Monday, October 21, 2013

Long-Term Report: Canon iPF6450 (Review Part II)

Canon iPF6450
Canon iPF6450
39.4 x 48.3 x 34.3" (100.08 x 122.68 x 87.1 cm) with stand
154 lb (69.85 kg) including stand

Read my iPF6300 review for much of what I love about the Canon imagePROGRAF printers. You can also see my Canon imagePROGRAF® 6400/6450 Comparison to the iPF6300/6350 article to see how this printer compares to its predecessor.

This article focus primarily on what’s new, and in the case of the hard drive – new to me (because the previous models offered a hard drive too).

Loving the Large Ink Cartridges

Anyone who has printed knows that the smaller the ink cartridge, the more expensive the ink. Small also means more hassle, so I’ve loved the huge ink cartridges in the iPF6450. However, the best part is that Canon thought about people upgrading from the x3xx series printers and the availability of ink, so this printer will take either the short cartridges from the x3xx series or the long one ones from the newer x4xx series printers. This gives you options to get going if the big tank isn’t available, or if you find that you are only needing the large tanks for specific colors (like black). It’s not an all or none deal, so you mix and match cartridge sizes based on your needs – brilliant!

While your mileage will vary based on your images, the size of images you print, etc… I can say that with my iPF6300 I was able to do 100 large prints (16x24 & up to 54x24) before I had my first set of starter inks go dry (black). For the iPF6450 I’ve yet to replace an ink cartridge after a year, but my maintenance cartridge only has 40% capacity left.

No Clog Problems

Time flies when you are busy, so it’s not uncommon for me to go long stretches without printing. As much as I love printing, the reality is that most of my clients are online and only want digital copies of my images. As a result, I print mostly for myself.

When I test a printer, not only do I test how it prints – I also want to test how it holds up over time with no activity. I have 6 printers to chose from in my studio, so I can easily avoid using one for a while. As a result, I chose to leave the iPF6450 off for 6 months.

If I leave my Epson 4900 off for a couple days, I’m rewarded with over an hour of manually doing print head tests and power cleanings trying to get the darn thing to print properly again. It’s been my biggest complaint of the 4900, but clogging was never a problem with my heavily used iPF6300. For the iPF6450 testing I’d go days or weeks without printing and it would always work just fine.

When I did my 6 month test, I fully expected to have some problems but I was pleased to report that the printer seemed to take care of itself when I turned it on. Sure it detected its own clogs that had to be there, but it sorted them all out with me never doing a darn thing. Once it settled down I did a print head test pattern just to make sure it was okay, and sure enough no heads were clogged. I was able to print with no hassle or problems and the printer handled everything itself. THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE!

When I leave the printer always on it also shakes its inks and keeps itself happy so those big automatic self-cleanings don’t seem to be necessary (or they happen when I’m not around). The point here is that I’ve never had my work delayed due to head clogging, and I’ve never had to do anything manually to get my printer to print properly. This is a TREMENDOUS advantage over the Epson 4900 that I’ve used, and complaints I’ve heard from colleagues using the 7900.

Get the Hard Drive!

image
Print to the Hard Drive for later instead of direct to paper
Store print jobs of similar types in different “inboxes”

After having the iPF6300 with no hard drive and the iPF6450 with the hard drive, I can easily say that I’d never want to go back to not having the hard drive! The convenience of being able to walk up to the printer and get a perfect re-print without any hassle or consulting my notes is a HUGE time saver!

I also love that I can output to the “mail box” (i.e., the hard drive) for printing at later time, rather than having to print right away. This is especially useful if you want to queue up a bunch of jobs that will require paper changes because you can store each job of a given paper type into the same inbox. With 29 to choose from, this gives you lots of freedom to do what you need to do on your computer and get your jobs queued up. Once you are ready to print you can release the jobs from the printer and optimize your workflow (and print costs) by not having to change rolls frequently.

A perfect real world example for me is that I’ll often print using Semi-Gloss, Photo Rag, and Metallic. In the past, I couldn’t predict when I’d need to print one versus the other so I’d typically switch rolls when I needed to print on a different paper. Now with this feature I just print Semi-Gloss to Inbox 1, Photo Rag to 2, and Metallic to 3. This allows me to not have to get off my lazy butt until I’m done with my work, and it lets me queue up my work by paper type. Once I need the prints of any paper type I just go to the printer, print whatever is in the queue for the currently loaded paper, then change the roll to what I need and print the queued jobs from that inbox.

This is both useful in scenarios where I’m doing a lot of jobs at once, as well as the scenarios where I may not need to print something right away so I can just leave it in the mailbox for the appropriate paper type until I get around to changing the roll to that type. This has saved me from a lot of wasted roll changes and consequently a lot of money and time as well!

