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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Current Pigment Printers

Although I've endorsed specific products from time to time, I don't often come out in favor of one method of doing anything. My basic philosophy with regard to photography enthusiasts is that everyone is allowed to have fun with photography any old whichway they want to. If you like to make d.o.f. charts for all your lenses…if your goal is to collect profiles for every paper you can buy…if you cannot rest until you own every Photoshop book…if your thing is toy cameras…if you enjoy darkroom experiments designed to maximize film grain…if your life's work is shooting portraits of blond people…if you haunt flea markets looking for old Kodak Instamatic pictures for your huge and growing collection—I say, knock yourself out. (And lest you think any of these are unreasonable examples, I know of real people who pursue each and every one of these aspects of the photography hobby.) I don't advocate or condone hurting people or breaking laws. Beyond that, it's up to you—have fun, don't limit yourself, and don't feel beholden to conventional value judgments on what you personally prefer to do.

However, I really believe that if you're a serious photographic inkjet printmaker, you should use a pigment ink printer.

Again, you're free to interpret that key phrase, "serious printer," any way you please. If you're happy with your dye-based inkset and inkjet printer, no need to defend yourself to me—I'm happy to assume you know what you're doing and that only you know what's best for you. Walk on, bro. Live and let live.

But pigment inks have reached "mainstream" status. Their usability has improved greatly; their gamut is now more than acceptable; their early problems have been ameliorated by technical development; their advantages in terms of print life expectancy (LE) are undeniable; they look best (again, IMHO); and competition has provided end-users with an acceptable number of alternatives to choose from.

Here's a list of currently available pigment ink printers. I'm hoping if you see any mistakes or omissions, you'll let me know. I'll try to update this list with the number of inks each printer uses, too.

Epson R1800

UltraChrome K3 pigment
Stylus Photo R2400
(consumer, 13-inch wide, desktop, $760)
Stylus Pro 3800
(consumer/professional, 17-inch wide, desktop, $1,300)
Stylus Pro 4800
(consumer/professional, 17-inch wide, desktop, $1,655)
Stylus Pro 7800
(professional, 24-inch wide, stand-mounted, $3,000)
Stylus Pro 9800
(professional, 44-inch wide, stand-mounted, $5,000)

Inkset: UltraChrome pigment
Stylus Photo R1800
(consumer, 13-inch wide, desktop, $450)
Stylus Photo R800
(consumer, 8.5-inch wide, desktop, $365)

Canon iPF5000

Lucia pigment
imagePROGRAF iPF5000
(consumer/professional, 17-inch wide, desktop or stand-mounted, $1,400)
imagePROGRAF W6400
(professional, 24-inch wide, stand-mounted, $3,555)
image PROGRAF iPF8000
(professional, 44-inch wide, stand-mounted, $6,000)
image PROGRAF iPF9000
(professional, 60-inch wide, stand mounted, $15,075)

Pixma Pro 9500
(announced, not yet available, inkset not yet determined)

HP B9180

Vivera pigment
B9180 Photosmart Pro
(consumer/professional, 13-inch wide, desktop, $540)
Designjet Z2100 24 inch
(professional, 24-inch wide, stand-mounted, $3,283)
Designjet Z2100 44 inch
(professional, 44-inch wide, stand-mounted, $5,493)
Designjet Z3100 24 inch
(professional, 24-inch wide, stand-mounted, $4,300)
Designjet Z3100 44 inch
(professional, 44-inch wide, stand-mounted, $6,631)



Blogger Michael said...

I must say that every time I get a bad print from my R800 I curse my choice of printer. Then I look at the original on screen again, and instead curse my inability as a photographer. Lucky for me, printers don't talk back. (Though I do remember that configuring an NEC Pinwriter was a lot like talking to an artificial intelligence via a telex).

For all the minor improvements in the inkset of the more expensive R series printers, the R800 is a heck of a buy.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Zach Matthews said...

Mike -

What about an evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of these models? I'm interested in printing, I know pigment ink is the way to go, but I don't know much else.

Zach Matthews

8:25 PM  
Blogger ShadZee said...

I'm in market to buy a printer as well. I guess the choices are the Epson R2400 and the HP B9180. They both are about the same price. Now the question is :
1. How long would the initial set of inks lasts (are they full size)?
2. How much are replacement sets?
3. How efficient are these two in use of ink?

Bottom line is $/print cost?

I know Mike has been using the HP for a while, what do you think?

9:27 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Another R800 owner here. The main limitation of this printer is the carriage width. It's letter/A4 size only. Aside from that, speaking as a beginner, I can't see much to complain about. Certainly the capabilities of the device still exceed my capabilities as a print maker handily.

The reviews of the OOB (out-of-the-box) B/W performance of the 13" HP model has got me drooling---technology marches on. Especially since that is perhaps the one thing that has been (and still is) always so very excruciatingly hit and miss for me. Nevertheless, buying it when I did, has gotten me over a year of very satisfying and educational prints.

It's served my needs (as a cost-effective tool to dip my toes in the pond of "real" digital inkjet printing) admirably.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Sean Winslow said...

The articles I read talk so exclusively of pigments in opposition to dye-based sets, that I often find myself wondering where lightjets fit into the picture; is there a real place for them anymore, or are they just for digitally-capable drugstore prints?

Our local boutique print store in Toronto, Pikto, has some very nice, large machines that I have used, but all the fine art prints I have seen for sale recently have been done on inkjets with pigment inks. Is longevity the culprit, or some other issue?

