Review: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300

Canon’s imagePROGRAF PRO-300 is a $900, 13-inch desktop photo printer with nine pigment inks. Introduced in mid-2020, not long after Epson’s announcement of the 13-inch SureColor P700 (and the 17-inch P900), the PRO-300 replaces the Pixma PRO-10 at the top of the Canon’s 13-inch photo printer lineup. It boasts a comparable feature set to Epson’s P700, including flexible paper handling, black-and-white and borderless printing, extensive connectivity options and more. After a few months of testing, I can say that it’s a solid printer with excellent print quality for its class. Like most photo printers at this level, there are a few rough edges in places, but overall it’s a good value, and quite competitive with Epson’s offerings.

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 Specs

Type  Pigment-based inkjet
Price  $900 
Ink set  9 Lucia Pro inks (8 printing plus Chroma Optimizer, to reduce gloss differential)
Ink colors  Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Black, Matte Black, Photo Cyan, Red, Yellow, Gray, Chroma Optimizer
Ink cartridge costs  $12.99 (14.4 ml)
Ink cost per ml  $0.90 
Maximum resolution  4800 by 2400 dpi
Minimum paper size  3.5" x 3.5" (8" x 10" smallest via manual feed)
Maximum printable area  13" x 39"
Roll paper support  No
Straight path  No
Interfaces  USB 3.0; 100Base-T Ethernet; 2.5 GHz (802.11n) and 5 GHz Wireless (IEEE802.11 b/g/n/ac) 
Operating systems supported  macOS 10.11.6 or later, Windows 7 or later
Weight  31.6 pounds
Dimensions when printing (W, D, H)  25.2" x 33" x 16.4"
Dimensions when closed (W, D, H)  25.2" x 15" x 7.9"

Basics and Setup

Like most photo printers today, getting the PRO-300 up and running is relatively simple. Canon includes a quick start sheet to get the printer set up, and an installation CD with the driver and additional software, although the CD is oddly Windows-only. If you’re a Mac user—or if you don’t have an optical drive—you can download the installation utility directly from the Canon website (via their Getting Started webpage). 

After removing the packing tape and inserts, you lock the user-replaceable print head into place inside the printer, and snap the individual ink cartridges into the head. Once you’ve got the printer full of ink and powered up, the Canon Setup utility app will install the print driver and walk you through the process of connecting to the printer. Configuring the printer for WiFi, Ethernet or a direct USB connection is easy, and you can be up and running within an hour. You can also enable either network type directly via the printer, although adjusting advanced network settings (like entering a WiFi password) is a pain on the small, 3-inch display.

Configuring the PRO-300’s wireless networking is quick and easy from Canon’s Setup utility, and much better than entering WiFi passwords through the small (non-touch) LCD on the printer.

Canon includes a link to an online manual at the end of the setup process, which is good, since there isn’t anything in the box. The “manual” is a sprawling, hierarchical mini-website with plenty of videos and information, but you’ll have to wander (or search quite a bit) through the categories and subcategories to find the important stuff. And even then, there isn’t any real, “How do I get the best prints?” type of content there. What I’d really like from Canon is a searchable, PDF-based version (which Epson does offer, in addition to its online manual) that could be used for reference, along with some good overviews of the basic printing process once you’re set up.[1]Epson does a good job on this type of content with their Print Academy YouTube channel, but Canon’s focus has always been more on cameras and video than printing, and their YouTube content shows this bias, with relatively few videos about the print process with the PRO-300.

Lucia Pro inks

The PRO-300’s ink set is a slightly reformulated version of the Lucia Pro inks used in previous models.[2]Unlike Epson, which clearly delineates their different ink sets (i.e. UltraChrome PRO10 for the inks in the 10-ink P700 and P900), Canon uses the Lucia Pro name across their pro line of printers. So the 10-ink PRO-300 and the 12-ink PRO-1000 are each called Lucia Pro. It’s confusing, to say the least. Canon says that the new Lucia Pro inks in the PRO-300 offer an “expanded color gamut”—without mentioning how much more—and a new matte black ink that produces “deeper blacks and better tonal range.” I didn’t have the previous model around to test, but color rendition was largely quite good, and most viewers looking at matte-finish prints felt that the blacks were rich and deep, at least as good as other photo printers in this category. (Matte papers, because of they way that the ink is absorbed into the media, have much lower Dmax[3]Dmax is the measurement of the deepest black tone that can be printed on a paper. A Dmax of 1.5-1.6 is considered good for a matte paper, while most coated papers have Dmax values from 2.1 to 2.6. than coated glossy and luster papers.)

The printer uses eight inks when printing, choosing either the Matte or Photo Black ink depending upon the paper type chosen. When printing on glossy or coated media, the printer will also use the Chroma Optimizer—the tenth ink—as an overlay to reduce gloss differential[4]Gloss differential is visible difference between areas in a print that have no pigments applied (i.e. pure white) and the rest of the printed image. Depending upon the amount of pure white in areas of an image, the difference can be quite visible (and ugly). Canon and HP have tended to use a clear coat ink cartridge for this, while Epson uses light gray ink to achieve the same effect. in final prints.

At 90 cents per ml, the PRO-300’s ink costs are reasonable, sitting much closer to the P900’s 84 cents per ml than the P700’s pricey $1.52 per ml. The cartridges, which reside directly in the printhead, which in turn rides along the print carriage, are by necessity much smaller than the ones used in Epson’s P700/P900 and Canon’s 17-inch imagePROGRAF PRO-1000. Those cartridges are installed into the body of the printer and connect to the printhead via individual feeder lines. In practical terms, the smaller size cartridges aren’t a terribly bad thing, but, if you print a lot, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of backup cartridges on-hand. With the PRO-300, I got about 80 prints, mostly 4×6 to letter-size, before I had to replace a cartridge (Photo Black), but once I did, things cascaded from there, due to the smaller cartridge sizes. By the time I had printed nearly 200 photos, I had replaced most of the cartridges.

