Which printer is better? Canon or Epson?

Canon and Epson both make excellent printers. Focusing on the current line from each company; the Canon PRO Series imagePrograf and Epson SureColor printers, fine art prints of the highest quality can be achieved from either model. We can’t say definitively which brand is better as there are differences to consider when purchasing either. Below are features and comparisons of each model to help you understand the functionality of each printer before making a final decision.

Switching Between Photo Black and Matte Black Ink

The SureColor line of Epson pigment-based printers switch between Photo Black and Matte Black ink based on the type of media you are printing on. There is only one channel for Black and the printer must purge one ink before it prints with the other. This is how they were designed to work and is necessary to maximize print quality on various media. Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers do not have to switch between black inks as there are two separate channels on the head to accommodate both Photo Black and Matte Black. The media setting determines which ink you are using and the printer just prints the ink you want. No switching of inks will result in less waste of time and ink.

Print Head Clogging

All inkjet printer print heads clog. This is another cold reality of inkjet printing and is why they have the ever popular Nozzle Check & Head Cleaning feature built in to every printer. Epson printers use a Piezo-style print head. These tend to clog from time to time which is a big complaint of many Epson printer owners. The Epson SureColor printers run automated and periodic nozzle check and head cleaning cycles to help minimize head clogging issues. Though, most Epson users run a manual nozzle check procedure when they start their Epson printer just to make sure all color channels are clear before printing. Environmental conditions and frequency of printing both contribute to this issue.

Note: On Epson printers, do not perform any more than 3 nozzle check and head cleaning cycles at a time or the head can over heat and burn out. After doing 3 cycles, shut down the printer for a few hours and start again. Keep on running these cycles as necessary.

Canon printers use thermal print head technology whereby the head heats up before printing, frying any unwanted debris that might be on the head that would likely cause problems. Canon printers also require less cleaning and will survive for longer periods of time of non-use. Canon printers are designed to be left on and can be set to go into “sleep mode”. The printer will wake up from time to time and perform an ink tank agitation procedure or nozzle check and head cleaning procedure on its own, as needed. Epson printers like to be left off with the head parked to minimize issues.

Consistency Over Time

Canon printers feature a Color Calibration procedure by which you can establish a base-line standard for color of the printer using a Canon Branded paper at the time of printer installation. If the printer seems like it is drifting in color over time or you need to replace the print head or other major service, you can simply re-run the color calibration procedure using the exact same Canon Brand paper and reset the printer to the original standard. This also preserves any custom paper/printer profiles you might have created in the past. Epson printers require an authorized technician to perform a calibration or linearization as they cannot be done as easily as on a Canon.

Paper Feeding Mechanism

Another issue that has been a complaint of Epson printers is the paper feeding mechanism on both desktop and wide format printers relating to “Paper Skew Errors.” With desktop printers, the issue is caused by dust and paper dust getting into the printer and coating the parts that grab and transport the paper, causing a misfeed. The Canon Pro-1000 has a vacuum transport mechanism making paper feeding more reliable and the single sheet feeding mechanism on the Pro Series 24 inch and larger printers seems flawless. Epson SureColor P800 printers feed resin-coated and other glossy/lustre paper and inexpensive papers from the top paper loading tray; whereas, Fine Art papers need to be fed through a front fine art paper feeding mechanism which can be time consuming and problematic.

One advantage to Epson SureColor 24 inch printers and wider is that they can accommodate a very thick paper mounted on stiff board (1.5mm or less thickness) fed through a flat paper feed mechanism. Canon PRO Series imagePrograf 24 inch and wider printers have to bend so you can not feed stiff board-like material through them.