11:15 PM  
Blogger xtoph said...

hey shadeez--
if you're serious about the bottom line being per print cost, then the epson 3800 is a better buy over the 2400 (former comes with several hundreds of dollars worth of ink installed, and ink is cheaper in the 3800 tanks). i wish i could trade my 2400 for one... but mine is plenty good.

i am sure the hp is a good printer as well (maybe better for all i know). just saying, on an apples-to apples comparison price basis, choosing between the 2400 and 3800 is very easy.

plus better algorithms and larger max size... what more is there to think about?

2:50 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

I'm in the same position as shadzee; in the market for a printer but undecided which one to go for.
I've seen the quality of the HP from Mike's fine art print sales, but I'd like to know the comparative cost per print and the average lifetime of cartridges. Also - and I don't know if this is possible with pigment inks - are there likely to be any continuous inkflow systems?

3:18 AM  
Blogger yeled said...

..and which one gives the best black & white prints? :) questions questions..

6:47 AM  
Blogger Dave Woods said...

Ah, I'd love a pigment printer - the new HP looks very nice. However, since I got an HP 8750 for free last year, I'm a little reluctant to go buy another printer.

Sean - FYI - those printers at Pikto are Epson 9800's with the K3 pigment inks. I've used them for several large prints - they look outstanding.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Nick Meertens said...

I received the HP B9180 last week and must say I am extremely pleased with the results so far. Best thing is that the prints I get match my (calibrated) monitor to a degree I never achieved before on my dye printer nor with different external parties.

So far I've only used paper of which profiles came with the software. Hp advanced papers is what you need with this printer, not Premium Pro, mind you!
Also HP sells under its own name a few Hahnemuhle cotton rag papers which profiles come with the printer. I ordered a set and when they arrive I'll let you know how I get on with those.

For the time being I like the HP Advanced Satin best for B&W and more subtle color photos. HP Advanced Glossy is great for those really colorful color photo's, if ya now what I mean.

After installing and calibrating the (27ml) cartridges on the HP, they where on average about 70% full. Those other 30% filled the pipes and gave me 5 A4 prints filled with abstract art.
All in all an impressive and very well build printer I would highly recommend!

Mike will do a review of it in B&W Photography magazine.

One extremely annoying little thing... It turns out that in some countries (mine) HP thinks a USB cable is to expensive to include with the printer which prevents you from enjoying it straight away because the USB cable shop closed 5 minutes ago when you discover the missing cable...

Best, Nick

7:36 AM  
Blogger John said...

Why is the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 classified consumer and the HP B9180 Photosmart Pro classified consumer/professional? They print the same size and both use archival inks.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

I'd say that anyone that is comparing an Epson R2400 vs an HP B9180 should consider the HP comes with a built-in Gretag spectrophotometer, which would sell separately for about USD$1500.

That makes the HP a no-brainer choice, in my opinion. Hopefully, the other printer manufacturers will 'see the light' (pun intended?) and start doing the same thing.

I'm currently using an Epson R1800, and if/when I go to upgrade, my next printer will surely have a spectrophotometer built in. How about it, Epson/Canon? Care to match HP on this one?

1:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

That's the 2100/3100 Z-series printers you're thinking of, that have the built-in Greatag Eye-One. The B9180 does have a rudimentary automatic calibrating capability--automatic printhead servicing too--but it doesn't support automatic profiling like the new larger HPs do. It's nice to have, and helps keep the printer in good working order, but I doubt it's worth much as a replacement for any accessory you'd buy separately. I've been making profiles with a ColorVision PrintFIX PRO setup.

As I say, the Z-series are a different story entirely. With those, you can build a custom profile automatically with just the press of a button, in about a half an hour.


1:26 PM  
Blogger jaol_hsr said...

I think the small Epson 4 ink printers with pigmented inks are worth mentioning. The 88 does, with proper profiles, produce fine prints. Even in B/W. The grayscale is smooth and clean. Without much metermerism, so I believe it uses the new yellow ink. It´s drawback is the A 4 size. But people have different needs. The cartridges are 8 ml. In my experience more inks mean higher cost.


2:36 PM  
Blogger Sean Winslow said...

Dave W.,

Pikto has both the 9800's and some Frontier 570 machines. In fact, I am under the impression that the pigment printers are for 16x20's and up and have been printing 12x18's as C-Prints, which are more what I associate with a traditional photo, thus my question about their place in the current photographic laandscape.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Player said...

Mike, this is inspiring me to give digital printing a try. I've only used a Picturemate for snapshots, and I'm still maintaining my wet darkroom. I'm pretty much sold on the B9180. I think I'll keep the darkroom for b&w though.

This seems like a great time to jump in.

Thanks for the inspiration!

5:54 PM  
Blogger PatrickPerez said...

I just noticed that Hewlett Packard has just (1/24/07) released a basic driver for the B9180 pigment printer. Search under drivers at for B9180, and choose Vista drivers. This link *may* work:


6:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

It's not very clearly labeled, but it looks to me like that's a driver for Vista, Microsoft's new OS.


8:32 PM  
Blogger Player said...

I enjoyed this review:

6:19 AM  
Blogger benconservato said...

Thanks for the interesting article, i have been thinking seriously about a pigment printer since having the occasion to work in an office that had one (a big expensive professional one of course, which, of course I played with and tested ou their range). I always had in my mind they were just out of my price range, so thanks.

4:08 PM  

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