How to Avoid Color Issues on imagePROGRAF PRO Printers (Podcast 573)

How to Avoid Color Issues on imagePROGRAF PRO Printers (Podcast 573)

Following some discussion with Canon regarding an issue with printing on my PRO-4000 printer from Mac OS X Sierra, I’ve confirmed the effectiveness of one workaround and one technique to overcome the issue, and I’m going to share these with you today.

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To give you a little bit of background on this issue, I bought the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 44 inch large format printer, which I reviewed in the summer of 2016, and although I absolutely love this printer, I found that there was an issue after upgrading to Mac OS X Sierra, and I essentially found myself double profiling.

Double profiling is when the ICC profiles that we usually apply to ensure accurate color reproduction, for some reason gets applied twice, and that generally messes up the colors. The problem is more apparent when printing to matte media, probably because the ICC profile is doing more work with matte media than it needs to do with gloss, and that in turn gets amplified more when you double profile. Black and white images suffer a nasty color cast regardless of the finish of the media.

In December 2016 I reported that I was having problems, and provided a workaround, which I’ve been using since. I’m not going to go into detail today, as you can see that workaround and troubleshooting technique in Episode 554. I had spoken to some of the guys on the large format printer team at Canon in March this year, when I was there to view the test prints that they’d created in February for the CP+ show in Yokohama.

Martin at Canon Head Office with CP+ Test Prints

Martin at Canon Head Office with CP+ Test Prints

I was told at the time that there may be an issue that Canon are aware of, and that a driver update was imminent, but I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months, so I followed up with them last week, and they suggested that I try a couple of things. I’ll go into detail on these shortly, but to cut a long story short, both techniques worked, so I’m happy to be printing easily again, although with a different workflow than I’m used to using.

Double Profiling Examples

Before we get to the workarounds, let’s look at a some photos of my test prints, so that you can understand how the double profiling effects the prints. I made a test image of four images in a row, which I printed at 24 inches wide and 10 inches high. In this photo (below) you can see three vertical strips of four prints.

Double Profiling Workaround Test Prints

Double Profiling Workaround Test Prints

The left and center vertical columns of images were printed using the two techniques that I’m going to explain, and the right column of images was printed the way I’ve been printing for more than 15 years, and will hopefully at some point be able to work with again. Although the left column might look a little bit darker, this is because of how I photographed the images. The prints using both techniques are actually identical.

As you can see, the right column color images are less vivid than the center and left column images, and the black and white image has a strong sepia tone, although the base image is totally neutral, like the center and left images. Another very unwelcome symptom of this double profiling, is a very nasty blotchiness in the blue sky, as you can see in this closer photograph (below).

Blotchy Blue Sky in Double Profiled Print

Blotchy Blue Sky in Double Profiled Print

If you can’t see the detail, click on the images to open them at their full size, and widen your browser window if necessary. To stop the images from auto-advancing, just roll your mouse over them. You should be able to see how nasty that sky turned out, yet the original image has a very smooth blue sky.

The photo has a much cleaner clear blue sky in the center image, as you can see in this image (below). We can also see that some of the red color has gone from the mountains, and the red from the top of my Namibia photo is also much weaker.

Sky Comparison

Sky Comparison

As we can see in this last photograph of the test prints (below) the black and white image gets a strong sepia tone. I actually don’t dislike this artistically, but when it’s not supposed to be there, it’s a problem.

Color Cast in Black and White Images

Color Cast in Black and White Images

Only Effects Custom Media Types

One other thing that I should mention, although I have not tested this myself, is that this double profiling issue only effects custom media types. If you use Canon brand media with their ICC profiles, I’m told that there are no issues. If you have found otherwise, do let me know. I can do more tests, but for now, I’m trusting what Canon have told me.

As this started to happen from Sierra, I think it’s safe to assume that if you are using Windows, you don’t need to worry about this issue either.

Workaround – Disable Print Preview

OK, so now you can appreciate the problem, let’s look at the two ways to avoid this. The easiest way, although somewhat risky, is to simply turn off the Preview when printing, as you can see in this screenshot (below).

Uncheck Print Preview

Uncheck Print Preview

I usually use the preview as a final check before hitting the print button, so this worries me, but it works. The center of the three strips of images was printed this way, and the colors are printed as expected.

Embed ICC Profiles in Custom Media Settings

The second thing that I have confirmed to work, is to embed the custom ICC profile into the custom media that I created on the printer, to print to my favorite Breathing Color media. To do this, you first need to open the Canon Media Configuration Tool that you will have installed with your printer drivers etc.

I actually recommend that you create new custom media and embed the ICC profile into that, rather than simply adding it to your current custom media, because I’ve found no way to remove an ICC profile once you add it. If you save the information without a profile specified, it just leaves the one you previously added, and there is no option to delete the profile.

I first tried to simply reimport the media information from the media information file that I saved when I first created the custom media on the printer, but that failed because the original media was still there, rather than allowing me to duplicate it, so I had to create each media type again from scratch. In this screenshot you can see that I have recreated most of my custom media types with the letters ICC appended. These are the media types that I’ve embedded my ICC profiles into (below).

Custom Media Types

Custom Media Types

Once you’ve created a custom media type, to embed your ICC profile, select the media type in the Media Configuration Tool, and press the Edit Custom Paper button, then click the ICC Profile tab, and browse to your ICC profile. This could be one you created yourself, or one that you downloaded from a third party paper manufacturer.

Embed ICC Profile into Media

Embed ICC Profile into Media

I found that the Media Configuration Tool doesn’t recognize ICC profiles on the Mac OS that don’t have an extension. The .icc extension isn’t necessary on a Mac, so I generally save my ICC profiles without an extension because it looks cleaner. But, MCT doesn’t recognize the file as an ICC profile without the .icc extension.

Also, if you use long descriptive file names for your ICC profiles, as I do, these also cannot be used. For most of my profiles, I had to shorten something like  “MBP Canon PRO-4000 Breathing Color Pura Smooth” to “MBP Canon PRO-4000 BC Pura Smooth” before I could embed the profile into the media information on the printer.

