In all my years of printing and teaching printing workshops, the single most important thing…
Recently Canon was gracious to send me their new Pixma Pro 1 printer as I’ll be making prints with it at the Canson Infinity booth at Photo Plus Expo in NYC this year. So I figured I’d take the opportunity to review it since I’m often asked for printer recommendations by students. I’m not a “professional” reviewer (nor a technician), so I’ll leave the super technical info to the other review sites. I’m mostly interested in real world use as a fine art photographer and print maker.
I’ve been using Canon printers for quite a while now, starting with the 17” iPF5000 introduced in 2006, Canon’s first pro level large format printer. Since then I’ve used and owned the 24” iPF6100, 44” iPF8100, and recently upgraded to the 44” iPF 8400. I’ve used them to make all of my fine art prints, from small to very large, paper and canvas. I recently used the iPF8100 to produce the entire Scenic Hudson exhibition of over 40 large prints. So it goes without saying I really like Canon printers.
The Pro 1 is an A3+ sized printer, meaning it can accept papers as wide as 13”. Street price is $999 at B&H Photo and there are currently some rebates for it as well. For a 13” printer it has a pretty large footprint (27”x18”), and weighs a hefty 60 lbs. so you’ll need some considerable room for it with the front and rear paper trays extended. Setup was straight forward and I had it up and running in less than an hour.
One nice feature is that the ink cartridges will only engage completely in the proper slot for that ink. With 12 cartridges, there’s no way you’ll make a mistake and install a color in the wrong spot – something that was on my mind during the setup. Once the inks were in, I then installed the single print head, at which point the printer went through what seemed like a long calibration process. Eventually it stopped, and I figured it was ready to go.
The Pixma Pro 1 uses Canon’s Lucia Inks, a total of 12 ink cartridges including 5 gray inks and a special Chroma Optimizer. The Lucia inks are the same as used in the higher end ProGraf printers I already have, and have excellent print permanence ratings on archival papers. (Based on testing by Wilhelm Research)
The use of 5 gray inks means black and white prints look really great, and Canon says they even help with color prints, especially in the shadows. One thing I have always liked about Canon printers is that there is no ink swapping when switching from the mat black ink to the photo black ink (which happens when using mat or gloss papers.) This saves time and ink waste, and speeds things up when switching between paper types.
The Chroma Optimizer cartridge is a special coating that helps smooth out any inherent bumps as the ink is laid down on paper. This helps against uneven reflections and claims to enhance deep blacks. To my eye it just makes prints look really smooth and natural. This isn’t something very dramatic, but more of a subtle effect that depends on lighting conditions.
The inks cartridges are 36ml in size, which means you’ll get lots of prints before having to replace them (depending on how much you print of course.)
This is a 2D plot showing the color gamut of the Pro 1 using Canson’s Fibre Platine paper compared to Adobe98, which is a fairly large color space. You can see they are comparable, which means the Pro 1 can print lots of colors. Just another reason to use the largest color space for your Raw files, especially as printer technology continues to improve over time.
Resolution and OIG
The Pro 1 also has what Canon calls a Optimum Image Generating System or OIG. This is a technology that calculates the optimal mix of inks for a given print and paper combination. Again the idea is to make prints that look as true to the original file as possible.
Print resolution is an amazing 4800 x 2400dpi at the highest setting, which means ultra detail from hi frequency images. Landscape images typically benefit from the highest detail settings, and with the right paper, the Pro 1 can produce detail that is beautiful to look at and appreciate.
In addition to the usual USB, the Pro 1 also includes an ethernet connection so it can be accessed over a local network. This is really great if you want to share the printer amongst several computers. I plugged it into my ethernet network and it was easily discovered by my MacPro and MacBook Pro laptop. My wife and son can also print to it from her iMac when printing photos for family or school projects.
The Pro 1 features a rear sheet feeder for most media types and a manual feeder for thicker papers. In general both worked fine for me, though an annoying detail is that a small plastic cover needs to be in the closed position otherwise the printer will not print. This had me scratching my head at first when the printer wouldn’t print. Once I flipped the plastic cover into the closed position, it worked fine.
I didn’t use the rear manual feeder much, but had no problems with the sheet feeder on top. Being able to setup a batch print job out of Lightroom for 10 prints is really great, and coming back to a stack of finished prints without any paper jams is better!
You can also make borderless prints as well, including 13 x 19, but not on matte papers. While this is a cool feature, I always recommend leaving a border on prints for handling and matting/framing purposes.
