I’m sure you know, I love to print. When the size allows it, I print my images myself because, in addition to loving the final result, I love the whole process. It’s a bit like making coffee with a moka or listening to vinyl…it’s not just the final result that counts, but the whole ritual involved.
I print with an old Canon Pixma PRO-1. Released (and purchased) in 2011 is a bit like an old Vespa: outdated, but still reliable. Well broken in, it doesn’t miss a beat and gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Technological progress is unstoppable, however, and after almost 10 years of honorable service I was thinking of sending it into well-deserved retirement to move to new generation products still based on pigment inks, but that allow me to achieve larger gamuts (in other words and brutally said, to print more colors).
In the search for candidates, this time I’m going up a level in the print size to bring me from my current maximum A3+ to A2, which for the segment of professional home photo printers we can say represents the new upper limit.
As always the duel between the titans at the end is between Canon and Epson with their respective flagships for this size: the not so young Canon iPF PRO-1000 and the brand new Epson SC-P900.
When you try to write an article like this where you compare two products in direct competition, the pitfalls (and fanboys) are around every corner. For this reason, I think it is essential to make some premises.
- This article is not supported or sponsored in any way by the two brands mentioned: they have not provided any material or support for its drafting. Everything you’ll find here is simply the result of my free thought
- This is not a review of printers because there are already too many of them on the net and because I honestly think some aspects are really just a matter of cosmetics. On the contrary, this article focuses on one of the fundamental characteristics of a printer in my opinion, which is the ability of the printer/ink/paper combination to reproduce colors on a defined paper support. In a word: Gamut. (For the record, there are very few other parameters that interest me…among these I would certainly consider maximum print size and ink type to name a few, and I would certainly not consider size, weight, noise, print speed, LCD display and other details that are irrelevant to me).
- Although Canon and Epson use technologically different printing systems (especially the heads), the products under consideration are fully comparable since we are in fact going to compare two professional home printers for the maximum A2 size that use pigment inks.
- If you’re not basically a Nerd, you’ll be bored reading this review…at least you know it in advance 🙂
- In order not to make this article just a Nerd treatise but something useful for those who are trivially interested in printing and maybe need to make a purchase, as usual, I will simplify and trivialize certain topics much more complex
- The images that we will use as an example in the following evaluations are obviously associated with the Adobe RGB color profile. If this “obviously” sounds bad to you, or if you simply send to the printer images associated with the sRGB profile, I suggest you first read some other article on this Blog about Color Management so you can fully enjoy what you will find between these lines.
How to compare two fundamentally different products on an objective basis? Certainly not by making a classic review, as it would be too much subject to the printing skills of the author and in any case based on a subjective feeling dictated by holding a printed sheet in the hands (Is it printed correctly? Is it displayed under the correct lighting? Is it the result of a correct Color Management?) of an observer. For this reason, as a nerd, I find comfort in numbers, and therefore I evaluate the printing capabilities of the two printers by analyzing the characterizations of the printers on certain papers. In other words, let’s evaluate the ICC profiles.
As you know one of the prerequisites to print correctly is to profile our printer (and therefore the whole printer body + ink load) for the paper we want to use. The result of this profiling (performed with a spectrophotometer) is the legendary ICC profile. Going to analyze this profile, we can then reconstruct the Gamut of the combination printer/ink/paper that as we said brutally describes “how many colors I can print on that specific paper with that specific printer that uses those specific inks”.
This evaluation is thus made by trying to understand how the same paper behaves on the two printers. Since in fact this article is an aloud thought made about whether or not to replace my printer, I choose to evaluate how the two printers behave on the two papers I most commonly use, which are:
- Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth (cotton paper with low texture)
- Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl (glossy paper with almost no texture)
The first objection I try to intercept is the one related to the fact if it is not better to evaluate the printers on the papers produced by Canon and Epson themselves. The answer for me is absolutely not. First of all, because I could not then make an objective comparison (since using the same paper allows you to have a point of conjunction and comparison between the two different printers) and then because I’m sorry to always have to underline it, but the papers produced by Epson and Canon are not remotely comparable in variety and quality to papers such as those offered by a primary manufacturer (such as Hahnemühle in fact).
