Canon has taken a great leap forward creating a whole new generation of their aqueous pritners that have some exceptional features. Now that the Canon Pro-4000 has just started shipping, I thought I’d highlight a few features that I found significant.
Roll Feed Unit and Paper Handling
The optional roll feed unit can be used as a take up real as we’ve seen in printers before. But this roll feed unit can also act as a second roll feeder with it’s own unique paper path to the printing area. With this unit we essentially have double roll support that allows users to keep two different rolls installed simultaneously. What’s even more surprising is that the printer can quickly switch between these rolls automatically without user intervention. The leading edge of one roll is kept at the printing area while the leading edge of the unused roll is kept a few inches back in a holding area, ready for use. When a roll is loaded you specify which media it is and the printer keeps track. When you want to print, just select the media in the driver accordingly and the printer knows which roll to print to. Select ‘Luster’ as your media in the driver and it prints to the luster roll, or select ‘Matte’ as your media in the driver and it prints to the matte roll – there’s no need to specify roll 1 or 2. Since Canon printers don’t have the awkward photo and matte black ink switching that Epsons surprisingly still have, this means you can make prints to a matte roll, prints to the luster roll and back to matte extremely quickly without any user intervention (paper loading) at all.
The Pro-4000 has a similar cut sheet loading process that the previous Canon iPF printers had, along with the same curved paper path. While this makes the use of rigid materials impossible, I’ve been able to use large sheets of heavy papers without a problem.
Touch screen color display
Gone are the days of the dinky little screen with dedicated buttons around it. This printer has a phone sized, touch sensitive color screen with beautiful graphics and illustrations. There is also a long skinny light above it that changes color indicating the printers status. This light is white when printing normally and turns red when the printer needs attentio which you can easily see this from across a large room.
While Canon’s previous 44” printer was 74.5 wide, and Epson’s 44” printers are 74” wide, the Pro-4000 is surprisingly compact with a width of just less than 63 inches wide – almost a full foot narrower. This is due in part to a clever layout and in part to it’s new simplified, single print head design and smaller carriage.
Single Print head
The new PF-10 print head has 1.28 inch wide nozzle strips for all 12 inks. The PF-10 is expected to last longer than previous print heads and despite being larger, is far more affordable (MSRP$675 – estimated street price US$525) than two of the previous heads ($1200). The threat of failing print heads has always loomed over Canon printer users so the lower costs and expected increase in longevity are welcome changes.
Today’s wifi networks are super fast and the large format Pro-x000 pritners include built in wifi network connectivity. USB and ethernet ports are also available. An extra USB port in the front allows you to print from a USB memory stick and printing from a tablet or phone is supported over wifi.
Large format printers have always had flimsy baskets with limited functionality but the basket on the Pro-4000 supports 7 positions including several at paper feed height. I like the positions that function not as a basket but as a ramp to gently guide prints to a work table.
Spindles and core adapters
Canon has always had funny, unintuitive 3” core adapters for it’s spindles that were difficult to get on or off. The new spindles and adapters are smart and easy to use, and the locking mechanism now works perfectly.
The print quality has been is improved. While some of these improvements can be quantified, many of them cannot. The chroma optimizer, dense screening and thinner pigment encapsulation produce a number of visual improvements that are difficult to describe. The sheen on glossy papers, appearance at a variety of angles and under different lights, appearance of depth and saturation are all improved in ways that one needs to see for themselves to fully understand. A few points that I find meaningful:
To the naked eye, prints with any content now appear completely continuous tone without a visible printer dot. When viewed under a loupe, the screening is considerably smoother with a lot more dots that are placed closer to each other, blending with others. I’ve long felt that the appearance of a subtle ‘grainy’ printer dot was a weakness to the Canon brand but that has been eliminated.
When the color gamut and Dmax values are compared to the previous printers in applications like Colorthink the results are very similar to the previous generation printers. The gamut is a little smaller in the greens but larger in some other areas. Visually however, prints of the same image appear to have richer blacks, more shadow detail, a little more color saturation overall. For the first time in my career I feel like color gamut rendering comparisons don’t tell the full, objective story like they used to.
Prints on non-matte papers have a more consistent, more desirable sheen on them thanks to the new clear Chroma Optimizer. Less gloss differential translates into better looking prints with less of that ‘inkjet’ look to them. As with the previous Canon inkset, the new inks are surprisingly durable and resistant to scratching, relative to other brands.
