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Looking for a bigger photo printer

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Looking for a bigger photo printer

When 13″ width isn’t enough – wider prints


Are you looking for a larger 17″ (A2) photo printer?

The step up from a 13″ width or A3+ size is a significant one in cost and size. However the larger ink carts work out cheaper, so how does it affect your costs?

Keith has reviewed all the current 17″  (A2) printers on the market and looks at the questions you need to ask yourself before deciding if one is right for you.

There are links to the very detailed reviews we’ve published for the Epson P800 and P5000 and Canon PRO-1000 and iPF5100

test print collection

Some of the test prints from my reviews.

So, you think it’s time for a bigger printer?

Canon pro-2000I’m often asked about what sort of printer to get, by people who’ve found some of my many printer reviews here on the site.

Quite often, people are looking to upgrade to a better, larger printer, but are unsure as to what best meets their needs.

No, I’m not talking about printers like that…
This is about ones that will fit on your desk.

Whilst I make a point of never making recommendations or doing comparative reviews [here’s why] there is a lot of information in those reviews, and I’m always happy to answer direct questions or comments.

Based on this, I’ve put together this collection of questions I feel you need to consider before buying a new larger printer.

They follow on somewhat from my article ‘So, you want a large format printer‘ aimed more at those considering the move to 24″ width and above. There are similarities, so you might want to give it a look as well?

I should note that I love making prints of my photos, especially large ones. That said, I don’t sell printers,  paper or inks so I’m allowed to ask question that my friends at Canon UK and Epson UK might not get past their marketing departments ;-)

How often do you print?

Look at your print making over the last year – how many prints did you make, and what was the longest interval between printing.  Rough estimates will do.

Larger printers increasingly dislike being left unused for periods.  I’d genuinely like to see ‘use me often’ stickers on them, but I realise that any suggestion of the benefits of regular use could leave manufacturers open to legal claims.

Whilst I personally might consider that rather too much whinging about printers on the web comes from user aptitude deficiencies, this is not a something amenable to ‘good’ customer service or marketing…

So, how long is that bit of string?

Ideally you want to print every week – it doesn’t have to be a huge print, but more than just a nozzle check. I’d not have a problem if this went to every other week some times. The amount of ink used in cleaning by most printers does go up the longer they have not been used (they have timers).

A simple 6×4 photo won’t break the bank. If you worry about the cost of ink and paper for this, then pay particular attention to my later comments about cost.

The environment you keep your printer in matters. I’m in the UK, so altitude, heat and very low humidity are not issues.

Despite all you may read, modern printers are getting better at withstanding periods of lack of use, but remember, the inkjet photo printer that only uses ink for printing just doesn’t exist.

The more you print, the larger proportion of your ink gets used for your prints, which leads me to ask about those prints?

What do you do with your prints?

batch of test printsIf you’re making prints at the moment, where do they go?

Let’s consider what you’ve done in the past.

If you look at your last box/pack of A3+ (13″ x 19″) paper you finished, how many of those prints ended up on your walls?

How many were used up in mistakes/tests/failed prints?  As to the others, how many went into competitions, print sales or gifts?

That covers most options. I get to test packs of paper and printers quite often and I’ve used a few sheets for profiling and printing test images.

The rest tend to sit around until someone wants a print, or I create some sample prints for marketing/portfolio purposes. I’m not allowed to leave them on the bed…

What do you want to do with your prints

After you get your larger printer, expect two reactions to seeing your favourite photos at A2 size or similar.

1 It’s huge.

  • A good quality large print will impress.

2 Time to spot the errors.

  • Is that chromatic aberration you can see at the corner?
  • Is that litter on the ground you’d not noticed?
  • Is that noise in the shadows?
  • Was the photo really this soft?

We look at larger prints in different ways. This can work with you and against you.

Some images do really need to be seen large to get the full feel for what’s in them.

This is often so for landscape and my architectural work (stuff that pays the bills). There is fine detail that needs to work at viewing distances beyond arms length – that tends to need more real resolution in your images.

As your prints get larger, the technical requirements for the image increase.  That means that your average ‘kit lens’ that makes a fine A4 print may be quite poor at A2, no matter how many megapixels you start with.

