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Canon iPF5100 review
Using the imagePROGRAF iPF5100
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Apart from size differences, the 5100/6100 printers are very similar, although this review is written with much newer driver software, which now supports 64-bit working and other improvements in usability and print quality (see also our iPF6300 and iPF 8300 reviews for more details)
According to Canon, the key benefits of this printer are:
Marketing claims for sure, but suffice to say, it's a nice printer. There are full specifications for the printer at the end of this review.
The printer itself is easily installed by two people, and whilst I -could- do it on my own, the printer at nearly 50kg is not something I'd want to move far.
The printer I've got to look at, didn't come with a stand - if you've the space, one is a good idea, since 50kg is a lot for the desktop.
The printer is moderately quiet in operation, and silent when it enters power saving mode.
The printer has a built in cutter which is located at the very front of the printer, in a location potentially accessible to small fingers - as ever, be careful who uses a printer like this.
The printer version I'm looking at is the iPF5100.
The picture to the right shows the test printer being used for a panoramic image. You need to be careful with how you are handling the output for such large prints.
The set of coloured inks (LUCIA II pigment ink) is aimed at giving a wide even gamut of colours on a range of papers.
The inks are:
Printer ConnectivityThere is a choice of USB2 or Ethernet to link your printer up to a computer.
Ethernet speed is 100MB/s. There is also an optional Firewire (IEEE1394) interface board available.
Drivers and additional software are supplied for Apple Mac and Windows. Make sure you load the latest version from Canon's web site, since there are some considerable improvements in later versions, which may be newer than what you find on the supplied CD
There is additional 'Poster Artist' software supplied, but since it's Windows PC only, I've not covered it here.
Other software (MCT) allows for maintenance of available media types, both in the printer and driver - this doesn't have quite the flexibility of that found with the iPFx300 series, however I'll briefly mention it later in connection with profiling.
An on-line manual is installed and the printer has its own web interface.
The printer obtained an IP address for itself on our network, however you can alter this (for a static address) either from the control panel or by accessing the printer over the network.
Paper type is set via the printer front panel. The menu system is quite clear, and I had no difficulty finding what was there.
The monochrome LCD display at just two lines does look a little basic, and sometimes needs considerable numbers of button presses to find what you want.
You need to set the paper type for the feed path you are using. If you try and print to the wrong media, the default is for the driver software to warn you and alert via the front panel.
(move mouse over image to see)
Heavyweight paper and POP board can be loaded via the front slot. There is a straight through print path.
If you are using the straight through print path, then the space at the back of the printer must be clear - that or the sheet is on its way through to the house next door...
Roll media goes at the back. Two inch and three inch core sizes are supported.
There are additional spacers required if you want to print borderless.
A roll of paper, ready to install.
Paper loading was very easy, with no problems from numerous different media types.
When the print powers down or goes to sleep, the paper is partly unloaded (prevents marking)
Waking the printer up will automatically reload the roll of paper.
Borderless printing is supported.
You can see the trimmed leading edge of this print on top of the printer
Just make sure to select borderless in the print setup (in this instance with a custom paper size for this print)
If you've not got a stand for the printer - be ready to catch the print when finished, unless you don't mind it hitting the floor. I've seen an optional Desktop Stacker (BU-02) mentioned in the manual, but I've never seen one in use.
The cutter will also cut normal canvas, but for regular use, you may want to cut the roll yourself
Do make sure you are using the latest drivers for your printer - there are a few improvements over earlier versions.
This screen of the standard Mac printer driver shown some of the positioning options.
Have a read of the manual though, since with a printer like this there are more print options than you'll find on the average small desktop printer.
In subsequent screen shots, I'll be showing the Canon iPF print plug-in for Photoshop.
This allows printing, without going through the Photoshop print dialogue. It's accessed from the 'Export' menu in Photoshop.
You need to set the paper source correctly - this and paper media type are the most likely causes of print failures.