Software and Operation
The Pro 1 comes with a ton of software which I honestly didn’t install or try. Because I’m mostly interested in making fine art prints, I installed the basic driver and use Lightroom to manage all of my print jobs. The Mac print driver is straight forward, providing options for color prints and a black and white mode. The Windows driver is similar in most respects, so the following applies to both.
While the Canon printer driver has many options for color management, I always let Lightroom (or Photoshop) manage colors so that the ICC profiles are used to create the most accurate color managed workflow. This is the correct way to print on any fine art paper, so I didn’t explore the Canon options in any detail.
Canon provides many ICC profiles for third party papers on their website that you can download for free, and they are quite good. This is separate and apart from the ICC profiles provided by individual paper manufacturers. It’s good to see a manufacturer that doesn’t try to lock you into a particular paper brand.
I tried many of the profiles for Canson papers, specifically Rag Photographique and Baryta Photographique and found them to be very accurate. Having two choices for profiles means you have a higher chance of getting a profile that works great with your printer and avoid having to have custom ones made. I do suggest trying the paper manufacturers profiles first, and my experience with Canson’s profiles is that they were indeed the most accurate for my setup.
Interestingly, when printing to glossy media (this includes luster, baryta, fiber) the driver gives you three options for applying the Chroma Optimizer I mentioned above. This lets you experiment with different images to get the best results. In my experience, the Auto option worked best for most cases. One limitation imposed by the driver is that matte papers are not supported at an 11 x 17 size. To me this is a huge oversight by Canon and given their resources as a company should be fixed asap. There’s no reason for a fine art printer not to be able to print that size on any media. Let’s hope a future firmware update fixes this minor but annoying issue.
Regardless of specs, charts, color plots, and all the rest, the bottom line is “what do the prints look like?” The simple answer to that question is great. I printed a variety of images on the Pro 1 on different Canson Infinity papers. Most striking to me was how similar in appearance the images looked regardless of whether it was matte or glossy. That’s not to say the image characteristics didn’t change, they always do based on the media. What I mean is that colors, tonalities, and overall detail didn’t need to be adjusted differently. The papers added their own characteristics to the images, but overall the results were very consistent.
Black and white prints look outstanding, especially on Baryta Photographique. Deep rich blacks and lots of shadow tonality means I could appreciate the extra detail I enjoy photographing in low light situations. I’m a big fan of letting shadows add mood and character to an image, and the Pro 1 really retained that aspect of all the images well.
One negative is that the margins for matte papers is really big, up to .35mm which is almost 1.4”. That’s quite a margin and when printing on 8.5 x 11 paper means you’ll lose 3” on the long end. This is only for matte papers, so again lets hope Canon improves this in the future with software updates.
Overall customer support is always a consideration when purchasing an expensive and mechanically complex piece of equipment. I’ve written about my experiences with Canon support in the past, and to summarize it’s been among the best I’ve received from any company in the photo industry. Kudos to Canon for taking care of their customers.
I would not hesitate to print my fine art images on the Canon Pro 1 and definitely see using it for much of my smaller prints that I mat to 16 x 20 size. While I use rolls in the larger 8400, I enjoy using cut sheets for smaller prints and the Pro 1 is perfect for that. It’s relatively quiet and fast, and I never had any feed issues or paper jams.
I also love the fact that the Pro 1 has built in support for many third-party papers and makes it really easy to experiment to find the ones that work best for you. As mentioned before, the prints I made on Canson Infinity paper with Canson’s canned profiles looked absolutely great, as good if not better than those from my iPF8400. And to me that’s critical since I want all of my prints to be consistent regardless of the printer I use.[symple_box color=”gray” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”]
- Beautiful print quality on all paper types
- Incredible black and white results, great shadow tonality and depth
- Incredible detail and resolution with the “Fine Detail” setting 4800 x 2400dpi
- High capacity 36ml ink cartridges
- Borderless printing
- Third party paper support
- Ethernet connectivity
- Excellent customer support
- Relatively large footprint and weight
- No support for 11 x 17 matte media
- Large margins on matte papers
No printer is perfect, and there are always tradeoffs from one model or brand to the next . For me it always starts and ends with the print quality. Regardless of the the charts, specs, and technical measurements, the prints either look great or they don’t. And in this case the results are very impressive.
If you have the room for it and are serious about printing, I think the Canon Pro 1 should definitely be considered if you’re looking for a great desktop printer that makes outstanding color and black and white prints.