I'm thinking about diving back into inkjet printing here at the VSL post production wing. Can we talk about printers?

I've been reading a book by Brooks Jensen entitled, The Creative Life in Photography - Essays on Photography, the Creative Process, and Personal Expression. I've enjoyed reading lots of what Jensen writes and it's made me nostalgic for doing photography in a way that mimics or emulates what I used to do in the days of the black and white darkroom. One of Jensen's contentions is that the photographic work we create isn't really finished until we've actually made our final expression: The Print. Everything else is just "work in progress."  Along with the idea of moving to images to completion is the encouragement to think in terms of folios and projects instead of just sporadic and unconnected prints.

It's odd. Nowadays my work seems split into two separate universes. There is the universe of digital where everything is tucked away somewhere on a hard drive or backed up on a DVD and the only expression of the work is as a small file presented on the web; generally on this blog. The work is harder and harder to find and since it is so cheap and easy to create the quantity of work done and warehoused is so astronomical that it defies my easy re-acquisition and becomes, in my mind, a mass of digital clutter. I rarely go back and re-visit work that's stored in a none visual way and so I've lost ready access to the continuity of my visual creations in a way that's both paralyzing and depressing.
If work is stored in ones and zeros it tends to remain in ones and zeros, hedged against some day in the far future when I might have the time and inclination to sift through and reconstruct it....

But there was another universe that started back in 1979. It was the universe of the darkroom and the black and white print. Everything, EVERYTHING, that seemed valuable, fun, personal, sexy or engaging didn't really exist to me until I printed it and once I printed it there was a real, physical manifestation of my vision that I could easily share with others. The sharing took place via portfolios, prints on the walls of my house, my bakery, my favorite gallery and on the postcards I would make by hand and send out to friends and clients. The expression, the making of an image all the way to the print required a commitment to the image. Each print cost time and money. Each print became a valuable physical proof of a memory or a vision. And a significant object in itself!

We tend to think of this schism in terms of film versus digital but it's not that way. For years I toyed with inkjet printing and spent much time printing images like the one at the top of this article on various papers and with various printers. Somewhere around 2004 or 2005 the print, as a deliverable to clients, fell off the map and the at the same time we experience the rise of "photo sharing" websites that would house and display our images for us at no cost. Somehow this displaced our emotional need to hold a physical manifestation of our images. I started to move away from "the print" in favor of the cost free/time free sloth of the internet gallery.

The last printer I owned that I bought just for making photographs was the best and the worst printer I've had. It was the Epson 4000 and when it worked it produced really gorgeous black and white prints at sizes up to 17" by however long the roll of paper was. Really gorgeous images! I continued to print as I had in the darkroom and continued with a revolving show of framed and matted prints at Sweetish Hill Bakery that had been part of my artistic expression in the community since the early 1990's. I'd made the jump to digital but without abandoning the printing aspect that made so much of the work feel REAL to me.

The Epson 4000 (along with photo sharing on the web) put the nail in the coffin as far as my printing was concerned. The technology was flawed. The printer clogged whether I used it constantly or not. I would go through hundreds of dollars of ink and paper just to get it all up and running again only to have the damn thing let me down at the worst possible moments. The moments in which I had an emotional investment in getting a great print out of the machine when I wanted it. When I was receptive to the process. Let's face it, if you are working hard at your job and you have a limited amount of time to print your own work it feels so frustrating; almost like an intentional betrayal, to have the process grind to a halt and require hours of trouble shooting. You start trading family time and work time in the service of the machine and not really in the service of your art. At a certain point you just say, "Fuck it" and move on.

I gave the printer away to another photographer. I don't know whether I did him a favor or cursed him with a new monkey for his back. I bought a Canon 9000 that prints beautiful invoices and an occasional large photograph that might be needed for some background art in a shot or something. But at the moment that the printer with fine art potential left the building I never printed my own work in earnest again.

The lack of a physical target, in retrospect, has blunted my creative process. Without the need to print well and large of what use is it to have technically super-duper cameras? Who cares about all the tech stuff if everything you show is going to end up as a file that's 2100 pixels on the long side? Why bother with a tripod? Why bother to get up in the morning and shoot your own work? And, in truth, I've spent the last 10 years working for clients and watching my own engagement with my personal work diminish. But because of Brooks Jensen I think I'm about to end the cycle and re-engage with a way of doing my work that was organic to the whole process of seeing, shooting and presenting. I'm planning to
buy another printer with which to print out my personal work.

I tried having other people print my files but it's not the same. The immediacy of the feedback loop is missing. The analogy of watching the print come up in the developer, knowing it's too dark and immediately trying again. That's how it works best for me.

To this end I am researching printers. I've eliminated the Epson printers right out of the gate because of my memory of the endless clogs. I've narrowed my choice down to a printer that seems to check the boxes I want. It prints up to 13 by 19 inches. It has special inks to help with black and white. It's well reviewed by customers on Amazon and it's in the arbitrary price range I've set for myself: Under $500.