Both custom paper sizes and resizing work very easily to give prints at the sizes you want, although in general I'd usually prefer to create an image at a particular size first.
You can see both how the image fits in the defined print area, and how it fits on your paper, from the plugin.
For roll paper - the auto trimming option is useful, but do remember to turn it off when not needed, since it really messes up print borders if you need them.
One of the uses I make of big printers and roll paper is to print large panoramic prints.
You need to prepare the image for the size you want - this for me involves taking extra care over print sharpening.
For larger prints, there may be some areas (clouds/skies) where I don't want to apply any sharpening, and other areas where fine detail is important. I also pay particular attention to horizon lines, since distant trees and things like waves and snow patches on mountains can easily be oversharpened by many techniques.
I've a 17"x57" custom size set and have used it here, since the print was going to be laminated to 'foamex' and trimmed for mounting.
There is nothing wrong with creating a new custom size every time you need one, but the list can get a bit unwieldy, since it's presented in the order you entered the settings, not sorted by size.
Maximum printable paper length is listed as 18m in the specifications.
The printer will inform you that it is short of ink for some time before it actually runs out.
You can over-ride the warning on the front panel and continue printing, but eventually it will just stop.
The display exhibits the same major failing I've seen in all Canon large format printers that I've looked at, in that the ink levels are displayed in 20% increments. It's quite possible for all displays to be showing 20% left at the beginning of a print, and all showing empty by the end of the print.
Move your mouse over the image to see
Individual carts are locked into place with the blue latch.
There are two print heads, with six colour inks per head.
The print heads are rated as a 'consumable' with each rated for several litres of ink running through them.
We didn't have a printer long enough to require a head change, but it looks to be a pretty straightforward process, if it's anything like our iPF8300.
The printers run regular cleaning cycles, dependent on both usage (including time switched off) and ongoing self testing. This will use small amounts of ink, so expect levels to gradually drop over time.
I'm told that the printer uses less ink overall if left in stand-by mode when not in use.
At regular intervals it will also perform nozzle checks, to keep things clean, and to monitor print head life.
I carried out a few nozzle checks during testing, and it came out fine - there are a number of more advanced alignment and set up options available in the printer menus.
The printer comes, when new, with the heads not fitted. As this was a demo model, I didn't need to do an installation.
The procedure is however very similar to that I carried out when setting up our iPF8300 (see notes)
The iPF5100 incorporates a built-in colour calibration system, that you should run after setting up the printer for the first time, and then at regular intervals (for example, at the first ink cart change after installation) Note that this system is -not- connected with print profiling in any way.
The printer comes with a collection of software in addition to the usual drivers.
Detailed job information is a little difficult to come by since unlike the hard disk of our (bigger and more expensive) iPF8300 there is limited capacity for the information to be retained.
The printer will print details of its last 10 jobs, via the front panel.
Do remember not to do this when you've expensive paper loaded...
You can also print general printer data, which include network connections and settings
Some of this data is also available via the printer's built in web server.
The ink levels are still subject to the 20% increments - so fall definitely in the 'advisory' category as opposed to really useful.
Note the print times below. I usually print at not quite the highest quality setting, since very few images (IMHO) show any improvement at the very best/slowest settings.
Like any printer of this size, it's worth taking the time to have a read through the manual, although the more impatient user should be able to work out most things pretty easily...
Look through the information, to find things like the layout software that allows images to be tiled and fitted onto roll paper. I didn't use this software with the iPF5100, but I'm told by an iPF6100 user that it works well for basic use, but is not up to the more sophisticated layout options available with full RIPs. We often use ImageNest for layout, when printing large numbers of images (contact sheets) on roll paper.
Other support information is available via the printer driver software. Similar functionality is available under Windows, but of course the layout will look a bit different...
If the printer has gone to sleep. a new print job should wake it up.
When printing colour images, I always print using an ICC colour profile for the printer/ink/media choice I've made.
- It's worth briefly noting that there are facilities in the driver for matching prints to lighting, but they are not ICC profile based, and seem of little real use for high quality reproduction.
