in Digital Printing
When digital cameras passed the 5MP threshold,
desktop printers silently entered into a new era.
At football games, sometimes sections of
the audience hold up colored panels to make stadium sized pixel-based
graphics. A big image made this way might have 64x80 pixels,
but the result is kinda rough, but always fun.
Mosaic tiles in Ancient Rome had thousands
of spots of color and covered entire floors and walls. But they
were far from photographic.
At 1.2 megapixels (MP), images had 960
rows with 1280 columns of color spots making their images, and
at 160 ink-jet spots of color per running inch of paper, those
images could stretch to nearly 8x10 print size for crowd-pleasing
A 5MP camera has more color spots than
the entire native population of Denmark, and if they all gathered
to do the stadium image trick, the picture they'd make would
be entirely photographically believable.
With over 6MP, the Digital Rebel has more
color spots than there are people in Bangkok, and the Canon 20D
with 8.2MP would need every soul in Austria to hold up a color
panel for its stadium picture. Seen from high altitude on a clear
day, such improbable displays would appear amazingly high in
resolution and detail.
The point here is that modern digital cameras
produce a huge number of color spots and placing them on a print
is a unique digital-era specialty. Good color printers cost as
little as $60 these days, and they squirt out letter page pictures
that pass for photographs quite easily. Better printers cost
more and offer extra features, smaller ink spots and novel input
options, but once you have reached satisfaction with letter page
results, the party has maxxed out. The only place left to go
is up. In size.
i9900 printer has carved out a special place in the hearts and
minds of digital photographers --and even hold-out film photographers--
everywhere. The reason for that has to do with its sheer image
quality and performance. It's fast, silent, easy to work with,
and the pictures it produces are beyond criticism.
Assuming that your original file is in
good shape with all its colors and contrasts in the right places,
the i9900 will spit it out in short order at photographic maximum
quality on a wide variety of paper types and surfaces within
moments of your pressing the Print button. At up to 13 x 19 inches
(A3+ size) borderless images slide out of its platen in as quick
as three minutes. Mere letter page prints issue in just under
90 seconds. My personal favorite image/paper combo of a 9 x 6
inch image floating in a sea of white letter paper jumps out
of the machine in under a minute.
A lot of this speed comes from the sheer
squirt-count of its print head. With 6144 nozzles jetting out
ink droplets in the 2-picoliter range, each pass of the print
head achieves a significant addition of coverage to the page.
See Spot Run!
At the micro scale, the i9900 printer is
able to deliver 4800 x 2400 spits of ink per square inch on the
paper, but that is meaningless in terms of visual impact. It
means the printer has 4800 x 2400 opportunities per square
inch to deliver a precisely placed spot of color, not that each
spot is a perfect pixel.
You simply can't see a spot of ink 1/4800th
of an inch in diameter (they're roughly round), but you can see
the effect of 32 x 16 of them dithered inside an area about 1/150th
of an inch square. At this scale, every pixel from a Digital
Rebel would make a print 20.5 inches wide. A similar print from
a 20D camera would be 23.3 inches wide, and every original camera
pixel would be accurately portrayed via the dot count of every
color inside that tiny tile of color. Since no printer dot screen
would be part of the image, your eye would see only photographic
realism at this scale.
In mechanical printing, screen dots are
almost always 175 to the inch or coarser. Newspapers often print
them at 80 to the inch and some magazines limit their reproduction
screens to 133 per inch. National Geographic's rotogravure process
only uses 175 true ink dots per inch, but their size is tightly
controlled, giving the illusion of continuous tones and color.
Where this gains significance is in understanding that where
NGS prints one dot of ink, the i9900 is able to define 376 ink-jet
spurts per ink color, capable of defining chroma, tonality and
even some degree of image contour (if given a large enough file).
Ink spots aren't pixels. The printer DPI
you read about has nothing --repeat: Nothing-- to do with the
pixel count of your image. Printers take the pixel data from
your shot, then re-interpret the color of each pixel into a formula
of ink spurts that will add up to the color being portrayed in
the viewer's eye. To do that, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow inks are
used to deliver color, plus black ink to deliver extra tonality
and contrast. A few printers avoid using the black ink, but that's
only possible if the printer is designed to pile on enough CMY
ink at a given location, since all three of those colors do in
fact add up to black if they're dense enough on the paper. HP
printers do this, but it takes more ink to saturate the paper
The color gamut (maximum range) of CMY
ink is limited. So is the color range on the color monitor you're
reading this from. So is the color range of film, photographic
paper and oil paint. It's a fact of life, but it doesn't have
to be as small as one might assume if more colors of ink were
For instance: the greenest Green one can
make by adding 100% yellow and 100% cyan together on the paper
defines the green limit of the color gamut from those inks. But
one can formulate a greener ink that isn't made out of yellow
and cyan ink mixed together. It would have to be be created from
a different dye molecule, but it would be notably purer and livelier
to your eye.
The same holds true for Red, Blue, Purple
and Orange. If you had a hundred ink colors, the visual gamut
of a print could be quite superior to anything seen before, but
print time would rise phenomenally.
