have a lower color gamut and potential display life (rated at less than 60 years) than prints made using the latest 24-inch, pigmented inkjet models on premium photo paper (rated at 100 to 200 years). Pro-lab pigment prints are usually sold at a much higher price. Compared to first-generation, pigment-based, large-format printers, image quality also has improved dramatically. Gone are most of the bronzing effects that plagued earlier pigment printers, and gloss differential has been decreased significantly—especially on popular luster-surface papers. There still are measurable and visible image-quality variations between the popular large-format models from Canon, Epson and HP, but it’s getting harder for clients to tell the difference between prints made on premium-coated photo papers from any of the manufacturers. It’s another story for prints made on fine-art watercolor papers, canvas and other specialty medias.

Not All Colored Inks Are Created Equal
People often link the number of colored inks a printer uses to the potential image quality of the prints it makes. However, more color cartridges don’t always add up to higher image quality. The printhead technology, size and shape of the ink dots, algorithms used to convert ink dots into colors and details, and the type of print media all contribute to image quality. The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6300, for example, contains 12 inks, but only uses up to 11 colors when printing an image (the 12th ink is either the Matte Black or Photo Black, depending on the loaded media). On Canon’s Premium RC Photo Luster Paper, those 11 inks actually produce a tested color gamut with a slightly larger volume than the gamut of the nine-ink Epson Stylus Pro 7890 (which uses up to eight colors for similar reasons) on its own Premium RC Luster Photo Paper. However, it doesn’t mean that Canon prints are more colorful than prints from the Epson Stylus Pro 7890. While both have similar maximum black densities, the Canon’s higher color-gamut volume stems primarily from a greater capacity to produce highly saturated dark purple and dark indigo colors, and not from more common red, green, yellow and blue shades.

Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II
So you might not notice a color difference in most prints, but you may notice finer gradations in highly saturated reds and other colors on the Epson prints as well as a lower gloss differential in highlight regions. Those are two subtle advantages, but more extreme differences may jump out when each of these printers is loaded with third-party fine-art watercolor papers. The bottom line is that print quality can’t be judged merely by reading the specs or counting color cartridges. If possible, study sample output from each model or find pro labs with these printers (or larger 36-inch and 44-inch versions with similar technology specs and inks) and make your own comparison prints. Depending upon where you go, you can make a sample print in the store to evaluate.

Expanding Creative Options
Nearly all offer advanced printer driver software for color and black-and-white printing, setup wizards for establishing network connections, and job-tracking utilities for monitoring ink usage in multiple jobs. Because these are pro-level printers, you can expect higher levels of tech support from the manufacturer, longer warranties, commercial-grade construction and a lot more help from experienced users in online forums. All of these features and advantages add up to increased reliability and consistency between prints, with increased control over the size, quality and creative options for displaying your best work. As a bonus, the long-term savings you get from a large-format printer might be enough to cover the initial cost of the printer.


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