Update Media Information

Once you have embedded the ICC profile in the media, ensure that you go to the printer drivers in the System Preferences, click the Options & Supplies button for your printer, then select the Utility tab, and click the Open Printer Utility button. From the Printer Utility dialog, select Media Information, and click on the button to update it. This brings the information that you added to the printer back to the computer.

Update Media Information

Update Media Information

It would be nice if this happened automatically, especially as I added the ICC profiles from the same computer. I actually missed this for a few days, as it didn’t work like this on my old Canon large format printer, and I spent a lot of extra time over the weekend trying to figure out what was happening.

The Printing Workflow

So, once you have your ICC profile embedded in your media information, you can print how I’m sure most of you are used to printing. To be thorough though, I’ll quickly run through the important points about that process.

Once you have the image that you want to print ready, you’ll select Print and then it’s important to select that the program you are printing from manages colors or color correction. In Photoshop, you’ll select Photoshop Manages Color under Color Handling, and then select your ICC profile from the Printer Profile pulldown.

I do all of my printing from Capture One Pro now, so all I have to do is select my profile from the Color Profile pulldown, and Capture One then knows that it’s in control of color, rather than leaving it to the printer driver software.

Printing from Capture One Pro

Printing from Capture One Pro

Then, after ensuring that my margins are all as I want them, I hit the Print button in the bottom right, and check two important settings. The first is on the left in this stitched screenshot (below). Under the Color Matching tab, ensure that ColorSync is selected, but greyed-out, essentially showing that the Mac OS is not doing any color management.

Important Printer Driver Settings

Important Printer Driver Settings

On the Quality & Media tab (above) we also need to ensure that we select the Media Type that we created earlier with the ICC profile embedded. We also of course need to ensure that the printer has that Media Type selected. Then, the whole point of this, is that I can now turn on the Print Preview, to get my final confirmation that all looks good before I send the print to the printer.

Print Preview

Although I could live without the Print Preview if I was forced to use the first workaround that I mentioned today, I have to admit, I do like to see this preview screen (below) and get final confirmation that the print looks how I expect it to before I press that Print button.

Print Preview

Print Preview

Recap of the Issue

Just to reiterate, at this point in time, May of 2017, if you don’t embed the ICC profile in the media information for custom media, and you use this Print Preview, when you print the image, the colors will all come out weird. It’s a bit of work to set up the printer to use media types with ICC profiles embedded, especially if you use more than a few different media types, but to me, it’s worth it to enable this Print Preview.

I also heard from Canon that they would actually prefer people to embed the ICC profile into the media information on the printer, so now that I’ve gotten used to this idea, I will consider continuing to do this even after the underlying problem is fixed, if it actually can be fixed. Canon at this point don’t seem too confident that there is anything they can do, so if you want to upgrade to Sierra, and you use custom media types, this may well be the only way you can do that.

I should also mention that I am assuming that people using the PRO-2000 will also probably run into this issue, as well as PRO-4000 users, but I’m not sure about the other new imagePROGRAF PRO printers like the PRO-1000 or the 8 color 6000S and 4000S.

Other Minor Issues

Before we move on, I wanted to briefly mention another issue, which is that when I initially tried to add the ICC profiles to the media information on the printer over Wifi, and more importantly, with my PRO-4000 connected to my network via an Apple Express base station, I was not able to export the updated or new media information to a file, or edit it in any way. The only thing I could do was delete it, and that’s not very useful.

Then, I tried with a wired network and all was good, so I went back to my Wifi and found that if I set up my PRO-4000 to connect directly to my Apple AirPort Extreme base station instead of an AirPort Express, I can add the ICC profiles to the media information and save this to a file, and edit the details of the media in the Media Configuration Tool, so I’m leaving my PRO-4000 set up that way for Wifi. If you find you have trouble editing the media information over Wifi, this could be the cause.

And, if you are wondering why I would even be using a large format printer over Wifi in the first place, I only really do this for management tasks and small prints. When I want to do larger prints, I actually run a long LAN cable from the printer on my second floor, to my studio in the third floor, or I print from my MacBook Pro on the second floor, using the USB connection directly to the printer.

Printing Patch Sheets for Calibration

There are also a couple of last relatively important things that I’d like to point out, the first of which is that when you get a new type of media, if you create your own ICC profiles, you will initially set up the media in the Canon Media Configuration Tool without an ICC profile, because you haven’t created it yet. This is good, because we don’t want any profiles coming into play as we print our profiling patch sheets. You can then add the ICC profile to the media type after you’ve created your patch sheets and then the profiles.

If for any reason you need to create a new profile, you will have to use a media type without an ICC profile embedded, because we have to turn off all color management when printing our patch sheets. This is another reason that I decided to create a new media type to embed the ICC profile to, and not just update my original media types.

Use Print Studio Pro for Patch Sheet Printing

While we’re talking about printing patch sheets, I want to also mention that I’m now using Canon’s Print Studio Pro to print my patch sheets, as I’m told it has a pretty reliable way to completely turn off all color correction, and this is an important part of this process.

Print Patch Sheets from Print Studio Pro

Print Patch Sheets from Print Studio Pro

For a number of years now, I’ve been using the Adobe Color Printer Utility, but people have reported mixed results with that for these imagePROGRAF PRO series printers, so I tried using Print Studio Pro and the resulting ICC profiles are different, so that indicates that one of these programs is doing something different, so for now, I’m trusting my friends at Canon on this.

Actually, before we finish, I should also mention that I am using the X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2 Color Management kit to create my ICC profiles. This might be overkill if you are not using a large format printer, in which case the ColorMunki Photo is a great alternative solution, but for this level of printer, or for the totally quality conscious among you, the i1 Pro 2 is the best available solution if you want to create your own ICC profiles for printing.

I realize that this episode won’t be of interest to many of you, so sorry if you don’t print or use a Mac, but if you have listened or read this far anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you were still able to gain a few takeaways from this.

