Coming to Terms with
The Canon PROGRAF iPF 5000 Printer
Six Months Later
Time flies when you're having fun, or busy, or both. It's been six months since I started using the Canon iPF5000 and my initial review appeared. Since then I have made some 900 prints, mostly 11X17" and 13X19", with a number of 17X22" and larger as well.
I lived with my previous Epson 4800 alongside the Canon 5000 for a while, but eventually sold the Epson. Not having to worry about switching blacks and the associated hassle and cost was a big factor, but also my findings doing a number of comparisons on an ongoing basis were that the image quality from the 5000 was as good as and frequently better than that from the 4800, and the Canon certainly has a wider gamut. Not really having room or the need for both printers I said farewell to the Epson.
What I discovered during his period was that there is an additional advantage to the Canon – no head clogs. Over the past six months I have not had a single head clog, something that I can't say was the case with previous Epson printers. I leave the printer on continuously, as recommended by Canon. If the printer isn't in daily use, once a day it will start up, run a self-check / cleaning cycle for a few moments and then go back to sleep. If I am busy printing, it will occasionally pause for a minute or two, with the LCD display claiming that it is cleaning itself. Very little appears to be going on, with none of the pumping and thrashing that one hears from a large format Epson when it's running a cleaning cycle. Then, it's over, and printing resumes.
One of the controversial points made about the iPF5000 when it first came out was that the cartridges provided with the machine were not full 130ML carts. As will be seen, since the printer is so frugal with ink this turned out not to be an issue.
I needed to start installing new cartridges after about the first 300 prints. Then by about 700 prints I had replaced all of the carts except Magenta, which is currently flashing a warning that it is running low, but it's been doing that for the past 40 prints so, and so as has become my habit, I am ignoring it until the cartridge runs fully dry.
There is a utility in the GARO print monitor software (what on earth does GARO mean?), that can tell you the ink used for each print made. What I can report is that a 75% coverage print on 11X17" paper uses between 0.1 and 0.8 milliliters of ink. This depends, of course, on the density of the coverage, but if one figures on 0.4 as an average, and a retail price of about US $75 for the 130 ML cartridges, the cost of ink for a typical 11X17" print is 25 cents. As another example, a 17X22" print with 80% coverage uses 1.2ML of ink, for a cost of about 70 cents. This is extremely low ink usage, and compared to the cost of quality paper is a minor part of the equation. It does hurt though to have to spend a thousand dollars to buy 12 new cartridges, but this will yield about 1,500 prints.
For most of the second half of 2006 Intel Mac owners lacked drivers. This was remedied in early November, and I reported on the availability of these in this article.
Learning the Idiosyncrasies
My initial review had plenty of praise for the printer, but I really took Canon to task for its poor documentation and for some of the printer's user interface idiosyncrasies. I had considered writing another strongly worded rant on this subject, but two things changed my mind.
The first is that I became used to the printer's way of doing things. It's not the way I would have designed it, but once you get into the head space of those that did there is a certain consistency. It can still be annoying, but at least its consistently annoying. For example, having to tell the printer what size and type of paper is being loaded in the top feed each and every time you insert a sheet, even if it's the same for 100 prints in a row, gets really tiresome.
The top manual feed is also single sheet. Since heavy art papers can't be loaded in the front cassette I find it a real oversight not to have designed the top feed for multiple sheets. Also, the front feed for very heavy stock can be a bear to load. The Canon is very picky about paper being askew, and sometime multiple attempts are needed.
The second reason for not dwelling overly on some of the printer's annoying behaviour is that Canon has indicated that there will be a firmware upgrade available within the next month or so. Since some of my concerns may well be addressed with this, I'll hold off until it comes out and will summarize then what's been fixed, and what remains outstanding (if anything).
Since I still hear from and read people's complaints about the lack of decent documentation it appears that Canon has done nothing to address this. Given that Epson has always produced very good manuals, and HP's are about as good as any user manual I've ever seen, Canon has some catching up to do in this area.
As for image quality, nothing has changed from my initial review. It's still the best that I've seen to date. Gamut is wide (wider than Adobe RGB), resolution is very high, and a large number of side-by-side comparisons with my previous Epson 4800 show that while the printers are close, the Canon does have a slight edge. When combined with its lack of clogging and no need to change blacks, the choice for me was a straightforward one.
I also continue to be impressed with the Canon's monochrome printing. Dead neutral, and lovely tonalities. I see no need for a dedicated monochrome printer any longer, and the 16 bit driver offers versatile toning capabilities.
As of Decemberr, 2006, the price of the iPF5000 has dropped in the US to between $1,495 and $1,695. It isn't clear whether this price drop is a sign of the printer's success, or its failure. But, for someone willing to put up with the printer's foibles, and who desires the highest image quality currently available from a 17" pigment ink printer, the iPF5000 is still the one to beat.
There is a new resource available for iPF5000 owners called The Unofficial Canon IPF5000 Printer Wiki. It is maintained by John Hollenberg, and is a real service to the community. I recommend it to all current and prospective iPF5000 owners
Ps: Colorbyte has shown their latest version of Imageprint, supporting the iPF5000, at Photo East Expo last month. I expect to be reviewing this exciting new RIP within the next few weeks.