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this feature!

Adjustment Pattern Print

Adjustment Pattern Setting
Adjustment Pattern Print – Another reason to upgrade

The feature that I’m most excited about and have loved over the past year is the Adjustment Pattern Print feature. This feature first appeared in the PRO-1 and I immediately fell in love with it. When I was in New York last year getting a demo of my future printer, I was ecstatic to hear that this printer would feature pattern print!

Pattern Print is basically a new feature in the Photoshop Export Module that allows you to a “what if” test print of the variables you might change in the dialog below. Want to see five different versions of your print with the brightness adjusted five different ways (in three point increments) – no problem! What to go a step farther and adjust the saturation for those five different brightness test prints? No sweat (see the dialog above for the result). Once you are done you just click Print Adjustment Pattern button and you get a sheet of test prints.

image

Want to conserve paper? Specify the test strip that you’d like to use with the “Specify the Range of Images…” button and select what’s important in your image:

image

Now you’ll get a test strip instead of the whole image with whatever adjustments you want. Since you can specify paper size, you can do all of this on a small sheet of paper if you want.

Once you are all done and have decided what values you want to use, just enter those values in the Color Settings page and you are done!

If you are really big into “what if” scenarios, you can repeat the process for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Gray Tone, Brightness, Contrast and/or Saturation. However, you can only do up to two at a time.

Yeah, but…

When I first learned of this feature, I thought “cool”, but then I also thought – yeah, but I never use the Color Settings sliders for MY prints! I do all of my stuff in Photoshop, so I’ll never use this feature. However, when I started using the hard drive I realized – hey, if I can get the same EXACT result again off the hard drive – why should I be afraid to use the colors settings?

The answer was clear – there’s no reason NOT to use them once you have the hard drive! I’ve updated my workflow to add a screenshot of this color settings to the hidden layers in my image where I keep my print log (JUST in case something happens to the hard drive or I have to delete jobs). However, in reality I just go find the job on the hard drive and click print from the control panel if I want to get my desired settings.

Once again, the iPF6450 had me saving both time and money over my iPF6300.

Sorry x3xx owners

As a programmer, I see no technical reason why the pattern print feature couldn’t be ported back to the iPF6300 & up printers. It’s just a software feature, but I’ve been told by Canon that this feature will be a selling point exclusive to the x4xx and up models. As a result, if you want this you’ve gotta pay for it.

Of course, people have already invented this concept in Photoshop but I’ve not found any that I’ve liked. If you can find one you like then you’ll get this feature without having to upgrade your printer, but so far the solutions I’ve tried in Photoshop have left me underwhelmed (or required 8-bit images only).

Image Quality

Like it’s predecessor the image quality is excellent. I use and love Epson printers too, but I don’t find the Canon’s to be drastically superior or inferior to the Epson’s. They both produce amazing results and my blind testing with a group of print masters resulted in very few accurately identifying which print came from an Epson and which came from a comparable Canon.

If you already own a x3xx (i.e., 6300, 6350, 8400) then I don’t see enough new features to warrant an upgrade. There are also enough variations in the print results between the older models and the new ones that you will be frustrated if you send the same photo to both generation printers and see that you get different results. In some cases I preferred the results I got on my iPF6300 which meant that I had to readjust my image to get the desired results on the iPF6450. That really annoyed me, so be warned about that reality.

I do find that the included printer profiles have improved. I wish more third parties would start creating media type files (AM1), and I wish there were more printer profiles for the x4xx series. While the selection of ICM/ICC profile files keeps getting better, it’s still not as readily available as Epson or older Canon models.

Conclusion

I’ve been extremely pleased with this printer overall, and I can easily HIGHLY recommend this printer to anyone looking to go large. While large format printers can print sheets, they don’t do it as easily as small printers (i.e., no roll bypass) so I still prefer to use the PRO-1 for my sheet work.

Canon shooters can also get amazing results by simply printing their in-camera JPEG with no modifications directly to this printer, so those looking for a simplified workflow might appreciate that feature. I still edit my photos for many reasons, but it’s been nice having that option when I need a quick print from an unedited JPEG for a family member or friend.

I can also say that if you can possibly afford it, skip the iPF6400 and go straight for the iPF6450 – the hard drive will pay for itself in no time if you calculate the cost of your time.

Where to order

Click one of the links below to learn more or order your new printer today:

iPF6400, iPF6450, iPF8400 and iPF9400 at B&H

iPF6400, iPF6450, iPF8400 and iPF9400 at Amazon

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