These are not hard and fast rules, but the point is that making large prints tends to need more editing work on your files.

For myself, Adobe Lightroom would be fine if I only ever made 8×10 prints, but becomes woefully inadequate for making very large prints. The point at which this occurs is up for debate and depends on the sort of printing you do, certainly it would be a complete non-starter for my larger (20″ x 30″ and up) B&W architectural and landscape work.  I still use Photoshop CS6 BTW…

Don’t forget that you can still print smaller photos on your big printer. The ink is cheaper, but do check the minimum print size and borders as bigger printers are not optimised for very small prints.

YMMV as they say, but  expect to learn a lot more about image editing and what’s in the details of your images, as you step up in print size.

But what are they for?

Keith and a large print

Remember I asked what you did with your prints?  How do you see the option to print at A2 (or similar) as changing this.

Do you have enough wall space for large framed pictures?

Here’s me with a test print, with a framed print on the wall behind me.

It’s Hood Canal, from my Making a black and white photograph article]

There’s only so many I can fit on the walls.

Perhaps you were hoping to sell some prints? Well, unless you know a lot of wealthy people, most other people only have limited wall space too.

If you were thinking of selling prints to fund your photography, then unless you have an existing business, you might want to consider some of my photography business articles.

Printmaking:

Business:

[I’ve quite a large collection of photography business articles on the site]

How much space do you have?

Four printers, all with 17″ maximum print width (listed in order of weight as I recall lifting them)

Three of them are on the same table in my kitchen, whilst the P5000 has my 15″ Macbook on it for scale

The Epson P800 printing an A3+ profiling target on an A2 sheet.

P800 printing-a3plus-sheet

Note the space in front, above and behind you need for A2 sheets.

The Canon PRO-1000 with an A2 sheet loaded and one printed.

pro 1000 space-for-A2

The Canon iPF5100 is bulkier but not as heavy as you think when you pick it up.

The part at the back is where roll paper goes.

5100 front-tray-extended

The iPF5100 has an optional floor stand.

Both the iPF5100 and P5000 have paper cassettes that hold sheet paper up to A2 (and a bit above). These are fine for good photo papers, but you’d want to individually feed heavier papers and fine art media, such as cotton rag papers.

The P5000, in a different room, printing an A3+ target on 17″ roll paper.

P5000 profiling-target-on-roll-paper

This one was more of a struggle for me to lift up.

There are a lot more photos (and full specs) in my reviews.

[Printers current as of May 2018]

Do ink prices worry you?

Whilst it’s fine to be concerned about the cost of inks and avoid waste, I’ve found all too many people who print with smaller papers obsessing over saving a few pounds here and there.

The market for continuous ink systems and third party inks is a strong one, but I could not personally recommend anything but original inks in any of these higher end printers.

Ink carts in the Canon PRO-1000

PRO-1000 ink carts

If you really must look at third party and refillable ink systems be very aware of the need to re-profile any papers. If you are still thinking of third party inks then I’m going to assume your answer to my initial print frequency question was “A lot of prints and often”?

The larger carts of these printers quickly reduce the cost (per unit volume) of ink compared to the small carts in many A3+ printers. They last longer, but can be expensive to keep a full set of spares for your printer.  If you check my reviews, I include info about which inks go down the quickest. Some inks really are not used up very fast at all.

Ink carts in the Epson P800

P800 ink carts

Waste Ink

Ink used on maintenance is not ‘wasted’ – it is an integral part of how the printers are designed to work.

The more often you use them, the less ink (proportionally) is used this way.

If you are thinking about moving to a large printer it really is important to consider the lifetime costs of the printer, not just paper and ink.

Do you understand the true costs of printing?

Many people have asked me how much a print costs for one of the printers I’ve tested.

This is another ‘it depends’ question…

First up the easy bits

  • How much is an ink cart?
  • How much ink was used for a print?
  • How much did the sheet of paper cost?

Now some that take a bit more pondering

  • How much of the ink in an empty cart was used for printing?
  • How much of your maintenance cartridge gets used?
  • What other parts of the printer may have a limited life?
  • How much of your pack of paper was used for final prints?
  • How much did the printer cost?