Thanks to Canon

Finally, I’d like to thank Canon, not only for their patience as we worked through these issues, but for creating this amazing line of printers in the first place. As I’ve printed more with the PRO-4000, I’ve realized that they really have created something special. Gloss media blew me away from the start, but I was initially not happy with the performance of printing on matte media. However, since we’ve figured out these issues, and now arriving at a very workable solution, the results I’m getting with this printer are absolutely stunning.


Show Notes

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 on B&H: https://mbp.ac/pro4000

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 on B&H: https://mbp.ac/pro2000

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 on B&H: https://mbp.ac/pro1000

X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2: https://mbp.ac/i1pro2

X-Rite ColorMunk Photo: https://mbp.ac/xrcmp

*By buying with the above links you support this site and podcast at no cost to yourself.

Music by Martin Bailey


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Workaround and Troubleshooting Print Profile Issues (Podcast 554)

Workaround and Troubleshooting Print Profile Issues (Podcast 554)

As I mentioned last week, I found a workaround for an issue with my Canon PRO-4000 not correctly using the selected ICC profile when printing from Capture One Pro and I believe also Lightroom, so today I’m going to talk you through the issue and my workaround.

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This really only applies to Mac users, and is also just a good way to troubleshoot ICC profile issues, so it could be useful for any Mac user that is having trouble getting good prints. If you are a Windows user, sit back and giggle at the fun and games us Mac users sometimes have to go through in our printing workflow.

[UPDATE: If you are having problems getting good prints when using custom media type registered in your printer, there is an easy workaround (embed the ICC profile in the custom media AND specify it in your software when printing) which I outline in this post. If you want to learn about the troubleshooting method, read on here.]

To be totally honest, I’m a little bit uncomfortable putting this out there right now, because there are a number of unanswered questions, but I am traveling for a few weeks and I didn’t want to wait until I get back, partly because I want to potentially correct a statement that I made in my review of the Canon PRO-4000 large format printer.

Basically, I was seeing nasty crunched up gradations and transitions between a few colors in one of the photographs that I printed on matte fine art paper. What confuses matters is that the bright yellows in the image I printed are way out of gamut, so the printer shouldn’t really be able to print them anyway. But, my old imagePROGRAF iPF6350 used to print the same image pretty well, so it was a good test to compare these two printers.

During my tests, I tried printing with Capture One Pro initially, then to help me troubleshoot the issue I was seeing, I also tried Lightroom and I think also Photoshop, and I got the same results from each application. Since then, all of these products have been updated, and the Mac OS has been updated to Sierra too, so I’m not confident in saying that this issue is still occurring in all of these applications, although I did try from Lightroom again, and the print looked like it was still displaying this issue.

My main tests were with Capture One Pro though, as I printed some images out for last week’s review of the new media from Breathing Color, Signa Smooth 270. After a few prints that looked a bit iffy, I printed a black and white image that was supposed to be totally neutral, with no color toning, yet it came out of the printer with a strong brown cast.

Here’s a photograph of the brown print on the left, with the photograph that I printed after figuring out my workaround on the right (below). I actually quite like the toning of the brown print, but that was not intentional, so I set about finding out what was going wrong.

Brown Incorrect Print with Neutral Correct Print

Brown Incorrect Print with Neutral Correct Print

I’ve been printing photographs and working with fine art media for around 15 years now, so I recognize this kind of unexpected toning as a sign that the ICC profile that I specified for my paper and printer combination is not being correctly applied to my print. This sometimes happens after a major upgrade of the operating system, so I’m kind of suspecting Sierra, but my PRO-4000 review was created before that, so maybe things just got worse with Sierra. It’s hard to say without rolling things back and I don’t have time to do that right now.

Specifying Your ICC Profiles for Best Results

Anyway, if you print yourself, I hope you already know that the best way to get great color and neutral black and white prints is to create your own ICC profile for each type of paper that you print to. You have to do this on your own printer for best results. Failing that, you can often download an ICC profile for your printer from your paper manufacturer. If you print with a printer from a maker that also produces paper, you will sometimes find that the printer driver installation also installs a number of ICC profiles to your system as well.

Then, when you are ready to print, for best results, you will tell your software to not leave color management to the printer, and specify your own ICC profile. In this screenshot (below) from Capture One Pro, you simply need to select your ICC profile under the Color Profile pulldown on the Print screen. This generally works well even if you specify the manufacturer’s profile at this stage, and turn off color management via the printer drivers.

Printing with ICC Profile

Printing with ICC Profile

To check that you have turned off Color Management by the printer driver, you check that ColorSync is grayed out in the Color Matching screen before you send the print to the printer.

Test and Workaround

This is usually the way to get great prints, but during my recent tests, it just wasn’t working, so I tried a trick that I learned a few years ago, to test for problems with the use of the ICC profile during printing. Basically, you leave Color Management to the printer, which in Capture One Pro terms means selecting Managed by Printer under Color Profile on the Print screen (below).

Specify ICC Profile in Driver

Specify ICC Profile in Driver

Then, under the Color Matching screen in the printer driver, you will notice that ColorSync is not grayed out, and the pulldown below it is active. You then just need to select your ICC profile from that pulldown. If necessary, select “Other profiles” from the bottom of the pulldown, to see custom profiles that you’ve created or installed on your system.

Print and See

This is really all you have to do differently to either workaround the current issue that I’m seeing when printing to my PRO-4000, but as I say, this is a useful trick to remember as a way to troubleshoot profile issues in the software from which you are printing. This is how I was able to print my recent test images, and get a nice neutral black and white print of my Skogafoss Umbrella Man shot (below).

Brown Incorrect Print with Neutral Correct Print

Brown Incorrect Print with Neutral Correct Print

Of course, this is just a troubleshooting trick, and a workaround to try when for some reason your ICC profile is not being applied correctly when printing. The next step is to report the problem to either your printer manufacturer, and/or the company that makes the software from which you are printing. It may also be an Apple issue to fix, but generally the printer or imaging software manufacturer will work with Apple if necessary.

