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Gadget Bag: Best Printers for Fall

Make sure the season of spectacular colors translates to your prints
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Epson Stylus Pro 3880

As autumn arrives, it’s time to get out and make striking color photos. It’s also a great time to revisit inkjet printers. They have been good for a number of years, but today’s technology is providing printers that can produce spectacular prints that really make those fall reds and yellows pop.

Fall landscape photos look great printed big—assuming they’re sharp and printed well. The “sharp” part is a matter of using a good lens, focusing accurately, employing a solid tripod and having enough megapixels to allow for the desired print size (as a rule of thumb, divide the image’s horizontal width in pixels by 300, and the result is the maximum width, in inches, at which it should produce an excellent print). The “printed well” part is a matter of using a good printer and good paper, and proper technique (technique is fodder for another article). Here’s what you need to know about printers and papers for fall colors.

A major consideration for a landscape printer is a wide color gamut, that is, the printer should be able to deliver a wide range of rich and accurate colors, with smooth transitions from tone to tone. No print can reproduce all possible colors, but a good printer can produce a wide range of them on a good paper. A printer’s color gamut depends largely on its inks, its technology and the paper used. Printer brochures use such terms as “wide color gamut,” “extremely wide gamut” and “widest color gamut,” but none lists a numerical indication of color gamut in the specs, so it’s best to go to a dealer that sells the printers you’re considering and look at sample output (ideally, take one of your files and print it, although this isn’t always possible).

Photo inkjet printers use one of two types of ink: dye-based (with fine colorant particles and additives dissolved in liquid) or pigment-based (with larger colorant particles and additives suspended in liquid). In the early days of inkjet printing, dye-based inks delivered better color, while pigment inks provided longer print life. But inkjet ink technology has come a long way in recent years, and today, both types can provide excellent color and long print life (when used with appropriate compatible papers). Four of the five printers featured here use pigment-based inks.

Early photo inkjet printers used just four inks: the three subtractive primary colors (magenta, cyan and yellow), plus black. Today’s printers use additional inks to provide richer, more accurate colors and smoother transitions. The printers featured here use eight or more inks, including multiple blacks to produce excellent shadow tones and monochrome prints.

Another ink consideration is container size. Printers that use larger cartridges provide the benefit of more prints before you have to change one out, as well as lower cost per print (larger cartridges generally cost less per milliliter than smaller ones).

Another consideration is printing speed. Big prints take some time, and the printing times given in printer specs can be somewhat optimistic. For example, a lower-quality setting results in a much faster printing time (and a lower-quality print), so be sure to check the time for the highest-quality print. And the printing time is generally measured from the time the printer starts to print, not from the moment you click the on-screen “print” button—and with large image files and slower computers, there can be quite a delay between clicking “print” and the printer starting to print. Speed is one factor that manufacturers use to help differentiate products from one another, but it’s debatable how important it is to individual photographers. Do you really care if it takes your print five minutes versus seven and a half minutes? If you produce a lot of prints for sale, this may be a big deal to you, but for most enthusiasts, speed just isn’t a huge factor.

This Article Features Photo Zoom


The Printers
Epson Stylus Pro 3880. The latest version of Epson’s most popular 17-inch inkjet printer, the Stylus Pro 3880 uses Epson’s eight-color UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta pigment inkset in 80ml cartridges: cyan, light cyan, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta, light black, light light black and either photo black or matte black (automatically chosen to suit the paper being used). The lightfastness rating is up to 108 years for color and over 200 years for black-and-white. AccuPhoto HD2 screening technology ensures precision placement of each individual ink droplet and optimal selection of ink combinations to maximize color gamut and provide smooth gradations. The MicroPiezo printhead with Advanced Meniscus Control creates variable-size droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters to deliver excellent detail. Advanced Black-and-White Photo Mode provides control and optimal results for monochrome prints. The Stylus Pro 3880 can do prints on virtually any cut-sheet media from 4×6 to 17×22 inches; manufacturer’s specs say a highest-quality (SuperPhoto 2880 dpi) 16×20-inch print takes a little under 19 minutes. Dimensions are a compact (for a 17-inch printer) 27x15x10 inches and 43.2 pounds; MSRP is $1,295.

