Monday, February 20, 2012

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Canon Pixma Pro-1: Profiling and art papers...

On my last Pro-1 blog entry I mentioned that I found that downloaded profiles improved on the many that Canon supplied with the printer. Well, I am picky I suppose and while some profiles I've tried do seem outstanding, like the one I downloaded from Moab Paper's website for their amazing Slickrock Metallic Pearl for example, others could use a little help... especially those for some of the fine art papers. So, I've started the process of generating my own profiles by printing out the high-quality + extended-greys targets for my Spyder3 Print calibrator...

First off, let me mention the most annoying quirk that this printer has: when printing on matte fine-art papers requiring matte black ink, essentially all the art paper settings in the driver enforce a huge 3.5cm margin at the top and bottom of each page. This is a pain, since you lose a lot of printable area, especially on normal 8.5"x11" sheets for example. In addition, so far all of the downloaded fine art paper profiles use these art papers in the driver as starting points, so they too are limited in the same way.

Mind you, I am fairly sure I know why Canon is doing this, since many art papers do have a tendency to curl a little, in one direction when the conditions are particularly dry and in the other in more humid environments. What this means is that if you are not careful, the print head could scrape across the paper at the leading and trailing edges, not only perhaps ruining your print but also potentially causing damage to the head if it happens a lot. By enforcing this huge margin, it ensures that the paper is firmly held and not able to curl, so the print head (see image below) won't ever hit the paper. In theory.

In practice, I have had the head scrape slightly even on some thinner glossy papers since those too can have a slight curl at times. The Pixma Pro-1 definitely seems to be printing with less head clearance than other printers I've used in the past, so you have to be conscious of how the paper is "behaving". What can one do? Well what I have always done over the years is give a slight reverse curl to the left and right edges of the paper, and give some extra curl to the corners. In other words, I ensure that if there is any residual curl to the paper, the corners are pointing downward towards the bottom of the printer. So once you are watching for this, the curl suddenly becomes more or less a non-issue. However regarding the art papers, what can you do about the huge margin?

Well not much can be done, apart from creating your own custom profile that uses the matte photo paper option in the driver. This seems to be the only setting that forces the printer to use its matte-black ink, which is necessary for the best contrast on matte and fine art papers, and at the same time, does not enforce this huge margin on your prints. However using this setting means that any third party profiles that were created with a fine art paper option, and that's every one I've seen so far, won't print correctly... hence my needing to build custom profiles.

The first profile I created was for Hahnemühle German Etching paper, a nice textured paper that feels wonderful when you handle it. Interestingly enough, the downloaded profile, which forced the use of an art paper setting, was actually not all that good with some noticeable banding along shadow transition edges. The profile I made using the matte photo paper setting ended up being a fair bit smoother in practice with none of that transition banding and apart from a very slight reduction in contrast, turned out to be better looking and more accurate in almost every respect.

However the contrast issue, while a minor problem in my book, is one that cannot easily be overcome it seems. More than likely, when an art paper is chosen, the driver lays down a little more ink than would be necessary for the more densely coated matte photo paper, so one might never quite achieve the DMAX that one would get with the strictly "correct" setting for art paper. However for me, this compromise is worthwhile. If I want a punchy, vibrant print, there are many gloss, semigloss, pearl or coated semi-gloss fine-art papers out there that use the glossy black ink and thus don't have the margin issue. And here is the annoying part...

In reality, I have found the fibre-based coated semi-gloss papers, like Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl, Moab Colorado Fibre Satine, Crane (Museo) Silver Rag and so on, all to be more prone to humidity curling than the fully matte art papers like the German Etching or Moab's Entrada. Plus, these coated art papers are just as thick, sometimes even thicker, than the pure matte art papers and thus will be even more prone to head scraping. I do hope Canon provides an option on a future update to their printer driver to allow a smaller margin even on art papers, since this large margin isn't really going to help much in the long run as far as I'm concerned. In reality, you really do need to watch for paper curl with almost any paper when using the Pro-1, as you would with virtually every other sheet-fed inkjet printer too. The reward from the Pro-1, of course, is the satisfaction of its stunning print quality!

One note, is that there is a setting in the driver to slightly widen the head-to-paper gap, and it is called "Prevent paper abrasion" (see below). I have not yet tested this, but my suspicion is that this is for use with really heavy papers and that the upwards curl you get on even some thinner papers, will still be prone to head scrapes. However I may experiment with this setting a bit more down the road.

I don't want to scare anyone off with all this talk of creating custom profiles! With a properly calibrated display, the profiles I've downloaded for most of the papers (apart from the one for German Etching) do work very well. However anyone who knows me, knows I am a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes that means creating and tweaking my own profiles until I am totally happy with the results!

Lastly, the Pro-1 absolutely rocks when using any of the gloss, semigloss or baryta art papers, so for the majority of the popular papers, there are zero issues with margins and most profiles I've downloaded so far have been very good. More to come...


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, I found your blog while researching scratch marks on my Pro 1 printouts using Hahnemuhle Silk Baryta papers. It wasn't apparent at first, but then became more apparent in my last prints. I sent the printer to Canon (in Hong Kong) and it's still there. They couldn't find a problem with the printer and are sending it back to me. (They said that they did all the tests in their lab, even with the paper I sent to them.) I hope that I can resolve the problem by curling the sides, although my papers are perfectly flat. I will be trying the Prevent Paper Abrasion setting as soon as I get my unit back from Canon.

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