Correcting My PRO-4000 Review Statement

As I mentioned earlier, wondering if this was partly if not totally the cause of the issues I was having printing to matte media during my tests of the PRO-4000 when it first arrived, I also tried a quick print of my yellow poppies shot that was giving me trouble.

As you can see in this photo (below) the smaller print on the right has some very harsh transitions in the gradations around the balls of bokeh. The yellows in this photo are way out of gamut anyway, so I thought the PRO-4000 was just handling this worse than the iPF6350 did for some reason, but when I tried the print again using the workaround that I explained today, the print was much, much better, as you can see in the print on the left in this photo.

Yellow Poppies Looking Good!

Yellow Poppies Looking Good!

I was thinking that this issue was only affecting matte media, which was also strange, and to be honest, I’m still puzzled as to why everything looked great in my gloss test prints, but gloss paper has a much wider gamut than matte, so it was probably just able to get by without things looking out of wack, where as the smaller gamut of matte paper couldn’t hide the problem.

Check for Comments and Updates

As I also mentioned earlier, this issue is still somewhat up in the air. I don’t know yet which company needs to fix this, and I also haven’t got time right now to fully retest Lightroom and Photoshop in addition to Capture One Pro. I have confirmed that Canon’s Print Studio Pro does not have an issue, which kind of points to a problem when printing from third party imaging software, but I don’t want to speculate too much at this point.

The best thing I can recommend at this point is if you are here following a search to see what’s going on with your printer, check the comments below, or look for updates to this post, which I usually add as an [UPDATE: In square brackets], often in red if it’s a really important update.

So, a relatively quick episode today, but I wanted to get this out there, rather than sitting on this for a few more weeks as I travel. I hope you find this useful. If you learn anything about this or similar issues that you want to comment on, please do so below.

Also, before we finish, my next episode will probably be shortly before the New Year, if not January, so Happy Holidays!


Show Notes

Original PRO-4000 Review: https://mbp.ac/536

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 Fine Art Paper (Podcast 553)

Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 Fine Art Paper (Podcast 553)

I recently got hold of a roll of Signa Smooth 270, a new supple and smooth fine art paper, and today we’re going to take a look at this beautiful new offering from my friends at Breathing Color.

It seems like Breathing Color are releasing new paper on a very quick cycle these days, and that can be considered a good thing, and a bad thing, but the bad thing mind-set is a somewhat selfish one, and I’m talking about my self here too. Why? Because I love being in a place where I’m happy with my decisions regarding options available to me. I like to decide on something, then run with it for a long while. There is a relaxing beauty in contentment.

So, when something new comes along, you have to rethink strategies, and decide whether to embrace it, or push it aside. With my cameras, I’m often asked why I don’t shoot mirrorless, and although I’ve given it a lot of thought, I’m still with my big Canon camera gear, because I’m totally happy with it. It’s like being in a good marriage. You don’t have an affair if you are totally happy with your own spouse.

Breathing Color All the Way!

One of the few areas that I can safely say though, that I am generally always happy to be forced to rethink my current state of contentment, is fine art printing media. Actually, let me add to that—here’s the thing—I’m totally happy with my decision to, in general, only use Breathing Color media.

Breathing Color has over the last six years (from my own perspective) continued to provide options for absolutely everything that I need in inkjet media, so I’m not generally out there looking for other manufacturers. If something incredible came along, I might be tempted, but I’m generally just not even looking.

When it comes to my chosen fine art printing media, I’m in a state of contentment, but continue to remain open to new solutions, probably because of my trust in Breathing Color. I was totally happy with Optica One, although that did contain OBAs or Optical Brightening Agents, which I wasn’t so sold on. Then along came OBA free Pura Smooth. I still had some Optica One stock left, but decided to change to Pura Smooth as I ran my stock down.

Just as I’d hung my hat on Pura Smooth, Pura Bagasse Smooth came along, and had a nice Eco Friendly appeal to it, being made from sugar cane waste product, in addition to being brighter white, and Archival, so as my Pura Smooth ran out, I transitioned to Pura Bagasse Smooth, which I’m still very happy with. So, when Breathing Color contacted me about Signa Smooth last week, my knee jerk reaction was “not again!”

Printing Profile Patch Sheet - Canon PRO-4000

Printing Profile Patch Sheet – Canon PRO-4000

But, that feeling lasted about 15 seconds, as my trust for this great company made me realize that I should at least take a look. After all, there was the promise of even whiter paper, no OBAs still and incredibly wide gamut, and no printer worth their salt will ever pass up a chance to increase their printing gamut.

So, a few days later, I’m profiling a roll of Signs Smooth 270, and almost 30 feet of test prints later, I’m really happy to find a place for this new media in my printing, and to share my findings and reasoning with you today.

Incredible Detail and Gamut

Landmannalaugar Winding River

Landmannalaugar Winding River

Let’s start with the premise that most matte fine art paper isn’t ideal for high resolution photo prints, but as we’ll see, Signa Smooth breaks that mold, and does it in style. It has stunning details and an incredibly wide gamut for a fine art matte paper. One of the best tests of a paper’s gamut is seeing how it prints vibrant greens and yellows, so for this test I picked a photo from this year’s Iceland Tour, as you can see here (Above).

That’s the web version, but here (below) is a photograph of the printed image, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the color reproduction is absolutely incredible. I’m really blown away with this media, especially when you consider that it’s a matte fine art paper.

Iceland Photo on Signa Smooth

Iceland Photo on Signa Smooth

When you look at the photo of the print, keep in mind that I shot this under window light, so it gets darker towards the left side, and I purposefully didn’t correct the image at all, so that you see what I saw, via my camera.

I also shot a closeup of a portion of the print (below) to help you to see the detail. It wasn’t that light in my studio today, so I had to keep a relatively large aperture, as I was hand-holding the camera, trying to get stuck into the preparation for this episode, but I think you’ll still be able to appreciate just how much detail this paper provides.

