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Friday, 02 July 2010


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Well written. Thank you.
Been there, done that, not with big printers, but with all kinds of oversized scientific and photographic equipment (most now obsolete) over the last 60 years.

He he, I managed the setup of my Z3100 alone without help...

"Pigment-based inkjet printers produce gorgeous color prints with remarkable fade-free longevity. But unless you print with some frequency, that pigment ink may start clogging up your expensive machine. Epson printers with their piezo heads are particularly prone to this, especially in dry environments. HP and Canon printers with their heat-based ejection nozzles do a good job keeping themselves clog-free if you leave them plugged in, with minimal waste of ink. "

Now that's interesting! I assume this applies to the smaller prosumer printers as well? (Actually, there are no HP offerings as of this date in this category.) Any more info on the issue?

Mike M.

What a great synopsis! I now imagine that even if I could afford one and produce images worthy of the expense, I'd probably continue to outsource it anyhow. :)

I had a similar reaction the first time I saw truly large prints (in Yosemite, at the Mountain Room restaurant moreso than the Ansel Adams gallery, just FYI)- I knew that THAT was what I wanted to do with my own work. (I started shooting Large Format after that). Thanks for the overview!

To Thomas Osborne,

You can minimize the necessity of power cleaning cycles by applying distilled water to the parking pad of the Epson 4000 with a hypodermic syringe before shutting down. If you want a little bit of extra protection try mixing the distilled water with a small amount of window cleaner. Even so, it's a good idea to print a nozzle check once a week and occasionally to print a test pattern to exercise the printer. I've been following this regimen for the last four years and have only had one major head clog in that time.

Printing large is great for exposing the shortcomings in equipment, camera skills, processing etc ... but unfortunately in continually striving to overcome such shortcomings there's a risk of losing sight of what photography is all about (at least to me), that is showing others your part of the world/experience/vision.

The question I get asked most is "how big can you print this?". I shouldn't complain as I charge by size, but really wish people would settle for smaller (and finer) and spend the difference in price on better presentation.

Mike M.-
Large format printers have stationary ink cartridges (or 'tanks'). These feed ink through a series of long flexible tubes to the printhead assembly, the thing that flies along a set of rails to spray the image onto the paper. The path from ink tanks to printhead may be 3 to 5 feet long, and can contain 100 ml's of ink or more. If left undisturbed (i.e. if you're not printing) long enough, the pigment particles in the ink can settle out and form a stubborn clog in the tiny output nozzles.

The smaller prosumer pigment printers are generally less susceptible to clogging. They have ink cartridges that plug right into the top of the printhead; the ink only has to travel an inch or two, with gravity on its side. I still have an old Epson 2400 that goes months between uses, and it prints fine after a cleaning cycle or two.

Two good friends, a 6'1" teenage son (not mine), and I have just manhandled a 44" Canon ipf8300 into my upstairs office - 316 pounds with stand. I was kind of enjoying the juxtaposition of Mike's basement Durst M600 (I had one before my Chromega C) and the upstairs Canon. The Canon has yet to power up, since that starts the whole consumables cycle - in the meantime I'm reading the just under 1000 page manual. Plus, I'm still figuring out where in hell to store the output.

Recently Mike has been discussing his new darkroom. Just out of curiosity, what kind of set up would one need to get such large prints the chemical way? Geoff's article reveals some of the issues one must face when the home and the printshop become integrated, but I would image that it was much harder in the pre-digital days.

This is really a fine, succinct, informative, and quite entertaining anecdotal notebook, Geoff. It's one thing to see a wide printer in your shopping cart at, say, B&H. It's quite another to suddenly be faced with the reality that it's as big as a fridge and you've only ordered a curb drop.

Perhaps coincidental, but my lower back began twinging as I read your piece.

Thanks very much for doing this.

Davis said
"So the moral of the story is when a new product comes out and you want it, wait quite a while until some other sucker(s) have ironed out the production problems for you, before you buy it."