The printer I'm thinking about is the Canon Pro-10. I haven't clicked the button yet so I'm asking the VSL brain trust at large to chime in and let me know your feelings about inkjet printers. What do you think of this model? Am I messing up by not biting the bullet and buying the more expensive Pro-1?
Does anyone else make a printer that's worth considering but not yet on my radar? Is this whole "must make prints" thing some sort of psychological dodge to compensate for something else? Am I experiencing a photographic mid-life crisis? Will a printer and the intention of printing again just isolate me even more in my lonely little studio in the middle of paradise?

What do you print with?
How big do you print?
Are Epson printers really the tool of the Anti-Christ or am I letting my prejudices from long ago color my choices?
Does everyone else but me still print?
How did I get so lost?


Kirk Tuck said...

Damn. Reading just costs me money....

JerseyT said...

There are several things to think about. For one, Epson seems to have the clogging problem under control. Probably a combination of head design and ink formulation.
Another "gotcha" is matte/photo ink. Most printers only use one or the other, so you waste $3 to $5 in ink changing from matte to glossy papers. The Epson R2000 that I use does not do that, but it's primarily for color work. I get pretty good B&W prints, but I think other printers are better if that's your primary concern.
Some Canon printers have a problem with borders on fine art papers. Make sure that you can print a full sheet. Some printers invoke a 35mm border on any print on art paper, regardless of size of sheet.
Good luck - many choices and many tradeoffs.

Hugh said...

My Epson 4800 has been running perfectly since I ought it new about 10 years ago.
Ink clogs if the humidity is too low, soon fixed by opening it and boiling a kettle near by. Recently bought a used Epson 7800 - also running beautifully.

Possibly you just bought one model too early.

My standard print size is A2 (17" x 22") - now printing up to 24" x 36" with the big Epson

Anonymous said...

It's not woth the stress. Stick with the lab Prints.

Every Epson printer I have has had constant clogging problems, current one being the 3880, I hate the sight of it.

Also apart from clogging etc... Inkjet prints are just too fragile. You can't handle them like a lab print.

Life is too short to sit beside an Epson running constant cleaning cycles, flushing your valuable ink into the bin.


Unknown said...

I share your feelings on Epson printers. Have thrown away 3 of them because of clogging. Finally went to Canon.

The Canon Pro-100 is fine for me. I know it is not a pigment ink printer but it just works. All the time. Have had it over a year. Has never clogged and I do NOT print every week.

Great color prints and decent black and white, as it has 3 black/grey cartidges. The printer can be picked up "used" at agreat price because of all the people who bought it with a Canon combo rebate deal.

Kirk Tuck said...

from Google+ http://photography.chuqui.com/printing-your-work-three-dot-lounge-for-photography-for-august-8-2015/

Frank Field said...

For the past two years, I've used an Epson R3000 with near zero problems. The key is to print something, even a small print, no less often than once a week.

The Epson Ultra Chrome K9 ink set produces prints that look good in either monochrome or color. I've chosen to print "small" -- almost exclusively on 8.5" x 11" paper. This is my first foray into printing and the choice of "small" was in part one of student economics: I'd rather be able to experiment and learn by printing. Too, short of Bill and Melinda Gates with their 60k ft2 home, most of us have limited space to display or store large prints. 8.5" x 11" prints store nicely on bookshelves. Lastly, I do think there is something to the tactile enjoyment of holding a small print in your hands and studying it from normal reading distances.

GB said...

I prefer Canon because I've never had a Canon inkjet clog up on me.

amolitor said...

This is *probably* irrelevant to you, since you're looking to, well, you're looking for a different process, I think. Also, you probably care more about some things I don't, and less about things I do care about.

I find that machine prints from commercial vendors are excellent these days. Since my personal work involves printing quite small, I can buy 0.49 prints from MPix of my local place, and they work perfectly for my needs.

John Krumm said...

I print a fair amount with my now aging Epson 2800. I never had any clogging problems in Southeast Alaska where we had abundant rain and good humidity (not too high, not too low) much of the year. In Minnesota I have to make sure to print a little more often in the winter because the air can become exceptionally dry. But it has mostly been a great printer. Main drawback comes from the small tanks.

If I do upgrade it will be to the Epson P800, 17 inches, good for printing the 15 x 20 prints (with inch border) that are plenty large for my 4/3 sensor cameras. Much larger tanks, better clogging resistance from what I read, better black and white prints, and wifi. Sounds good to me. Anything larger I'll send out or get printed at a local specialty lab.

I really like to print, and to make prints for others. It's kind of a hobby all it's own.

Gato said...

I share your feelings. I like to print, and I like to show prints. About a year or 18 months back I got ambitious, coaxed my elderly Epson back to life and printed a small portfolio of black and white portraits. I badly need to update but dread trying to keep the printer running. I fear buying another Epson, but I'm not convinced I'd be happy with the print quality of the competition.

