I want a fancy printer. How archival should my prints be?
October 6, 2009 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking into getting a nice printer for printing fine-art quality prints. Help me decide between a couple (Epson v. Canon), and let me know your opinion re: 'archival' quality...

I've been toying with the idea of getting a nice printer and making good quality prints (on matte fine art paper, like Hahnemuhle) from my illustrations for a while now. Previous research had always gotten me to believe that pigment based printers were the way to go, as dye-based systems would fade over time, despite some initially brilliant color.

I was looking at the Epson R1900 as most illustrators/designers I know recommend Epsons for doing home studio printing. A friend of mine though suggested the Canon Pro9000MkII printer, which looks like a nice printer except for the fact it's dye-based. His explanation: Supposedly the prints can last 30-100 years which is pretty good for a $20-30 print he sells. Conversely, supposedly the ink based prints have truer colors and he largely prefers the Canon. I can't really fault that logic. But most everyone I see selling prints online sell pigment based prints and I wonder-- does that make a difference for the buyer? Obviously you're getting a print and not an original, but say you were buying a $25 print, would you be less likely to buy it if it were a dye-based ink or would that matter to you? By now the technology on these high end consumer products makes it so almost all the prints seem to be archival to a degree....

My friend is sending me a proof of one of my prints to show me, and I ordered a sample from Epson. It seems like the printers and their inks are largely comparable in price, so those aren't big issues. In the meantime all I can do is wait (tricky). But I guess my question is-- which one would be better for making quality art prints, and accurately hued ones at that? (and the easier the better, really-- I'm picky about color.) How archival would you expect a $20-30 print to be?

Mefites who own of either of these models of printers would be appreciated too. Especially if you print warmer hued images (I use oranges, peaches, purples a lot and I hear those are hardest to reproduce.) I just am having a hard time choosing between two printers who are both probably pretty good.
posted by actionpact to Technology (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and another side-question-- I was looking at the Epson site and they have the R1900 as a refurbished printer. I bought a refurbished Epson scanner with no issues-- would you be wary of a refurbished printer? I can never tell if it's a bad idea, but the price is pretty great.
posted by actionpact at 1:19 PM on October 6, 2009

Epson 4880 owner here (pigment-based.) Prior to that, I owned an Epson 1400 (dye-based) and a 2200 (pigment). Yes, the old dichotomy between pigments not fading and dyes being more vibrant is still true, but the reality is they've approached each greatly. So: a modern dye-based print will last decades, and a modern pigment-based print will give you great gamut. But I would treat this as orthogonal to the Canon/Epson issue; both companies make both types.

More important is the continuum between cheaper, smaller printers with small ink tanks, and larger, more expensive printers with bigger ink tanks. My 4880 can handle 220ml ink carts -- replacing them all at the same time would cost nearly $1000, but you'd better believe the cost *per print* is incredibly lower than my 1400, whose $19 ink carts hold maybe ~10ml. In addition, any printer with roll paper capability (and built-in cutter) is incredibly cheap to operate versus the cost of cut sheets.

Check out printerville.net for good reviews and cost-per-page accounting data.
posted by squid patrol at 1:40 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll just add that the issue of "truer colors" is probably best addressed with a hardware calibrator. If you're obsessive, you'll get a true colorimeter which can profile both your monitor and the actual output from a printer, to keep the two in sync and build custom paper profiles. In practice, the results from the built-in driver profiles from both Epson/Canon, as well as serious third parties such as Hahnemühle, seem to be so good nowadays that it's no longer as important as it once was.
posted by squid patrol at 1:46 PM on October 6, 2009

Just a random datapoint--I took a class at the International Center of Photography in NY, and their lab was stocked with high end Epsons. I wouldn't worry about getting a refurb--I've had two refurb Epsons over the years, and each was a little superstar.

Also, I love your illustrations! Will you be using this printer to restock your woefully Etsy store? Ping me when you gots the goods! But (and don't take this personally)--at $20-30 a pop, I expect people's tastes to change before the print fades. The few really pricey pieces of art I have bought, I've agonized over until I was sure it was something I'd want forever, and those I'd expect to last a long time.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:57 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys so far! I admit, my knowledge of printers has been pretty tainted. I've owned two basic inkjets (one Canon, one HP w/Vivera inks) and they are terrible! So I am probably overworrying that I'm gonna get a clunker. That 4880 sounds pretty great-- but too rich for my blood. Perhaps one day...

And Admiral Haddock, will do. My Etsy store is sad and abandoned! I may swap over to a different store format, not sure. I've got a screenprint heading to my house soon so it'll be time to start adding in more artwork for sale! Good call about the tastes vs. age thing, I hadn't considered that.
posted by actionpact at 2:02 PM on October 6, 2009

I have an R1800 that I use for printing photographs. It does an exceptional job and I highly recommend anything Epson makes. My work has very bright and vibrant colors and I have no problem reproducing pretty exactly what is on my screen (I'm anal about color management though and calibrating). I know the Canon printers are good, but Epson is basically the standard in the photography world and I have no first-hand experience with them (or even know anyone who owns one). I also bought mine refurbished years ago and have had no problems with it. You can't go wrong with Epson.

As far as pigment vs. dye... to me the modern pigment inks have just as good gamut. I'm sure there is a difference, but it is very small, which was not always the case. Carbon pigment prints are basically the most archival types of prints we have - far surpassing traditional color chemical prints. Dye prints are not nearly as archival - some colors will fade much more quickly than others, and forget about putting them anywhere near a window or strong light source. The "30-100 years" number you hear thrown around is if they're stored perfectly in the dark somewhere, not what happens when someone hangs them on their wall.

As someone who buys prints, I will not buy a dye print. Since it is the same amount of money and effort on your part I think you would be doing people a disservice to not go with carbon pigment. If you go into an art gallery with digital prints they will all be carbon pigment, it is what people expect even on a small scale like you are doing.

But yeah, you will get drastically better results if you are doing calibration all across the board. Buy a hardware calibrator (like the Pantone Huey) for your monitor. Then decide what paper you like and have a custom profile made ($25 here at Inkjetart) and use it religiously. The stock profiles the paper manufacturers supply are decent, but having your own made makes the whole process way less painful and the results much, much better.
posted by bradbane at 2:36 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also I should mention that I use my R1800 primarily for printing my physical portfolios, and every single time I show my book to a client or another photographer I get a lot of compliments on the print quality of my images. Inkjets have gotten ridiculously good in the last few years, and cutting out the lab middleman saves a lot of time and money. I can't recommend Epson enough.
posted by bradbane at 2:40 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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