Printer Driver and Photoshop Plug-in
The new printer driver is excellent and incorporates a lot of advanced functionality that iPF users originally only had in the printing plug-in. Options like “No Space on Top and Bottom”, “Print after reception is complete”, near end margin and cut speeds controls are all available in the new driver (note: the x400 printers also had these options in the driver, but previous printers didn’t). The driver now supports custom page sizes to to 65 feet (780 inches) and full 16 bit printing. The driver includes the option to save a image to the hard drive on the printer itself so that additional prints can be made from the printer without the aid of a workstation. My favorite feature in the plug-in was the print visualization that illustrated the roll of paper and how your image would be positioned on it. The new driver’s ‘Print Preview’ function, allows for the same visualization with the addition of visualizing the paper cut positioning. The driver now supports ICC profile target printing from the Adobe Color Printing Utility on both macOS and Windows, which will be the preferred method for Canon printers moving forward as it is with Epson printers. Savvy macOS iPF users will note that the ‘special casing’ that caused so many users to apply Doyle’s XML hack is no longer needed with this new driver.
While macOS users will enjoy an entirely new, written from the ground up driver, Windows users have two drivers to choose from corresponding with Microsoft’s transition from the GDI to XPS printing architectures. The Windows GDI driver is feature complete but lacks support for 16 printing (a GDI limitation). The newer modern XPS driver supports 16 bit printing but lacks some of the smaller functionality of the GDI driver (like Free Layout). Thus are the tradeoffs to deal with while developing driver for Windows during this transition.
Fifteen years ago the driver APIs were so primitive that printer manufacturers were limited with what features they could implement. When Canon created the PS plug-in, they overcame these limitations and were the first to introduce 16 bit image delivery to a printer, with up-sampling and sharpening controls, long print lengths, and lots of additional printer controls that the printer driver APIs couldn’t handle at the time.
Canon has been able to incorporate this advanced functionality in this new generation of printer drivers and has decided to retire the Photoshop printing plug-in. Killing the plug-in was a controversial decision that users will undoubtedly complain loudly about, but I support their decision. The new driver is fantastic and solid, and there’s value to a consistent interface to use with any application. There’s nothing from the old plug-in that I’m missing in my own workflow today with this new driver. Essentially, everything we used to rely on the Photoshop Print Plug-in to do, we can now do with the driver. The driver is the future, its great and I’ll encourage my clients to embrace it.
Print Studio Pro
Canon’s Print Studio Pro is promoted as a replacement for the older printing plug-in. I think this is a bad analogy in part because the old Plug-in communicated directly to the printer without the driver and it’s limitations. Print Studio Pro prints through the driver and honestly, I struggle to see where PSP could fit elegantly into my client’s workflows. PSP offers some novel color adjustments, limited layout capabilities and gives Photoshop users a way of printing multiple images simultaneously. Despite this, the interface is clunky and I fail to see this being the right fit for today’s professionals. Those that need to manage, layout and print lots of images simultaneously have already migrated away from Photoshop and towards apps like Lightroom, Capture One, ImageNest, Qimage and various RIPs. Looking at the bigger picture, I think it’s important to find the best app for your workflow and printing from that app (and probably through the driver) makes sense.
Canon printers have always utilized a rotary blade, and in recent models, a dual rotary blade where two opposing disks rotate at the cut point. The new Pro-x000 printers have a separate carriage mechanism just for the cutter which is strong and capable of printing the thickest canvas and cotton papers papers. This keeps cutting dust away from the print heads, places the cut closer to the paper exit point, and separates cutting resistance from the print head carriage where extreme head placement accuracy is so critical.
With 3 separate processors and 3 gigs of RAM, these new printers have a lot of processing power that comes in handy for all sorts of things. Lots of the rendering that was previously being done on your computer at the driver level is now being done on the fly on the printer which speeds up spooling times. Postscript, JPEG and other file formats are natively supported on the printer now which in part, allows people to print straight from phones, tablet, or a USB flash drive. Full 16 bit image processing ensures the smoothest possible tonality and color transitions. This processing power and RAM also allows Canon the potential to roll out substantial changes/updates/capabilities to the printer via firmware now and into the future.
Several years ago Canon’s facilities suffered damage from a tsunami which forced them to shift manufacturing temporarily to partners in China. This caused reliability issues especially with print heads (a particularly challenging part to manufacture with extreme precision and consistency). Canon has built new, state-of-the-art facilities in Japan and Thailand that are fully operational now. Inks and print heads are manufactured in Japan while the rest of the hardware comes out of Thailand. Because of this and improved designs, materials and manufacturing processes, reliability is expected to be higher than what we’ve seen in the past.
