An efficient A2 printer for professional photographers who want a high-volume workhorse that can produce affordable, exhibition-quality prints. Canon's imagePROGRAPH iPF5100 has been designed for a production environment and combines rugged construction with sophisticated engineering plus features to satisfy demanding photographers. Using an improved pigment ink system, it produces prints on papers up to 17 inches (431.8 mm) wide delivering a wide colour gamut plus excellent lightfastness and colour stability. . . [more]
Canon's imagePROGRAPH iPF5100 has been designed for a production environment and combines rugged construction with sophisticated engineering plus features to satisfy demanding photographers. Using an improved pigment ink system, it produces prints on papers up to 17 inches (431.8 mm) wide delivering a wide colour gamut plus excellent lightfastness and colour stability.
The imagePROGRAPH iPF5100 set up for sheet paper printing using the top paper feed slot. (Source: Canon.)
The new model represents a significant upgrade to the iPF5000 and features improved black, matte black, grey and photo grey inks that reduce graininess and bronzing and provide better durability and scratch resistance. Canon has also added automatic colour calibration for stable, consistent colour from print to print. The calibration process takes between 10 and 15 minutes and is applicable to all media, in all printing modes. The printer can also recalibrate itself to the original factory settings and make any necessary adjustments across the printer's media types to ensure optimal output consistency.
Canon's new Kyuanos advanced colour management system provides an expanded colour palette and enables more accurate matching of colours between different devices and environments. Finally, the roll paper holder is now part of the printer, rather than an optional attachment and the L-COA processor includes a new printing sequence.
The design of the ink delivery system allows the printheads to cover a wider area than previous six-ink printers, minimising the number of passes required to cover an area of paper and optimising printing speeds. This makes the iPF5100 faster than previous models.
The addition of red, green and blue inks widens the colour gamut, ensuring more accurate colour reproduction. The 12-ink system also contains three levels of black ink to ensure B&W prints are free from unwanted colour casts. Swapping between Photo and Matte blacks is automatic and dictated by the paper selected in the printer driver. No ink is wasted during the swap-over.
The iPF5100 is the smallest of a family of five imagePROGRAPH printers that can print on papers ranging from 17 inches to 44 inches wide. All models use the company's new Lucia 12-colour pigment inks and all feature twin, high-density printheads with 2560 ink nozzles per colour and six colours per head, giving a total of 30,720 ink nozzles. Each nozzle produces droplets containing 4 picolitres of ink per colour, enabling fine details to be reproduced.
Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com) has rated the Lucia inks for a minimum of 47 years for colour prints displayed without protection or more than 200 years for B&W prints. Prints displayed behind glass have lightfastness ratings of between 95 years and 121 years for colour prints and in excess of 300 years for B&W prints.
The inks are also graded as highly resistant to humidity on all papers, with a high to moderate resistance to water. (Note: the water-resistance tests involved both drip tests and standing water droplets/gentle wipe tests.)
The A2 Marketplace
Potential purchasers of A2 printers have few options to choose from. The iPF5100 is the only model Canon offers. Epson has two models, the Stylus Pro 3880 and 4900. The Stylus Pro 3880 is less than half the price of the iPF5100 but doesn't support roll paper and lacks the more sophisticated features provided by the professional models. That said, it's probably a better choice for low-volume environments.
HP's dye-based DesignJet 90 has been around for several years but if you want one you may have to import it as we couldn't find it on the company's Australian website. The table below shows the main differences between the Canon and Epson models.
Epson Stylus Pro 4900
12 colours (MBK, BK, C, PC, M, PM, Y, R, B, G, GY, PGY)
10-Colours (C, M, Y, PK, MK, LC, LM, LK, LLK O, G) with 11 slots (auto switching)
WIR lightfastness (unprotected)
2400 x 1200 dpi
2880dpi x 1440dpi with Epson Variable-sized Droplet Technology
4pl per colour
Max. media thickness
Roll: 0.8 mm; Cassette: 0.3 mm; manual: 1.8 mm
0.8mm -1.5 mm
Paper feed options
Roll, cut sheet, cassette
Roll, cut sheet, cassette
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, IEEE 802.3 10 baseT/TX, IEEE 1394
USB 2.0, IEEE 802.3 10 baseT/TX
Operating: >100W; Standby: >6W; Sleep: 1W
Operating: 70W; Standby: >1W; Sleep: <16W
999 x 810 x 344 mm
863 x 766 x 405 mm
RRP (incl. GST)
Build and Ergonomics
There's no escaping the fact that the iPF5100 is a large and heavy beast and you need a solid desk with at least 1.3 metres square of free space to accommodate it. Alternatively, you can buy a special stand (RRP $286) to put it on. There must be at least 300 mm of free space behind the printer and 800 mm in the front to handle paper throughput.