Closeup of Iceland Print on Signa Smooth

Closeup of Iceland Print on Signa Smooth

OBA Free

As I mentioned, this paper is OBA-Free yet still bright white. Breathing Color have continuously improved on the whiteness of their paper even after they moved away from including Optical Brightening Agents, to make the surface of the paper appear more white. As a very quick recap, OBAs are added to some paper to make it react to ultraviolet light, so that it glows, like white shirt collars used to do at discos, and under normal light, this makes the paper appear whiter.

The problem with OBAs is that they can make the paper unstable, and break down over time, so although you still get archival paper that contains OBAs, it’s generally considered to be a bad thing, and should be avoided when possible.

Beautiful Black and White

Printing Man with Umbrella Photo

Printing Man with Umbrella Photo

I also printed this black and white photo from Iceland, to see how Signa Smooth handles these deep almost black grays, and I was again very impressed. As you can see in this close-up photograph of the Umbrella Man, there is no pooling of the black ink whatsoever (below) even in the very darkest areas.

Close Up of Man with Umbrella Print

Close Up of Man with Umbrella Print

By the way, all of my test prints are 18 x 24 inches. I was using a 24 inch wide roll, and I just like this size. It’s not huge, but it’s plenty big enough to really appreciate the detail in the images. It’s also a standard paper size ARCH C and I have some large Itoya Art Folios to store these prints in (as I mentioned in Episode 499) so I tend to go with this when testing, although it isn’t the cheapest way to go about this.

Beautiful Subtle Whites

Of course, the ability of a paper to hold lots of ink is one thing, but we also need to be able to differentiate between very subtle light tones, so I also printed this photo of a tree on a hill from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour this year (below).

Hokkaido Tree Print on Signa Smooth

Hokkaido Tree Print on Signa Smooth

Look at how well this media handles that subtle difference between the brow of the snow-covered hill and the white sky above it. This is of course also a tribute to the PRO-4000, which is an amazing printer. Note too that although in my review of the PRO-4000 I mentioned that printing on matte media did not produce as good results as my old iPF6350, during these tests, I’ve figured out how to work around that.

I don’t yet know if it’s a problem with the printer, its software, or how third-party tools like Capture One Pro and Lightroom interact with it, but I’ve figured it out. I’ll provide a report and the workaround for this as soon as I can in a future episode, next week if I can pull it in before I start traveling in a few days.

[UPDATE: The workaround can be seen here. Basically, if you use custom media types, you have to associate the ICC profile with the media type.]

The Translucency of Gloss Paper

Matte paper, because of its quality of being non-reflective, often can seem a little lackluster, so one of the last images that I chose to test with, is this image of the blue ice on the beach in Iceland. I chose this, because I wanted to see how well the translucent feel of the ice came across in Signa Smooth (below).

Sapphires on Beach Print on Signa Smooth

Sapphires on Beach Print on Signa Smooth

Again, I’m sure you can appreciate from this photograph that I’m very happy with the results. There is a translucency about this image that you’d normally associate with luster or gloss media. Of course, other paper comes close, and I’d love to show you this on Pura Bagasse Smooth as well, but I’m afraid I just used up the last of my stock doing some tests prints for a meeting with five engineers from Canon last week, to talk about the new PRO-4000.

Plus, with my finding out about the workaround that I mentioned earlier, I’m not really confident enough in my original matte prints from the PRO-4000, so I can’t just print the same photo as I did before for comparison either.

Spec Comparison with Pura Bagasse Smooth

What I do want to do though, is compare the specs with Pura Bagasse Smooth, to also enable me to place Signa Smooth in my printing process.

Firstly, Signa is 17 mil thick and weighs in at 270 gsm. Compared to my standard fine art matte paper, Pura Bagasse Smooth, which is 20 mil thick and 320 gsm, it’s a little bit lighter, and this might not be what you are looking for in terms of a heavyweight fine art media. I urge you to not simply rule out this new offering based on its weight though, as I’ll explain.

Signa is $100 for a 24 inch x 50 feet roll, compared to Pura Bagasse Smooth at $159 for a 24 inch x 40 feet roll, so Signa is more cost effective. You could use Signa as a somewhat cheaper alternative for personal or test prints if you absolutely must have a very heavy weight paper for customers.

Honestly though, the weight at 270 gsm is still nice, and from this comes a beautiful suppleness when handling Signa. It’s much less rigid than Pura Bagasse, yet has a very smooth feel to it, while still providing a rich, quality experience.

Impossible to Ignore!

I still haven’t made up my mind on how I will use Signa Smooth in my product line up, but I know already that I am going to be ordering another roll for use in my personal printing. It is less heavy to store in my Itoya Art Folios and beautiful to the touch, and with this level of detail and gamut, it’s just impossible to ignore.

Archival Certification

I haven’t heard how close this media is to achieving archival certification, or even if it’s actually being sought, but from previous new releases, I’d imagine that the Breathing Color team are working towards this, and will add an Archival Quality Certificate at some point. Right now, this paper is not archival certified, so keep that in mind as you consider how you might use it.

For myself, I’m going to continue to use Signa as my personal printing favorite and probably as a very high quality product to use for printing educational purposes, and I’ll gradually work it into my product line as the archival certification is reached. It’s just too beautiful and rich to push aside just because it’s not certified.

[UPDATE: Signa Smooth 270 is now Archival Certified! You can now download the certificate to include with your products from the product page.]

A Bit Dusty (to say the least!)

It’s not all great news though. There was one downside to Signa Smooth that I feel I should tell you about, and that is that this paper creates a lot of dust when cut, and I mean a LOT! After printing 28 feet of this paper during my tests, the floor around my printer was covered in white flecks from the cutting of the paper, as was the table where I placed the prints.

The good thing is that this doesn’t seem to adhere to the face of the paper, at least not with the Canon PRO-4000, which now feeds paper upside-down, partly to avoid this kind of issue, as it’s hard for dust to settle on the media now.

If you do get dust on the face of the paper and then print on it, of course you apply the ink to the dust, and that then later falls off, leaving a white mark on the photo, because no ink was applied. I did not see this with Signa, but I’d say there may be risk of this happening depending on your printer.

Conclusion – Thumbs Up!