In a way I'm lucky. I don't like glossy prints and I rarely have an urge to print very large. So I avoid the problems of switching ink and I'm happy with a medium-size printer, thus keeping things more affordable.

As to some comments above, sending prints to a lab is just not the same thing. There is a little extra edge of control in doing it yourself, though with Photoshop and calibrated monitors we have a lot more control of lab prints now than in the film days. Plus commercial labs have a pretty limited choice of papers.

I'll be watching to see what feedback you get and what choices you make.

Chap Achen said...

For me the Epson printers have been fantastic, I had an Epson 4000 which performed very well, but when Epson came out with the Epson 3800 I switched and have had 0 problems. I print a significant # of prints in B&W using Epson's B&W mode and I find them to as good as my darkroom prints ·in my opinion-. Whenever this printer decides to give up the ghost I would purchase another one without hesitation, most likely, the newest offerings from Epson, most of my photographer friends are using the Epson series and have had very few problems. The 17 inch versions are preferable because you can print a 16 x 20 with borders and the ink is less costly due to the larger cartridge size. Good Luck. Chap

Don said...

Dear Mr. Tuck,

Full disclosure: 1. I am not a pro photographer; however I expect to produce top quality results. Have no desire to market. 2. The primary purpose for my taking a photo is with the expectation (hope) of making a print and hanging it on the wall. 3. In my now out of service darkroom I was doing large format to include Cibachrome. The prints were great but the process was not. Enter, inkjet and others.

Epson 2200. Did good work for sometime until it failed. By then I wanted to print larger so I replaced it with an Epson 4000. This is the Sonoran desert and would you believe it is dry here? I experienced for 3 years the same frustrations that you did. It was near the end of the extended warranty, I had some problems fixed and after lengthy explanations of its' vices gave it to my son-in-law who lives in an area of higher humidity. No clogs in several years.

I replaced the 4000 with a 4800. OK I'm a slow learner. For several years it worked well, and without clogging problems. All my previous problems vanished, but I wanted to print up 24 inches.

Enter a 7900. It is getting close to 4 years old and has been without any vices. It is as fine a printer as I could ever hope to own. It has gone months without use and one light cleaning cycle and it is up and running. The prints are wonderful and the paper handling, matte to photo changes, roll changes, and single sheet printing are done easily and flawlessly.

Epson has superb customer service. During the 4000 years they did everything possible to solve my problems.

The 7900 is larger than you are considering, but the ink costs are 55 cents/ml not a dollar plus, and large prints are fun.

For me Epson owns the fine art printing world, and I have no association with Epson.

Cordially, Don

Michael Matthews said...

I spend too much time festering and snarling about ink and ink prices.

The give-away-the-razor-and-sell-the-blades approach may be a major contributor to the trend away from printing altogether. It's created a vast reservoir of ill will. The pricing and quantities of ink supplied are rapacious. The onscreen indicators of available supply are vague and misleading, obviously engineered to sell more ink rather than supply information. And then come the clog and wasteful cleaning procedures. Help!

Add in the fact that many photos look better onscreen than on paper, thanks to the energy added by transmissive rather than reflective lighting.

Unfortunately, I'm one of those who really appreciates a great photo rendered as a great print. I've been known to buy them from photographers encountered online. I've gone so far as to contact others and buy a limited license to print for my own use -- a high res file in return for a modest fee and my sworn oath not to reproduce or distribute.

It may be a generational thing -- dinosaur thinking -- but the print still feels like the final product: art.

Steven Lawrence said...

I currently use the Canon Pro-100 and print everyday. It creates gorgeous color but black and white printing is problematic at times. I will be buying a another printer in the near future just for black and white but the Pro-100 price was too great to pass it.

Michael Comeau said...

Go on Craig's List.

People are always practically giving away Canon printers because they buy them to qualify for rebates. You won't get the warranty, but you'll pay a fraction of regular price.

Andre Y said...

Hi Kirk,

I use a Canon Pro-10, and am pretty happy with it. The main problem, like most inkjets, is that it eats ink, which is exacerbated by the tiny little tanks Canon uses for this printer. I have something like a continuous order loop with B&H for various inks that are running out when I'm printing heavily. For this reason alone, I'd consider getting the Pro-1 if I had to do it all over again.

It will also not print much longer than 19 inches. There are various ways to fool the print driver into doing a little bit more (26 inches, maybe?), but it's not at all like Epson's basically infinitely long panoramas.

That said, it's a wonderful printer. I've left it alone for 1-2 months, and the thing will print beautifully when you start it up again ... after making some noises and shaking itself for a few minutes, while ingesting even more ink. If it does clog, the head replacement is much simpler and user-serviceable, unlike Epson.

