Canon is preparing to ship a replacement for the 17-inch carriage imagePROGRAF iPF5000 wide-format inkjet printer, as well as a new 24-inch carriage printer. Called the imagePROGRAF iPF5100 and iPF6100, respectively, their new features signal that Canon is looking to compete more aggressively in 2007 with wide-format printer offerings from Epson and HP.
At a glance, the imagePROGRAF iPF5100 looks almost identical in appearance to the imagePROGRAF iPF5000, with most of the changes being found under the hood, around the back or in the software that drives the printer. Like its predecessor, the iPF5100 uses 12 Canon Lucia pigment inks, has twin one-inch print heads with a total of 30,720 ink nozzles, doesn't require ink to be flushed when switching from colour to black-and white printing and offers impressively fast print speeds.
The Replacement: The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5100 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
New is built-in printer calibration designed to improve printer-to-printer consistency and to better enable the use of printer profiles with one iPF5100 that were created from the output of another iPF5100, a nifty function for tailoring the printer output to a certain print illumination type, promised reduced bronzing in black-and-white prints owing to retooled black inks as well as reduced print graininess (even compared to the iPF5000 with firmware 1.2.3 or later), also because of the new set of four Lucia blacks. The roll paper adapter is also now a permanent, integrated feature of the printer, rather than an add-on attachment as before.
Color Calibration The built-in printer calibrator uses a sensor module built into the printer head assembly. When the function is engaged, the iPF5100 will print a 729-patch target then automatically measure it with the built-in sensor, which uses LED illumination and gleans red, green, blue, UV and IR information during the patch reading. The process takes about ten minutes; the resulting calibration is applied universally within the printer to all paper types and is not done on a per-paper basis.
Better Colour: The module with the orange dot above houses the iPF5100's built-in sensor (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
During a presentation on the new printer models, Toshio Homma, Canon Inc.'s director overseeing the imagePROGRAF line, indicated that applying one calibration to all papers is not a limitation and that the goal of reducing printer-to-printer colour differences across a range of paper surfaces is achieved.
The colour differences from printer to printer are promised to average no more than 2 Delta E (this is based on Canon testing with Premium Matte Paper and the printer set to its High Quality mode), though this has been described to us as a conservative figure and that in some instances the average Delta E difference will be well under 1.0.
The Color Calibration routine of the iPF5100 is very similar in concept to the Closed Loop Calibration function of several HP printers, including the B9180 and several older wide-format models. It's designed to bring the printer's colour performance back to a known state, so that its output will be as close as possible to factory spec. This is a powerful feature of HP printers, one that is also available through a backdoor for owners of Epson K3-ink printers like the Stylus Photo 3800 by using the company's ColorBase calibration software in conjunction with an external spectrophotometer. It's great to see a similar feature coming to Canon's wide-format lineup.
The Color Calibration feature of the iPF5100, however, shouldn't be confused with the built-in ICC profile making function of HP's Z2100 and Z3100 wide-format inkjets. Color Calibration in the iPF5100 is intended to allow ICC profiles generated with one IPF5100 to work better with another iPF5100, so that the output from two or more iPF5100s will effectively look the same, as well as to reduce the need to reprofile the iPF5100 over time to account for things like changes in temperature or humidity. But Color Calibration in the iPF5100 doesn't make ICC profiles per se; that still requires printer profiling tools not included with the printer (though the iPF5100 will ship with canned profiles that are expected to be superior to those supplied with the iPF5000).
New black inks While eight of the twelve inks carry over unaltered, the black, gray, matte black and photo gray inks have been reformulated for the iPF5100. The changes are meant to limit the appearance of bronzing in black and white prints in particular, reduce the appearance of graininess in darker areas and improve scratch resistance. The new black inks will not work in the iPF5000, they will neither slide in nor be recognized in the older model. The iPF5100 uses the same 130ml cartridge design as before, and in fact the other eight ink cartridges are unchanged from the iPF5000, but the shape of the four new black cartridges is slightly different to ensure they aren't placed into an incompatible printer accidentally.
