For years, I’ve wanted to make my own photography prints. I’ve printed plenty of photos through third party labs, but despite their relative cost and ease of use, have never felt fully satisfied with the results.
The issue has never been with the labs, but rather my own ability to adequately prepare digital photos for printing. My prints would often times come back darker, softer, warmer or colder than how they appeared on screen. The differences were never dramatic or pronounced enough for an average person to notice, but my inner perfectionist always found something to grouse about.
In frustration, I decided the only way I was going to get better prints was to start creating my own. I needed to reacquaint myself with the differences between paper and screen. Plus, printing at home seemed like something which might be creatively satisfying and inspiring, so I took the plunge.
Purchasing a printer
After shopping around, I purchased a Canon PRO-10. Additional models offered by Canon include the Canon PRO-100 and the Canon PRO-1000. The PRO-100 is their most affordable (and popular) model, while the PRO-1000 is their largest and most expensive.
I considered the PRO-1000, but couldn’t justify its size or cost. It’s a massive printer capable of printing 17x22” prints and sells for just over a thousand bucks. The PRO-10 and PRO-100 models are smaller, with a maximum print size of 13x19” (which is still plenty large), and cost a great deal less.
Comparing the PRO-100 to the PRO-10, the only notable difference between the two is ink. The more affordable PRO-100 uses eight dye based inks while the PRO-10 uses ten pigment based inks. Both produce spectacular prints, but the PRO-10’s pigment ink system is considered to be more sophisticated (especially with black and white prints and matte paper), and the archival quality of dye inks (which the PRO-100 uses) appears to be up in the air. In the end, I decided to spend a little more and pick up the PRO-10.
Printer setup and first impressions
Out of the box, the Canon PRO-10 is a beautiful piece of hardware. Solid, simple, and well designed. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the user experience of Canon’s software. Everything is setup using a bundled CD — despite the fact that most computers sold today don’t include optical drives — and the written instructions offer no help at all.
That means flashing back to the bad old days of searching for printer drivers, ICC profiles, choosing between multiple versions of software, and crossing your fingers everything is being setup correctly. All told, it took me nearly two hours to figure out how to connect the PRO-10 to my wifi network, install all the separate pieces of requisite software on my iMac, and make my first print from Adobe Lightroom.
Everything is operating fine now, but Canon could do a much better job with their software and setup experience.
Printing for the first time
Once all the software was installed, it was time to print. To do so, you use Canon’s proprietary Print Studio Pro software, which functions as a standalone desktop application and plugin for Adobe Photoshop / Lightroom. I would prefer to use Lightroom’s built-in printing capabilities, but Print Studio Pro appears to be the only dependable software for Canon’s printers.
Print Studio Pro is pretty straightforward. Simply select your paper type, the appropriate ICC profile, print size, then add or remove borders from your layout. My first test prints with the Canon PRO-10 were exceptional — even better than I thought they would be.
All of my prints looked good, but I knew they could be better. I wanted my prints to look exactly like my screen (and vice versa). After plenty of research, all roads pointed to one thing: calibrating my display.
The last thing I wanted to do after purchasing an expensive printer was to buy more hardware, but unless I found a way to align my display and printer, my issues would only continue. As luck would have it, I found a great eBay deal on a used ColorMunki Photo.
There are plenty of screen calibrators out there similar to the ColorMunki Photo — some of which cost a good deal less — but this particular product is designed for synchronizing displays with printers — not simply generating new, “corrected” ICC display profiles. That synchronization was what I was ultimately after, so I picked one up and started the calibration process.
The ColorMunki Photo made some minor changes to my display’s temperature, tint and color, but the biggest change was brightness. My display was way too bright. To achieve more accurate colors and a display luminance which matched the reflective texture of paper, I needed to drastically lower my display’s brightness (general rule of thumb is 120 cd/m2, which is around 60% or so depending on your display type). At first I thought it was a calibration error, for the brightness felt unusually low, but I stuck with it.
After weeks of working with this new setup, the change in brightness had the greatest impact on my screen-to-print matching. I still have to bump my shadows/blacks just a touch before printing, but overall I’m getting far better results.
Printing photos at home won’t save you time, money or hassle, but for photographers who are passionate about their work, it’s so worth the investment. I’m having a blast learning about the intricacies of color matching, paper stocks, and holding photos in my hand instead of swiping them on a phone. There’s a permanence to the experience which is far more satisfying and inspiring than simply publishing a photo online. It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to put in the time and effort, it pays off.