100% true in general, and 110% true for cars...


Just curious, why did the first two printers not work out, or do you still have them too?


Alex Vesey-
I'm no expert on the subject, but making large prints in a traditional darkroom is notoriously difficult. Simply handling a large wet sheet of paper without creasing or tearing it is non-trivial. #14 of Michael Reichmann's "Luminous Landscape Video Journal" features a segment on Clyde Butcher, including the process of producing a large traditional print. He uses a jumbo enlarger projecting the image onto a wall-mounted sheet of paper, giant trays of chemicals, gently rolling the wet paper onto foam tubes to transfer it...the whole adventure is so daunting I feel better about wrestling with a big inkjet.

David, my hat is off to you. What equanimity! If I had dragged a second printer all that way only to find that it too was defective...my next action probably would have involved a sledgehammer.

I own an Epson 7800 and live in an exceedingly dry climate with winter humidity averaging under 20% and the summer better but still not what one could call humid but for three days a year and my printer does NOT clog up using the pigment inks. I print irregularly and rarely once per week though I often mean to and worry that I have not done so. I sometimes run the head test and print out the beaded pattern and allow the printer to read its own patterns and clean itself if it needs to. Never has it had to do this more than one extra time. After using it for three years I can see any waste material that I have used as I stored it all just to get a sense of how much there was relative to the huge number of prints that I have made. I would guess offhand that perhaps the equivalent of five 24 by 36 prints worth of paper and ink could be the maximum in this period including the paper used for the test beads and the extremely rare poor print due to some driver issues with Epson on the Mac OSX changes that happened along the way. I have less than half a tank of waste ink according to the graphic on the machine. I have printed 1200 feet of paper in it. Oh yes....I never had a clogged nozzle after a single cleaning procedure and never ran a power cleaning which is what apparently uses a lot of ink. I understand the newer machines are even better this way with special coated nozzles. If one calibrates the computer correctly using such devices as a Huey, one's perceptive colour in the embedded profiles on the Tiff file choice in Photoshop is right on the money using Epson's own settings " printer controls colour." RIGHT! They are right on and I suspect that a lot of the problems people have in this regard is that their screens and computer settings are likely at fault as my prints can be held at the screen and dynamic range on matte paper is naturally narrower than my screens but the hue and so forth are as good as one can get. I use only Canon Enhanced Matte Paper which has a new (and confusing name) but it is the same paper and has the formerly Enhanced Matte name on it also. It is very neutral, stable and for me perfect so I need go no further than that one. I mount the prints with my ancient Drytac Drymount Press picked up on Craigslist and coat the prints with MSA (Golden Brand) clear varnish. Sure, it costs a fortune to print. Life is worth it. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention..I use Third Party Carts with MediaStreet Inks!..When the warrantee ran out I went with the ink brand I used on my old Epson 2200 which I had fitted with siphons and tubes and tanks as a sort of miniature version of the big printers.That old printer STILL is used that way. All that I describe is with this brand of ink. It is archival and beautiful. Check it out. It is worth the small added effort to refill and re-chip the cartridges but after there is no warrantee, no one will do anything for me where I live so no matter what, one is on their own. I see absolutely no difference in the stability or beauty of the prints. The inks do not... absolutely... do not settle or clog and I tested some, by the way, by allowing a bottle of it to sit undisturbed for two years and decanted it out and there was nothing at bottom at all. Epson ought to drop the prices of inks to a reasonable level and I would gladly save myself the trouble but they cost well over double or triple my ink costs so that is the choice I have made. I do not know if one can obtain such inks for the other printer brands but the Epson system has a simple cartridge design that can be refilled or substituted with a refillable cartridge that is excellent. I am very annoyed at a printer with 12 separate colours to deal with when my 8 colour Epson is exemplary so I will baby this piano sized machine for as long as it is possible as I love the results. I wonder why the author felt the need to replace his printer so often? It seems to me an artist learns his tools and makes things work in conjunction with his approach to his work which in my case is digital painting starting with photography but going off into complex colours and textures so a good printer is critical. I would not use such inks if there were any compromise at all and I have found..none. Great printer technology, built like a battleship, stable and does not lose alignment along with great inks (theirs and my alternatives)..period.