Ambient Light Adjustment Built using Canon's Kyuanos colour technology, the Ambient Light Adjustment feature is meant to make it simpler to account for the print viewing environment when the print is made. This is based on the (correct) idea that the colours in a print are going to look different when viewed under different lighting types such as daylight, fluorescent or tungsten. From the printer driver or from a new version of Poster Artist (which will be a separate purchase), it will be possible to create and output a test photo multiple times, where each time it's rendered to suit different lighting types, so that you can see which rendering will be most pleasing when you look at it under the intended light source. Then, you can apply that rendering to all other photos planned for viewing under the same light. Alternatively, it will be possible to use a colorimeter or spectrophotometer to gather colour information about the viewing light, feed that information to the Canon software, and have a rendering correction applied during printing.
That's about all we've been able to learn about this feature so far. We don't know how many different lighting types are supported or which colour measurement devices will be compatible (though at minimum it looks like both the Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter and the Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer will work, as long as they have an Ambient Light Head attachment).
Mac users, avert your eyes: the Ambient Light Adjustment feature will appear only in the Windows printer driver and in the Windows-only Poster Artist software, and while it's still being decided whether the iPF5100's Photoshop export plug-in will gain this feature too, if it does it will be in the Windows version exclusively. Because Canon's Kyuanos technology is an integral part of Windows Vista, but not earlier Windows operating systems, we presume that this feature will require Vista as well, though we haven't been able to confirm that with Canon.
Photoshop plug-in, Poster Artist The Photoshop plug-in carries through from the iPF5000 mostly unchanged. The preview section of the plug-in has been refined, though we're not sure what refinements have been made, and as noted above the Windows version may get the Ambient Light Adjustment feature, but that hasn't been decided yet. A Universal Binary version of the plug-in is in the works for Mac users running Photoshop CS3 on computers with Intel processors. But we haven't been able to find out whether it will ship with the new printers or whether it will be compatible with previous-generation imagePROGRAFs.
In addition to Ambient Light Adjustment, Poster Artist also gains new automation functions designed to streamline the process of making posters comprised of one or multiple photos, plus text. It will come with about 8000 new poster templates, and will also become an extra-cost option for the printer.
This printer is easy to describe: the imagePROGRAF iPF6100 is essentially a 24-inch version of the iPF5100. It incorporate the same 30,720-nozzle printhead, 12 Lucia inks (including the four new blacks), Color Calibration, Ambient Light Adjustment and integrated roll paper holder. The only notable differences are a larger LCD display readout that includes a graphic showing ink levels, a modified paper output tray design (like other 24-inch carriage printers, the iPF6100 lacks a paper cassette) and a wider body to accommodate its ability to make wider prints.
While both the iPF5100 and iPF6100 units we saw were on printer stands with a fabric print catch, Canon representatives we spoke with couldn't confirm whether the stands would be included with either or both printer models, or whether all regions might also carry the stands as an optional accessory. That said, it seems likely that at least the iPF6100 will include the stand as standard equipment.
New Guy: The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6100 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
New Display: The LCD display on the iPF6100 (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
The imagePROGRAF iPF5100
has a manufacturer's suggested list price (MSRP) of US$1995 in the U.S. The imagePROGRAF iPF6100
has an MSRP of US$3495 in the U.S. The street price of Canon wide-format printers is typically a bit less than MSRP at reputable dealers. Both models are slated to ship in the summer of 2007, though when exactly they will come available worldwide will likely vary from region to region. In the U.S., it's anticipated the iPF6100 will emerge as early as the end of June or early July, with the iPF5100 expected to follow sometime after that, and perhaps as soon as July. Poster Artist 2007 has an MSRP of US$799 in the U.S. and is to ship in July.
Update, May 14, 2007:
Canon USA has now posted a press release
about the new printers.
May 11, 2007: Added more information about the differences between the iPF5100 and iPF6100.
May 14, 2007: Added a link to the Canon USA press release.