Four years ago Epson demonstrated that there was a market for A2-sized printers with the launch of the Stylus Pro 4000. HP has also dabbled in this area with the DesignJet 90, and now Canon has entered the fray with its imagePROGRAF5000.
This is really just a scaled-down version of Canon’s large format printer, the iPF9000, and as such it produces the sort of quality that you would expect to get from a bureau. The main feature of this printer is that it has 12 colours – cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, red, blue and green, plus black, matte black, grey and light grey. The 12 colours give a slightly wider colour gamut than the Epson 4800, most noticeable in the very deep blues. The image quality is absolutely superb, even down to reproducing fine lines. It produces very clean whites, and has extremely good shadow detail.
The two black and two grey inks also mean that it does reproduce monochrome images superbly, and with no need to keep changing black ink cartridges over for different papers, which is the major weakness of the Epson printer. That said, Epson does have a new printer, the Stylus Pro 3800, which we’ll cover next month.
Of course, having 12 colours also means that it is expensive to change the inks. Each cartridge costs around £46 which means that a full set of inks will cost roughly £550. They should hold 130ml, though the start-up cartridges that come with the printer hold only 90ml. The ink is Canon’s new Lucia pigmented ink, which has been tested to last for 100 years on Canon’s own media under indoor conditions.
It has two printheads – one for each set of six colours. These are Canon’s new one-inch printheads, with 1,200dpi resolution and a 4 picolitre drop size. Canon says the heads should last for 8,800 pages but, of course, two heads does mean double the cost when it comes to replacing them.
The big issue
Be warned, this printer is huge, even for an A2 printer. It arrived on a palette which wouldn’t fit through the front door, so it had to be unpacked in the street. It’s 100cm wide and 70cm deep, without the roll feeder, making it almost the same size as some A1 printers. In addition, Canon recommends you leave a 30cm space behind it, and 80cm in front, so you’ll need a pretty large table for it.
It comes with a single paper cassette, which can be awkward to load as you have to pull it all the way out of the printer. You can also feed paper one sheet at a time through a slot in the top of the printer or feed media up to 1.5mm thick through the front slot. For front feeding you need to leave plenty of space behind the printer as it will pull the media right through the printer, out the back, before printing and ejecting it through the front.
There’s an optional roll feeder, which is motorised for easy loading. This comes with adaptors for 2in and 3in cores, and costs another £100. It has a rather neat trick in that you can use the menu on the front to set how long the roll is, and it will track how much you have left. If you change the roll before it’s finished, the iPF5000 prints a bar code on the bottom of the sheet, so that it knows how much is on the roll when you reload it.
You can print edge to edge, on sheet media, but you can only do true borderless printing on all sides with roll-fed media, although really it overprints on the top and bottom and then cuts those bits off.
The iPF5000 will handle quite a wide range of media, including glossy, satin and heavyweight photo papers. There’s also various fine art papers, including textured, velvet, heavyweight, canvas, and even a water-resistant canvas, plus universal bond paper, various coated papers, and commercial and premium proofing media. However, as yet there doesn’t seem to be any of the more specialised media that would appeal to the display market, such as adhesive vinyl, opaque and backlit films, cloth and scrim banner, all of which exist for the bigger iPF9000.
Poor Mac support
Sadly, the iPF5000 is badly let down by its poor Mac support. It does come with drivers for both Mac OS 9 and OS X but won’t work with Intel-based Macs. For connectivity, it has both USB 2.0 and Ethernet connectors built in, so it can easily be set up on a network – an essential feature for the professional market. There’s also a FireWire option.
The Canon print driver installs along with something called Garo Status Monitor. This shows the amount of ink in each cartridge and lets you select the paper source, paper type, size and so on. Rather annoyingly, you also have to set the paper size and type on the front of the machine every time you insert the paper tray – it would be much neater if the status monitor could tell you the media that was loaded in the machine.
From the monitor you can also control the maintenance and cleaning cycles. Canon claims that the printer will automatically detect and clean blocked nozzles. In theory it can also reroute ink around blocked nozzles, though we didn’t have any blocked nozzles to try this. The Status monitor also gives you a rather neat nesting feature for laying out up to 16 images together, though this only comes with the Windows version.
There’s a separate plug-in for Photoshop, which effectively bypasses the OS print engine and the Garo Monitor and acts almost like a separate RIP. You can also use this to print 16-bit images direct from Photoshop, which is particularly useful for getting the most out of Raw camera images.
PC users also get PosterArtist for laying out posters and banners. This is pretty intuitive to use, and includes a number of templates, plus royalty-free images and some clip art. Hopefully, Canon will see fit to include a Mac version shortly.
This printer is aimed fair and square at the professional fine art and photographic markets. These are areas where the Mac is strong so Canon’s failure to provide a driver for Intel-based Macs, and general lack of Mac support, is likely to be a serious problem. This is a great shame, because the printer itself produces superb results, with good resolution and vivid colours.