Amazingly, its sweet spot seems to be 13x19 on the Canon Luster paper, which is cheap and looks great. I have no idea about its OBAness or longevity, but that's a very easy paper to get right on this printer. For some reason, this paper looks mediocre at letter size.

I've also used photonerd-approved paper like Canson Platine, and it does great on that too: just be sure to set the extra head clearance setting in the driver to reduce (but not eliminate) head strikes, and the Canson-provided profile is actually very good. Speaking of which, the Canon profiles are awful, so you'll need to get something like a ColorMunki to profile your paper.

Color gamut of the inkset is all right. The dark blues turn into mud if you don't do something about them. Saturated yellows and oranges are not great, so sunsets and sunrises need a bit of work. The main thing I do before I print is to put a small contrast curve in the upper highlights, and to raise the deep shadows a bit as well as putting a little contrast there. The midtones are pretty much okay as-is, except that the warm colors get desaturated.

I think the real advantage of the Epson over the Canon is its hackability. There are lots of RIP drivers for the Epson, and basically none for the Canon. Also, lots more technical knowledge seems to be available for the Epson than the Canon. I have no idea why, but basically if you want to fool around with your printer, Epson seems better.

Having compared prints I've made myself to that made by my local pro printer and his Epson 9900, there is very little difference that isn't caused by the skill of the printer operator. It's more important to prepare a print for a printer correctly than anything else, I've realized. The hardware is like less than 10% of the difference, and probably closer to 1%.

It's also been interesting to discover how compositions and tonality work in a print vs. on a screen, even a very big one. There are some things that you don't think work at all, and they are amazing as a print. More often I've found that things that seem amazing on-screen kind of suck as a print. This is a judgment on the composition of the photo, not its technical qualities.

Good luck, and make some space for the printer: the Pro-10 is improbably big for its print size.

Peter Wright said...

I find that viewers seem to 'get' my work in print form much more easily than in electronic form. But printing is something I have discovered that cannot be left to others if you care about your work. (Unless perhaps your are/were famous - like HCB - and have a close working relationship with an expert craftsman - like Voja Mitrovic in the case of HCB.)

I am of the old school that needs a print in order to be satisfied that I have completed the process. (13 x 19 is the largest I am likely to go, with many being 8.5 x 11). A print is an artifact and can be a beautiful thing. A print will also show up any flaws in technique. I even buy prints by other photographers whose work (and printing) I particularly enjoy. It lets me calibrate my own technique as well as adding to the beautiful objects I have in the house. I am fortunate to have a print by Voja Mitrovic, a dye matrix print by Ctine, and one of Ming Thein's 'Ultraprints', among my collection. Non-printing photographers are missing out on a major part of the joy of photography.

For my own work, I use an Epson 2880 which has never clogged since it was purchased, and I sometimes go weeks between printing sessions. I don't think this experience is unusual these days. The main disadvantage of this model is the ink cartridge size which is much too small, even for a non-regular printer like me. If I was in the market at the moment (and I may be soon), I would look at the new Epson P600 and P800 printers which are replacing the 2880 and 3880 respectively. They seem to be getting very good reviews. (TOP should have a review up soon.)

Jim said...

I read Brooks' book and I agree that work is only 'in pgrogress' until it is printed. The newest Epson printer I have is the 2880. Like you I get marvelous prints from it when it isn't frustrating the hell out of me. I don't have clogging problems but I do have to switch between Matte Black and Photo Black when I change papers and that has yet to go well. The printer is reluctant to recognize the change of ink type. In addition to changing the cartridge I have to shut everything down (printer and computer) and restart it all to get the printer to recognize the change from matte to glossy (or the reverse). Usually I have to do that 2, 3 or more times before the printer recognizes the change. In the immortal words of Lucy VanPelt, "AARRRGG!"

My other complaint is paper handling. It works great with plain paper for daily printing but I can feed only single sheets of heavier art paper (Epson's own brand included) and it often takes multiple tries to get it to feed correctly. If I get 2. 3 or more prints consecutively without a paper jam, it is a banner day. It has a tendency to pull the paper in partway then push it back out into the feed tray and display a feed error. Like the ink cartridge problem this usually involves shutting down the printer and clearing the print queue, then restarting the printer and often I have to do that multiple times. AARRRGG!

Epson printers make great (even awesome) prints but somtimes getting the printer to do it is like teaching a cat to do tricks, at least that's my experince so far and I've owned several Epson printers over the years.

Anonymous said...

Printers are an invention of the devil!

Patrick Dodds said...

Don't do it Kirk! Printers are the devil's spawn. I've had a few from Canon and Kodak in my time and they've all been dreadful, so much so that I've bought a laser printer and given up on printing out my own pictures and just use it for invoices and the like.

Expensive ink, weird colour casts, banding, clogging, jamming... the thought trying to print at home makes me feel unwell. I implore you - use a lab - while there are masochists enough to run these as businesses, why not outsource your grief? :-)

Mike Rosiak said...

