A solidly-built A3+ printer that can produce exhibition-quality colour and monochrome prints on a wide variety of media.We've waited a while to review Canon's ten-colour PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II A3+ photo printer, which was announced in March for release in June but only became available at the end of August. Replacing the PIXMA Pro9500, which we reviewed in September 2007, like its predecessor the Mark II is targeted at high-end photo enthusiasts and professional photographers and is a good choice for those who shoot raw files. . . [more]
We've waited a while to review Canon's ten-colour PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II A3+ photo printer, which was announced in March for release in June but only became available at the end of August. Replacing the PIXMA Pro9500, which we reviewed in September 2007, like its predecessor the Mark II is targeted at high-end photo enthusiasts and professional photographers and is a good choice for those who shoot raw files.
Surprisingly, the new model is almost identical to the original Pro9500, with the black and dark grey case plus the same 660 x 355 mm footprint and control layout. The front panel carries the same operating controls, which consist of an on/off button, resume/cancel button, front feed button and USB port for connecting a digital camera. Two status lamps, covering power and alarm, sit left of the top two buttons.
Canon's PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II set up for direct printing from a DSLR camera. (Source: Canon.)
Power and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed ports are located at either end of the rear panel, while the top panel lifts up to reveal the printhead and ink tanks. The paper in and out trays increase its depth to about 80 cm when fully extended. The top-loading feeder has flip-up support for large sheets of paper and an adjustable guide that ensures the paper loads correctly for printing. Heavyweight paper (up to 1.2mm thick) must be fed in manually via the front tray. The printer carries the paper back through a rear slot and requires at least 40 cm behind the printer for it to pass through.
The ink set for the PIXMA the Pro9500 Mark II. (Source: Canon.)
The new model features Canon's tried-and-proven Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) technology and boasts a 7,680 nozzle print-head structure that allows precise ejection of microscopic ink droplets for all colours. Not surprisingly, the 3-picolitre droplet size is the same as the previous model's - as is the 4800 x 2400 dpi output resolution.
Another feature carried over is the Lucia pigment-based inks, which were introduced with the previous model and claim lightfastness ratings in excess of 100 years for colour and 200 years for black and white prints. The inks come in individual 14 ml cartridges in the following colours: photo black, matte black, grey, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red and green.
This ensures a wide colour gamut for top-quality colour prints, as well as three levels of black for true black-and-white photographs. Furthermore, you don't need to swap black cartridges when changing from glossy to matte paper.
The driver interface is almost identical to the previous model and straightforward to use. You can save particular combinations of settings for repeated use, adjust colours before printing and apply a variety of special effects. You can also set the driver to provide a print preview before printing.
The main driver interface for the PIXMA the Pro9500 Mark II.
Manual colour adjustments.
The Pro9500 Mark II also supports 16-bit/channel printing and includes dedicated monochrome controls. You can change colour modes, selecting from five settings: Natural, Natural M, Black/White, Cool tone and Warm Tone (the latter in B&W).
The Natural M setting supports brightness and contrast adjustments and includes face brightener, face sharpener, face smoothing and red-eye correction functions that operate selectively. Colour balance adjustment is made easy by a ring-around display - although your monitor must be properly calibrated if you wish to avoid making test prints to check settings.
Most of the new features in the Mark II model are provided as firmware and software, with the improvements starting in Canon's colour management system. As well as including support for the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop, the new Color Management Tool Pro 2 software comes with embedded ICC profiles for the latest Canon media. Users can also create their own profiles for use with the new printer.
The latest version of Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Pro software also includes a plug-in that enables direct printing from Photoshop using these profiles. It is also usable for printing directly from Digital Photo Professional, the raw file converter bundled with all Canon DLSR cameras. The software bundle also contains Easy-PhotoPrint EX, an upgrade to the Easy-PhotoPrint application provided with the 2007 model.
While the basics of the Easy-PhotoPrint applications remain essentially unchanged, Easy-PhotoPrint EX adds templates for creating albums, calendars and stickers to its regular printing controls. Some screen grabs showing the user interfaces for Easy-PhotoPrint EX are reproduced below.
