When Photo Review took an in-depth look at the features serious photographers require in a compact digicam back in April 2007, we were one of a number of websites lobbying for larger sensors in compact camera bodies. It’s taken a while for manufacturers to react but we’re starting to see some of our wishes fulfilled in the latest offerings from Olympus, Panasonic and Ricoh.


When Photo Review took an in-depth look at the features serious photographers require in a compact digicam back in April 2007, we were one of a number of websites lobbying for larger sensors in compact camera bodies. It’s taken a while for manufacturers to react but we’re starting to see some of our wishes fulfilled in the latest offerings from Olympus, Panasonic and Ricoh.

Now we’re turning our attention to image output and looking at printers. Printing is an important process for most photographers. In the chemical darkroom days, most printing was outsourced to photo labs. However, with the development of capable inkjet printers there is an overwhelming incentive to make your own prints.

Not only is it much simpler – and more comfortable – than darkroom printing; it can also be more cost-effective than outsourcing. Furthermore, nobody can print an image better than the photographer who created it.

Professional photographers and serious enthusiasts generally prefer A3+ desktop printers because they’re accessible, versatile and cover the most popular output sizes. Some photographers will be looking for even larger output, although not necessarily from a ‘large format’ printer. Large format printers are usually only viable as business tools where high volumes are involved and very large prints represent a significant percentage of overall sales.

In this Insider we’ll list the dilemmas that currently face photographers when choosing a printer, and offer some suggestions as to how they might be solved.

1. Print Quality. The latest printers we’ve reviewed will meet – and may exceed – most photographers’ requirements for output quality, particularly for colour prints. We have found no deficiencies in resolution and the ability to reproduce fine detail, and can’t fault any printer’s ability to reproduce a wide colour gamut that accurately reflects the hues and tones in the original image.

However, a challenge is still posed for many photographers: should we choose dye or pigment inks? Most photographers are aware that dye inks look marginally better on glossy papers, while pigment inks may be slightly more vibrant on matte media. However, these differences have been gradually pared away and there’s not much difference with the latest ink sets.

Gloss differential in dye ink prints on glossy media has been largely solved, as has metamerism with pigment inks – although both defects can still be found in output from some printers on some media. Pigment inks are still vulnerable to abrasion, although the latest encapsulation technologies have reduced this problem in recent years.


Epson’s Stylus Photo 1410 is one of the most affordable A3+ printers on the market. It has the advantage of using long-lasting dye inks, but operates with only six cartridges and lacks roll paper support.

2. Print Longevity. The bottom line for most photographers is that colours should remain stable for at least 100 years for unprotected prints. Maybe this is asking a lot when you consider typical lightfastness ratings for traditional silver halide photo papers.

Currently, the best performance for silver halide colour paper is a lightfastness of 40 years for prints framed under glass. Compare that with inkjet media, where some papers boast display permanence ratings in excess of 150 years with certain inks for prints framed behind glass. (However, there’s room for further improvement as neither pigment nor dye inks can achieve display permanence ratings of more than about 80 years for unprotected prints – and many are hard-pressed to reach 50 years.)

We’d also like more – and more easily accessible – information about which combinations of inks and papers deliver maximum print longevity, reducing the amount of research required by photographers when selecting printers, inks and papers.

3. Ink Cartridges. How many inks do we really need to cover the full colour gamut? Some printer manufacturers are up to 10 and we can’t say whether more will be added (although currently it looks as if 10 may be enough). It’s a bit like the megapixel ‘wars’ with digital cameras, and it’s time the issue was clarified once and for all.


Canon’s Pixma Pro9500 Mark II printer is a 10-cartridge model that uses pigment inks. However, as each cartridge only holds 14ml, frequent replacement of cartridges (which cost approximately $33 each) will prove annoying to photographers who make lots of prints.

4. Ink Cartridge Capacities. The cartridges in most desktop printers are way too small to be cost-effective. Typically, A4 and A3+ printer cartridges contain less than 16ml of ink, and colours like Photo Magenta, Photo Cyan, grey and yellow run out very quickly (often after fewer than 20 A3+ prints).

We’re told this is a price-related strategy to contain costs for consumers who don’t do much printing. However, it fails totally when applied to A3+ printer cartridges and is likely to drive enthusiasts to third-party alternatives. When you’ve paid between $1000 and $2000 for an enthusiast-level printer, it’s a big ask to have to fork out roughly $30 for an ink cartridge that runs out after only 20 or so A3+ prints.

