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Canon tries to reignite its 13x19 pro printing with Pixma Pro-1

With its first Super B-size desktop printer in two years, Canon takes on Epson with beefed-up monochrome support and high-capacity inks.

I love how small these mammoth printers look in the manufacturer's product shots, displayed folded up and yet somehow managing to eject a print. This big boy weighs 65 pounds, mostly ballast to keep it from shaking while it prints. Canon USA

I'm not sure why, but it feels like it's been far longer than two years since Canon released its previous desktop medium-format printer, the Pixma Pro9500 Mark II. Maybe that's because the Mark II was a minor update (some would say fix) to its predecessor, the Pro9500, which debuted more than five years ago. That model, and its even older sibling the Pro9000 Mark II--a printer that's fundamentally a redesigned version of the i9900--will remain in Canon's product line, to be joined by the Pixma Pro-1.

The new Super B size printer features a new printhead and new ink delivery system, with a new variation (but not reformulation) of Canon's Lucia pigment ink set. I believe that it's the first desktop printer with a continuous ink delivery system, at least inasmuch as it uses tubes rather than on-printhead ink tanks. Instead, the inks reside on both sides of the printer. The printhead itself is a new version of the company's FINE drop-on-demand technology.

The ink set now includes a glossy coating tank, dubbed Chroma Optimizer. Like other coatings, this clear coat normalizes the inconsistencies in ink reflectance to produce deeper blacks, decrease bronzing, and reduce metamerism--the latter are significant problems in monochrome prints. Monochrome rendering should also generally improve, thanks to the expansion of the set of gray primaries. Canon ups the usefulness of the overcoat by allowing you to alternatively define it to print watermarks. The company claims the printer renders a broader gamut on all color axes over the Pro9500M2, including an improvement to alleviate the common magenta cast in skin tones.

The Pro-1 is also the first Canon printer to qualify for Canon Professional Services program (thanks to the recent restructuring of the program in which each device is worth a certain number of points toward membership qualification), though I don't know how many points it will be worth. The printer's support will also be managed by the EOS support team.

Here's how its specs fare compared with its in-line sibling and closest competitor:

  Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II Canon Pixma Pro-1 Epson Stylus Pro R3000
Ink set Lucia
UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta
Number of primaries/ink tanks 10/11 10/12 8/9

Photo CM
Photo Black, Gray
Matte Black
Red, Green

Photo CM
Photo Black, Dark Gray, Gray, Light Gray
Matte Black
Chroma Optimizer

Light CM
Photo Black, Light Black, Light Light Black
Matte Black
Tank volume 14ml 36ml 25.9ml
Ink cost 11 x $15.99 = $175.89 11 x $35.99 + 1 x $29.99 (CO) = $425.88 9 x $30.39 = $273.51

Ink cost/ml

$1.14 $1.00 $1.17
Minimum droplet size 3pl 4pl 2pl
Nozzle configuration 7,680 total
(config n/a)
12,288 total
(config n/a)
1440 total
(180 x 8)
Resolution 4,800 x 2,400 4,800 x 2,400 5,670 x 1,440
Maximum media size (inches) 13x19 13x19 13x19
Minimum media size (inches) 4 x 6 4 x 6 3.5 x 5
Paper paths Main L-shaped: n/a
Straight-through: up to 1.2mm thick
Main L-shaped: 64 to 105 g/m2 and supported Canon special media up to approx. 300 g/m2
Manual L-shape: Canon special media up to approx. 350g/m² and 0.6mm
Main L-shaped: n/a
Straight-through: up to 1.3mm thick
Roll feed, CD/DVD
Full bleed at maximum size? Yes Yes Yes
Approximate rated speed,
13 x 19 photo
(More than 8 minutes)
4m20s 2m30s
Interfaces USB 2.0, PictBridge 100Base-T Ethernet, USB 2.0, PictBridge 100Base-T Ethernet, 802.11n, USB 2.0, PictBridge
Noise 36dB 35.5dB 38dB
Power consumption 14W (1.2W standby) 24W (1.6w standby, 0.4W off) 21 W (3.5W standby)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 26 x 7.6 x 13.9 27.4 x 9.4 x 18.2 24.2 x 9 x 14.5
32.4 61.1 35
Price $849.99 $999.99 $849.99
Ship date March 2009 Q4 2011 March 2011

So in some ways it looks like Canon is making a valiant effort to eat into Epson's pro printing market. The higher capacity ink system and increase in the number black/gray primaries and Ethernet support are a serious step in the right direction; even the R3000's "high" capacity tanks don't last very long when printing full size. Plus, as anyone who's had the misfortune of dealing with a consumer printer tech support operation knows, adding the printer to the EOS support program is important.

How expensive the inks really turn out to be depends upon actual yields. On one hand, $1/ml is competitive, but having to lay out $425 to buy an entire ink set at a time is painful. (Even if the street prices are lower it's a big ouchie.)

There's no front status display, and I have mixed feelings about that. While the display is most useful ironing out problems with Wi-Fi connections--which the Pro-1 lacks--they do come in handy for other sorts of diagnostics.

Finally, there are a few really big downers. It's not even close to the R3000 on paper handling. Without a straight-through paper path and a maximum thickness of 0.6mm, it can't meet a lot of specialty printing needs. And it seems to be pretty slow; though comparative speed ratings can be unreliable, with more than 12,000 nozzles that thing should fly. And while the sample prints I had a brief chance to look at were quite nice, 4pl droplets are relatively huge, so that bears some scrutiny. And finally, the printing system seems optimized for glossy and semigloss prints, which is more consumer-oriented than pro.

Still it does look like a significant advancement over its predecessors, and in a position to challenge Epson--especially since HP quietly dropped its Photosmart Pro line last year, leaving just the two to battle over the market. It's slated to ship in the fourth quarter of this year and I hope to be able to give it a go head-to-head with the R3000.

Update 10/28/11: Canon says it has reformulated the inks. According to a spokesman, "This new reformulation helps expand the color gamut and stabilizes the print color."