So, in conclusion, as you might already guess, despite the dustiness and lack of archival certification, I give a huge thumbs-up for Breathing Color’s new Signa Smooth 270 matte fine art paper. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t think I needed this paper, until I saw it, and now, it’s a part of my printing to stay, or at least until it’s replaced by something better. 🙂

Himba Girl Print on Signa Smooth

Himba Girl Print on Signa Smooth

You can buy Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 here: https://www.breathingcolor.com/signa-smooth-270

And don’t forget, if you are new to Breathing Color, you can use our voucher MBP20 to save $20 off your order. Using this code also let’s Breathing Color that I sent you, so please do use it if you heard about this product from me.

Comparison of Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth ICC Profiles

In reply to a reader question below, I recorded this quick video to compare the ICC profiles for Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth so that we can see that Signa has a wider gamut, slightly more neutral color and brighter white point. It has a very slightly lighter black point than Pura Smooth though, so that’s the only area where Pura has a very slight edge.


Show Notes

Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270: https://www.breathingcolor.com/signa-smooth-270

Canon PRO-4000 Printer: https://mbp.ac/pro4000

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 Printer Review (Podcast 536)

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 Printer Review (Podcast 536)

As I mentioned in a recent post, my old large format printer has given up the ghost, so I’ve just had a new Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 installed, and today I’m going to walk you through some of the key new features and provide my opinion of this new printer.

To be totally honest, with my old 24″ iPF6350 breaking after just six years, for a few seconds, I considered moving away from Canon for my large format printing, but then I realized that there was a new line of large format printers that has just been announced, so I decided to take a closer look, and was very excited by what I saw.

Initially, I was simply going to replace my 6350 with the PRO-2000, which is the successor 24″ wide roll media printer, but although this new range of PRO printers are narrower, they are more than twice the height, which means the PRO-2000 cannot be carried up to my 3rd floor studio. It simply will not fit around the top of the stairs, even stood on end.

There was an option to have it crane lifted up to the third floor and go in through the window, but this was going to cost $1,500, and then of course another $1,500 to have it taken down again if I move, or when it inevitably breaks again at some point the future.

I figured if I was going to spend another $3,000 I might as well put that money towards an imagePROGRAF PRO-4000, which is the 44″ wide big brother of the PRO-2000, and have that installed on my 2nd floor instead of up in my studio. And when I say big brother, I really do mean BIG, as you can see in this photo of me with the printer after having it installed (below).

Martin with the Canon PRO-4000 44" Printer

Martin with the Canon PRO-4000 44″ Printer

Before singing the contract, I went to the Canon S Tower here in Tokyo and made a number of large prints on three types of Breathing Color media, and I was very happy with the results. Note that I did my tests on the PRO-2000, before I heard the cost for the crane lift, but the 2000 and 4000 are pretty much identical except for the width of roll media that can be used. This also means that this review will be equally as useful if you are considering the PRO-2000 as it will for the PRO-4000.

Anyway, my PRO-4000 arrived on August 9, and took four people to carry it up to the 2nd floor, and put it onto its stand. I have since spent the last five days setting it up, creating my ICC profiles, and getting to know this beautiful new larger format printer from Canon.

What’s New?

Before we look at some prints, let’s talk a little about what’s new with the PRO-4000. Well, Canon have released a new set of inks for this lineup called LUCIA PRO ink, which actually reduces the number of colors from 12 to 11 pigment inks, but they added a new Chroma Optimizer.

Canon PRO-4000 6 of the 12 Inks

Canon PRO-4000 6 of the 12 Inks

From the Canon web site, I see that “LUCIA PRO ink formulation includes micro encapsulated colorants that enable smooth gradients, an expanded color gamut, and deeper color expression.” In many ways, I agree with this statement, but I’m actually not convinced that the color gamut is expanded. In fact, for some specific situations using matte media I’d the gamut has been contracted a little, but I’ll talk more about this later…

The Chroma Optimizer is used when printing on glossy and semi-glossy media, and acts as a clear coat, improving color and enriches the dark areas of gloss prints. The new inks and Chroma Optimizer are also said to improve scratch resistance and reduce graininess. We’ll take a look at some actual prints shortly.

I was also happy to find that the black line that was always left on the right underside of the prints is no longer a problem. That is something that bugged the hell out of my about my iPF6350 and I know that this was not fixed the 6450, so it’s nice that this is finally fixed.

Only One Print Head

Whereas my old printer had two print heads, costing around $300 each, the new PRO printer lineup use just one, 1.28” wide print head with 18,432 nozzles and anti-clogging technology. This new print head costs around $500, so there’s a $100 saving when that needs to be replaced, assuming that you’d change both heads on the old models of course. Having just the one head also enabled Canon to make the printer narrower in width, which is a nice space saver.

Canon PF-10 Print Head for the PRO-4000

Canon PF-10 Print Head for the PRO-4000

Having just the one print head also enabled Canon to speed up the printing considerably. An 18 x 24 inch print on my old printer used to take around 9 minutes, but with the new PRO-4000 the same size print takes approximate 3 minutes 40 seconds.

New Media Loading Mechanism

The media loading mechanism has also been totally changed. You now load the roll from the front of the printer by opening the Top Cover and the Output Guide as you can see in this photo (below). After dropping the media on its holder into place, you rotate the roll holder which guides the media up into the printer, until you hear a beep, to let you know that the printer can now feed the media.

PRO-4000 with Top Cover and Output Guide Open

PRO-4000 with Top Cover and Output Guide Open

Then, you close the two covers and press a button the LCD display to tell the printer to go ahead and feed the paper. Not only does this mean we don’t have to touch the paper as much, we also now have the benefit of the paper being upside down for most of the time before it’s printed on.

This is a benefit because it means that dust is less likely to settle on the print side of the media as you print, and dust that is already on the media, is more likely to fall off, before it’s printed on. If you print on dust, the dust generally falls off as the print dries, leaving a white spec, and for the quality conscious printer that means that the print has be created again from scratch.

