For years I’ve had an Epson R800 A4 printer in my office. This 8-ink pigment printer has been great at producing high-quality images (with a few limitations). I’ve printed a few 20cm-high panoramas using the roll paper attachment, and occasionally printed batches of DVDs and CDs with a logo template for use in delivering files to customers, but most of its work was in printing photos on A4 paper. Using my i1 Pro spectrophotometer I’ve generated custom profiles for a variety of papers.
Its lack of a grey ink (it has matte black and photo black inks, along with cyan, magenta, yellow, red, blue, and gloss-optimiser) has meant it’s not great at monochrome prints (although at one stage I loaded it up with 8 shades of black PiezoTone ink for printing monochrome with QTR, with great results). But even so, for general-purpose photo printing it’s been great. Prints from my R800 have been sold mounted and framed, and have even won prizes in international photography awards.
For images larger than could fit on A4 paper I usually print the images on larger printers such as at ImageScience, but over the last few years most of my images have been delivered in digital form and this has only occasionally been necessary. Being able to produce a quality result in-house on short notice is wonderful. I’ve occasionally considered getting a bigger (A3+) printer, but that’s a big investment in both money and physical space. If I constantly produced prints larger than A4 it could be worthwhile though.
Time for a new printer?
Around the office we also have other printers for general printing, but the R800 was always the “photo” printer. But for most of 2011 the R800 sat idle. The cumulative months I spent abroad in South America, Antarctica, Norway, and east Africa with LuminOdyssey Photo Expeditions probably didn’t help with that! Anyway, in late October I cleaned up the printer (surprisingly the nozzles came clear after just one cleaning cycle) and started printing again. I’d upgraded my profiling software to X-Rite‘s new i1Profiler, and used the printer to bed down the new profiling workflow.
In November I offered to print some custom CDs for a client, but then when I tried to do it I ran into all sorts of errors. I followed the usual procedures, but the printer always reported a mis-feed. It turns out the last time I printed CDs with the R800 was at least one OS version ago: I don’t know if it’s a hardware issue (I don’t think so) or a software one. So I decided to finally look into the options for a different printer that could print CD/DVDs as well as generally replace the R800. I was aware that the R800’s life was limited, as Epson’s support for older printers under OS X Lion has been slow to arrive (unless we use the Gimp-print drivers, which is possible but different). I’m still running Snow Leopard, but the day will come…
I couldn’t find any appropriate models in Epson’s range unless I stepped up to much larger printers, and I’d heard good things about Canon’s Pixma printers (and had got decent results with some that I’d profiled for customers). So I looked into Canon’s range and drew up a list of the likely models and their features. I also compared this list to the models available at several nearby stores. At this point the printed CDs needed to be delivered to the customer in just over a day!
Canon PIXMA MG6150
I settled on the Pixma MG6150. This is a “multi-function” unit (it also includes a scanner) which I can connect directly to the LAN (even via WiFi) and can print on A4/Letter paper. It has a paper tray at the bottom of the front that I’ve loaded up with plain A4 paper, and it has a pop-up/pull-out tray at the rear for feeding photo paper. The paper-out tray pops down from the front (I can have the printer trays all closed up and dust-proof, and it automatically opens the output tray as needed). CDs are put onto a special tray and fed into the appropriate slot in the front of the printer. A fold-up LCD panel on the top guides you through any special procedures such as feeding the CD tray, changing inks, etc. The printer has card slots hidden under a panel so you can print directly from camera flash cards, but I can’t imagine myself using that. When printing on plain paper the printer can print on both sides of the page (duplex).
The MG6150 has six ink cartridges. There’s a pigment black for “document” printing, and the rest are dyes: photo black, cyan, magenta, yellow, and grey. The colour gamut of the printer is roughly similar to that of the R800 (I can see this by comparing my custom profiles in software: the R800 can produce some slightly-more-saturated reds and greens than the MG6150, but these are outside the range of AdobeRGB, and not enough for me to worry about) but the addition of grey holds great promise for monochrome prints. Purchasing cartridges through online stores such as Inkjet Online (they’ve been good for me so far) costs about $18/cartridge.
I ended up walking to a nearby computer store and buying an MG6150 for AU$169. After I had installed the printer and started using it (via a UTP cable: I didn’t bother with USB or WiFi) I remembered that my friend Martin Bailey had published a podcast episode some months ago about his choice of a small printer, so I went back and dug up the article. It turns out he chose the Canon MG6120, which seems to be the equivalent US/JP model to the MG6150. Maybe great minds do think alike! Martin printed some photos on this printer using the default configuration and decided the colour was “pretty good” (although not on par with the results from his large-format printer with custom profiles). I’ve gone a little bit further, and using custom profiles I’ve decided that the MG6150 can produce great quality.
I still have stocks of a variety of papers, and decided to see how they would perform on the MG6150. The list includes:
- Epson Premium Semi-Gloss
- Epson Dual-Sided Matte
- Epson Photo Quality Inkjet Paper
- Hahnemuhle FineArt Pearl
- Hahnemuhle Photo Rag
- Ilford Smooth Pearl
After checking that these papers were appropriate for use with dye inks, I experimented to find the appropriate media type (eg. for the Ilford Smooth Pearl I tell the driver that it’s printing on Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy II) and then generated custom profiles for each. Within the limits of each paper, the results across the board have been outstanding.