Epson Stylus Pro 4900. The Stylus Pro 4900 is a bigger, faster and more versatile 17-inch inkjet printer. It uses Epson’s new 10-color UltraChrome HDR pigment inkset in 200ml cartridges: orange, green, cyan, light cyan, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta, yellow, light black, light light black and photo black or matte black (automatically chosen to suit the paper being used). That inkset gives the Stylus Pro 4900 the widest color gamut available from Epson. The display permanence rating is up to 200 years for color and over 200 years for black-and-white. AccuPhoto HDR screening technology and the MicroPiezo TFP printhead improve image quality and speed print times; manufacturer’s literature says a highest-quality (SuperPhoto 2880 dpi) 16×20-inch print takes a little under 7 minutes. It can print on virtually any media, in roll or cut sheet, from letter size to 17 inches wide. Dimensions are 34x16x30 inches and 115 pounds; MSRP is $2,495.

Epson Stylus Photo R2000. This inkjet printer is a midrange photo printer with a lot of high-end features. The UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment ink set includes eight high-capacity ink cartridges (both photo and matte black, as well as cyan, magenta, yellow, red, orange and a gloss optimizer) designed to improve tonality and boost overall print quality by minimizing surface shine when prints are viewed at an angle. It can handle borderless prints up to 13×19 inches, and it can make an 8×10 in just over a minute. Paper options abound with a straight-path feeder for heavy stock and roll-paper support for panoramas up to 44 inches long. MSRP is $599.

Epson Stylus Photo R3000. This 13-inch printer use nine UltraChrome K3 pigment inks to produce color images with a wide tonal range. Auto-switching between matte and glossy black inks means less waste, lower cost and fewer workflow interruptions for photographers who print on multiple surfaces. Printing can be done up to 13×19 inches in single sheets or 13×44 inches for panoramas with the roll-paper holder. The MicroPiezo printhead produces droplets as small as 2 picoliters for smooth gradations and prints that approximate continuous tones. MSRP is $799.

Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II. Canon’s lowest-cost 13-inch pro printer, the Pro9000 Mark II uses the eight-color ChromaLife100 dye-based inkset (green, red, photo magenta, black, photo cyan, cyan, yellow and magenta) in 13ml cartridges. The lightfastness rating is up to 30 years. FINE (Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering) delivers extremely uniform droplets as small as 2 picoliters from the 6,144-nozzle printhead. The Pro9000 can print on cut-sheet media up to 13×19 inches; manufacturer’s literature says it can print an 11×14 photo on 13×19 paper in one minute, 23 seconds. Dimensions are 26.0×13.9×7.6 inches and 33.9 pounds; the estimated retail price is $499.

Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II. A good step up from the Pro9000 Mark II, the Pro9500 Mark II uses the 10-color Lucia pigment inkset (photo magenta, gray, matte black, photo black, photo cyan, cyan, yellow, magenta, green and red) in 14ml cartridges. The WIR Display Permanence Rating is 100-plus years for color and more for black-and-white. The 7,680-nozzle FINE printhead can deliver droplets as small as 3 picoliters. The Pro9500 Mark II can print on sheet media from 14 inches wide; manufacturer’s literature says it can print an 11×14-inch photo on 13×19 paper in 7 minutes, 55 seconds. Dimensions are 26.0×13.9×7.6 inches and 33.9 pounds (same as the Pro9000 Mark II); estimated retail price is $849.

Canon PIXMA PRO-1.
The newest member of Canon’s trio of pro 13-inch printers is the PIXMA PRO-1, which uses a reformulated 12-color Lucia pigment inkset (adding dark gray and light gray for improved color saturation and deeper blacks, and replacing the green ink with a special Chroma Optimizer) in larger 36ml tanks. A new 12,288-nozzle printhead can deliver droplets as small as 4 picoliters, while OIG (Optimum Image Generating) ink-balancing technology optimizes image quality. The PRO-1 can print on cut media from 4×6 to 14×17 inches; manufacturer’s literature says it can print a 13×19-inch color or black-and-white image in 4 minutes, 20 seconds. ICC profiles are available for Canon papers, as well as for some third-party papers. Dimensions are 27.4×18.2×9.5 inches and 60.9 pounds; estimated retail price is $999.