I have wondered aloud in my writings why
printers didn't have more than the standard range of ink colors.
Then three years ago printers began appearing with two extra
colors of light magenta and light cyan ink to assist in their
portrayal of delicate colors. Since ink-jet printers make their
images with blobs of ink sprayed statistically pseudo-randomly
on the paper (in what is called a stochastic array), light
areas of color can end up looking rather grainy if full strength
cyan or magenta ink were the printer's only option.
Making the spots smaller than eye resolution
is the first defense against looking gritty, and Canon has made
printer spurts as small as 2-picoliters each, meaning that they
are ONE 500 BILLIONTH of a liter each. Just to put that into
perspective, if you had 500 billion ping pong balls, it would
make a cube nearly half a mile on each side. Now crank up your
imagination and visualize that cube next to one single ping pong
ball. Yes, it's a very small spot, indeed.
Adding the light versions of C and M ink
lets the printer put dots onto the paper that aren't so far apart
that you can see them when looking extremely closely. That's
fine for hiding the dot pattern from your eye and making color
look smoother, but it does nothing to increase the color gamut.
So Canon has added two novel extra colors
into the mix, Green and Red ink. By analyzing the incoming RGB
image, the printer's internal processor can see the pure green
and red areas clearly. So it diverts some of the G and R ink
into those places, improving the color gamut about 60%. You might
not know this when looking at a print, but if you printed the
same shot on another printer, it would lack the particular snap
that the Canon i9900 delivers in its greens and reds.
Eight inks in all. CMY and K (black) plus
Light C and Light M, and the gamut-increasing G and R each come
in a separate ink tank, to be replaced as needed. Each color
costs about $11 US.
In my office there isn't space for many
extra items. The next room has more free area, so I decided to
put the i9900 there. Fortunately I use Mac computers, and that
means I could employ the Macintosh Airport Express as my printer
Lemme 'splain: The Airport Express is a
$125 wireless module with a USB outlet that can act as a wireless,
remote USB connection within about 50 feet of the local Airport
wireless network. It's a talented product with many more uses
than that, but for this test setup it proved ideal. Within mere
moments, I had hooked up the i9900 thirty feet away from my printer
and printed a test page.
Three input ports on the back allow USB
1.1, 2.0 and FireWire connections for data input. A separate
PictBridge USB connector on the front of the printer allows Canon
digital cameras to print directly, and that's a whole interesting
option you Digital Rebel and 20D camera owners can discover on
While Airport Express shoots data out its
USB port at USB 2.0 speed, it also accommodates USB 1.1 devices
without a whimper, so it can be plugged into either USB jack
on the i9900. Canon recognized that USB 2.0 protocols as distributed
by Microsoft with Windows XP created a Big Hairy Problem since
Microsoft's XP compatibility with USB 2.0 ports isn't totally
congenial, so they limited the data rate to USB 1.1 on one of
the two USB ports, thus making everybody sane. For the fastest
results, the FireWire plug on the back can be used by Mac computers.
Since the printer was now on the LAN (Local
Area Network) every computer in the house could play. Canon's
printer drivers (now version 2.5.1 up from the 2.5.0 shipped
in the box) recognized the printer immediately, and everything
from spreadsheets to giant prints ran into it from every corner.
It even sorted out print jobs coming in from more than one computer
at a time.
Plain paper can be loaded in the single
vertical back tray with ease up to about 30 sheets at a time.
For photographic thick papers Canon recommends limiting the stack
to about 10 sheets. Paper can be from 4x6 to 13x19 but the absolute
maximum is slightly larger, about 13.25x23.4 inches. In order
to enjoy that upper limit, you would have to cut custom sizes,
but it's nice to know that it is doable.
Prints can be borderless, filling the paper
utterly and many custom settings are available to tweak the output
for various media. We found that many photographic paper types
were usable including some old glossy formulas that we had given
up on from the deep past. While other printers (some from HP
and Epson) couldn't use the older media due to ink drying, smearing
and crossover smudging failures, the Canon passed it with flying
colors and stable results.
Canon's own glossy giant paper is rather
expensive. At around $2.25 per sheet, it isn't something you
want to use for test printing, so using smaller media is recommended
for testing, then scaling the print out up to full size completes
the picture, so to speak. Results at all scales are consistent,
so this strategy works well on the i9900. The tonalities you
see in a 5x7 match those in a 12x18.
As is typical with any color printer, images
in Photoshop will need to run through either a standardized tweak
to the image or Transfer Function to adjust them to ink on paper
versus the image on the screen. I selected a particularly challenging
shot made with the EOS 300D that contained extremely delicate
highlights, bold and subtle coloration, and very difficult shadow
Here's the shot:
The light orange float never quite bleaches
out in the shot, and the dark shadow detail against the dark
dock surface and in the shadowed net areas proved to be the hardest
to control, so the question became, will a small custom Transfer
Function in Photoshop do the trick on my Mac? I tried one that
lifted the shadows a little too much, then pulled back to this
Bleached highlights were never a problem,
so the focus of this Transfer Function is all in lifting shadows
up to the level I see on my monitor, and it works. Using this
transfer function on several images produced superior results.
