Printer Review: Canon PIXMA Pro-1

May 18, 2012

By Dan Havlik

There’s no getting around the fact that the Canon PIXMA Pro-1 is a very large printer. And heavy too. But this is not exactly news. Back when the PIXMA Pro-1 was announced in the U.S. last October, we posted a preview of the printer by our regular contributor Theano Nikitas, who got an early look at it at a Canon manufacturing facility in Virginia. In her preview, Nikitas called the Pro-1 a “behemoth,” a term Canon probably wouldn’t dispute.

Weighing a little over 60 pounds and measuring 27.36 x 18.19 x 9.41 inches (W x D x H), the Pro-1 would seem abnormally large for a printer that can only output photos up to 13 inches wide without any roll feed option. For comparison, the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 can print up to 17 inches wide, is 27 x 15 x 10 inches and weighs just 43 pounds.

But the Pro-1 has a few attributes the competition doesn’t. For one, it uses a 12-ink system of Canon’s Lucia pigment inks including cyan, photo cyan, magenta, photo magenta, yellow, red and a chroma optimizer. More importantly for those who like monochrome prints, there are five black inks: photo black, matte black, dark grey, grey and light grey. In contrast, Epson’s smaller and lighter 13-inch Stylus Photo R3000—which we reviewed in PDN last October—has only eight inks total.

The Pro-1 is also built around a unique tubular ink-delivery system, with the ink cartridges seated on either side of the main printer body (six on one side; six on the other) and accessible via separate front panels. Because of the tubular design, the Pro-1’s print head moves independently, providing a print speed that (depending on settings, paper, etc.), can be more than twice as fast as Canon’s previous 13-inch pro printer, the PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II.

Also, with individual tubes for each ink cartridge, you don’t need to change cartridges or flush the lines when switching from matte black to photo black and back again. This is designed to save time and money, since no ink should, theoretically, be wasted. And considering how much these pigment inks cost—about $36 per 36-milliliter cartridge—that’s a good thing.

But did I mention that this printer is damned big?

Heavyweight Champ
I felt pity for the UPS man who delivered the Pro-1 to my door. When you add in the packaging and the protective materials inside the box, the printer’s shipping weight tips the scales at over 70 pounds. This additional load is a definite consideration for any photographer interested in the Pro-1. This PIXMA is not the sort of thing you can pick up at the photography store, put over your shoulder and shove into the back of your Fiat.

There are also some legitimate delivery concerns. I seem to have had trouble with glitch-y initial test units this month (see my review of the Nikon D4) and the bad luck carried over to the first Pro-1 I was loaned. Though the printer box did not appear to be damaged, somewhere along the way, something happened to the Pro-1’s FINE (Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering) print head. (Or at least that was Canon’s analysis.) My prints from the first Pro-1 test unit were marred by striations and smudges on the left side of the photos.

After reporting my problem to Canon, they sent a team out to my office to look at the printer and diagnosed the print head issue. A second test printer was loaned to me and I have not experienced the same issue. Whether or not the first print head was damaged in transit is hard to say. But given the serious impact the Pro-1’s heavy box would make if it were dropped, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Fast and Steady
Though it’s big, the Pro-1 is an attractive printer and feels much more substantial and sturdier than Epson’s 3880 and R3000 models. You’ll need a well-built desk or table to put it on, but the heft is part of the reason the Pro-1 is so quiet. While Canon’s previous pro PIXMA printers were notorious for shaking and shimmying while they printed—I called it the “Canon cha-cha” in a previous review—the Pro-1 was stable and near silent.

It was also quite fast. It took just under five minutes for a 13 x 19-inch (A3+) color or black-and-white print using the “Standard” quality setting. For a “High” quality print, we averaged about six and half minutes. You can’t get much faster than that at this print quality.

In the past, we’ve found Canon’s pro PIXMAs to print slightly dark, forcing us to tweak the brightness of our images about half a stop just before printing. We had no such issue with the Pro-1. Printing primarily on Canon’s Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss 13 x19-inch paper and using Photoshop’s canned profiles for our color management, our prints were crisp, sharp and true with bold but lifelike color. The Pro-1’s minimum drop size of 4 picoliters is a little larger than we had hoped but even when looking at our prints with a loupe, we couldn’t discern individual droplets.

Maximum resolution is 4800 x 2400 dpi and the Pro-1’s 12,288-nozzle print head did an excellent job of laying down the ink. Transitions between light and dark areas were smooth and natural.

For monochrome prints, the Pro-1 delivered clean whites, rich blacks and a good range of midtones. We didn’t notice any obvious bronzing or metamerism. Comparative black-and-white prints from the Pro-1 and older ones we printed on the Pro9500 Mark II showed much warmer tones from the Pro-1, but it was difficult to tell what caused the difference between the two. (The age of the Pro9500 Mark II prints might have been a factor.)

Although the Pro-1 doesn’t have a wireless option, it does offer Ethernet if you want to network the printer, along with USB 2.0 and PictBridge.

Though the 36-milliliter, high-capacity ink cartridges are not cheap, we much prefer them to the previous model’s 14-milliliter ink cartridges, which were always running out too soon. The chroma optimizer cartridge is slightly cheaper than the other inks—$30 versus $36—and we felt it did a good job keeping print glossiness even without degrading the color gamut or density of the blacks.

Some added good news about the printer’s large size is you don’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. Like the Pro9500 Mark II, though, the Pro-1 does not print borderless on fine-art paper, leaving up to a 35mm border.

The Bottom Line
Though the Canon PIXMA Pro-1 is bigger and heavier than competing 13-inch pro printers out there, it offers something those models don’t: superior printing skills via an innovative tubular 12-ink delivery system. Our color and black-and-white 13 x 19 prints came out of the Pro-1 in a hurry and they were gorgeous. If it seems a bit overkill to make such a large printer that can only output up to 13 inches wide, with no roll feed option, we’d have to assume Canon has other larger format printers—including, potentially, a 17-incher—in the pipeline. If they’re as high quality as the Pro-1, we could be in for something big, both literally and figuratively.

Pros: Sturdy build helps stabilize printer during output; very fast print speed for such high-quality prints; excellent color and black-and-white photo prints with superb detail; quiet

Cons: Very big and heavy for a 13-inch printer; tough to carry and install because of weight and size; no roll feed option; no Wi-Fi; expensive


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