Several printers have software available that will tell you how much ink was used for a print – add to this the cost of a sheet of paper and you have a basic cost.

That assumes that you made no test prints, which used up paper and ink – you might work this out too.

The accounting software I’ve seen is helpful, but only records ink used for printing. Ink that goes into the maintenance carts is lost and not recorded.

Working out the ink use is complicated in the Epson printers by the small amount lost in switching from matt black to photo black. Not an issue if you print mostly with one setting, but notable if you swap media a lot.

Add to this the fact that you will get a set of carts for the setup of the printer (potentially reduced capacity) and you can see that working out print costs may take some time to get overall costs.

Maintenance carts fill up and in the case of the two Canon printers, the print heads will need replacing at some point

I only have experience of this on the older iPF printers where you could expect to get 2-3 years of heavy use from a print head (2x per printer), The newer PRO-1000 is said to last longer.

Add all this to the expected life of your printer and you can get an idea of what an A2 sized print really costs you.

My own costings: In working out costs for my own printing, I only look at basic ink/paper cost. My minimum print cost to charge is then 15-20 times that. That allows a suitable profit and moves all the other costs into the ’rounding errors’ category IF I print regularly enough.
My only other consideration is roughly how many prints I need to sell to cover the cost of the printer from profits. Once I’ve passed this number and out of warranty, then a significant printer fault means I -might- decide to replace/scrap/sell the printer rather than pay for a really expensive repair.  I expect such a printer to last for several years, so a newer model printer may have other benefits too.

If all this talk of big prints has got you wondering about even larger printers, have a look at my article from a while ago covering similar questions to this;

Getting someone else to print for you

It’s often not so obvious to people like myself who enjoy the challenges of printing, that you’d ever want to pay someone else to do it for you.

However…

It’s a serious option if you don’t print that often, and saves some of the learning curve required for making your own big prints.  Even more so, if you have a smaller printer and can perfect your large print workflow, on a smaller cheaper machine.

It’s not necessarily a simple option, since you do need to understand how to edit larger images, manage colour, and wait some time to see what you’ve got.

If you really are considering a larger printer, then my questions of how often it’s going to be used and what you want to do with the prints are serious ones you can’t avoid.

Print quality – it’s up to you

I’ve pointed to four different 17″ width printers (current in 2018) that all have strengths and weaknesses.

Weaknesses? Yes, but relatively minor ones from my own point of view. I go into more far more detail in the reviews, where you can see whether they even matter for you.

So, how do you choose? A few questions to consider when reading the reviews (they may have no relevance to you, but that’s important to know).

  • What types of paper do you print on Matt/Gloss/both
  • Do you want roll paper support?
  • Paper cutting for roll paper?
  • Rigid media support?
  • Smallest paper size?
  • Borderless support?
  • Is canvas of interest? – remember how much you lose in wrapping
  • Sheet feeding – do you want a paper cartridge to hold sheets?
  • Ink cartridge size?
  • How about black and white printing?
  • Network connections?
  • Software – Is the printer supplied with software that may be of use?

Note that I’ve included nothing to answer the typical ‘Which is the best print quality’ question.

There’s a good reason for this.

The print quality differences are pretty minimal these days. Sorry, but any of these printers (even the relatively old Canon iPF5100) are capable of making prints I’d happily sell with my name on them.

There are differences, but they are such that if I printed four identical prints on the same paper (suitably profiled) and left them for a few days, I’d not be sure I could reliably identify which was which. If the four prints were up on a wall, identically lit and a few feet apart, I’d find it very difficult for many images.

The real thing to appreciate is that with modern higher end printers any ‘faults’ in prints are vastly more likely to due to user skill levels – something I appreciate from personal experience ;-)

To get the best from your big prints you will need to put in a lot of work – it can be tremendously rewarding, but do remember that your prints are but the endpoint of a chain that started before you even clicked the shutter. You may become very proficient in printmaking, but a poor photo is a poor photo, no matter how well printed

–ooOoo–

I hope these suggestions have been of use – please do feel free to ask if you’ve any questions…

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