Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Which Printer Should I Buy? Epson or Canon?

Years ago when I decided to take on the challenge of learning all there is to know about photography printing, I swore that I’d never pick sides. I’d just state my opinions and I saw them and try to encourage people to get their images off their computers and into their hands via printing. I still believe in that mission and still feel strongly that both Epson and Canon make outstanding products.

This article started out as a simple post about Henry Wilhelm’s comments in the next section, but evolved into this long overdue discussion where I put my cards on the table about what I really think. This blog has always been about open and honest feedback like I’d tell a personal friend with no sugar coating or bullshit.

In this article I share my advice based on my daily experience with the 5 professional printers I keep in my studio. I love all of my printers and they all have their strengths and weaknesses, but I realize that my readers can’t afford to own so many so you just need someone to give you the facts as they see them. I hope to accomplish that in this article and hopefully my comments will be taken to heart by both Canon and Epson so they can make their products better.

With that said, let’s stir the pot by referencing a August 3, 2012 Canon video interview with Henry Wilhelm about the history of photography, print permanence, and "the look and feel" of silver-gelatin and inkjet prints. (NOTE: I say good things about Epson later too <g>)

Canon PIXMA Pro-1 Printer – The Best Black & White Printer Ever Made? Henry Wilhelm Thinks So!

Canon PIXMA PRO-1 Photo Printer (Adorama, Amazon, and B&H)

Henry Wilhelm is a very well respected name in the photo printing industry. In fact, when I first started doing my printing series I frequently heard my Epson contact reference Henry and his Wilhelm Imaging Research web site as the source for the best and most accurate print permanence ratings. Henry also claims to be an apprentice to Ansel Adams when he was younger, so I took pause when I watched this video where Henry raves about the Black & White performance of the PIXMA PRO-1 printer:

Canon HD video interview with Henry Wilhelm about the history of photography, print permanence, and "the look and feel" of silver-gelatin and inkjet prints  (low bandwidth version)

In this video he states that:

The Canon PIXMA PRO-1 printer which uses the 12-ink LUCIA system with 4 level black gray inks and a clear Chroma optimizer ink is the first printing system that to me has fully solved [the problem of differential gloss]. It produces the most beautiful black and white prints ever made on an ink jet printer.

If Ansel [Adams] were alive today he would absolutely love the PIXMA Pro-1 Printer – I have no doubt about that!

Those are some bold words (and honestly dems fightin’ words :-) in the photo printing community where Epson is the alleged leader of the industry. According to one source, total printer sales put Canon in a higher spot, but that includes lower-end printers and copiers so from what I’ve seen Epson does appear to be the golden standard.

I’ve been singing the praises of my iPF6300 (review) and iPF6450 (review) printers great performance and definitive ease of use over the 7900 (and definitely over the clog prone 4900). However, the Epson fanboys would have me tarred and feathered for speaking such blasphemy!

The truth of the matter is that I do still agree that Epson and Canon both make very, very good products. I also think that in the photography community Canon’s are highly underrated and Epson’s are very much overrated. In addition, while I much prefer the Epson HDR and Canon LUCIA EX inks over the Canon LUCIA inks, the Wilhelm Print Permanence Ratings for the Canon Pro-1 Printer with Canon LUCIA Pigment Inks is convincing data that proves you can trust these inks. In fact, my own independent “rain test” of the LUCIA EX convinced me that these aren’t your ordinary consumer printer inks! However, what sealed the deal was this report:

CANON iPF8300 with LUCIA EX Pigment Inks and CANON Media Receives High Permanence Ratings (Report) From Wilhelm Imaging Research (Press Release)

It should be noted that the iPF6400, iPF6450, iPF8400 and iPF9400 (and their predecessors the iPF6300, iPF6350, and iPF8300) all use the same exact ink and print head technology, but the image quality has improved in the newer models (see my comparison). This means that you can expect the same permanence ratings when paired with the same paper used in the test.

What does all this mean?

It means don’t buy into the Internet malarkey that Epson printers are superior to Canon. They aren’t. Sure if you pixel peep various images you can create results where one printer shines over the other – especially if you use third party printing software like ColorByte ImagePrint with Epson printers – you can find that Epson printers perform very well. However, if you get Canon print masters together than can show similar examples where the Canon’s come out on top. In my own testing the screening technology of the Epson’s do seem to have an advantage, but the new LUCIA EX based Canon printers released last year close that gap. The PRO-1 certainly has outstanding screening technology as well!

The Canon printers using LUCIA and LUCIA EX inks are excellent printers, so don’t let the naysayers scare you away. I’m not as fond of the cheaper printers that use the cheapo ChromaLife 100+ inks though, so keep in mind that all printers aren’t equal. In fact, even Epson has this problem with its cheap dye inks (i.e., Claria® Hi-Definition).

Does this mean Epson printers aren’t any good?