Side view of the iPF5100 on the ST-11 stand with the BU-02 Media Basket in place. (Source: Canon.)
The printer is delivered on a timber palette and requires at least two people to manhandle it into position. Carrying handles are inset into the base close to each corner of the printer body. The plastic Belt Stopper inserted to hold the head carriage in position should be retained in case you need to move the printer at a later time.
The printer comes with the roll paper holder and maintenance cartridge pre-installed but you'll have to install the two printheads and 12 ink cartridges. Also supplied is a set of start-up cartridges, each holding 90 ml of ink. Roughly 10 ml from each cartridge will be used to prime the line feed to the printheads, leaving you with 80 ml to print with. (This is a once-only event; subsequent cartridges will provide the full 130 ml of ink for printing.)
Rear view of the iPF5100 on the ST-11 stand, showing the roll paper in position. (Source: Canon.)
Once you've used up the starter cartridges, subsequent cartridges will cost you $130 each, which works out at $1 per millilitre of ink. You can see how much ink was used (and the start and end times, output size, media type are area printed) by viewing the Print Job Log by selecting Properties>Main>Printer Status>Information>Print Job Log Display. Details of the last 24 pages printed are provided and the log can be printed out to assist professional users when calculating fees for jobs.
The control panel consists of a large arrow pad plus six buttons. The former has a central OK button and is used for navigating through the menu items. Right of the arrow pad are buttons labelled Power and Stop/Eject (1 sec). The latter stops jobs in progress or clears the menu and ejects the paper.
The control panel on the iPF5100.
Left of the arrow pad are four buttons. The top left button is the Online button, which glows green when the printer is online and flashes when the printer is waking from sleep mode. When no light is visible, the printer is offline.
Beside it is the feeder selection button that switches between different paper sources. Pressing it allows you to switch between auto feed (when the paper source is the Cassette or Roll) and manual feed (when the paper source is the Tray or the Front Paper Feed Slot ). A lamp glows to indicate the selected setting.
Below the Online button lies the Menu button, which displays the main menu. Right of it is the Information button, which displays information about ink, paper and other settings. If you hold this button down for three seconds, print head cleaning is initiated.
Above the control panel is a monochrome LCD screen that displays the menu and status messages. Below it are labels that indicate the Ink Tank colours and names. The labels correspond to the ink levels on the Display Screen.
A data LED flashes green when the printer is receiving or processing print jobs or when the printer is paused or updating the firmware. Below it is an orange message LED that flashes when warnings or error messages and displayed.
Both the print heads and maintenance cartridge (which collects ink that gets sprayed about inside the printer, particularly during borderless printing) are user-replaceable. Each process is straightforward and explained clearly in the user manual. According to Canon's specialist technicians, under typical usage conditions print heads shouldn't require replacement for roughly three years and the maintenance cartridge should last for 12-18 months.
The user-replaceable maintenance cartridge. (Source: Canon.)
Once you've wrestled the 44 kg printer onto your desk (or the optional stand) and removed all the packing materials, getting it operational is straightforward. You connect it to the mains, install the print heads and ink cartridges, load the paper (if you're using roll paper) and install the software. The latter consists of the printer driver and a user manual in electronic form.
Once the driver has been installed, you can connect the printer to your computer via a USB cable. You'll be asked to restart the computer when this is done to enable the printer driver settings to take effect.
The printer will perform a print head alignment and colour calibration each time it's switched on, as well as each time a new print head is installed. It's important to be aware of this, since the process uses ink and, since the printer has been designed to be left running at all times, you should leave it on.
This is just one of a long list of quirks that are best understood beforehand. So, although you'll probably pay extra for installation, if you've never used a professional printer before it would be worth looking for a re-seller who will assist you with set-up.
Four paper paths are provided. The roll paper feed is located at the back of the unit and accepts paper rolls between 203mm and 432 mm (8-inch and 17-inch) wide. Just in front of it is the top sheet feeder slot, which accepts sheets of paper one at a time. Guide markings for different paper sizes from A4 to A2+ are shown on the inner side of the flap covering this slot.