I'm moving up to an Epson 7900 from a 4800.

I had enough sense to request the shipping dimensions and weights before offering to pick it up at the distributor's in the Chicago area. It won't fit in my mini van. May need to rent a cargo van or use a trailer to retrieve it. Because of the ending rebate I had to order it before the end of June but could not pick it up until mid July.

From the photo's I see that Canon packs the stand in a separate box which makes is more convenient. I could probably get the Epson in my van if the printer was not packed in the same container.

I was struggling to make the decision between the 7900 and the 9900. The price and room was not the issue it was would I really need that capacity.

For those with Epson head clogs: Check out "Harvey Head Cleaner". It is software that runs as a service and sends a daily "spritz" to the printer to reduce clogging from inactivity.

Mike Bailey & Neil-

I was happy with the quality of prints on cotton rag/matte papers using the Epson 7600. Glossy/semigloss/luster papers were another story; bronzing and metamerism were significant, particularly for black & white prints. Swapping between matte black and photo black inks was obnoxious, wasting lots of time and lots of ink, so I settled on matte papers. I used Roy Harrington's QuadtoneRIP with good results, but I really missed the deeper blacks acheivable on glossier stock. I eagerly traded up to the Z3100 for the ability to switch from matte black to photo black on the fly. (My 7600 went to a local art shop). The HP printers are still about the best thing going for black & white; D-max on both matte and glossy papers is fantastic, and the black/grey inks are absolutely neutral. On the other hand, the Z3100 gamut is distinctly weak in the saturated reds (the Z3200 is better here), and mine's had some nagging "issues". Like, occasional obvious banding 6" from the end of a 72" panoramic. Two weeks after my extended warranty expired, the printer's electronics went belly-up. @#!?&#. Projected repair costs were adding up to more than half the cost of a new printer. And Canon was offering a fat rebate plus a set of free ink carts, making the cost a net wash.
...So, I bought Canon's iPF6300. Terrific printer; I haven't found any warts yet. Best feature: print surfaces are vastly more scratch-resistant; a day and night difference. Prints from the Z3100 are *extremely* delicate; the slightest touch from a fingernail or the corner of another print will burnish or scratch them visibly. The soft surface of cotton rag papers printed with the Epson 7600 were just as fragile.
All three manufacturers' printers have advantages and drawbacks. The Epson 7900 is built like an anvil, and Epsons have by far the widest 3rd party & service bureau support. But they still waste a bit of ink with black swapping, and ink usage per square foot is much higher than HP's or Canon's. HP has the best D-max on matte papers and does a beautiful black & white, but color gamut even for the Z3200 is a few notches below the newer Canon and Epson printers.

This is an excellent and PERTINENT discussion. Thank you. I've never owned a printer larger than 8.5X11. This post and its comments have convinced me I will never have the time or money to move up. So be it. Amen.


Can anyone suggest the best link, book, or article, wherein an amateur (but nonetheless, quality-oriented) photographer might learn how to prepare files for a service bureau?

Thank you.

Harald Johnson's book Mastering Digital Printing (2nd Ed.) is now a bit dated regarding specific hardware, but it has an excellent chapter on the subject of using a service bureau. It discusses the entire process in some detail, including file preparation and proofing.

Most service bureaus are delighted to work with you; it's in their interest to help you deliver the best possible file for printing. The one I've worked with (Lumiere Photo in Rochester NY) has been unfailingly gracious and helpful.

Dear, oh dear...I am old enough (just barely) to remember when you got your film developed, the prints were all contact-printed (and b&w).

