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.
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.
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.
The Epson Stylus Photo 1400offers a lot for its low price. It’s a fast printer that uses a set of six lively dye-based inks called Claria Hi-Definition inks. Epson lists the speed for an 8×10-inch borderless print at one minute, 51 seconds. This printer allows you to print directly onto CDs and DVDs. List Price: $299 (often less with rebates).
The Epson Stylus Photo R1900< is a pigment-based printer that provides a liveliness to colors that’s nearly identical to the best of dye-based prints by using what Epson calls Radiance Technology, codeveloped by RIT. It uses a set of eight UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment inks, including the use of orange and red for better renditions of those colors. Epson gives a printing speed of one minute, 32 seconds for an 11×14. List Price: $549 (often less with rebates).
The Epson Stylus Photo R2400 is Epson’s classic pro model, a pigment-based printer using eight UltraChrome K3 inks. It was the first 13×19-inch printer to include three levels of black and truly set a new standard for inkjet black-and-white printing, plus it has a special black-and-white mode unique to Epson. This printer will do borderless printing at all standard sizes, including a panoramic 13×44 inches. Epson says it will print an 11×14 in one minute, 57 seconds. List Price: $799.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2880 is a pigment-based printer that uses UltraChrome K3 inks and includes Epson’s new Vivid Magenta ink set for improved reds, blues and purples. The printer includes the Radiance Technology introduced with the R1900 and the advanced black-and-white mode of the 2400. Epson says it will print an 11×14 in three minutes, 55 seconds. List Price: $799.
The HP Photosmart Pro B885 is a pigment-based printer using eight Vivera inks and four printheads to speed up printing. HP gives a printing speed for a 13×19-inch print at 90 seconds. This printer also has a built-in, four-color sensor to automatically calibrate printer color. HP always has been known for technology, and this printer has an interesting print-management system, Electrostatic Drop Detection, which monitors print nozzles to minimize cleaning cycles. List Price: $549 (often less with rebates).
The HP Photosmart Pro B9180 is a pigment-based printer using eight Vivera inks and four printheads. HP gives its speed at under 90 seconds for a 13×19-inch print. Like the B8850, this printer includes a built-in color sensor for calibration and Electrostatic Drop Detection. A front bypass tray lets you print multiple sizes without changing the paper in the main tray. The B9180 also allows the use of thicker media than the B8850 an
d has an Ethernet port for networking. List Price: $699 (often less with rebates).