Loading paper through the top sheet feeder slot. (Source: Canon.)
Heavyweight papers are loaded via the front feed slot on the lower tray. Paper guides are provided to keep the paper in position. Lighter papers can be loaded into the cassette, which sits in the base of the printer and is accessed by pulling out the tray below the output tray.
Width and length guides are provided with adjustments for different paper sizes and the maximum load depends on the size and thickness of the paper. Canon's Photo Paper Plus or Premium Matte papers are the thickest that can be fed into the printer via the cassette and there's a limit of 20 sheets. In contrast, up to 250 sheets of plain A4 paper or 100 sheets of plain A3 paper can be accommodated or 50 sheets of lightweight A2 paper.
It's not exactly difficult to configure the iPF5100 but the 12-page Quick Start Guide is detailed and a lesson on how to use this printer could save you time and frustration. Here are some of the things you need to know:
1. When it's not in use, the iPF5100 will switch automatically to sleep mode to minimise power consumption. However, while in sleep mode, it will periodically 'wake up' and agitate the ink in the cartridges to prevent the pigment particles from settling. At the same time it will read the ambient temperature and humidity and perform an automatic nozzle check, adjusting the injection rate where necessary.
When you leave it in sleep mode for more than a couple of days, it can go into a deeper 'torpor' mode. If it doesn't wake automatically when a file is sent, the user manual says pressing any button should rouse it, although we usually found it required a light tap on the power button. When that fails, you have to switch the printer off and re-start it again.
2. The motorised roll holder is easy to use, once you know how to load the paper. A demonstration should clarify this faster and more easily than ploughing through the user manual. You also need to know how to handle paper jams, which may cause you grief (see below); another situation where a demonstration is a time-saver.
3. The printer's user interface is different when you print directly through the driver and when you print through the Photoshop plug-in. Again, this needs explanation from an expert. We found the Photoshop plug-in the easiest to use but it. too, had its quirks, as outlined below.
4. Borderless printing is only available with rolls - and even then your layout options are restricted. When you print on sheets of paper a margin of approximately 3 mm is imposed on the print, whether you like it or not.
5. When printing through the Photoshop plug-in, if you want a border you must set it beforehand using the Canvas Size setting in the software. (You should allow for the 3 mm default margin when calculating the border's width.)
A lot of huffing and puffing goes on when you send an image file across for printing. This is because the printer automatically adjusts the vacuum settings that hold the paper in position and checks nozzle performance, at the same time checking band adjustment to prevent line-feed banding.
The roll paper feeder has automatic skew correction that can compensate for an offset of up to 2.5 mm as well as a detector that checks whether the leading edge of the paper is clean. Ragged edges on a paper roll will be trimmed automatically if detected.
The ink status monitor displays ink levels in 20% increments and the inks are hot-swappable. If a cartridge is depleted midway through a print there's a sub-buffer in the ink system that holds roughly 33 ml of each ink colour to allow prints to be completed without irregularities in quality.
Within a very short time after its arrival, the iPF5100 was christened 'The Prima Donna' because it's such a fuss-budget. Like all prima donnas it does its job superbly - but it insists that everything be just right before it will even get started.
We found the unit we had didn't like A4 paper. Regardless of whether it was loaded in the cassette or fed in through the top sheet feeder, after a couple of prints there would be a paper jam and often the print head would park itself half way across the body (instead of in the correct place). The only way to fix this was to switch the power off, which makes the printer go through the set-up cycle again.
It was happiest with the roll paper feed and sheets of paper between A3 and A2+ size and could handle most custom paper sizes with equanimity. Although it can be set to handle custom page sizes between 100 x 203 mm and 432 x 1600 mm in the manual feed modes, we had some paper jams with sheets less than 297 mm wide.
Custom-sized prints can be made on roll lengths of up to 3200 mm if you wish to print large banners. You can set the printer to cut the paper after each job has been completed or leave the paper uncut for you to separate the images later.
You can also bank up arrays of smaller images and print them all together to save printing time and paper. This is a useful feature for workplaces that make multiple prints from each image.
It can take some experimentation to establish which settings to use in the Page Setup dialog box for different feed options when you print through the Photoshop plug-in (see below). However, once this is done, the images will line up precisely, making back-to-back printing on double-sided paper straightforward.
Users of the iPF5100 have a choice of two paths when making prints. They can either print directly through the printer driver, which is accessed via the File>Print path when an image is opened in Photoshop. Some examples of the user interface are shown below.