The Canon driver software installs huge numbers of profiles, which I found were very good for Canon media.
For creating my own profiles, I print a test target, measure it and create a profile with i1Profiler.
Before printing a test target to measure, you need the correct media settings.
The Media Configuration Tool allows you to configure what settings are shown by the printer.
Note that you cannot create your own custom settings with the tool for the iPF5100 - you need to find a setting that matches your paper (or use one of the 'Special' settings)
If you're going to be doing much profiling with this printer, I'd really suggest visiting the unofficial Canon iPF Wiki site, which has lots of information from printer users about what works well and things to watch for.
I also printed targets from within the Photoshop plug-in, making sure to turn off colour management.
You can also print targets (on a Mac) using the Adobe Color Printing Utility.
After leaving the profiling targets to dry overnight, I created the ICC profiles.
Much of what I say about print quality has to be slightly subjective - you could come round to our office and look at the vast piles of prints around the place, but other than that, it's very difficult to describe print quality in meaningful ways (one reason paper manufacturers use nice looking images to advertise their papers, and camera manufacturers go to nice places to show how their cameras perform).
I prefer not to blind readers with vast tables of data and pretty gamut volume pictures - for these are essentially meaningless unless there is a lot of supporting information to allow you to usefully interpret the data for your own uses.
Modern printers are producing better and better prints, the differences are diminishing, so there is really no better way than to get a test print and look at it yourself under good lighting.
I like to use these two test images below to find any more obvious faults in printer performance (B/W and colour).
These test images (and many others) are available for free download on this site.
The combination (below) of the colour test image and one of my own architectural photos make for a harsh test.
The deep blues and reds of the lower image really show the benefits of the red and blue ink that you get in this 12 colour printer.
Printing from within the plugin shows the difference (in proofing) between two different rendering intents. Move your mouse over the image below to see proofing differences.
If printing from the plugin in 32 bit mode, you can have the option of installing the free Adobe CMM software and have 'Black Point Compensation' or BPC (in Relative Colorimetric mode). Note that this doesn't work in 64 bit mode.
If you need BPC in 64-bit then currently you need to print from within Photoshop. I'd note that the new version of ImageNest will support BPC and a whole range of related print features - I'll have a review update as soon as it's available to try out.
The Lucia inks of the iPF5100 will show a bit of gloss differential reflection under some specific lighting conditions.
With normally mounted prints, you just don't see it.
There are two ways you can approach black and white printing on the iPF5100, via the normal printer driver.
One is to rely on the accuracy of your printer profiles and just print normally.
Personally, I prefer to use the driver's built in monochrome print mode.
Indeed, if you go to print a B&W image via the plugin, then a warning comes up offering to switch to B&W mode.
With the B&W print mode I was able to get pretty much 'spot on' prints with Canon media.
All the other printer control features are just as you'd use for colour prints, such as this panoramic shot.
The monochrome print mode works with all the normal print settings.
The colour settings tab allows quite a bit of fine tuning for monochrome output.
Do remember that prints can vary slightly in how they look, depending on paper choice and how they are lit, so be very careful before you start making adjustments to tweak your output.
Following on from some tests with our iPF8300, I'll make a slight adjustment (below) if I'm printing on a bright white paper and the print is being viewed under normal (relatively dim) house lighting.
If you'd like to know more about my testing, I've written up some notes on 'fixing' the perceived colour cast you can get with some lighting and papers - Removing slight colour casts from B&W prints.
For third party papers, I'll always try and make a test print with our B&W test image, and even measure the linearity with the profile making part of QTR (QuadToneRIP).
You can produce 'correction' profiles with QTR or use the info to create a correction curve that could be loaded into the printer using the 'Curves...' button above.
I've more detailed B&W testing info in the relevant B&W section of our iPF6100 review (same inks/print mechanism).
If you want to get really good black and white printing, and you have the equipment to measure and set things up, then you could look at the specialist True Black and White black and white printing software.
