I recently purchased a Canon Pixma Pro-100 printer for a very good price from Craigslist. More on that printer after the break. I’ve been printing photos for a long time, and like many hobbyists, I used your standard all in one inkjet, albeit a pretty good one. After doing a bunch of research I bought the Canon MG6220 about a year ago. Being an all-in-one is a sure sign that 1. It isn’t going to approach a dedicated photo printer quality and 2. It’s probably going to be pretty cheap to buy and super expensive to replace the ink. Right and right. At the time, I figured a dedicated large format printer would be way out of my price range. Looking back, I was definitely wrong….
I’ve always been torn on printing images. It is so ridiculously cheap and convenient to send them over to CVS or Walgreen, even 8 x 10’s are only 3-4 bucks a pop, sometimes cheaper. The only problem with that is they look like they were printed at your corner drugstore. I’d get prints that were far too bright or dark, colors weren’t even close, and sometimes they would cut off part of the picture, even if the aspect was already correct! So, I ditched CVS in favor of Snapfish. Snapfish was pretty cheap, and the quality of their cheapest prints was a little better. Colors seemed to be reproduced more accurately, but I still felt like something was missing.
At this point, in early 2012 or so, I thought I’d give printing my own photos another shot. It had been a little while since I’ve done any real printing of images. I was pretty discouraged, mostly because of the ink prices and the prints I would produce were about the same as CVS. I have ditched printers because the price for the ink was more than the damn printer was worth. I figured why waste the time when I can just pick them up from them in an hour. I’d heard of printer profiling and soft proofing, but never really got that into it, thinking that it wouldn’t make much of a difference…..now I know better.
Without really looking much into a dedicated printer, I dove into getting an all-in-one that also printed decent images. The quick searching that I did do for dedicated 13 x 19 inch printers turned up printers that were 300 dollars on the absolute low-end. No thanks. Then the ink is another 150 or so to fill and soon enough I’d be spending my kids college tuition just for ONE MORE PRINT. So I decided on the MG6220 I mentioned above. The cost per print was ok, I forget exactly what it was now, and the print quality was top-notch for an all in one. I use Lightroom, and figured I’d give soft proofing and profiling a shot.
I didn’t have the loot to buy an expensive calibrator that creates custom profiles, so I ended up using the default Windows 7 to calibrate. That is
about as crappy as it gets most definitely as crappy as it gets, but it’s what I had available to me at the time. After a lot of tweaking in Lightroom, I finally was able to consistently print out images that were superior to CVS, Walgreen etc., and maybe better than Snapfish. This whole process took about 6 months to get down, dabbling here and there when I had time. But after I realized I could print out pictures that at least resembled what I saw on my monitor, I was hooked. Then it was time to take it a step further.
Enter about a month ago when I decided to re-investigate how much a dedicated photo printer was. I thought I knew a little something about them, you know, doing all of 10 minutes research months before….. The first thing being they were expensive, the ink cost more than what my 6220 cost, and they were enormous. Well, they are enormous. I was looking for something that could print larger than standard 8.5 x 11. I couldn’t blow the kind of money that print bigger than 13 x 19, so 13 x 19 it was. Of course I looked through the normal channels; Amazon, Adorama, etc. The Pixma Pro-100 seemed to be a low-end “Pro” model. Each of these sites had it for 350-400 dollars. As I suspected, still out of my price range. Then I hit up my dirty old friend, Craigslist. Holy Schnikes! I’m seeing all sorts of brand new Pixma Pro-100’s and Pro 9000’s, all for a very reasonable price. I’m talking 150 bucks, usually with a big pack of Canon semi gloss to boot. I’m thinking, what the hell is going on here? Then I dug a little deeper….
It seems that Canon, Epson and the like have decided to give all sorts of mail in rebates. I’m talking ridiculous, as in with a rebate you can get these printers for as low as 80 bucks each. Ha! It also seems like they plan on making all of their money on….wait for it. The effing ink of course. The cost to replace all 8 tanks on the Pixma Pro-100 is around 150-170 bucks depending on where you get it from. Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!! I knew there had to be a catch, and of course there was. Now on to 3rd party inks.
Even with my 6220, the cost of refilling all 6 carts is about 70 bucks, and the tanks aren’t very big. I scoured Amazon, there were a ton of 3rd party ink for it. I decided to give a few companies a try. the first two were horrific, but very cheap. I believe all 6 carts from these companies were like 7 bucks, ha! They leaked and just printed out pictures that looked bizarre. Then I came on one set that was around 25 bucks. Eh, I gave it a try. And although it wasn’t quite as good as the Canon inks, it was pretty damn close. So I stuck with those and was pretty happy. I always had an extra set lying around. That was my first foray into 3rd party ink.
Now onto the Pixma-Pro 100. 150 bucks or more for a refill. That is probably a bargain for a professional photographer, but I can’t afford that every time I wanna fill up. So I did some research on 3rd party inks. This time I wasn’t going to skimp, I wanted something that would be close in color accuracy, but for half the price or less. I stumbled on an absolutely awesome forum call Nifty Stuff. There are a lot of discussions on ink, 3rd party ink, the best way to fill the cartridges, EVERYTHING. I kept coming across a company that supposedly is able to duplicate pro model inkjet ink with very good accuracy, Image Specialists. I checked out their site, and ended up at a distributors site called Precision Colors. Now this is a kick ass company. They aren’t a distributer in the classic sense. They don’t just sell you the exact ink from Image Specialists. They formulate the custom inks themselves for each printer, do the testing, provide printer profiles, etc. Best of all, they had ink for the Pixma Pro-100. I ended up buying the Deluxe Kit for 36 bucks, 44 dollars shipped. The kit comes with enough ink to fill up each tank 6 times. Beautiful.
I just started using these new inks last night, and so far the results have been fantastic. The refill process was a little tricky at first, but once you refill a few cartridges, it’s a cinch. I’ve only made 5-6 prints so far, all the same subject, my little guy. I recently ordered an Ilford Sampler, and thought it would be a perfect time to test the ink and paper. Here is a shot of the printed images, although you won’t really be able to see the quality very well.
Time will tell if the ink holds up, but if it does, then I’ll be printing out my images myself from here on in. The next test will be how well black and white images print. If I really want to make some great images, I think I’ll end up purchasing a Spyder or something similar, so I can get more consistent results. Unfortunately to step it up above that, to create your own profiles, is way more than I’m able to spend, upwards of 400 bucks for the hardware, which is crazy talk. Well for me it is, for some professionals I’m sure it’s cheap.
I’m pretty happy I decided to give printing another shot. I know there are some very good photo labs that will color correct your images for you, all for very reasonable prices, but I have to admit that I enjoy the printing process, actually creating the print myself, some sort of weird satisfaction. That and I am very inpatient, and love to have my images printed out when I want them….and then decide that I need to tweak the contrast by juuuuust a few percent. Good thing ink is cheap.