Heck no! In fact, one huge advantage that Epson has is its HUGE fan base that has created some of the best ICC Profiles for photo printing. Printers like the Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 have no end of brilliant paper profiles for nearly every paper, so when used properly that will guarantee great results! My own testing with the new Epson Stylus® Photo R3000 also showed that it’s superior head technology gave better print results than the 3880 and was near identically to the much larger and more expensive Epson Stylus® Pro 4900! So there’s lots of great Epson printers to choose from, and their Advanced Black & White mode when used with Epson Exhibition Fiber (and other Epson Signature Worthy Papers) will create jaw dropping black and white (as well as color) prints.

Ron, just tell me which one you like best!

Epson SureColor P600 Inkjet Printer
Epson SureColor P600 Inkjet Printer
 (Amazon and B&H)

I wish I could, but this is like comparing Nikon to Canon cameras – again, both are great products but there’s a lot of variables that come into play when deciding which is right for you. The same holds true here. The Canon PRO-10 and Epson SureColor P600 are the best starter printers on the market and they are sure to make you fall in love instantly!

I can also state, without hesitation, that I think the Canon LUCIA/LUCIA EX models and Epson K3™/UltraChrome HDR models are the best photographic printers on the market – PERIOD! I do find the Canon printers to be MUCH easier to use and I’ve never had any clogging problems (whereas I can’t use the 4900 without spending 30 minutes addressing clogging problems).

In addition, as I stated earlier, I think Epson has the advantage in both screening technology and availability of great printer profiles (although the PRO-1 marketing team did a brilliant job of getting a ton of fantastic profiles for third party papers for it too). There’s also better third party RIP software for the Epson printers (3880 and up), so if that is important to you then Epson is the way to go. Products like like ColorByte ImagePrint also make brilliant prints, offer free great paper profiles and fantastic features like hot folders which make it a great solution for the office environment where you want drag and drop photo printing.

Canon iPF6450
Canon iPF6450 – Large Print Heaven!
iPF6400, iPF6450, iPF8400 and iPF9400 at B&H
iPF6400, iPF6450, iPF8400 and iPF9400 at Amazon

Please check out my printer reviews and printing series page for more information. Here’s my reviews so far:

If I could only pick one it would have to be the P600 simply because it produces near 4900 quality prints via a easy to use wireless configuration that was a snap to setup. It’s just stupid easy to get going making fantastic prints. If the Canon PIXMA PRO-1 was wireless, then it would have easily been my first choice due to its outstanding color and black and white performance.

My next choice would probably be the iPF6450 because it’s go large, or go home! The Canon LUCIA EX ink set is fantastic, and this printer is a dream to use (the Photoshop Export Module and Accounting Manager are brilliant)!.

For Black & White prints on the PRO-1 (Adorama, Amazon, or B&H) are delicious so if I was a black and white only print master then I’d be hard pressed not to own the PRO-1 (mainly due the advantage of the clear Chroma optimizer ink).

If I was doing fine art sheets of cut paper (which I prefer) then there’s really nothing better than the 3880 (Amazon, B&H or Adorama). Sure it’s ink set and print head technology are a little dated (my SureColor P800 review is coming in late 2015), but it just handles paper and prints borderless (up to 17x24”) so darn well it’s really my go to printer for heavier fine art papers.

So yeah, I love both platforms and think you can’t go wrong with either! Seriously!


As I state in my Printing 101 eBook, these are exciting times in photography and the experience of controlling the process from capture to physical output is a blast. Printing doesn’t have to be a pain in the ass and cost you a fortune creating prints that look terrible compared to what you see on your screen. This is why I dedicated over a year of my life to adding content to help people enjoy the world of self-printing like many film photographers enjoyed developing their own prints.

Happy Printing!

P.S. One last note – NEVER, EVER buy third party inks. I can’t stress enough how stupid it is to not use the OEM inks by Canon and Epson in their printers as that’s one of the most important factors in getting great results. Putting generic ink or doing refills is like buying a Ferrari and putting an old Yugo engine in it! It just makes ZERO sense! Cut corners on paper if you must, but DO NOT USE third party ink – PERIOD!

Where to order

Please visit the articles mention in this blog to order your printer. It helps to support this blog and it really encourages me to add more printing related content. If you are in the Seattle area then consider JVH Tech for your printing needs as well.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, please check out my Printing Series.  You may also enjoy these Canon articles:

and these Epson articles:

and be sure to visit the bottom of my Printing Series page for a bunch of great articles that apply to both platforms. You will also appreciate my discount coupon code page where I occasionally have printer paper special offers.


If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this. Canon and Epson have also both provided printers, paper and ink for my review, but neither have paid any monetary compensation or for advertising.

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Everett Engbers said...

Please beware of Epson products. I have both the 3880 and the R3000 and they are disasters. The customer support is almost nil. The tech support has been off-shored and they could care less. The internet is full of complaints about Epson products and the poor quality. They used to be good but no more. I don't know enough about Canon printers to say but they have to be better than Epson!

Michael Inman said...

I concur with Everett Epsons are throw away printers. When print heads clog, throw away. Have an r3000 for 2 years made 5 13x19's black head clogged, throw away. Got canon. A printer must have replaceable print heads.......Epson!