After this endless and boring introduction, let’s finally go and see how our Epson SC-P900 and Canon iPF PRO-1000 perform!
Gamut Comparison on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth paper is without a doubt my favorite paper on which I print about 80% of my images. It’s a fabulous cotton paper because even though it belongs to the Rag family it has less texture, a very nice white point and a very high black point (Dmax), which is the Achilles’ heel of all cotton papers. It may be that my beloved long exposures lend themselves well to cotton papers, but I will never tire of suggesting this paper to those who want to print.
To make the analysis more complete, we are going to analyze the profile both in Yxy coordinates (as it allows us to take advantage of the intuitiveness of the chromaticity diagram), and in Lab coordinates (to better evaluate the different shades of gamut). In the image below we can see a 2D representation of the Adobe RGB color space (in red) in Yxy coordinates that will be our workspace with which we will properly prepare our images before printing. Once again we remind you that printing a photo with an associated sRGB color space (in green) is like buying a Ferrari and then keep it in second gear because the gamut of a typical paper (in black) will always be higher, and therefore we are losing colors.
Let’s compare the gamut of the Epson SC-P900 (in green) with the one of the Canon iPF PRO-1000 (in red), both in 2D to understand the difference in chromaticity and in 3D to take into account the luminance.
Starting from the two-dimensional analysis for the chromaticity, honestly I think the result is anything but obvious.
As we can see, what jumps to the eye from the chromaticity diagram on the left is that the Epson SC-P900 (released in 2020) on this matte paper (and continuing the tests we can tend to generalize to most of the cotton papers) has a gamut very similar to the one of the Canon iPF PRO-1000 (released in 2016!).
Honestly, it’s unexpected since given the technical specifications of the new Epson with particular reference to the new UltraChrome Pro 10 inks and given that we’re talking about a machine 4 years newer, I was really expecting something more punchy. On certain areas of the chromaticity diagram, the Canon iPF PRO-1000 performs much better as we can better see from the Lab diagram on the right.
In particular, dropping the graphs in the real world, with the Epson SC-P900 I can push a bit on the chromaticity of blues and greens (great for seascapes and forests for example). Unfortunately, they rarely tend to high saturation. On the other hand, the victory of the Canon iPF PRO-1000 on the warm tones that are so dear to landscape photographers for sunrises and sunsets (where it’s easy to find some high-saturated situations) is overwhelming.
What does it mean? If I want to print this image with the two printers, with the Canon iPF PRO-1000 I could easily achieve the chromaticities of this epic sunrise, while with the Epson SC-P900 I would have to sacrifice a good part of those beautiful warm tones and implement appropriate rendering intents to try to minimize the loss. We see this in the graph on the right from the decomposition and spatial arrangement of my image on a Lab diagram.
To prove what I was saying, if we take one of my images with very saturated colors on blue and green, I still have no problems with either printer because saturated blues and greens in nature never reach critical values.
As we know, however, chromaticity is only a part of the color, so let’s now consider luminance through three-dimensionality.
I confess that even here unfortunately I am surprised by the Epson SC-P900 (in green in the graphs below) that promises on the website “deeper blacks” but unfortunately can not reach the same level as the Canon iPF PRO-1000 (in red in the graphs below). Even if the difference is not so pronounced, for those who like me like to print mainly on cotton paper (which, as we have already said, among their characteristics have an inherent difficulty in achieving deep blacks) this is really a detail impossible to overlook.
Even on high brightness Canon iPF PRO-1000 seems to perform better, leaving the Epson SC-P900 a greater gamut only on some edges of a few chromaticities.