Some great insights and food for thought. I've been printing with a 19x13 for a number of years but have been harking after a larger printer. I think the 1st stage though is simply to send some images to printers to see if my images are up fm scratch.

Geoff Wittig,
Thanks for the pointer to Johnson's Mastering... I'm in the same boat as Bruce Smith. I'll be looking around for people who blog about that kind of thing too.

I just wanted to add my thanks. Not long ago, I was offered a "free", long-disused Epson 4000. When I came off the high of an amazing find, I realized that it would cost me several hundred dollars just to find out if it worked, require a significant fraction of a small, crowded apartment, not to mention the issue of retrieving and transporting, etc. And that was all before the costs of ownership and learning. Compared to how many professional prints? I had to turn it down, though not without pangs of regret from time to time. Your account relieved a lot of that regret.

Dear Geoff,

Lovely, lovely column!

I want to say a bit about head clogging and maintenance. My experience has been that this is sensitive to ones' local situation and that the environmental variables involved have NOT been well-pinned down.

I've owned four Epson printers-- a 2200 (since deceased, and I'll get back to that) a 2400 an R800 and a 9800. The small ones live in my office which, being in the warmest part of the house, has low humidity and averages at least 75F. The 9800 is in the unheated downstairs; since I live out by the Pacific ocean, its environment averages 60-65F with moderate-high rH.

All the printers require regular cycling (nothing more than printing out the nozzle test) about once a week. If I let it go longer than that, I'm likely to have to do a head clean before printing, wasting about a print's worth of ink. If I let it go for a month, I can expect to have to do two cleanings; with the 9800, it may even take two auto-clean cycles (LOTS of ink) to clear itself. Even though it lives in a cool/moist environment.

I've never ruined any of the printers by letting them sit for a month, but it has cost me significant money in supplies (and delays when I want to print).

That 2200? When I was writing DIGITAL RESTORATION, I didn't use it for six months. And it was ruined. There developed a few misfiring nozzles that no amount of cleaning (including third party cleansing kits) could repair. The cost of replacing the heads was high enough I just scrapped it and bought a 2400. Now I'm careful about this; expensive lesson!

pax / Ctein


How and where do you sell your prints?
What's your most common size?
Your average price for a print and
is it mounted or not?

Thank you for the kind compliment.
I have had far too much experience with Epson head clogs, though in fairness a lot of that had to do with 3rd party quad black inksets back in the digital paleozoic era with Epson 1270/1280 printers.
The authority on the subject has to be Jon Cone, who has been working with Epson printers from the get-go. His newsletter article on the subject attributes clogging issues to paper dust and head strikes from heavy cotton rag papers, and to pigment settling. Cone advocates either printing or shaking the ink cartridges at least every few weeks, and suggests that clogs become an issue if one doesn't print at least every 3 to 6 weeks, with Epson machines.

Davids comment I recognize. I bought two HP A3 printers when soon after they where release.

Everything worked fine for a year. Just after the warranty had lapsed one of them gave error message. I tried to make it work during a couple of days. I called HP and was told that they did not want to answer if it was possible to fix it, unless I first payed for the answer. Not even a hint of yes or no. And it was about 20-30 per cent of a new printer.

I tried to see if it was the print heads as malfunctioned, so I transfered them to the other. Now I had two printers as did not work! Even when I restored the heads on the printers.

I found out that even if I had got the printers at the same time, the firmware were of different date. One with a firmware as was preproduction and recommended to be updated. It was not possible to update the firmware because of the malfunctioning heads. I did want to gamble, and buy new heads and maybe then be able to update the firmware and get the printer to work. So I left the printer a the scrapyard.

The second printer I had to buy new heads and pay almost 50 per cent of a new printer.

I decided not to buy a HP printer again. They ought to supported me since the firmware was a preproduction and should not be sold, as it was, in the first place.

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