The browser interface for Easy-PhotoPrint EX.
Media type and size selection.
The Layout interface. (Note the limited options for the ‘fine art' papers.)
The ink status monitor. This pop-up appears whenever ink levels are assessed as ‘low', although there may be ink for up to 20 A4 prints remaining.
Easy-PhotoPrint Pro is only accessible through the File > Automate sub-menu in Photoshop and, although the user manual claims it's only compatible with versions of PhotoShop up to CS3 and PhotoShop Elements 6, in practice the latest versions of both applications are supported. The screen grabs below provide examples of the user interface.
Layout and media selection for Easy-PhotoPrint Pro.
The Pattern Print setting lets you print a colour ring-around for checking colour balance.
We can find few reasons for anybody who likes to print directly through their image editor and have it handle colour management to use the bundled applications because they continue to have many restrictions that will frustrate experienced - and demanding - photographers. We've already outlined them in our review of the original PIXMA Pro9500.
However, a new Easy-Photo Print Pro feature that may attract some photographers who print images for display is Canon's Ambient Light Correction technology. It's designed to reduce the perceived colour difference caused by different light conditions between printing and viewing or display environments by adjusting print colour for the conditions in which the print will be shown. Users can set various levels from daylight at 6500K to a warm white fluorescent lamp at 3000K.
Options provided for Ambient Light Correction. (Source: Canon.)
Unfortunately, this feature has significant limitations. It's only available in Windows Vista, which puts it out of contention for the multitude of Mac users and those who have stuck with Windows XP. It will also only suit prints that will be viewed in a single, very specific type of lighting. If you plan to print your photos for display in albums or on the walls of your home, making prints that look good in, say, halogen lighting, will mean you could end up with pretty ordinary-looking images in daylight or under domestic fluoros.
You can also use the Easy-Photo Print Pro plug-in to print CR2.RAW files, changing them to high-resolution JPEG or TIFF files without having to convert them in DPP. Though why you would do this is beyond comprehension when Adobe's free Camera Raw plug-in does a much better job of file conversion - and does it in the image editor workspace.
Few serious photographers consider printing images directly from a camera without first checking them in an image editor. However, the Pro9500 Mark II comes with PictBridge direct printing support and includes a facility that enables selected image metadata to be printed on index sheets. This could prove handy for photographers working on location, although they would need to be able to transport the printer and have access to mains power to capitalise on it.
One handy direct-printing feature is the ability to print brief image metadata on index sheets by selecting the Print Advanced Info checkbox in the Printer Settings menu.
Like its predecessor, the Pro9500 Mark II also supports printing on coated CD/DVD disks. A special tray is provided for this purpose.
Set-up and Operation
Little has changed in the system for setting up the new model. You begin by installing the print head and ink cartridges and loading some plain paper in the auto sheet feed tray. The driver software is installed next from the supplied CDs, which should include Windows and Mac disks. When you connect the printer to your PC via a USB cable (not supplied) and switch the power on, the computer's OS should recognise the printer and install the drivers. You will be instructed to print two sheets of nozzle and head alignment tests before you can proceed. This takes about 10 minutes.
As with the previous model, the detailed manual is in electronic format and it's installed on your computer as part of the Easy Install process. Once the printer is set up and connected to your computer, subsequent operation is mostly straightforward. The printer keeps you posted on output progress and provides pop-up reminders of ink status when tanks are running low.
Interestingly, although the ink status monitor is too small for you to assess how much ink remains in a cartridge, the printer will keep printing until the ink actually runs out (at least we assume that's what happens) before displaying the warning shown below.
The warning that appears when an ink cartridge is depleted.
Swapping cartridges is quick and easy. Raising the top cover moves the print head into position so you can access the cartridges. The depleted cartridge is indicated by a flashing light. You simply unpack the new cartridge from its box and plastic bag, unclip the orange protective cap, remove the depleted cartridge and slot the new one into place.