The Main page of the printer driver.
The status monitor that is displayed when printing is initiated.
Alternatively, Canon provides a Photoshop plug-in that allows you to print from 16-bit files, which are re-processed as 12-bit data. This enables you to get the best from converted raw files. (If you print through the driver, you're restricted to 8-bit files, so you might just as well use JPEGs.)
The plug-in is accessed by selecting File>Export and selecting the iPF5100 Print Plug-in, as shown below.
Opening the iPF5100 Print Plug-in in Photoshop.
The Main page in this interface lets you specify the paper type, input resolution, bit depth and print mode. This is also where you set the output profile and matching method as well as the ICC Conversion Options and the number of copies you require. You can also choose between previewing the Image or the Print Area Layout, the latter showing how the image will appear on the paper.
The Main page of the Photoshop plug-in interface.
Checking the Info box displays image size, resolution, bit depth and colour space data.
The Page Setup page allows you to select the size of the paper you'll be printing on and choose between cassette, manual and manual (with 3 mm margins) or roll paper. This is also where you specify the paper's orientation
The Page Setup page in the Photoshop plug-in interface.
You'll seldom use the remaining pages in the plug-in interface as the colour settings are best handled by editing software and the remaining pages access various utilities. However, you can save frequently-used combinations of settings as 'Favourites' to make them easy to access whenever you require them and save and load setting parameters from past print jobs.
The plug-in also has the advantage of automatic detection of the image's colour space and fine-tuning of grey and colour tonal curves and you see an accurate preview of any adjustments you make as the preview shows how the image will print. if you print through the printer driver, you must set the colour space and other adjustments manually.
When testing the two interfaces with some landscape photos, we found significant differences between them. Printing through the plug-in rendered the images with noticeably more detail and tonal subtlety but tended to subdue contrast and saturation a little. It was quite easy to get a feel for the degree to which contrast and saturation had to be boosted to get a near-perfect print and the quality advantage made this method our preferred strategy for most prints.
Printing the same files through the printer driver resulted in increased contrast and saturation with a simultaneous, albeit small, deterioration in resolution and tonal subtlety. However, this strategy worked well with images that were inherently flat and those where higher saturation could be beneficial, such as shots of sunrises and sunsets.
The printer driver is an easy option for monochrome printing because it provides an advanced Monochrome (Photo) interface that enables you to fine-tune monochrome settings before printing. You can adjust colour tones to produce warm or cool toned B&W prints and also tweak brightness and contrast settings.
Monochrome printing through the printer driver.
However, you can also convert images to monochrome in Photoshop and then print them through the plug-in, thereby gaining the benefit of the higher bit depth and Adobe RGB colour space.
Monochrome printing through the Photoshop plug-in.
If you have an Eye-One spectrophotometer and install the Light Source Measure Tool from the User Software CD-ROM, the printer driver enables you to make test prints simulating various lighting conditions using Canon's Kyuanos ambient light matching tool. Although this appear to be restricted to Canon-branded media, the settings can be applied to subsequent prints that will be displayed under the specified lighting.
While we were reviewing the iPF5100, a friend was reviewing the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 so we had a chance to compare prints made on both machines. In each case, we prepared custom profiles for the paper types we used, although the range of papers was quite narrow.
Tests on the glossy papers were carried out on the papers provided by each manufacturer. For the iPF5100 we used Canon's Premium Photo Paper High Glossy 210 gsm. Matte papers were tested with Longbottom Digital Coated Matt 2/s, which is popular for book printing.
Although we found visible differences between them on these media, they weren't as great as the differences we found when printing on several different papers with the same machine. In general, pigment inks produce their best results on matte papers. However, we found both printers delivered very good results when some images were printed on glossy paper, with photos of shiny surfaces being particularly suitable.
To get really picky, we can say that the gamut of the iPF5100 is slightly less than the Stylus Pro 4900's, contrast is slightly lower and colours were marginally less saturated on glossy paper at the green/blue end of the spectrum. On matte papers, these differences were difficult to spot.
We also ran some tests on sheets of Canon's Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss 260 gsm and Canon's Fine Art Paper "Photo Rag" 188 gsm. While the depth of the blacks was slightly less on the latter, both papers produced very fine-looking prints, although they were a bit more vibrant and punchier looking on the Semi-gloss paper, which also had a higher quality feel.