With the Epson papers I’m unlikely to buy more once I run my stocks out, so I just spent one sheet to determine the best media type, two sheets on generating profile targets, and another sheet or two on test images. The prints look good, although I can see tiny issues in some of my tests. I think most people wouldn’t notice or care about those issues, but on the papers I’m likely to keep using on an ongoing basis I’ve generated further targets to refine the profiles. Now even I’m pleased with the results.
By the way, the Epson Photo Quality Inkjet Paper is not a paper I recommend for final prints (it doesn’t have a high Dmax for deep blacks and is a very lightweight paper). But using the right profile and Perceptual rendering, the images are great for drafts and layouts. And it’s cheap ($0.60/sheet?).
The canned profile that Ilford provides for this printer with their Smooth Pearl paper performs very well. Folks not able or wanting to generate custom profiles might be happy with the results from the MG6150 with Ilford’s free profile.
Unless I print with the borderless option (which is no use if you want to mount/frame the images, as you need a border to tuck behind the mount) I’m limited to producing images on A4 of maximum 204mm x 291mm (the printer has about a 3mm border on each side). That’s about 8″ x 11.45″. I’ve always found it frustrating that I couldn’t produce 8×12 prints in-house. But I’ve now got a solution to that too (I could have done this with the R800, I just never got around to it).
The printer will handle US Letter paper, which is 8.5″ x 11″. In fact in the OS X printer interface you can easily specify custom page sizes. 8.5″ is the widest the printer will accept, so I now have some A3+ (“Super B”) papers which I cut down to suit. A3+ is 13″ x 19″, so I cut an 8.5″ x 13″ piece off each side of the sheet (leaving just a small waste strip in the middle). In metric terms these new sheets are 216mm x 329mm. Fed via the rear tray, the MG6150 is perfectly happy printing on these, and 8×12″ images fit nicely.
So far I’ve done this with a box of Ilford Smooth Pearl A3+. At the shop where I’ve bought the last few boxes of paper, 25 sheets of A4 cost AU$27 ($1.08/sheet) while 25 sheets of A3+ cost AU$61 ($1.22 per 8.5×13″ sheet). So the cost differential is slight. I still print on A4 for most things, but keep a pile of 8.5×13 sheets pre-cut. I haven’t cut the entire A3+ box this way, as there are also some other sizes I can use in the printer. The cost will vary by paper. For example locally Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308gsm will cost $1.86/A4, but $2.82/8.5×13.
On OS X after you define a custom page size in any application that’s using the standard OS printer dialog, that page size is available to all applications on that machine. This includes Lightroom, which is then happy to lay out prints across that page size. Incidentally, Lightroom’s Print module is useful when examining any existing page definitions for your printer, as it shows you the available borders in its Layout panel without the need to get technical and look “inside” the printer configuration files.
Note that you need a good paper cutter to produce clean and rectangular sheets. I visited my local office supplies store and bought an A3 rotary paper trimmer. It cost about the same as one box of paper. It can cut widths of up to 18″ (which admittedly does limit the size of any panoramic sheets I cut).
Speaking of panoramic sheets, I can trim an inch off the end of the A3+ sheets to get paper that’s 457mm long. I have to cut that inch off so that when I turn the sheet around it will fit into the cutter I use. I then cut that into two strips: one 8.5″(216mm) wide, and the remnant 113mm wide. Or I can cut it in half, for two pieces 164.5mm wide. I could also cut A3 sheets in two to get 148.5mm x 420mm sheets.
The others are 18″ long.
- 113mm x 457mm (4.45″ x 18″)
- 164.5mm x 457mm (6.48″ x 18″)
- 216mm x 457mm (8.5″ x 18″)
- 148.5mm x 420mm (5.85″ x 16.5″)
I usually cut several sheets together (using some cardboard templates I cut to make it easy to get the right sizes every time). I can’t pretend that I’m cutting accurately to within 0.1mm, but it’s close enough.
The 18″-long sheets sit nicely in the MG6150’s rear tray, and if you flip open the extra support on the output tray the printed sheets are in no danger of dropping onto the floor.
So for $169 I got a great printer that I can print to from anywhere on my LAN. It includes a decent quality flat-bed scanner, produces fast and high-quality “office” printing, prints on CDs and DVDs, and produces great quality photo prints (including 8×12″ photos and 45cm-long panoramas). It sits neatly on the shelving beside my desk, where I can easily reach it without taking up a lot of space.
Once the current batch of inks for my R800 runs out I will probably get rid of it, although it might get further use with QTR. But on the other hand, the MG6150 can do quite respectable monochrome prints, and it will probably be worth more to me to reclaim the shelf space used by the R800. One only needs so many printers in the house, and I’m currently not doing that much pure B&W printing.
The Canon 9ml ink cartridges are the things that will add to the cost of the printer over time, but unless you’re continually churning out pages and pages of photos I don’t think this will be an issue: the ink consumption doesn’t seem to be unreasonable. Incidentally, the low-ink warning on the printer is conservative: there’s usually a lot (many more pages worth) of ink left in the cartridges at that point. The printer does tell you when it really needs replacing.
I’m very happy with my purchase!
By the way the CDs printed great the first time, and the customer was happy too!
The MG6150 has apparently now been superceded by the MG6250 which has a larger LCD for image previews (when printing from cards) and includes AirPrint support for wireless printing directly from iOS devices. But it does cost more, and those are features I don’t need (we already have an AirPrint server on our LAN, but it rarely gets used). New printer models will continue to be introduced, but hopefully there will always be reasonably-priced models which can produce great photo prints.