The whole process takes about a minute, after which you close the top cover again, restoring the print head to its operating position. However, before printing can begin again, you have to wait for roughly three minutes while the printer ‘mixes' the ink. The power lamp on the control panel flashes will this takes place.
For users who opt to print through the bundled software, using different papers and attempting any form of test printing can be a frustrating exercise. The default driver setting is for Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss paper, which delivered good results for the images we printed through this software. Unfortunately, when you wish to print on other papers you must change the setting each time you make a new print.
Neither of the Easy-Photo Print applications will let you set up the driver to print on fine art paper without imposing a margin of at least 35mm along the narrow edges and 3.4 mm along the wide edges. It's also almost impossible to print test strips via this software. In addition, you can't print papers designated as ‘fine art' through the rear feed chute. You can side-step this impediment by selecting a non-fine art paper type in the printer driver, but doing so prevents you from using your chosen paper's ICC profile.
Restrictions for printing on ‘fine art' papers in Easy-PhotoPrint EX.
On the whole, we found it preferable to print through an image editor and allow it to control colour management. This way, it doesn't really matter which paper type you select in the printer driver because the editor is in control. You can also set your own margin widths and print test strips in a normal fashion. It's also easy to apply Canon's ‘canned' paper profiles through applications like Photoshop. These profiles produced excellent results with all the papers we tried.
Printing through Photoshop CS4.
In addition, although Canon states that heavier papers must be loaded through the front sheet feeder, we found it as fiddly to use as the earlier model. As on the previous model, no facilities are provided for using roll papers. However, like the Mark I, the Mark II has a Custom setting for paper sizes, although it's a little different from its predecessor, with a maximum size of 420 x 676 mm, compared with 431.8 x 558.8 mm for the previous model.
The maximum Custom paper size supported in the printer driver.
Power consumption is relatively low - and even more conservative than the 2007 model. In standby mode, the Pro9500 Mark II draws only 1.2 Watts from the mains, dropping to 0.9 Watts when it's turned off. When printing it uses 14 Watts, which is 6 Watts less than its predecessor.
Acoustic noise is the same as the original, at 36 dB(A) in best quality mode. While printing, the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is relatively quiet. However, there's often a series of audible clunks as a sheet of paper is loaded, particularly through the front sheet feeder.
At $33 each, purchasing a complete set of inks for the Pro9500 will set you back $330. As the printer was supplied with cartridges pre-installed and had been used before we began our tests, we're unable to give precise running costs for the new printer. However, on the basis of our usage, it's possible to provide some estimates and confirm canon's usage figures.
The photo magenta, photo cyan and green ink cartridges were showing low levels when we started our tests, but, interestingly, the first cartridge to be depleted was the grey cartridge, which was initially shown to be half full. It ran out after we had made 14 A3 and 10 A4 prints, with the quality set on High and we had to obtain an additional cartridge before our back-up supply of replacement inks ran out. This printer really chews through the grey ink!
The photo magenta and photo cyan ran out shortly after, when we had completed another six A3 prints and two A3+. By this time, the ink levels on the photo black, yellow, cyan, red and green were roughly half way down the bar graph.
On the basis of our tests, we estimate the ink cost for an A3 print with 35mm margins is approximately $2.95. Paper costs vary widely. A 40-sheet pack of Canon's Matte Photo paper in A3 size has an RRP of $37.95, while a 20-sheet pack of A3 260 gsm Semi Gloss Photo Paper sells for $59.95.
Fine Art papers are more expensive, with 20 sheets of 350 gsm Fine Art Museum Etching in A3+ size selling for $233.95 and 20 sheets of 188 gsm Fine Art Paper Photo Rag selling for $162.95. You can also purchase a glossy fine art paper, 300 gsm Photo Paper Pro Platinum, which costs $54 for 10 sheets in A3+ size.
Canon claims the Mark II model provides significantly faster production times, offering a 1.5x improvement on the printing speeds for A3+ bordered prints than the PIXMA Pro9500. The printer we reviewed confirmed this assessment, as shown in the table below, which compares the average output speeds we obtained for both models in our tests.
PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II
2 min. 59 sec
3 min. 46 sec.
4 min. 50 sec.
6 min. 24 sec
A3 with 35mm border
5 min. 22 sec.
7 min. 37 sec
A3 with 35mm border
7 min. 02 sec.
10 min. 55 sec.
10 min. 11 sec.
15 min. 29 sec.
Spooling times for the new model ranged from almost a minute for A3 prints to around 30 seconds for A4.
In line with normal practice, we tried the review unit out on a variety of Canon and non-Canon papers. Not surprisingly, we found print quality was much more dependent on matching the image to the appropriate paper than a factor determined by the printer itself.
Fine Art Museum Etching was particularly image-dependent, although it produced excellent results with both colour and B&W images with plenty of ‘punch'. Interestingly, when we tried to make a warm-toned monochrome print on this paper through Easy-Photo Print Pro, the profile for the paper wasn't included in the list of options - despite our selection of the front paper feeder. Even selecting the Fine Art Photo Rag profile elicited an error message about incorrect size selection so we ended up having to use the Matte Paper profile, which produced a nice result.
Profiles available for printing through Easy-Photo Print Pro.
Although pigment ink printers are renowned for producing better prints on matte papers than glossy media, we found most images printed very nicely on the 260 gsm Semi Gloss Photo Paper and 300 gsm Photo Paper Pro Platinum papers supplied. Unlike the previous model, we observed little or no gloss differential (variations in surface reflectivity), under directional lighting and no sign of bronzing on prints made on the glossy and semi-gloss papers. We also obtained some nice-looking prints with good colours and excellent detail in the images we printed on Longbottom Digital 170 gsm Double-sided Matte paper (which is great for printing calendars and photo book pages).
For images with a broad dynamic range, printing on matte fine art papers like Fine Art Premium Matte and Photo Rag frequently produced flat-looking prints. However, these papers produced beautiful tonal nuances with images with subtle tones, particularly in monochrome prints. No colour casts were observed in any of the monochrome prints we made and we found no evidence of metamerism (colour changes under different lighting conditions).
Buy this printer if:
- You're looking for a solidly-built A3+ printer that can handle a wide variety of ‘fine art' media and produce exhibition-quality prints.
- You're looking for an A3+ printer that provides full support for ICC profiles.
- You'd like to be able to print labels on CDs and DVDs.
- you want to produce monochrome prints that are free of colour casts.
Don't buy this printer if:
- You want fast printing speeds or require high-volume production performance.
- You'd like to be able to print panoramas or banners longer than 676 mm. (This printer lacks facilities for roll paper printing.)
Printer type: A3+ professional pigment-ink photo printer
Resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi
Paper sizes: A3+, A3, A4, Letter, Legal, Ledger, A5, B5; Photo cards (4x6, 5x7, 8x10-inch sizes)
Max. paper weight: ASF: up to 300 gsm; Front Feed: up to 1.2mm thick
Ink cartridges: Individual 14 ml Lucia pigment ink tanks: PGI-9PM, PGI-PBK, PGI-MBK, PGI-PC, PGI-GY, PGI-M, PGI-Y, PGI-C, PGI-G, PGI-R
Ink yield: For 11 x 14-inch image on A3 paper: PGI-9PM - approx. 37, PGI-9PBK - approx. 43, PGI-9MBK - approx. 219, PGI-9PC - approx. 44, PGI-9GY - approx. 37, PGI-9M - approx. 144, PGI-9Y - approx. 125, PGI-9C - approx. 79, PGI-9G - approx. 160, PGI-9R - approx. 104
Interfaces: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Camera Direct Print Port (PictBridge)
Power consumption: Max: 14W, Standby: 1.2W, Off: 0.9W
Acoustic noise: 36 dB(A) in best quality mode
Dimensions (wxhxd): 660 x 193 x 355 mm (with paper trays and other extensions closed)
Weight: Approx. 15.2 kg
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9
- Features: 8
- Print quality: 9
- Print speed: 8
- OVERALL: 8.5