You can stop hating your Canon printer

You may remember a screed from me about Canon's Pixma Pro printers and how they made me see red by printing things too red.  I discovered SO MANY people had this issue, that even after going through the time consuming process to build custom ICC profiles for a few papers, I invested my hard earned dollars in an Epson 4900 and never looked back. I recently was requested to generate a stack of small prints, generic 4x6s on glossy paper. The kind of thing that people carry around and hand out to friends and family.  Running these on the Epson would be easy enough, but I have the 9000 Mk II and 9500 Mk II just sitting there, so I thought since no custom ICC profiles were required, I'd give them a shot again.  This is a downside of being a printer.  You become the target for everyone in your family to come to instead taking the card over to the local Walmart.

One of the good things about Canon Pixma Pro printheads is that they have tons of holes and so jams are rare.  They do happen, and the printer utility offers a cleaning option and a deep cleaning option.  Use with care because although the software warns you that ink is used in the cleaning process, two passes of deep cleaning will eat up about 1/8 of each ink tank.  At about $20 retail per, that's frakking expensive for waste.  Not having been born yesterday, I understand that the manufacturers treat printers as loss leaders and make all their money on the ink.  (Can you hear me HP?)

The rule I've used for Canon printers is that so long as you let the printer make the decisions and print only on Canon paper, you'll get decent results.  However, using ICC profiles and custom printing from Lightroom or Photoshop is a good way to raise your blood pressure because frankly the output sucks.  This is common to Canon printers.  Canon used to have a plug-in for Photoshop called Canon Easy-Photoprint Pro, that allegedly allowed the use of proper ICC profiles and different papers and that would give you good prints.  Unfortunately, it was crap.  Fortunately this sad state of affairs is changing.

After printing a run of 4x6s on Canon Glossy paper with Lightroom set to let the printer manage output, that turned out just fine for the project, I decided to see what updates Canon may have made and not told anyone about.  Amongst the many I found was a new version of the plug-in.  I said what the heck, I'll give it a shot.

Running the installer it detected Lightroom 4, Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CS6 and offered to install itself.  The downside is that these are plugins that bypass the native print engine in the application.  The upside is that it doesn't fark up the native print engine.  Canon makes fine cameras and lenses.  Contrary to their own opinion, they are not a software company as evidenced by the lack of continuity checking and execrable user interface.

Kvetching aside, the new plug in actually does a decent job.  It's slow to launch and not particularly intuitive, but when you use it, you can actually use third party paper and ICC profiles and get a decent quality print.  It's still not up to the IQ of the Epson, but it is definitely not as likely to make you pop a blood vessel.

At many tradeshows I take the time to ask the Canon printer specialists why their printers print red from every app but the Canon printing apps.  Only once was I told by a young guy, who was friendly and helpful, that Canon "knows" people like warm looking prints and that's the way they come.  I pointed out the if you print on Canon paper from Canon's Digital Photo Professional that you actually get fairly lifelike colour.  He smiled and noted that very few people use DPP.  Fair enough, although I know many pros who have sunk $$$ into Canon printers who use DPP for all their printing because it has been the only way to not get cat-yack out of the printer.  Every other Canon representative replied that if I use only Canon paper and just let the printer manage everything all will be well and that using third party papers would not give optimal results.  No wonder that everyone who makes great papers does the ICC profiles for Epson seemingly first.

I do find that the Canon printers are ink pigs.  If you are doing lots of Black and White, or want to, stay away from the 9000, only the 9500 Mk II is really good enough for serious black and white.  It's a lot slower though.

Were I starting fresh with my own photographic printing, or more usefully, if you are, I would still suggest going with an Epson photograph printer.  All in ones are pretty consistent (crap) from all vendors.  Go dedicated if you are or think you might be, serious about making prints.  However if you already have one of Canon's Pixma Pro series of printers, use the Easy-Photoprint Pro plugin with Lightroom or Photoshop, don't print through the native engine, and you will get better prints and waste less ink and paper.

There's really nothing like a print to get a viewer excited.  It's tactile and it's so much more telling than an image on a screen.  If you only need prints once in a while, use one of those Kodak kiosks in retail stores, or if you have a Costco nearby, use their lab.  A lot of the Costco folks are Certified Photographic Counsellors, they do know their stuff.  But if you are taking the time to edit, tune and enhance your images, making photographs instead of just taking pictures, you probably owe it to yourself to learn to print.  If you're going to go that far, you're going to want good looking prints and this tip will help you if your printer is a Canon Pixma Pro.