I have a Canon Pixma iP3000, (dye printer), which I bought about ten years ago. I can let it sit for a year, and it will print without issues. Its sweet spot seems to be high gloss 4x6 snapshots. Like the original "bubble jet" Canon I had in the dawn of personal computers, you need to be careful, as moisture will smear the ink.

Both my wife and I have Epson R2880 (pigment) printers. Hers was bought new, and she seldom has any trouble with it. She tends to like to print on papers that take the PK cartridge. I bought mine cheap via Craigslist from a guy who had bought up a deceased photographer's equipment, and had no need for this printer nor a large stash of large Epson papers. It was totally clogged from the beginning, and required heroic efforts to unclog. If I don't use it fairly frequently, it will clog. When it does work, the results are very pleasing, especially B&W. (I tend towards matte papers, MK ink.) At some point, I probably will end my frustration by replacing the R2880 with a new Epson P600.

I think that possibly the pigment inks in Epson deliver better results than the dye inks of Canon older printers. Maybe that's why Canon switched to pigment, to be able to go head to head with Epson? I wonder how their PRO line fares with clogging problems?

Edward Richards said...

Hard to beat Epson for black and white. My 4900 has been going strong for 4 years at low print volume. But I am in Baton Rouge and even with air conditioning it stays pretty moist. During one prolong cold snap when I was out of town and could not cycle the printer for a while the head clogged. A couple of days of a windex soaked paper towel under the head cleared it up. I Austin I would get a printer cover and one of those humidifier things with silica gel in a can that you soak with water.

christian said...

I understand your feelings regarding Epson printers, however I would still recommend you investigate them. I have been using an R3000 for -oh, seven or so years now, moved several times with it, and it is performing super.

I often really like to print on things like Arches Watercolor paper, and this printer works like a charm. Now the thing is, if you are interested in printing on matte paper, the new P600 is supposed to be even better than the R3000 for printing on matte paper, something to consider.

For a while I managed the darkroom at FSU, including the digital side of it. We had Epson printers, yes - they do need maintenance but I really don't think you will get better prints from any other make!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kirk - I agree, "The Print's the Thing!"
I've had my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 for several years and have had no problems.
Since I got it I'm printing exclusively on Luster paper, and, mostly B&W.
Never had a head clogging event. It prints 17X22". Good Luck.

typingtalker said...

For some, spending big bucks on a body or lens is easier than spending tens of dollars for a professional to make a first class print. I don't know why.

I do know that I have no interest in owning, operating and maintaining an electrochemical device or having an inventory of expensive ink and paper.

Put another way, every hour I don't spend as a printer is an hour I do spend as a photographer.

Gilly said...

I bought a Canon Pro 10 about 3 months ago, it was my first venture into the world of printing so it is my only reference point. I must say that it has been one of my best photographic investments, I love the beautiful prints it makes. The wall is now adorned with beautiful framed prints and I couldn't, be happier.

Anonymous said...

I bought a canon printer about 5 years ago, use it heavily in short bouts, sometimes with months in between. Very happy with the results.

Oh, it does chew ink, but I found a great 3rd party cartridge supplier ( here in the UK) which cut the cost to about 20%.

Still going strong.


MartinP said...

I am still mostly printing with silver-based papers from negatives, so better to listen to everyone else, however . . .

The occasional foray in to digital printing has seen commercial inkjet prints consistently fade and environmentally-fail, until the Epson D3000 (not owned by me, I hasten to add). From personal experience, I could recommend only that printer, though it is a little outside your specs. Perhaps you can hire one in to your studio, or find an external rental somewhere? The results are both very robust and also very high-quality, imo.

Laser/led based printing on to RA4 was what I was occasionally (and successfully, for colour) using previously, but of course that was via an external lab.

Don't forget fume-extraction if you are making a lot of inkjet prints. Apart from the D3000, a lot of the ink solvents used are fairly unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Santa Fe a few years ago, where we can have some brutally dry weather for extended periods. I have a bunch of guitars, and knew that I had to solve the humidity problem because super-dry humidity will really screw up a guitar, even the solid wood ones. (The frets can begin to stick out from the sides of the neck, as the wood shrinks, but the metal frets don't.) Anyway, I blew an entire $80 or so on a Sears humidifier. The humidifier keeps the room humidity at around 50%, and, serendipitously, really reduced the clogging problems on my old Epson 3800. (Though it didn't eliminate them.) Anyway, a relatively cheap humidifier might be a good investment in Austin, if you don't already have one.

John Camp

David Sutton said...

