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Comment choisir son imprimante photo

 

How to choose your photo printer? All my advice to choose your next photo printer...
Published on April 15, 2015 / Updated on November 20, 2018

 

Several criteria should be watched closely when you want to buy a printer of photo quality. I would mainly name the number of cartridges and the ink quality. The number of cartridges will especially play a role in the quality of blacks and whites and the type of ink on the durability of your prints. Let's see that in details now...

 

1 - Ink: quality and number of cartridges

2 - Printing precision: size of the ink drops and dpi

3 - Printing size: paper format

4 - What brand: Epson, Canon,... ?

   
 

 
 

 

 

1 - Ink: quality and number of cartridges

What are the two main differences between an office printer and a photo printer? The ink quality and the number of cartridges!

 




Indeed, there are two technologies to make ink for printers :

1 - coloring agents-based inks
2 - pigment-based inks

The first ones are cheap to make but don't resist well to light. The second ones are made from pigments and are especially resistant to light exposure. Our best masterpieces are printed with these inks, for a lifetime of more than 100 years (keeping their beautiful original colors)!

And on the other hand, photo printers often have more ink cartridges, either to offer a wider gamut, meaning to offer a wider saturated colors pannel hence more relief in the sky and in gradations, and finally, better renderings in black and white. Let's see this in details now...

A - Inks quality: Inks made from coloring agents

These are the inks we use in our office printer or in photo printer under £400. The coloring agents are mixed with water, quite simply. It enables to make especially thin ink drops at the same time (around 1 picoliter), more interesting for finely printing text documents than for printing the finest details of our photos. Indeed, since the droplets are less than 4 picolitres, the printing point is totally invisible.

Assets

  • The ink is cheaper, (although you also overpay for the fact the printer is often cheap.)
  • Drops are especially thin for thin printing of text (as thin as with laser for the two models I tested: Canon TS8050 and Epson XP-760).
  • It is already possible to make good prints at a reasonable cost.
  • Glossy papers are brighter than pigmented inks - Very beautiful!

Drawbacks

  • Ink doesn't resist to light because coloring agents lose their colors. Prints exposed to light quickly become dull but it is also without counting on the progress made by Canon and Epson in this field!
  • It has nothing to do with ink quality, but on coloring agents printers, cartridges always have a low capacity, not compatible with intensive photo prints because you would have to replace empty cartridges all the time.  
  • These inks are not eligible for the Digigraphie® Epson certification program or other long-term print run certification programs despite their obvious progress.

My recommendation! If you work mainly for the Internet, always choose: "Native contrast". On the other hand, if you print regularly or are looking for a good screen/sorting match, choose "Contrast 287:1" when possible.

   
 
 

My opinion and recommendation...


These inks are more suitable for prints that will end up in a photo album, protected from light or when you know you want to change the photo in your living room often!

 Outstanding quality! Prettier gloss finish on "Glossy" papers than pigment inks (significantly duller).

 At the end of 2018, it is safe to say that the life of the Canon and Epson dye inks has made enough progress to keep the original colors long enough for family use. These brands do not hesitate to advance the figure of 100 years when the draw is kept in an album.

 These inks will also be perfect to make reading prints because the quality of colors can't be questioned once the printer is calibrated. The only problem with these dye inks has nothing to do with the quality of the prints but with their lifespan.

 Printers using ink made of coloring agents have low capacity cartridges. Not because of a technical problem but for mostly marketing reasons: the printer isn't expensive so the manufacturer earns money on consumables.
With that in mind, I'll also add to play devil's advocate that it also enables to make printers that are less bulky.

 

 
     
   
 

B - Inks quality: inks with pigments...

It is the type of ink to favor when you want to get nice photo prints that will last. Indeed, the coloring agents are encapsulated in a resin bubble extremely resistant to light, instead of being mixed with water. The whole difficulty for manufacturers was to encapsulate this thin powder in a resin bubble thin enough in order to splatter super thin ink drops on our photo prints. They have succeeded! Well, there have been a few print head closures, but the trend with the latest generations of printers is down.

Assets

  • The ink is very resistant to light - Prints can be certified up to 200 years on certain papers called "museum quality". You can thus guarantee a long lasting if you're selling your prints. 
  • Pour cette raison, il faut au moins cette condition pour que votre imprimante For this reason, you need at least this condition for your printer to be eligible for the Digigraphie ® Epson program if it is not automatically a sufficient reason.
  • The range of colors - called gamut - is often very wide and anyway broader than the gamut of an office printer. These inks enable to print more saturated colors, especially for printers with more than six cartridges.
  • It is not due to the quality of ink but printers with pigment-based ink have at least ten ink cartridges for renderings with even more relief in gradations and whites and blacks a lot more neutral and subtle.

Drawbacks

  • Prints on "Glossy" papers are duller than with dye inks,
  • Reliability: Sometimes it says that the nozzles get clogged but it depends on a lot of criteria because it's something I haven't seen in six years on my Epson 7800. The next generation was particularly sensitive to this, but the very latest generation (since the end of 2015) seems to be returning to reliability.
  • They're more expensive but mostly because you can buy high-capacity cartridges, so much more convenient and overall with a better price/quality ratio or quantity/price!
   