Like every printer on the planet, there are little things that can delight or annoy. The Pro-4000 takes 32 seconds to wake up, which can feel like a long time when you’re excited to print. After completing printing to a cut sheet, the printer forces you to wait 36+ seconds before it releases the print. After completing printing to a cut sheet, the printer cuts immediately but forces you to wait 36+ seconds before it is ready to print again. The new MCT tool only updates the media on the printer itself, requiring a second step using another app to pull the updates from the printer to the driver.
While the chroma optimizer reduces gloss differential on ~98% of images, it can actually cause problems on a small percentage of images with pure whites. The Chroma optimizer currently places itself over inked areas but not on un-inked image areas. So if an image has areas that are pure white there is some unwanted gloss differential. In this situation one can choose to use the “Overall” setting that applies the gloss optimizer everywhere on the page within the margins. One can also create a custom media type that excludes the use of chroma optimizer altogether. I find these workarounds a little clunky and hope they implement the ability or set the optimizer to the entire image area, or turn it off in a future version of the driver.
The more I use this printer the more I like it. The hardware and software represent a whole new generation of technology from Canon and the results look and feel impressive. A Canon 8400 looks and feels 10 years old next to this printer. I’m impressed that Canon has been able to leap forward so far with this generation and overcome limitations that have lingered for years. I’m in awe of the paper handling and ability to seamlessly switch between rolls without user intervention. The speed and print quality are fantastic and I’m seeing more shadow detail on baryta papers than I’ve seen from any printer in the past. This printer is quiet, fast, compact and smart.
Update – January 2017
The more I use this printer the more I struggle with gloss differential. Despite the fact that chroma optimizer is advertised as helping reduce gloss differential, I’m finding it often does the opposite on all photo black papers except a full glossy. Let me be clear, there is no gloss differential on matte papers nor on full glossy papers like Canon’s Pro Platinum Paper. But on everything in between, like Luster, Satin and Pearl surfaces, I’m seeing substantial amounts of gloss differential on prints containing highlights and/or paper white areas. Even if we use the workaround to turn off the CO altogether we still see the same amount of gloss differential because the inks themselves have a glossy appearance, plus significant saturation loss. Wither the CO is used or not, most have a significant amount of gloss differential and, I have to say, a little bit of bronzing (this is best seen with B&W images). I’m afraid Canon may have gone from having the best inkset on the market to, in some ways, the worst – at least if you using papers like Luster, Satin and Pearl. This is bad news for people that love fiber base papers like Hahnumuhle Photo Rag Pearl, Epson Exhibiton Fiber, Museo Silver rag, and Canon’s Premium Polished Rag. If you prefer these papers I’d suggest using an older Canon iPF printer or Epson’s latest printers. Here are a few quick photos showing gloss differential on Canon’s Pro Luster paper:
You can see that the chroma optimizer “Overall” option reduces gloss differential but doesn’t eliminate it altogether. I consider this option unacceptable for several reasons. This option puts CO everywhere within the margins, so when printing a portfolio there is tons of CO usage and gloss differential towards the edges. We really need an “Image Area” option that puts CO throughout the image area and no where else on the page. With such an option we could print portfolios with a small image on a large sheet for example.
This printer has a problem loading rolls of thick, stiff papers, especially from the 2nd roll unit. Papers like Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl and Epson Hot Press don’t load well or won’t load at all in roll mode. They do load fine as cut sheets.
I have yet to test the Ethernet connection but I’ll suggest people try to use it when possible as sending large print jobs over USB 2 is incredibly slow and the printer doesn’t start printing immediately as we have seen with other printers. I wish they had implemented a USB 3.1 connection for the USB port.
Canon’s 10+ year sheet loading prices, complete with its orange lines and triangle platen cutouts is more frustrating then ever with the new door that doesn’t open as far. With the Pro-4000 we see shadows along the top orange line making it hard to align the sheet. I’ve installed a strip of LEDs in my printer which helps tremendously.
After 6+ months of usage, print speeds, reliability and ink usage are all fantastic and impressive. I think this is a great printer for those printing on relatively average thickness glossy and matte papers, but not as much for those printing on thick, stiff, fine art papers. And the lack of a straight through paper path eliminates to possibility of using rigid media like Breathing Color’s new Aqueous Allure metal material. This is a fantastic ‘photo’ printer, but doesn’t quite have the versatility needed to be a great ‘fine art’ printer.