My feeling is that nothing compares to physically holding a well crafted print in your hand. A photo on a wall is looked at every day. A photo on a web page is glanced at for a few seconds and then lost in a tidal wave of you-know-what.
I started with an Epson multi-function which I profiled and fed roll paper. Then an Epson 3800 which worked well enough but the desire to go larger got me and in 2011 I bought a Canon 6300. It has been thrown 3 ft in the air in an earthquake, been moved across country and is still going fine, though in the climate where I now live it needs a print to go through it every 6 days if I want to avoid it doing a cleaning cycle. Both heads have been replaced once.
Printing is not a cure for feeling restless, but rewarding if you approach it with the aim of having fun. It's a good excuse to to visit friends with your latest stuff. Reward them with coffee and cake for taking the time to look at it. Giving clients "hard copies" of an assignment is a bonus for them. Put the images in tissue paper in a black folder with your name stamped across the bottom diagonal. Include a pair of white gloves.

Richard Reusser said...

Interesting timing Kirk... I've had an unusual bit of clog trouble with my usually flawless Epson 3800. Suppose I can attribute it to a hot and dry (for Seattle) summer. That said its been a terrific printer.

The HP before it was the notorious 9180 which Mike Johnston and I seemed to concur printed beautifully and gulped ink at a terrifying rate. Had a couple Canons that were trouble free but used tiny little cartridges that cost a ton.

...but back to my original point, when my Epson printer clogged I tossed around the idea of print out sourcing. Ultimately decided I liked picking through the plethora of fine art papers and having my art in hand on a moments notice.

Personally, I find printing and book making a good antidote for equipment shopping and camera swapping.

Noons said...

I've given up any home printing. Been through the whole cycle of HP, Epson, Canon.
All needed a test/learning cycle. All needed specialized ink cartridges, incompatible with any other model of the same maker.
To my mind, inkjet printing is just a cash cow for them.
Rarely if ever do cartridges/recharges last more than one model iteration. With the consequence that once they are gone, the only way forward is to throw out the printer, buy yet another model and go through the entire test/learning cycle again.
Have better things to do with my time. As a result I'm now a user of a print lab.
Found a good one who does repeatable work. By this I mean: I give them the same file with an interval of a few weeks/months, I get back two prints that look for all intents and purposes exactly the same. Good enough for me.
The other thing I've done is stop posting files online other than just for snapshots or web size.
I simply take the files I like best once or twice a year to the print lab and get them to make large, beautiful prints, sometimes even on canvas.
Good enough for me, no worries, no hassles, and overall about as cheap as it'd be to print them at home.
But I do accept and note that I don't do thousands of prints - hey, I don't have thousands of very good shots worth printing! :)
Might be a different case for you and others.

Bruce Bodine said...


Seriously you should email Ctein. Imho he is a pro's pro in the world of printing. He will give you the benefit of his knowledge straight up.

Bruce Bodine

Honeybadger said...

I use a Epson 4800, and I seem to use it about once every 3 weeks and make 50 or so 11x17 prints. I get beautiful results and that machine has printed thousands of photos without complaint, save for the clogging issue. What I do is cut up a cheap shower curtain and drape it over the printer with a measuring cup full of water to keep the humility high. I also use a smart little program called 'Harvey Head Cleaner Version 3.' You leave the computer and printer on, and at at a predetermined time, it will wake up your printer and run a print head test once a day. I just use cheap white office paper for that task and turn it over and reuse it. It works well, keeping the print head charged with fresh ink and minimizes the clogging issue. Of course every ones indoor climate is different. Since Seiko which owns Epson, came out with pigmented K3 inks, it has transformed my photographic business. I get beautiful B&W prints that will last well over 200 years. Yes they are more fragile, but I sell my prints matted, so I tell people to keep it in it's plastic sleeve until they frame it.

Antonio Ramirez said...

I've owned an Epson 3800 for eight years with no problems whatsoever. I only print on Luster paper, so I do not go through the matte/glossy black ink dance.

I absolutely love being able to control the entire process, from shooting to holding a finished print in my hand.

Rene said...


Is there anyone in Austin who would let you play with their printer if it's one you like? You know, test it out and see if you like what you get and learn about their experience with printer x in the Austin climate.

That said, I looked at printers several years ago very, very closely and tried out a few. Then I compared the results to a local small print shop (using the Epson 9900) that did work of many photographers and artists in the area (i.e. scanning, printing, photoshop if needed). For me the learning curve, the cost of operation and the number of prints I did per year did not add up to doing it myself. Yes, I get what I am losing in the immediacy and instant tweaking, but I did find that very careful preparation of the files beforehand along with a small (8" x 10") test print (at no charge!) almost always got me what I wanted. After a year or so of that drill I could using just send over the files and know they would be perfect without my review. Is there someone like that in Austin?

Alan Barnard said...

In my opinion, a large majority of the creative work in digital photography happens in the computer. Lightroom and Photoshop have replaced the darkroom and they get us 99.9% of the way to the final print. That last 0.1% is simply a matter of working out technical details and making paper choices. To me, the headache of owning and maintaining a fussy inkjet printer is not worth the small benefit I get in return. I'm lucky if I manage a dozen images a year that deserve to be printed, so I prefer to work with a pro lab for those images. If you haven't done so, I'd recommend trying out Digital Silver Imaging. Their digital direct to silver gelatin prints are gorgeous.