Printer manufacturers tell us a large part of the cost of each cartridge is tied up in the delivery mechanism. While this may be true, it’s counter-intuitive in the current environment, where we should minimise wastage. Many of these expensive delivery mechanisms end up in landfill or, at best, are recycled rather than re-used.


Epson’s Stylus Pro 3800 A2 printer uses high-capacity (80ml) pigment ink cartridges, each priced at $99 (RRP). The ink set includes four black inks (interchangeable photo and matte black, light black and light light black) plus five coloured inks (cyan, light cyan, yellow, vivid magenta and vivid light magenta).

While the current small cartridge strategy persists, family photographers on tight budgets will be tempted by the cheap cartridges sold through supermarkets. Unfortunately, print quality and durability are likely to be compromised by these generally poor quality products.

Serious enthusiasts could seek out continuous ink systems, such as the Rihac products (www.rihac.com.au) we are currently trialling. But exercise caution until we have results for these trials as other third party systems create known problems. Although fiddly to set up, continuous systems use ink reservoirs of 100ml, which cost around $13 for dye inks and $29 for pigments. (The equivalent ink cost for the printer manufacturers’ inks is between $23 and $33 per 11ml to 16ml cartridge.)

So why not provide higher-capacity cartridges – even if it requires a more expensive print head mechanism? We’d like to see larger cartridges – or the option to choose them – in all printers selling for $1000 and over. And we’d like to know how much ink each cartridge contains as well without having to troll the Web as we do currently. Surely that’s not too much to ask.

5. Waste-reduction technology. In the current environment when conservation of resources is a high priority for most of us, we’d like to see systems to eliminate ink wastage. This includes the need for ink lines to be flushed when switching between paper types and ‘maintenance’ routines that use ink. We’d also appreciate some way to prevent inks from being scattered about within the printer body. Given its high cost, we want all the ink to be used for printing our pictures.

6. Built-in calibration to ensure print-to-print consistency, regardless of the time elapsed between making prints. No more need be said.

7. ICC profile support. This is absolutely essential. Another non-negotiable item.

8. Driver interface. We don’t want drivers that over-ride users’ inputs through hidden default settings that are difficult to locate and change. User interface preferences are often highly personal but most photographers appreciate logical, straightforward systems that let them achieve their objectives with minimum effort.

This means locating frequently-used settings on the front page of the driver interface, enabling users to save settings for quick access in the future and providing easy access to a full array of paper profiles.

We’d also like to be able to set custom page sizes so we can print on non-standard paper, such as half sheets of A3+ paper. We also want the ability to make panoramic prints using the Custom size settings in the paper sizes menu without the driver having a hissy fit and chopping off most of the picture. Roll paper support is highly desirable.

Ink status monitors should be quick and easy to view, and large enough to provide a realistic representation of just how much ink remains. They should also provide realistic percentages of ink remaining and when the cartridge needs to be changed.


An example of an almost useless ink status monitor in which the display icons are so small you have little idea of how much ink remains until warning signs are displayed.

9. B&W printing. This issue relates to point 3 because at least three levels of black ink are required for making true B&W prints. The importance of this issue will vary with different photographers. However, even the keenest colour photographer will sometimes yearn to produce an exhibition-quality monochrome print with a full range of tonal nuances. And we don’t want to be forced to change inks when we swap from glossy to matte papers when making monochrome prints.


Epson’s Stylus Photo R2880 A3+ printer is designed for high-quality B&W printing and includes roll paper support. However, each of the nine ink cartridges contains only 11ml of ink and costs around $23. You are also required to swap between Photo and Matte Black cartridges when changing from glossy to matte papers, a time- and ink-consuming exercise.

10. Efficient paper loading and transport. Printers from the leading manufacturers (Canon, Epson and HP) seldom suffer from paper jams. However, when they do, it can be difficult to remove the jammed sheet and resume printing. A more frequent problem is a failure to load the paper, particularly with printers that require heavier papers to be fed in through a front or rear chute.

We’d like to see the designs of the loading systems made more robust and user-friendly to eliminate mis-loads, skewed prints and paper jams. We’d also appreciate systems that make it easier to remove sheets of paper without having to partially dismantle the printer or rip the stuck sheet of paper into shreds.

This is an article from Photo Review Magazine Issue 43.
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