 
 

My purchasing advice...


If you like Glossy papers: I advise you to use dye inks instead. Their progress in longevity is obvious and the results are just as beautiful or even more beautiful because their reflections on Glossy papers are more brilliant and less dull than with pigment inks.

 If you sell your prints: As you'll have understood, you'd really better choose a pigment-based ink printer as Canon or Epson manufactures, especially if you intend to sell your prints. For Canon, the ink will be called  LUCIA ® and for Epson, Ultrachrome K3 ® and Ultrachrome HD ® whose Dmax of blacks has made real tangible progress.

 If you print on matt paper: The new Epson Ultrachrome HD pigment inks will be more suitable for printing on matt paper because their Dmax has been clearly improved. On this criterion, Epson and its new SC series are ahead of Canon.

 

 
     
   
 

C - The number of ink cartridges...

Ink cartridges for Canon photo printersOffice printers only need four ink cartridges for the four colors CMYK to work. But photo printers must print colors with a lot more shades and above all, a wide enough gamut or even black and white. No need to go round in circles, it requires more cartridges. Nowadays, Canon sells a PRO printer with 1 to 12 cartridges and cheap printers with ink based on coloring agents have at least six cartridges...

My opinion and my: it is undeniable that bubble jet photo printers with more than four cartridges offer a way more "photographic" rendering, meaning with more shades. Reliefs and gradations in the sky will be more progressive hence without tone breakings as with an office printer. However, for printers with six cartridges, you'll often have a light cyan and a light magenta. It will be great for color prints, but not for black & whites. For that, you need even more cartridges, especially grey ones. With six cartridges only, black & white prints often have a predominance that is difficult to correct, even with a calibration in due form. It is also clear that the three grey cartridges of the Canon Pro-1 work wonders for truly neutral and particularly beautiful NetB prints. A real strength of this printer but only on glossy or barium paper.

   
 
 

How many cartridges: 6, 8 , 10 or 12?


The augmentation of the number of cartridges doesn't have the same use depending on the printers and the brand: some cartridges are used to print more saturated colors, some other additional cartridges only have the effect to get nice rendering in gradations and some others are used to print black and white correctly. Indeed, when a printer must print white, it just has to avoid splattering ink on this area! Logical, but here's the problem: under certain angles, it is visible that the print doesn't have the same reflections where there was ink and where the paper was just left blank. The ink reflections are not the same as the paper's!

 

 

For those able to read a chromaticity diagram, it is undeniable that it is on printers with the biggest number of cartridges that we see the wider gamuts. But not everyone needs to print very saturated colors on a daily basis! My 7800 Epson printer is five years old and I never felt limited by my "tight" sRGB. Even the stained-glass windows of Bourges cathedral couldn't be improved much and only in reds if I changed for a more recent Epson SC-P6000 !

 Those who choose Black and White printing BUT mainly on Glossy or baryta papers, will choose the Canon Pro-1 and its twelve cartridges, three of which are grey for the real neutrality of their monochrome printing. On matt papers, there is no photo, you will have to turn to the new Epson SC.

Note about Digigraphy! For an Epson printer to be eligible for the Digigraphy ® Epson program, the printer must have at least 8 cartridges, 2 black and one grey.

 
   
 

 

 

2 - Printing precision: size of the ink drops and printing definition

Two important criteria could be watched to know which printer makes the most accurate prints :

  • The size of the ink drops (their thiness)
  • The printing definition (in dpi but not to be mistaken for the definition of your photo!!!).

Thiness of ink drops

For a few years, we witnessed a show-off competition between Canon and Epson to know who had the thinnest ink drops. Nowadays, Epson goes first with a thinness of 3.5 picoliters against 4 for Canon (on printers with pigments-based ink) but is it determining? Since the droplets have fallen below the 4 picoliters the differences are absolutely invisible to the naked eye. Let the marketing departments do their job, they enjoy it!

   
 
 

My purchasing advice!


After many printer tests, my opinion is clearly that no so you have the freedom to choose between these two brands. Frankly, I'm not going to be able to help you much because my heart is swinging... I certainly have an Epson 7800 but it is seven years old and six years ago the competition was not the same. My next printer could very well be an Epson SC-P6000 as well as a Canon PRO-2000 on this one criterion.

 

 
     
 

And about printing definition, the famous 1440 x 2880 dpi...

Canon will offer the standard value of 4800 x 2400 dpi and Epson 2880 x 1440 dpi. It's about the accuracy of spattering of the ink drops on the paper - which has nothing to do with the dpis of your photo, rather around 200 to 300 dpi. I might as well tell you right away that if I manage to find a difference between the 1440 x 720 and the 2880 x 1440 dpi of my Epson printer, it's only because I find more relief to sky gradations at 2880 dpi. On details, I don't see any difference, even when I get real close to the sheet.

