Buyer's Guide 2009: Fine-Art Printers

Inkjet printers have been outstanding for years now, but the latest generation really advances the state of the art. As camera resolution has increased to easily support it, the trend is toward making larger, 13×19-inch printers the best printers possible for photographers. The 13×19-inch print is big enough to display beautifully when framed and hung on a wall, yet not so big that a few quickly fill up all of your wall space.

The biggest problem is which printer to buy. I have bad news. Searching for the “best” printer will drive you crazy. I’ve printed with most of the 13×19-inch printers available today, and I can tell you that they all give great results. I have no qualifications about saying that all of these printers are capable of wonderful prints for photographers.

Ink Colors

Today’s photo ink sets have come a long way from the four-color systems designed for office printing. Using eight inks or more is the norm, and the advantages of these additional inks for photographers are the expanded range and subtlety of color that can be rendered, and the smoother transitions between colors and tones. Ink sets with multiple black or neutral inks have a similar benefit for black-and-white printing.

Another factor that affects the color of a print is the type of ink used: pigment or dye-based. Dye-based inks tend to produce deeper, richer blacks and vibrant colors, but don’t have the longevity of pigment-based inks. To compensate for the generally flatter look of pigment inks, manufacturers are adding glossiness to the ink to help it “pop.” Of course, the paper you choose also plays a role.

Dye-based printers are generally less expensive than pigment printers. Still, even with ongoing improvements, dye-based inks still don’t have the life of pigment-based inks, one reason many pros use pigment-ink printers. Check the latest information about print longevity of any ink and paper type from the Wilhelm Imaging Research site, www.wilhelm-research.com.

Speed

A note about printer speeds. Each printer manufacturer has its own way of talking about print speeds. Some manufacturers quote the fastest speed possible, while others note the speed to make a top-quality photograph, which always takes longer. Speed shouldn’t be your primary consideration. All of these printers are much faster than getting a print from a traditional darkroom, and quality is worth waiting for.

The Canon PIXMA Pro9000 is a very fast printer that uses ChromaLife 100 inks, a set of eight lively, dye-based inks. The printer is known for its vibrant, high-gloss prints. Canon lists the speed for a photo-quality, 11×14-inch print at one minute, 23 seconds. There are two print feeding slots to allow for different sizes and types of papers. List Price: $499.

The Canon PIXMA Pro9500 is Canon’s pigment-based 13×19-inch printer. It uses 10 Lucia inks, including a full set of blacks and gray for black-and-white printing. Two print feeding slots allow for different sizes and types of papers, including a front feeder for heavyweight paper. Canon lists the speed for a photo-quality, 11×14-inch print at approximately four minutes. List Price: $849.

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