Michael Matthews said...

Let me amend my grousing (above) about inks, pricing,etc. That lament has largely to do with HP consumer quality printers of the current generation.

I use an Epson R2880 for a peculiar purpose -- making prints of my wife's artwork for sale. Using a paper stock which emulates artist's watercolor paper the results are amazing. In fact, if you hang one of those prints, framed and behind glass, next to the original watercolor it is impossible to tell which is which. No kidding.

Older Epsons like the R2880 do require swapping the photo black ink cartridge for a matte black ink. This can be done only after the printer has powered up and run through its ink charging cycle. Which then necessitates another ink charging cycle. Waste galore. But the prints are fantastic.

As for conventional photography, mine is so seldom worth printing that my experience is not representative of anything.

Craig Yuill said...

I have been getting my prints of digital photos done by a company I have used for over 30 years for printing and film development. I submit my orders online, and use the option to have them print using no corrections (because I have done the corrections myself). The results I get are consistently very good. Perhaps you can experiment a bit and send jobs to a trusted photo-printing company. Once you get the hang of how they print you can adjust your post processing to get the most out of the prints the company outputs. This might be preferable to dealing with the frustrations of owning and operating another inkjet printer.

atmtx said...


I have the lowest end Canon Pro printer, the Pro 100. The printer has never clogged even if the printer is idle for 6 months and kept in a room the varies from 65 degrees to 85 degrees throughout the year.


Tom Northenscold said...

I had the previous Canon pro printer and switched to the Epson 3880 in order to print on 17x22 paper with D800 images. I have had zero problems with the Epson clogging, and I don't print every day or even every week. The output from the 3880 is stunning. I was amazed at how quickly I was turning out prints I was thrilled with. I've printed both B&W and color.

I feel the same way about the importance of printing my own images. To me, it's not a finished produce until I've printed it. Granted, I dint print every image I like, but I do print my absolute favorites. I belong to a photo group in Minneapolis that meets monthly to present and discuss actual prints made in response to an assignment. Maybe I'm just old school, but until an image is printed it feels like just an image. Once I print the image it becomes a photograph in my mind.

David said...

I print all of my personal work. That works out to about 125 final prints per year. From those, I generally get around 25 portfolio-level prints per year. So far this year, my work is running about 25 percent black-and-white and the rest color.

I print small, around 5x7 inches, because I like to look at prints while holding them in my hands. For exhibition I'll go as large as 12x15.

I started out with an Epson 2200 (13x19) in 2003, because it was a pigment printer that made (for the time) very nice black-and-white prints. Like your 4000, it was prone to clogging and other misbehavoirs. I kept it for 5 years until it died.

In 2008, replaced it with its successor, an Epson 2880 (13x19), which has behaved much better. I've had one or two episodes of clogging out of the 2880, but most of the time it just works. It will be 6 years old in December, so I'll be replacing it one of these days with an Epson P600.

No, everyone but you does not print. But I print. I'm even older than you, having first entered the darkroom in 1967. I like contact sheets. I still like to see the work prints stuck on the wall. And I like the yearly process of editing the finals down to the annual portfolio prints.

Shawn said...

I had a panicked "everything's stuck on a hard drive" moment a couple of years ago and decided to start printing my photos. I tried a few different print services but was never really happy. Screen and paper are just so different. I'm old enough to have used film but I didn't get the photography bug until this decade so I don't really have any analog history beyond the drugstore snapshots in the old family album.
I bought a used Epson 3800 last year for a song and it's been uphill since. I get the occasional nozzle clog but that clears up quickly. Color prints looked nice once I learned a bit about processing/calibrating for printing, but black and white wasn't doing it for me so... I went a bit nuts and converted it to Piezography. After working through the learning curve I'm really happy with that choice. And for color prints I just picked up a second 3800. Including the old laser printer I use for printing documents then I own more printers than cameras!

WillFurniss said...

Hi Kirk, I have had a number of printers from Epson starting with the 10000cf about 13 years ago and they have been constantly improving; the newest I have is the 9900 and its almost perfect (it's sheet feeding mechanism is a strange step backwards). I would go for a printer that is recently released and has big ink cartridges. I am unfamiliar with Canon, Epson have a new P800 which looks interesting. One thing to consider is maintenance here in Hong Kong Canon have amazing customer support, Epson's is pretty horrible but that may be different where you are.

Max Rottersman said...