Media Information Update

Another very nice touch that I’m pretty sure I could not do with my old iPF6350, is that you can update the Media Information in the printer drivers on other computers. Before, if I added a custom media type, like a roll of Breathing Color paper, to the printer, to get that same media in the drivers on a different computer, I had to use the Media Configuration Tool and add the media again.

Update Media Information

Update Media Information

Now, you can just go to the printer drivers and open up the Printer Utilities, and select Media Information from the pulldown, and click the button to update the media. This then goes to the printer and compares the media information on the printer, and if it’s different to the media that the printer drivers know about, it will update this information for you. It’s very smooth, and a very welcome feature.

Wifi and Gigabit Ethernet Connectivity

The PRO series of printers now also supports Wifi Connectivity and the wired network interface is now Gigabit Ethernet. We can also still connect to the printer with USB. You can now print PDF and JPEG documents directly from a memory stick as well.

I have now printed with Wifi, LAN and USB, and found Wifi to be a little on the slow side for a decent sized print, so I bought a 10 meter USB cable so that I can print from my dining table, which really speeded things up. Even though it’s only High Speed USB2, it’s much faster than Wifi.

I also actually bought a 20m Ethernet cable, so that I can plug the PRO-4000 directly into my router on the 3F in case I need to do a lot of work from the studio. With USB being so fast, I don’t know I’ll do this often, but I at least now have the option.

Three Sizes of Ink Tanks

Another great improvement in my opinion is the ability to now choose from three sizes of ink tanks, with 160ml, 330ml, and 700ml tanks available. My old iPF6350 took 130ml ink tanks, so even the smallest of the new tanks holds 30ml more ink. I could fill up the new PRO-4000 with 160ml tanks, but now having the option to install larger tanks, and mix and match the sizes, means we can select the tank size based on how quickly the inks run down.

The PRO-4000 comes with a set of ink cartridges holding 190ml. Before we installed the cartridges into the printer, I took this photograph for comparison (below). On the left is a 190ml cartridge, and on the right is a 700ml.

Canon PRO-4000 190ml starter ink and 700ml ink cartridge

Canon PRO-4000 190ml starter ink and 700ml ink cartridge

I have also bought some 330ml cartridges, and was going to include one in this photo too, but they are actually the same size as the 190ml cartridge you see here. The only difference is that they aren’t as heavily indented as this 190ml cartridge. You see how it is inset where it says Canon and the white label is? The 330ml cartridges don’t go in that far, that’s the only difference.

Mix and Match Inks

Over the last six years that I’ve been using my old large format printer, I’ve found that because I do a lot of black and white printing, the Matte Black and Photo Black, and the Gray inks tend to run down the quickest, so I have bought a 700ml tank for the Matte and Photo Blacks and the Photo Gray. So that I could show you the difference in size though, I ordered a 330ml Gray, for comparison with the starter inks, only to find they were the same size, as I just mentioned.

I also bought a 700ml tank for the Chroma Optimizer, because I’ve heard this runs down pretty quickly. At a little more than $300 a pop for the 700ml ink tanks though, I think I will be avoiding using 700ml tanks for all but the heavy usage blacks and grays, unless I start to take quite a few more regular print orders that is. The good thing though is that we now have this option, and being able to mix and match tank sizes is great!

Changing Inks on the Fly

Another great new feature is that the inks are now drawn down into a Sub-Ink Tank System, which allows all of the available ink in a tank to be used before having to replace it, to reduce wasted ink, and better still, empty tanks can now be replaced on the fly, without stopping the printer. I haven’t tried this yet, but that’s what the documentation says.

Multipositional Basket

PRO-4000 Slope Configured Basket

PRO-4000 Slope Configured Basket

The PRO-4000 has a new multi-positional basket that can be adjusted to various configurations. With my iPF6350, where the basket was basically just either stowed, or out, ready to catch a print as it is cut from the roll, I never once allowed a print to fall into the basket.

To avoid scuffing the face of the print, I would always wait until the print had come far enough out of the printer so that it would fall over the edge of the extended bar, leading the print away from the printer to prevent curling. Then, when the print was cut away from the roll, I’d be waiting to catch it.

You can still do a catch basket configuration on the PRO-4000, but also what Canon call flatbed stacking, and my favorite, which is the slope configuration, which you can see in this photo (right).

Although it’s kind of lost with the 18 x 24 inch print shown here, the slope allows the print to be guided away from the printer, and I always go to the printer by the time it’s going to be auto-cut, and catch the print, rather than letting it fall away.

The Red “L” Line

Before we move on from the physical differences, of course, there is the addition of the red line that Canon use on their “L” lens range, to mark that they are the top of the range. This is marketing, but it’s an important statement from Canon, that they have made these printers with their highest standards.

Accounting Manager Software

One thing that I disliked about my old printer is that the Accounting Manager software was only available on Windows, but that’s changed. Now it’s also available for Mac, so I can now track how much ink and paper is being consumed for each print. You simply enter the cost of your various types of media and inks, and the software calculates the cost of each print you make.

This is invaluable for pricing prints, but also, I print for other people sometimes, often with an hourly rate for my time, plus the cost of materials. Until now, I’ve had to start a Parallels session and open the Accounting Manager in Windows, but that’s clunky, so I’ve never liked having to do that, especially in front of the customer. Now I can just crank up the Accounting Manager and see costs instantly, right there on my Mac.

Canon’s Print Studio Pro Has No Border Settings (Corrected)

Another new piece of software from Canon that I tried it their Print Studio Pro, which at first glance looks OK, but I noticed straight away that there was no way to enter specific border dimensions. I like to print my images at a specific offset, slightly above center, and to accomplish this in Lightroom or Capture One, I can enter in the dimensions of the borders down to a tenth of a millimeter accuracy.

In Print Studio Pro, I can move the print around the page with my mouse, but that’s it. There’s no way to enter the border dimensions accurately. I may have missed this, but I searched for a while, and couldn’t find anything, so if it’s there, it’s well hidden.

[UPDATE: Having been prompted by a user comment below, I went back into Print Studio Pro and the border settings were there. I’m not sure what happened initially, but you can set the borders accurately. Sorry about that!]