Monochrome printing was handled with aplomb and is one of the strengths of this printer, particularly on the semi-gloss paper, where the best results were obtained by converting 16-bit files into monochrome in Photoshop and then printing them through the plug-in. the resulting prints contained rich, deep blacks, bright whites and subtle intermediate tones.
Prints on the glossy paper showed minor surface anomalies in the form of slight bronzing and gloss differential when viewed side-on. However, both would be negated by framing the prints under glass. No surface anomalies were found on the semi-gloss papers.
When it comes to output speeds there's very little difference between the printers. Both took roughly six minutes to produce an A2-sized print at the highest resolution and around four minutes at standard quality.
We couldn't see much difference in prints made with the maximum and standard quality settings with either of the workflows. It seems the choice of workflow - and quality of the image file - have more bearing on output quality than the print quality setting.
Checking the log of the last batch of prints we produced we found ink consumption for A2-sized prints varied between 0.7 ml for a print with predominantly light tones and 2.2 ml for prints containing mainly medium and dark tones. A3+ prints ranged between 0.4 ml and 1.5 ml, which is less than the 1.5-2.0 ml usage we estimated for most of the A3+ printers we've reviewed.
At $1 per millilitre, this works out at between 40 cents and $1.50 per A3+ print, which is significantly less than the $2.12 we calculated for an A3 print with 35mm margins from the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II. Canon estimates professional purchasers could recoup their investment in less than six months on the basis of savings in media costs.
Who's it for?
Its price sends a powerful signal that Canon's imagePROGRAPH iPF5100 has been designed for a production environment and is best suited to professional photographers. However, serious amateurs who do a lot of printing on a regular basis could also justify the investment in terms of the savings in ink costs.
We can't be too emphatic in stating this printer is totally unsuitable for anyone who makes prints every now and then, even if they make a lot of prints at a time. Being designed and engineered to handle heavy workloads the iPF5100 languishes if left idle and can be difficult to get back on-stream when this happens.
This printer is also better suited photographers who are prepared to spend time learning how to 'drive' it so they can produce output that reaches this printer's not inconsiderable potential. If you want load-and-press printing, you should look for an alternative.
New owners are encouraged to experiment with a range of output media and should be able to create custom profiles for each of them. That said, most purchasers will probably settle on a fairly limited paper range. Having surmounted the rather steep learning curve, owners of will the iPF5100 have a versatile and flexible printer that is affordable to operate and delivers top-quality colour and monochrome prints.
Note: Because this printer has a limited target market and little in the way of competition from other products we can't compare it with previous printers we've reviewed and are, therefore, unable to include it in our normal Editor's Choice rankings. Suffice it to say that on the basis of performance and build quality it is truly a professional product and, as such rates extremely highly.
Printer type: Large format pigment ink printer
Resolution: 2400 x 1200 dpi
Droplet size: 4pl per colour
Media feed: Roll paper with auto roll feed unit option; cut sheets via front loading cassette or manual feed; automatic switching between sheet and roll feed
Paper sizes: Sheets: up to A2; roll paper: 17-inch
Paper thickness: Roll: 0.08-0.8 mm; Cassette: 0.08-0.3 mm; Manual feed via top: 0.08-0.8 mm; Manual feed via front: 0.5-1.5 mm
Ink cartridges: Lucia pigment inks in twelve 130 ml cartridges: Matte Black, Photo Black, Cyan, Photo Cyan, Magenta, Photo Magenta, Yellow, Red, Blue, Green, Grey, Photo Grey
Features: Built-in colour calibration, Energy Star rated, user-replaceable print head and maintenance cartridge
Interfaces: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (Series B connector), IEEE 802.3 10 baseT/TX, IEEE 1394
Onboard Memory: 192MB
Power consumption: Operating: >100W; Standby: >6W; Sleep: 1W
Acoustic noise: Operation: approx 51 dB(A) or less; Standby: approx 35 dB(A) or less
Dimensions (wxhxd): 999 x 810 x 344 mm
Weight: 44 kg
Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
Ph: (02) 9029 2219
Ph: 133 686
The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.
CameraPro Pty Ltd
Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
Tel: 07 3333 2900
Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.
Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
Ph: 1300 727 056
Ph: 1800 155 067
Digital Camera Warehouse
174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
NSW 2193 VIC 3070
Ph: 1300 365 220
1300 801 885
Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.
Greg Smith's Photo Accessories
1800 50 80 82
Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.
285 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9299 2999
Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.
1800 186 895
Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Features: 8.8
- Print quality: 8.5
- Print speed: 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.8