Printer Bestiary

Bestiary – "A medieval bookwith allegorical and amusing descriptions of real and fabled animals".


Thought the quibblers might wish it otherwise, the reality is that similarly speced printers from the big three photo inkjet manufactruers, Epson, HP, and Canon, all produce excellent image quality. When properly profiled, it is exceedingly difficult to see any significant difference in gamut, tonality or resolution. Yes, there are differences. The 12 ink printers do display a slightly wider gamut in some colours (though by no means in all) than do the 8 ink printers. This is visible in gamut plots as well as on selected prints. But it would be a mistake to buy any printer simply because one believed that there was a marked superiority in image quality of one over the other.

What Not to Consider

I hear from a lot of people, wondering what printer to buy. They read the manufactuer’s spec sheets and obsess over resolution specs and picoliters per ink drop. As they say in Brooklyn –fugetaboutit! The specs are essentially meaningless in the real world. What it comes down to is – how to the prints appear to the viewer? Now reliable is the printer? How good is the documentation? What do the inks cost? What are the sizes of the ink tanks available? What about paper handling – trays vs. rolls, vs multi sheet feeders? How physically large and heavy is the printer and how weel does it fit within the space available 9not to mention decor, in a home setting). And, of course, what does the printer cost?

I have found that, regardless of manufacturers claims, all contemporary printers are just about equal in terms of visible resolution. Where there are differences is in terms of gamut. But, while this can be seen in gamut plots and when comparing gamut limitiing in Photoshop, on prints in the real world even these difference are only seen "at the margins". In other words, only with certain images, and then not all the time unless one is looking very carefully and doing direct side-by-side comparisons.

These are the questions that need to be addressed when shopping


Keeping Ones Head(s)

With two new players now invloved in the photographic quality pigment ink printer market there are bound to be barrrom brawls about head design technology, not to mention the showing of the seeds of fear and down by competitors about the others products.

There are three different head technologiess available from the big three printer makers. Technobabble aside, what it comes down to is that Epson’s heads are "permanent", and the printers are calibrated at the factory. A head replacement, if and when needed, is done by a repair center.

Both Canon and HP have user replacable heads. In the case of Canon, these are desiged to last for in excess of 10,000 11X17" prints, but cost $600 a piece, effectively adding about 6 cents to the cost of each print – about 10% of the ink cost of a typical print.

HP’s heads are also user replacable, but with a shorter life span – about 2,500 ML of ink, while being guranteed for 1,000 ML. If we call the average 1,500 ML of ink, and average ink usage as .5 ML per 11X17" print, then the heads are good for about 3,000 prints. Heads costs are lower though, at about $60 per head, therefore adding.

The whole thing gets complicatwd by the fact that each of the printers uses multiple heads, but the bottom line is that from a cost perspective, it simply isn’t a big deal to use a printer with multiple interchangable heads.

January, 2007