- Note that I review printers from the point of view of a photographer who produces relatively low volumes of prints. Print quality always trumps minor running cost differences, with media costs a relatively small part of my eventual print prices. YMMV.
Having tested the iPF6100, 6300 and 8300 printers, I felt pretty sure I knew what this printer should be like to use. I wasn't disappointed - excellent prints, good colour, and neutral black and white rendition when needed.
So, basic print quality is good, what of some of those features Canon emphasise for this printer?
Print speed is good - I don't use the very highest quality settings for most work since I find it almost impossible to tell the difference in real life images.
Even with specific test images I could only tell the difference under very good even lighting, and then only close up. In fact without labelling the prints, my success rate in telling which was which fell noticeably after a day or so.
Colour Gamut is very wide, with the extra inks contributing to a good even coverage of colours. I was unable to spot any problems in real world images.
The handling of deep saturated reds and blues in a picture like the one of 'Curve' is very good, with detail visible that just didn't show up in many smaller printers.
Gloss differential is slightly more obvious in the 5100/6100 ink set than with the 6300/8300, but wouldn't be a problem for the vast majority of my work (I rarely print on very glossy paper)
The greyscale coverage is excellent both when printing in colour mode and B/W.
Run the calibration after setting up your printer, then again when replacing the first ink cart. Make sure to use a specified paper, then put it away until the next time. Calibration ensures consistency, and means that your profiles should work just fine, even after replacing a print head.
Less Ink used
Ink usage information is both detailed (by print job) and vague (20% increments in the displays of ink reserves) The detailed information also lacks any feedback on how much ink is being used in cleaning operations.
Precise ink usage isn't important to me, but I know some people that run on much slimmer margins for their print business. If this is important, then you need to plane your ink cost strategy from the start, since only the last 10 jobs details are retained.
Easy to use software
The Photoshop print plugin is very easy to use, and with the updated drivers from when I first used the iPF6100, I've no issues or concerns.
The MCT (Media Config Tool) for the 5100 lacks some of the useful features for creating custom media configurations found with our iPF8300, but works fine for updating printer options.
Buying the iPF5100/supplies
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Not one sheet paper misfeed during all the time I've used the printer. I didn't have any stiff media for testing the straight through print path (front loading).
Roll paper operation worked just fine, where I unloaded and reloaded differing paper types several times.
Borderless printing worked well too.There are media permanence tests available for this printer, suggesting a 100yr life for framed prints behind glass.
There are some iPF6100 print life results at http://www.wilhelm-research.com/canon/ipf6100.html
Do bear in mind the inherent difficulties in lifetime testing, but the Wilhelm data doesn't raise any concerns for the life of any prints I might make.
We had the printer for a several weeks, so can't really comment on longer term reliability and maintenance issues. Ink cartridge replacement was extremely easy.
The small LCD display seems a bit basic, although perfectly functional. Control layout caused me no problems, but then I am used to using our iPF8300.
The obvious question, since I have an iPF8300 here, is what differences are there in print quality?
Relatively few really.
I made several prints for clients, once I'd satisfied myself that you really couldn't notice the difference between the printers, with most real world images.
I had wondered about Canon not updating the 5100, the same way as the 6100/8100 to the x300 range, but if I needed a 17" printer I'd not have issues with using the 5100.
With current deals, it may be a good time to move up to a 17" printer. Ink costs will be lower than small printers, and the combination of roll and paper cassette is excellent for larger print volumes. The printer is an older model, but IMHO unlikely to be replaced (and actually available) in the near future.
If you want to see test prints, then Canon offer free sample prints via their web sites, and in the UK you can request a sample print from any one of a number of Canon large format printers via Sample Print, who offer a wide range of test images and media choices.
A solidly built 17" width printer that makes it easy to produce excellent print quality on roll and sheet media, colour and black and white.
Software support, particularly the Photoshop Print Plugin, makes the printer easy to set up and work with, whether single sheet prints or long panoramic views.
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