And each print was made at 12x18 on 13x19 paper.
When you make an image that big, people
gasp when they see it. You get a lot of ooo's and aaah's. It's
not uncommon to hear people wonder aloud if the original was
large format film, too. The print from an uncropped full frame
shows up this large with just a fraction over 170 ppi (pixels
per inch) and viewing it closer than you would normally regard
an image never disappoints, in fact it's rather inspiring. I
keep thinking of all those tiny people down there from Bangkok
with their colored hats...
Note: every single paper you use will react
to the ink slightly differently. It's not a Canon thing, it's
just a paper and ink thing, so for full custom print quality
results, you need to get used to the idea of custom print output
settings. Default results are quite pleasant, and the Canon Printer
Drivers offer the option of making a Lighter print for folks
who aren't looking for pro results, but at $2.25 a whack for
the paper, the only thing standing between you and superb output
is the desire to learn that last Transfer Function step in Photoshop.
But I digress...
Ink Is What You Want, or, I'll Be Back
We even found that printing on the back
of some troubling media was practical if the ink color was faded
This takes some added explanation.
Paper backing on premium photographic media
is often strictly not printable. It has light gray paper brand
logos on it so you can flip the paper over and be impressed with
the Canon, Kodak, Epson or HP trademark printed at a diagonal.
Some few formulas are true double-sided, and those are no problem,
but printing on the ones that have all that --let's face it--
advertising on it is a good way to smear up the back of the paper.
Ink doesn't adhere well to this slightly plastic-feeling surface,
because it has zero absorbent characteristics, and any contact
with the image is almost guaranteed to move the ink around and
coat your sleeve or finger. I think the manufacturers do this
on purpose just to be mean, but tell me, how do I really feel
about it. Where were we?
The worst case example of this media (no
names, please, Mr. K) was successfully printed by reducing the
black text to 33%, making the print look tastefully faded back.
Full black didn't work, since the ink had no help in drying,
so it beaded up and stayed wet for hours. But the faded text
worked like a champ, allowing data to be printed on the reverse
side, albeit not at full intensity. It won't turn every page
into double sided media, but it works for notes, signatures and
If you are making fine-art prints with
this machine (a distinct consideration) then printing on the
back is a definitely desirable capability.
Ink fade-proofing is long, but not as long
as pigment inks. It's measured in decades and joins a growing
number of printer/ink/paper combinations that are worthy of fine
There are faster printers for straight
pages of text. But there are no better looking photographic printers
out there. Critics from all sorts of places have recognized the
sheer image quality of this machine. If you need wholesale black
text output, get a laser printer. That said, the text from the
i9900 is as clean as you would wish to see.
Print heads are a problem. They can clog,
rendering the printer useless for the moment, or in extreme cases,
forever. HP printers change the print head out with every cartridge,
but neither Epson nor Canon do.
Epson printers are notorious for head clogs,
but most clear out by squirting a quantity of ink through them
in a recovery procedure. If you use them every day (and I do
not) then head clogs are extremely rare. Over time, I imagine
that more than a hundred dollars worth of ink and many hours
of my time have been spent on bringing Epson printers back to
life. One died of terminal head cloggitis and had to be put down.
The Epson factory reconditioning of the old beast would have
cost far more than a newer low-cost model. Such is life and death
in Ink-Jet Land.
HP printers have always been the paragons
of reliability and seem to print perfectly even after months
of sitting around idle. I can't remember the last HP head clog
and I don't know if it's the head design or frequently updated
heads, but it works.
Canon has done the next best thing. You
can interchange the heads for new ones and replace them all in
the privacy of your own home or office. So far, though, the reliability
and clog-free qualities of the i9900 are as good as the HP. I
wish my Epsons had been as good as this.
B and/or W
A big test of a color printer is its performance
in monochrome. We've seen how ugly B&W images can be from
a printer that doesn't *quite* handle all tonalities with equal
freedom from color phenomena, but I'm happy to report that the
i9900 rises to the challenge. Here's a printer I think Ansel
Adams would have enjoyed. Subtle tints and toning also come through
with accuracy and subtlety.
You have a 5+MP camera and you want the
best results. You want a printer larger than letter size or legal
size to deliver the results your camera actually captures, so
you want something this size. For the Digital Rebel or 20D or
EOS 1Ds --or anything else that requires tabloid size color print
outs-- the i9900 fills in all of your wants except the one that
says, "...and it should cost me under a hundred bucks."
This isn't a cheap printer, but it goes head to head with $700.00
printers, though, and comes up costing just over half of that.
If I had to pick between an Epson Photo
2200 and the Canon i9900 all over again, I'd pick the i9900 and
save a chunk of hard-won cash.
Understandably, Canon is proud of their
latest printer technologies and there are a host of them you
can read about here.
From a performance standpoint, this would
be the printer worth saving up your nickels and quarters for.
It's a stretch to buy a printer this expensive, but your digital
camera cries out for expression and where it comes to printing,
this one is the most expressive.
You can find it around the Web for about
$400US and if your experience with it is anything like mine,
you won't regret the purchase for an instant
Canon i9900 Printer: A+*