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Printing, printing, printing...

We've had ups and downs with medium-format printing.

The Epson R2200 that we got used we were only able to get a few dozen prints out of before it clogged to the point of no return. We gave it to didjiman (who already owned another R2200), figuring that he might be able to get it to work.

I ordered a Canon i9900 to replace it. It has a user-replaceable print head, so clogging is a repairable issue (and can often be repaired by pulling the head and soaking it). It's been a real workhorse, but ink costs are a bit high. Costco is a help with that, but only to a degree.

Since I've started taking more photographs, I started looking into the printer a bit more thoroughly. I discovered that the colorfastness of the Canon inks isn't that great.

I finally decided to start looking for a bulk feed system and alternate inks. The only problem is that the i9900 has been out of production for a few years and everybody who used to sell conversion kits for them was out of stock. Well, almost everybody.

It turns out Absolute Inkjet (part of Ink2Image) was listing a bulk feed system for the i9900, and archival (by dye ink standards) ink. I ordered it.

I waited.

And waited.

About 6 weeks later I got an invoice and a tracking number. It came in a week or so after Labor Day.

It's actually a pretty sophisticated system, with really cool substitute cartridge for the default "sponge" style cartridges. There was only one problem: one cartridge had the retaining tab snapped off.

It took about a week to get through to ink2image (my first email was lost, but using the web contact form worked) and they sent me two spare cartridges. The cartridge swap was dirt-simple.

Because of the ink change, the whole printer needed to be flushed. One of the other things ink2image sells is "refillable" ink cartridge sets; one set and a bottle of head cleaner (that they charmingly refer to as "Dead Head Recovery Fluid") is a suggested purchase along with the bulk feed kit.

I'm glad I went with the bulk system rather than just using refillable cartridges. They're easy enough to fill, but a bit messy to reseal. Still, 8 cartridges filled with cleaner (and over 2/3 of my cleaner left) and the printer was flushed.

Priming the bulk system and installing it wasn't a piece of cake, but it wasn't too difficult. I only made a mess of the red ink, because it was more difficult to monitor while priming than the other cartridges.

The ink I went with is the Lyson Photonic ink for Canon printers.

If you consider doing this, it's very important that you know something: These inks do not match the colors of the OEM Canon inks. You can't run these inks unless you can print using custom ICC color profiles. If you do, everything is going to look washed out and brown.

ink2image provides sample ICC profiles for a few paper types, but for really good results you're going to need to use a print calibration system to match your screen output. On the cool side, Lyson claims that, properly calibrated, the Fotonic inks will produce a color range similar to that of traditional photo chemistry (much better than that of most ink-jet printers).

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday doing calibration runs, and I've learned a few things:
  1. After adding ink to the external tanks, it's possible to end up with streaky output. I think this is a side-effect of letting the ink level run too low before refilling. Running a few prints solves this problem.
  2. The wide-gamut inks look better on photo paper, even properly calibrated they lack brightness on plain paper.
  3. A photo that looks good on the screen isn't necessarily going to look good in a print. The exposure has to be much better to produce a good print than it has to be to look OK on the screen. Rodeo prints are looking good, pics from Saturday night are blah.
  4. Bulk ink is crazy-cheap, even the archival ink costs about 1/5 the cost of ink cartridges. The "AbsoluteMatch" ink for Canon costs less for a 4oz (120ml) bottle than a single cartridge of Canon ink (15ml) costs.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 13th, 2009 04:58 am (UTC)
#3 is a major hair-pull for a lot of photographers who don't understand that the monitor is mixing lights, the printer is mixing darks. :-)
Oct. 13th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
Now I understand the importance of "Expose to the right!"
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 13th, 2009 06:17 am (UTC)
Well, that's an open-ended question.

If I was buying a 13" printer, I probably would, but not for all the same reasons.

The major design flaw in the R2200 that caused it to clog so badly (the park position for the heads being above the toasty-warm processor board) was fixed in the R2400 and R1800 series printers. They still use "chipped" cartridges, though, that tell the printer to stop when ink might be low, and the non-servicable print head.

I might consider a R2880 or an R1900 and a bulk ink system, but that print head is a strike against it.

Most Canons have a user-serviceable print head. The new Canons do use "chipped" cartridges (mostly to prevent refilling and improper installation), but that's in addition to the optical prism ink-level sensor that tells the printer when the cartridge is really out of ink. The Pixma Pro 9000 is dye, the Pixma Pro 9500 is pigment.

The Canons are tempting from the reliability standpoint, but there's no bulk systems for the new models.

If I had the space and the budget, I would get one of the really good HP large-format photo printers. I generally hate HP consumer-grade imaging equipment, but the DesignJet Z3100 and Z3200 series printers are amazing. Built-in calibration, high-capacity ink tanks, 12 colors (well, 9 colors and grays, 2 blacks, 1 gloss coat), 24" platen, roll-feed and cutter... it's everything I want in a printer (but is also huge and really expensive).
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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