   
 
 

My recommendation to help you choose: Canon or Epson

Don't bother comparing these record figures of printing definition. They don't mean anything anymore. Just be aware that marketing services will do all they can to sell us the next 100,000 x 50,000 dpi because when we reach these figures, our eye won't have been able to make a difference for ages! However, when I print a photo with nice gradations, I choose the highest printing definition. Reliefs look even better and progressive.  

Printing accuracy: Canon = Epson !

 

 
   
 

 

 

3 - Printing size

Another way to distinguish printers is to choose them according to their maximum printing size, or more accurately their maximum printing format: A4, A3, A3+, A2, roll paper for digital printing of your panoramas, etc.

About the cost of ink according to the printer size! The smaller the printers (A4), the smaller their ink cartridges are. However, the smaller the cartridges are, the higher the price per ml of ink. This has two unfortunate consequences:

  • The cost price of a print run is very high because the price of ink per ml is almost excessive,
  • As soon as you print more than 50 sheets per year, you always have to change an empty cartridge and it will be cheaper in the end.

Two examples :

  • The same ink costs 1.10 €/ml for a Canon IP7250 and 0.85 €/ml for a Canon Pro-10,
  • It costs 0.68 € / ml for Epson 3800 and only 0.45 € / ml for an Epson 4800, which is more than 2X less than for an IP7250 first price with dye inks and not with pigments.
   
 
 

My opinion: what "ideal format ? A3, A2 or roll?

If you really buy a printer because a print is a final goal for you, I highly recommend a printer with an A3 format as a minimum. A print of 10 X 16-inch seems "all right" to me to offer or sell it for instance. You can thus still choose between Canon and Epson.

 

 

However, if you're a fan of panoramic format like me, you'd better choose an Epson printer which, for A4 or A3+ printers, enables to print on roll paper.

 
   
 

 

 

4 - So... Epson or Canon?

Canon's print quality has made great progress and has caught up with Epson overall. In 2018, Canon = Epson, but there are still significant differences according to the selection criteria. Now that I have tested a number of them, here are my buying tips:

   
 
 

 

Canon's pros   Epson's pros

  10 or 12 ink cartridges for the Pro-10 and Pro-1000 "photo" printers, so black and white prints are really perfect without calibration but be careful, on glossy papers (Glossy, glossy or baryta) only because on matt papers, the new Epson SC-P are significantly in front (deeper blacks).
 Always very beautiful color prints after calibration, faithful to the calibrated screen,
  The new Pro-1000 doesn't even need to be calibrated!
 The Pro-100 with dye ink does not offer this advantage in NetB but remains an excellent choice for those who like colour prints on Glossy papers, glossy for a really beautiful glossy result.
 Chroma Optimizer transparent ink to avoid unsightly reflections in the white parts of the print (not covered by ink) from certain angles.
 Overall, a better manufacturing quality,
 As many cartridges as print heads on "serious" models so it is not necessary to purge the black ink to switch from a print on matte paper to a print on Glossy paper.

 

 Printing in roll format (panoramic format for example),
 The new Ultrachrome HD inks (pigments) really and very significantly improve the depth of blacks, especially on matt paper - a striking quality,
 Cheaper than Canon in the high-end segment (but not as well manufactured),
 Nearly fifteen years' experience at the top of photo quality, in colour and black and white, but always after calibration,
 Digigraphy ® program for certified prints.

     
Canon's cons   Epson's cons

  More expensive than Epson (but better quality of manufacture),
 No roll printing - panoramic photo - on A4 or A3+ printers,
 Black and white print of the Pro-100 not really neutral despite the grey cartridges.
Printing on matt paper is significantly reduced compared to the new Ultrachrome HD Epson inks.

   No transparent ink to fill the white parts of the print and give them the same reflections as the parts covered with ink. Only from certain angles is it actually visible.
 Even in early 2016, the all-new Epson photo printers require black ink to be purged when changing paper types from matte to Glossy. Ink waste guaranteed but significantly less than five years ago (small defect in 2018!)!
 Manufacturing quality, smoothness and quiet running one notch below Canon.
 
   
   
 

I give you some additional answers on the following page on my 2018 photo printer purchasing guide... very soon online again Suivre  by print size, price categories, ink quality...

You will also find all of my advices to choose your photo papers Suivre

   
 

 
 
 
Through these advice pages and my full printer tests I will help you to choose your next photo printer or multifunction printer...
 
- How to choose your photo printer?
  - Ink
- Printing accuracy
- Printing size
- What brand: Canon, Epson,... ?
 

- My advices to choose your photo papers... Soon
- My 2018 photo papers buying guide... Soon
- My monitor buying guide


 

Calibrate your photo printer with the best quality/price ratio: i1 Studio !

Read my full review...  

£399.00

Calibrate your monitor with the best
quality/price ratio: Colormunki Display !

Read my full review...

£142.65

   
 

 

     

 

 

 
 

 

       

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