Hands On with the New Canon PIXMA PRO-1 Inkjet Printer

By Theano Nikitas

Canon has just announced, in the U.S., its latest professional inkjet printer: the PIXMA PRO-1. A step up from the still available PIXMA Pro 9500 (which will remain in the lineup), the new model is a 12-ink, 13-inch pigment printer and, according to Canon, is the world’s first A3 printer to utilize a 12-ink system.

The printer was unveiled in Europe earlier in the week but is making its debut in the United States now at the PhotoPlus Expo show in New York City. The PIXMA PRO-1 is expected to start shipping next month for $999.

Test Drive
I traveled to Canon’s facilities in Williamsburg, Virginia last month for a briefing, a sneak peak at the PRO-1 and a chance to see some hot-off-the-press photos output from the pro printer, including a high contrast black-and-white shot I took earlier that day.

Weighing a little over 60 pounds — add about 11 pounds for packaging and cartridges when shipped — the behemoth measures approximately 27.36 W x 18.19 D x 9.41 H inches. It seems overkill for a 13-inch printer and when we asked Canon representatives at a follow-up briefing why the company decided to go for a 13-inch rather than 17-inch model (which is a favorite size of pro photographers), they had no response.

Granted, Canon’s 17-inch Canon iPF 5100 weighs almost twice as much as the PRO-1 and is substantially larger, but there are 17-inch printers out there such as the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 that are smaller and lighter. However, we need to take into account that, among other things, the Epson 3880 doesn’t have the tubular system and offers only 9 inks.

The PRO-1 is attractive, though, but you’ll need a large, sturdy desk or table. On the other hand, the weight is part of the reason this printer is so damn quiet. The printer’s heft also contributes to its stability; even when printing, the typical (e.g., lightweight) hotel hospitality table it sat on didn’t shake at all.

Tubular Bells (and Whistles)
Built around a tubular ink delivery system, the ink cartridges sit on either side of the main printer body (six on one side; six on the other) and are accessed via separate front panels. Because of the tubular design, the PRO-1’s FINE printhead moves independently, providing a print speed that (depending on settings, paper, etc.), can be more than twice as fast as the PIXMA Pro 9500 Mark II.

The specs say it can produce a “gallery quality A3+ photo in about 2 minutes, 55 seconds” but my 13 x 19-inch black-and-white print at standard settings took longer than that (during the briefing we were told 4 minutes, 20 seconds for an A3 print). In either case, the printer is pretty fast, which is another reason I was amazed it was so quiet and still. Although there’s no wireless option, the PRO-1 does offer Ethernet, along with USB 2.0 and PictBridge.

Utilizing next generation Lucia pigment inks, the PRO-1 offers Cyan, Photo Cyan, Magenta, Photo Magenta, Yellow, Red and a Chroma Optimizer. More importantly, there are five black inks: photo black, matte black, dark grey, grey and light grey. With individual tubes for each ink cartridge, there’s no need to change cartridges or flush the lines when switching from matte black to photo black and back again.

This will save time and money, since no ink should, theoretically, be wasted. Surprisingly, the PRO-1’s minimum drop size of 4 picoliters is a little larger than we had hoped.

Big Inks
Canon has equipped the PRO-1 with high capacity, 36ml (versus the 9500’s 14ml) ink tanks. Chroma Optimizer cartridges will cost about $30 each, while inks will run about $36 each. Value multi-packs will be offered and the printer comes with a full set of inks.

The good news, given the printer’s already oversized hulk is that you won’t need to factor in extra space at the rear of the printer for manual feed. The bad news is that, although there’s a manual front feed for individual sheets up to 14 x 17 inches, it’s not straight through and the thickest media that can be run through the printer is 0.6mm (or a weight of about 350 gsm).

The rear tray can handle up to 150 sheets at a time and a maximum weight of about 300 gsm. There is no roll feeder option.

Like the Pro 9500 Mark II, though, the PRO-1 does not print borderless on fine art paper, leaving what may be (if it follows the Pro 9500) up to a 35mm border. If I remember correctly, there is a workaround but I believe you have to choose the matte paper option in the driver. Borderless printing on glossy paper is available.

Test Prints
Canon has partnered with Moab, Ilford and Hahnemuhle to develop ICC profiles in time for the printer launch. The bundled CD will carry only the Canon ICC profiles; the others will be available on a microsite and (we think) the 3rd party paper sites. Perhaps one of the 3rd party vendors has come up with a better solution or workaround for the borderless printing but I doubt it. Looks like you may be on your own for borderless fine art prints.

We were also told that PRO-1 users will receive priority toll-free support (Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.), a choice of repair or instant exchange at carry-in centers. An optional care pack is also available that extends coverage to two years and, among other benefits, offers a 24/7 support team. Additionally, this will be the first printer that counts towards CPS (Canon Professional Services) membership eligibility (a program that has recently been revamped).

Print longevity is still being tested by Wilhelm but it is expected to be as good or better than the 9500 Mark II. I have to say that I was pleased with the test prints I saw, albeit under less than optimal viewing conditions (the lighting wasn’t great). However, it was clear that, for example, my high contrast black and white image, printed with the PRO-1 on a luster paper, delivered clean whites, rich blacks and a good range of midtones.

I didn’t notice any obvious bronzing or metamerism. Comparative black and white prints from the PRO-1 and the 9500 Mark II showed much warmer tones from the PRO-1, but it’s hard to tell what caused the difference between the two. Color prints seemed to be well rendered, with rich but natural looking colors.

There’s more technology to this printer than we’ve had time to explore but it will be interesting to see how it performs in the studio under real world conditions. Canon’s gearing the printer towards the pro and advanced amateur markets and, at $999, it’s only about $150 more than the current estimated retail price of the older and slower, Pro 9500.

Canon has produced some great large and wide format printers in its iPF line but we’ll have to wait and see if the PIXMA PRO-1 can stand on its own.

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