Check Out Full Details on Canon Web Site

There are other new features, but you can see full details on the Canon Web site. These are just the new features and changes that I’m happy to see in the new PRO-4000, and these all apply to the PRO-2000 as well. The PRO-4000s and PRO-6000S are the new 8 color 44 and 66″ printers, which are not really suitable for fine art photography printing.

So How Good Are the Prints?

Fox on Breathing Color Pura Bagasse Textured Matte Media

Fox on Breathing Color Pura Bagasse Textured Matte Media

Let’s take a look now at a few prints that I’ve already done as tests. First note that although I have bought some 44 inch rolls from my friends at Breathing Color, all of my tests so far have been done using 24 inch roll media. I can’t wait to print something out that is huge, but not until I have an end purpose for the print.

Anyway, after I created a custom ICC profile for each of my media types, I set about doing some test prints. As matte media is usually less forgiving than gloss, I started with the matte stock that I have.

My favorite matte media is Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse, which comes in both a Smooth and Textured version. I printed this photograph of a Northern Red Fox on the Pura Bagasse Textured, and was very happy with the depth of the color and clarity of the image (right). This is a photograph of the print of course, not the original image.

I printed this from Capture One Pro 9, so there is no point in comparing this to earlier prints, but there is a depth that was not really there on my earlier prints, especially around the eyes, where the clarity really comes into play.

Here’s a close-up of just the eye, so that you can hopefully at least partially appreciate what I’m seeing (below). Note that this was a 7D Mark II photograph printed at 18 x 24 inches, so the resolution was around 250 ppi, which is enough for a print of this size, but not as well defined as a higher resolution image.

Fox Eye Closeup - Pura Bagasse Textured

Fox Eye Closeup – Pura Bagasse Textured

I was happy with this first print, and I did a few others that looked great too, but the next print just didn’t really work under mostly the same conditions as I’d printed before. When I released my review of Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse media in episode 484, I showed how wide a color gamut the media had, by printing a photo of a field of poppies, that was actually way out of gamut.

Now, given that there should have been no way to print the colors that were out of gamut anyway, this may seem a little bit harsh on the new printer, but having created an ICC profile in exactly the same way for each printer, the PRO-4000 simply doesn’t not handle this photograph as well as my old iPF6350 did.

Here’s a photograph (below) of the same image printed on the same paper, with the iPF6350 print on the left, and my PRO-4000 print on the right. As you can see, the edges of the blotches of out of focus yellow have a nasty almost septic feel to it. The bulk of the yellow is what is out of gamut, and the printer has not handled the transition between that and the in gamut colors well.

iPF6350 (left) and PRO-4000 (right) Comparison

iPF6350 (left) and PRO-4000 (right) Comparison

Like I say, the base photo is out of gamut, but this was the same for both printers, so this indicates to me that the PRO-4000 doesn’t do as well as the iPF6350 in this situation. In all other respects, I think it’s kickin’ but here, I was a little bit disappointed.

[UPDATE: I still don’t know the cause, but it turns out that this issue may be a bug and I’ve found a workaround which I describe in Episode 554.

UPDATE#2: We now have a stable and easy way to overcome these issues, by embedding the custom ICC profile in the custom media type. See details in Episode 573.]

I also did a lot of Pura Bagasse Smooth matte prints, and here is an example of one of these (below). I chose this shot because those transitions from very bright areas of the sky at sunrise, as they transition to the darker clouds, can often be a bit troublesome to print well, but these came out beautifully. Very natural transitions.

Eagle at Sunrise on Pura Bagasse Smooth

Eagle at Sunrise on Pura Bagasse Smooth

Also, note just how dark the eagle is. Matte paper can sometimes lack really deep blacks, but this is not a problem for the PRO-4000. As you can also see in the next photograph, the dark areas behind this young Himba girl in the left print are also beautifully dark (below). The print on the left here is again on Pura Bagasse Smooth, a matte media.

Himba Girl on Pura Bagasse Smooth (left) and Vibrance Metallic (right)

Himba Girl on Pura Bagasse Smooth (left) and Vibrance Metallic (right)

The photo to the right here though (above) was printed on Breathing Color’s Vibrance Metallic media, which is a metallic gloss paper, and that means it also has Canon’s new Chroma Optimizer applied during the printing process.

Like Traditional Darkroom Prints

This may not come across in a photo, but here’s a photo of the Himba Girl print at an angle (below) looking towards the light. I hope you’ll be able to appreciate that the gloss photos from the PRO-4000 are absolutely outstanding. They are totally smooth, looking very much like a traditional darkroom print. They just don’t look like inkjet prints. Do keep in mind though that this image was shot at ISO 5000 so there is a little bit of visible grain in the original, rather than the print.

Himba Girl Print Close-up

Himba Girl Print Close-up

I also printed this photo of some roses with a totally black background, and the depth of the black is just wackily beautiful (below). You can perhaps see a little bit of color in the print, but that’s just reflections from the room.

Printing Roses on Vibrance Metallic

Printing Roses on Vibrance Metallic

OK, so, that’s about all I have for you on the PRO-4000 at this point. Although it looks like I have to do a little more soft proofing and adjustment for out of gamut images than I have done in the past, I’m very happy with this new printer.

The 44″ width is going to allow me to fulfill more orders for large prints directly, which is great. Until now I’ve had to work with third party printing houses for prints larger than 24 x 36″ but now I can go up to 44 x 66″ or even wider for panorama shot, so this opens up new possibilities for me and my customers.

Disclaimer

This review was created totally independently, without any help financially or otherwise from any third party. I paid for the printer myself, at the regular price, and Canon provided no help on the technical details, other than what I gleaned from the product documentation and first hand use of the product.

Support the Podcast

If you found this review useful, and will be buying your own PRO-4000 or maybe the PRO-2000, from my friends at B&H Photo, please use our affiliate link mbp.ac/pro4000 to click through to B&H, and you’ll be helping to support the podcast and blog.


Show Notes

The imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 on B&H: https://mbp.ac/pro4000

Check out the media Martin uses at: https://www.breathingcolor.com

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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