I have a Canon 9000Pro II whatever. I accept up front I'll pay a lot for Canon cartridges, that if you just "look" at them they lose ink. One day I ordered a set of cartridges, they came in a box loosely packws. One of the cartridges had a clip broken off. Another cartridge spilled ink my hand. I contact Canon, after much complaining they eventually agree to send a replacement cartridge and intimated they wouldn't do that again, as if I was trying to cheat them out of a cartridge. A few months later another cartridge essentially exploded in my hand (Yes, I was careful!). The packaging has much to be desired. I called again, they said they'd send a replacement. They never did. Guess their system marked me as a fraud ;)

What's incredible to me is I was spending $14 a cartridge for what seemed like a handful of prints but they couldn't bother to wrap/pack the cartridges in a way that you didn't either risk breaking off the clip or getting ink all over your hands. So what do to? Give away the printer like Kirk. I was tempted.

I decided to get OEM cartridges, which have their own problems. Again, I WANTED to buy Canon and support them, but I felt they weren't making it easy for me. So I ordered a set of cartridges where I could refill the ink for $90. They sent me a continuous ink system instead, which though I wanted, didn't want to install. Anyway, I did because the systems are usually $120. It was a pain, but I finally got it working.

The bad, I have to do a nozzle clean before every print run. The good, I can print seemingly unlimited prints and the ink barely moves. People are loving the prints I give them. I can now "look" at the printer without worrying the cartridge just emptied out a dollar's worth of ink for a "calibration".

I can't believe Canon and Epson are doing well with their printers. I'm still hopeful they'll scrap the razor blade model and produce workhorse fine-art printers that take ink straight from the bottle--which is essentially what I have now.

I mean dang, if Japan was smart about their photography industry they'd GIVE ink away because Kirk, you're dead on!

Tom Leininger said...

The Canon ink tanks are small. Depends on what you want general printing or black and white? Epson wins black and white. Canon is ok for the rest. Not that fast and the cost per print is higher.

Anonymous said...

I still use Epson 1280 w/ MIS Matte Black for Black Only printing. Pure black dots, no other color. It makes a difference. Not sure if you can do that with "modern day" ink jets and drivers.

ginsbu said...

I've been thinking of getting a printer, but space is holding me back until I move. I was recently tempted by discounts on the Canon Pro series printers until I realized just how huge they are, even though they only print 13" wide. The Epson P600 is smaller, but only a little. My current thinking is that the Epson P800 is the way to go once I have the space: similarly sized to the Canons, but accommodating 17" paper (better choice of cut sizes since I favor squarer aspect ratios) and larger and more economical ink cartridges; the Epson 3880 (predecessor to the P800) has a pretty good reputation for reliability and Epsons seems to be preferable for B&W—but I may change my mind. The Canon Pro 100 is sometimes available for around $50 after rebate/discounts, and at that price is hard to resist if you've got the space and want dye inks.

In many ways I'd prefer to use a print lab if I could find one offering moderately priced prints on fiber papers with proper color profiles for their printers/papers. Too many services are either sRGB only, or only offer RC papers, or are just too expensive (especially when including shipping). Also, when I do use print services, I tend to wait until I can submit an order for a bunch of prints at once, with the predictable result that I go a long while without making prints and have to pick up work on long past photos when I do. Being able to make a single print when I please, as the culmination of processing my images, strikes me as a big advantage of owning a printer myself.

raingeek said...

Kirk, I have an Epson R3000 that I have neglected shamefully. It sat in storage for three months, was dragged across Canada in a very cold January in the back of my van - which means it froze at night. I had not had clogs with it before, but was mentally preparing myself for them. Plugged it in, printed a photo - no worries.

I'd say Epson has solved the clogging problem.

Also, the print quality is superb. Friends and mentors who make their living with photography have loved both the black and white and colour prints I've shown them. Since I've done several print-centric classes as well as a print sharing meetup with them, they've seen a ton of work out of the printer.

I love my Epson for the glorious work it has allowed me to do and share. Also, you'll be familiar with Ctein from TOP, here's the page with his printer listed:

I look forward to reading about your printing experiences.

Grant Tomlinson

Anonymous said...

Get the old steam powered printers, they're the best!

Anonymous said...

Think again, Kirk.
So you make a print, and...
buy a large drawer cabinet to store it in, where it will never be seen again; or..
thumbtack it to a wall.. really? thumbtacks for your work of art?..; or..
matte and frame it.. are you a photographer or framing artisan?..; so..
hire the framing.. uh, how is the budget affected by this ($/ea X many prints)..
then, (speaking of many prints).. "what wall space?"..; so..
Buy a bigger house for more wall space...
Now how's the budget doing?

How's that for Debbie Downer scenario?
Cheers, enjoy your blog, thanks for sharing.

Dave Green said...

It's another thumbs up for Canon Pro-100 from me. I've also been through my fair share of Epson printers till I switched to the Canon. I use Canon inks and paper and never regretted my purchase. I generally print 8x10 with the occasional big one. I recently did a couple of nice big BW prints for my wall (from a 1950s Microcord :-)) mounted n framed they look great IMO.

Good luck