Gamut Comparison on Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl
As someone rightly pointed out to me, you can’t live just using matte papers! That’s why over time I started to explore the beautiful world of glossy and lustre papers. Available in almost infinite varieties, with their finish they can achieve really bright colors and deep blacks, but paying the price of high reflectivity. There are those who adore them and those who even look for papers with marked textures to enhance certain details. An absolutely subjective and understandable choice. I too was seduced by this dark side, and now it happens quite often to work with this type of paper. I use three of them, but the one that gives me the most satisfaction and that I use most often is the Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl, a 285 gsm α-cellulose with a very delicate texture and a very bright white point.
Usually glossy and lustre papers have a wider gamut than matte papers, and we can see this by comparing the gamut of a typical cotton paper with a typical glossy paper. If in the two-dimensional representation is evident a wider chromaticity in the glossy paper (whose area is represented in rainbow) compared to the cotton paper (whose area is represented in blue) that leads to that brilliance of colors I mentioned before, in the three-dimensional representation immediately jumps to the eye how much deeper the blacks can be thanks to a higher gamut volume in the glossy paper (represented with a rainbow grid) compared to the cotton paper (represented with a blue solid).
But how do the Epson SC-P900 and Canon iPF PRO-1000 perform in this new world with expanded boundaries? Let’s go over it together right now.
As we can see from the graphs below (both in Yxy coordinates on the left and Lab coordinates on the right), the relative situation largely follows what we have already seen for cotton papers, but in a more accentuated form.
In other words, the Canon iPF PRO-1000 (represented in red) from a first analysis of chromaticity (so two-dimensional) has a gamut higher than the most recent Epson SC-P900 (represented in green), but with a gap much wider in the chromaticities of green, and almost always higher in blue and red.
Surely this for me is definitely unexpected. We must say, however, that if we drop this in the real world, for what we have seen before (i.e. the fact that the gamut of glossy and lustre cards are normally more “comfortable” than opaque ones) we are unlikely to face any problem.
To see this in an example, let’s try again to graph a particularly saturated image.
As you can see we don’t have any issue even with the Epson SC-P900, and I can assure you that even the sunrise image full of warm chromaticity seen before can be reproduced, even if really at the limit.
In short, here I would never expect real printing problems even with the Epson, but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth that such a new machine performs like a 4 years old one.
Let’s extend our dimensional world into the third dimension and so let’s see how the two printers behave on this glossy paper also in terms of luminance.
I would say that without considering the portion of gamut not covered in chromaticity by the Epson SC-P900 (always represented in green), the two gamuts are really very similar. Difficult to represent it with some simple screenshots, but both where the Canon iPF PRO-1000 (always represented in red) is superior, and where the Epson SC-P900 is, the Gamut delta is really minimal.
If we want to notice a trend, the Epson SC-P900, always talking about the chromaticity covered by both printers, would seem more able to handle high luminance, while the Canon iPF PRO-1000 allows us to have deeper blacks. But I repeat, we are talking about the comparison of gamut boundaries that are so wide that they can easily cover a regular landscape image with no problem.
If we take for example my image of the fiery dawn that we analyzed earlier for the cotton paper (the one that the Epson SC-P900 could not cover), we see that on this paper there are no problems in chromaticity or luminance as it can be completely “caged” by the gamut of both printers.
I don’t call them “Conclusions” as I usually do because it’s not really the point of this article to come to a definitive statement. I don’t think there’s an absolute winner, and anyway we’re talking about the two flagship printers from Canon and Epson for professional A2 home photo printing, so two incredible machines that both allow us to reach a home printing quality that we once could only dream of.
If I loved mainly printing on glossy paper, probably the gamut would not be a parameter of choice between the two printers since they are basically equivalent. However, since I especially love printing on cotton paper, I can’t ignore the fact that the Epson SC-P900 can’t decisively surpass (and sometimes even reach) the older Canon iPF PRO-1000.
It would be really interesting to try these printers to understand the combination of gamut described above with the other peculiarities of each printer to evaluate them as a whole, but until then I think my trusty Canon PRO-1 will still grind a lot of paper!