Printing Interface

Epson introduced a program called Epson Print Layout a couple of years ago that provides a simplified but powerful printing interface for their SureColor Series printers. It is available as a plug-in for Photoshop through the Automate Menu or as a stand alone. While this interface is better than going through the File - Print command in the operating system it still has some limitations. Canon’s Print Studio Pro is a very full-featured printing interface and the newer Professional Print & Layout printing program allows you to perform basic nesting and more advance layout tasks than ever before. Canon’s Professional Print & Layout program can even operate as a stand alone application in addition to a plug-in for Photoshop. This means you don’t need Photoshop to print your files if they are already prepared as TIF or JPG and ready to print.

Ink Tanks

Epson ink tanks are loaded behind doors in the front of the printer. These doors have to be opened to replace the ink tanks, which mean interrupting your print job. Canon’s ink tanks are loaded in easily accessible drawers, top-loaded in the printer, and can be swapped at any time. Canon printers come with a full set of usable ink. Pro Series imagePrograf Pro-2000 comes with 160 ml of useable ink for all 12 cartridges and the Pro-4000/6000 printers come with 330ml of each ink. Epson printers come with just enough ink in a starter set to prime the system and make a few prints which means you will need to purchase a full set of ink with any Epson SureColor P6000 printer and above.

Archival Permanence

The jury is still out on this one. While testing from some independent companies show that Epson inks are more resistant to fading vs. the new Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printer inks, the reality is that the composition of the media you are printing on as well as the environment in which you are storing or displaying your image have much more to do with archival permanence than any other factors. Your prints will last a super long time if you use 100% Cotton papers without optical brightening agents, let your prints out-gas for 24 hours, spray them with protective spray to keep them from continuing to absorb airborne contaminants, mat (with acid free mat board) and seal them in frames, and display them in locations with normal room temperature, low humidity and away from bright sunlight.

Custom Media Settings

Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers come with a program called the Media Configuration Tool. This allows you to customize media files for head height, ink load, vacuum strength, rename the file to whatever paper you want and attach a profile to it so that it will automatically load it when choosing the custom media file. Epson does not offer this feature.

Accounting Manager

Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers also come with a program called the Accounting Manager which allows you to export the cost per job for ink and paper into a spreadsheet, allowing you to calculate your cost per print. You can also access this information on a per job basis from the LCD screen of the printer itself. Epson printers can only do this with a third party software.

Automatic Firmware Updates

Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers come with a built-in feature allowing you to connect the printer via wi-fi to periodically ping Canon’s Firmware Server looking for available new updates. You can then choose to update the firmware when the alert has posted on the LCD screen of the printer. Epson printers will update firmware via Epson's software update program.

Multi Function Roll System

Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers offer an optional Multi Function Roll System which allows you to load two rolls on to the printer at the same time and switch between them via Print Studio Pro or Professional Print & Layout software. The system can also act as a take up spool rolling the paper emulsion in or out depending on how you set it up, a great option for long panoramas.

Built In Hard Drive

Canon PRO Series imagePrograf printers come with a built in hard drive. This hard drive acts as a print server to manage print jobs more efficiently when sent from multiple computers. This feature also records the data the printer used to print a file, allowing it to be recalled later, and printed directly from the LCD screen of the printer, rather than sending the print job from a computer. Epson does not offer this feature.

Print Head Replacement

Replacing a print head in an Epson printer can be a costly and inconvenient affair. It requires an on-site service call from an authorized Epson Service Technician and can cost up to $2,500 on the SureColor 24, 44 and 60 inch printers. Realistically, at some point in the printer’s life, you will have to replace the print head. A replacement head on an Epson printer is under warranty for 90 days. Canon print heads are user replaceable and on the new Pro Series imagePrograf printers cost $670.00. The replacement print heads are under warranty for 1 year. Just like on an Epson printer, you will be replacing a print head at least once in its useable life, maybe even a few times.

The bottom line is, each brand has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Museums, galleries and professional photographers of the highest caliber produce prints on both of these brands of printers. The printer is the most expensive piece of printing, but not the only piece. There are 5 keys to the Perfect Print and Freestyle can show you how to achieve this! For more information, email us at etj@freestylephoto.biz.