All that said, ink usage will depend upon what you print, print sizes, and how you print, and your mileage will vary. One useful guide for me is Red River Paper’s Cartridge Equivalent Usage metric, which helps standardize ink costs across printers; their preliminary ink costs for the PRO-300 range from 24 cents per 4×6-inch print to $1.68 per 11×14-inch print. Those numbers are less than the ones for the (17-inch) SureColor P900, but much better than those of the PRO-300’s direct competitor, the 13-inch P700.

It’s hard to get a handle on the archival nature of the PRO-300’s prints. Canon doesn’t mention anything in any of their materials about print longevity and the PRO-300’s inks, and Wilhelm-Research hasn’t posted any print life testing data for this printer or the previous model’s ink set. More recent tests of the 12-ink PRO-1000 (tested with Canson Infinity papers) show print life of 20 to 50 years unframed, and 80 to 160 years framed under UV-protected glass or acrylic. I would expect the PRO-300 to generally be in a similar range, given those numbers, and tests run on Lucia pigment inks from 2012. However, if I were interested in producing gallery-quality work for sale, I would more likely go with a large-format printer from HP or Epson than either of Canon’s desktop printers.

Paper handling

After my struggles with the P900, it was refreshing to deal with the simple—and reliable—paper handling of the PRO-300. The printer has two slots for loading paper: the primary top feed for loading multiple sheets of paper, and, behind that, a manual feed option for printing on thicker, fine art papers. Unlike Epson, there isn’t a feed option that has a straight path, but we really didn’t miss that: the PRO-300 can handle papers up to 80 lb weight (or up to 0.3mm thick) via the the primary top feed, and up to 93 lb weight (0.6mm thick) via the manual feed option, which more than covers the range of papers on which most people would want to print.[5]Given that paper manufacturers use different measurement metrics for their paper weights and thicknesses, when I want to check weights and thicknesses of a new paper, I’ll perform unit conversions via Google. For example, I typed “18mil to mm” to get the thickness (0.45mm) of Red River’s Palo Duro Smooth Rag, which let me know that I would need to use the manual feed for this paper.

I had one substantive complaint about the manual feed option: the smallest paper size you can feed manually is 8×10, which feels like an arbitrary restriction. Many third-party paper vendors now produce 5×7-inch versions of their specialty papers, and it seems reasonable to me that we should be able to use those with the PRO-300. I often create small postcard-size print runs on baryta or rag art papers, which aren’t light enough to be fed through the PRO-300’s top tray reliably.[6]There are reports on the web, including from Keith Cooper’s review of the PRO-300 at Northlight Images, that people have had success using slightly thicker papers in the top feed, with the Avoid Paper Abrasion setting turned on in the Print window (this is discussed in the next section) I’ve tried a few, with mixed results, even with the setting turned on. 

It was also disappointing that the extension supports for manual feed don’t extend to cover a 13×19 sheet of paper, something the top feed supports do. The supports extend only about 10 inches, slightly more than half the length of the larger sheet, which causes some papers to bend over the top of the support. It’s a small issue, but being able to let the larger paper size lie flat in the tray helps ensure that the feed is clean and straight.

One last paper-handling issue: every time you use the manual feed option, you have to press a button on the front of the printer for it to start printing. You can preload the paper, but it doesn’t matter; once you start the print process, the printer will ask you to confirm that you really want to print via manual feed. If the printer is right next to you, this is a small thing, but if the printer is in another room, and you had already put the sheet into the tray (something I almost always do with my workflow), it can require a second trip to the printer. Granted, this is a small, personal annoyance, but if there was a way to either disable the warning in the printer, or to start the process from my computer, I’d much prefer it.[7]It appears that there is a paper sensor in the manual feed tray, so this should theoretically should be possible.

Printing with the PRO-300

Canon prefers the “less is more” approach in its approach to the print driver, which is fine by me. The primary place you’ll adjust print settings will be in the Quality & Media section, when you choose the print quality, the paper you’re printing on, and, if desired, a black and white print. There are two quality settings when printing photos, Standard and Highest (a Fast option is also available when printing on plain paper). While Canon doesn’t provide any details about the different settings, we found that there was little difference between the Standard and High option for most images we printed (for either glossy- or matte-finish papers), even with photos that had large amounts of great detail. This isn’t surprising; at this level, the current group of printers produce excellent prints from most digital photos, and we almost never suggest using the highest quality settings unless you notice something in your prints.

The Quality & Media section of the Print window is simple, with four options, and only two print quality levels, Standard and High.

The Black and White Photo Print option will convert your color images to grayscale and print them that way, but I much prefer to use my editing software to tone a black-and-white print in the way that works best for me, but Canon doesn’t do a bad job here if you’re after a quick and dirty black-and-white photo that is neutrally toned.

The other section of the Print window that you might need occasionally is Advanced Paper Settings, which lets you adjust the drying time, printhead height, the Chroma Optimizer (clear coating) setting, and margin notifications. Of these options, the only one that I change regularly is the Print Head Height, turning it to Avoid Paper Abrasion when printing on thick papers via the manual feed. I also turn on the Cancel Margin Regulation, which lets me select some paper sizes that I might not be able to choose with the setting off. The Clear Coating Area option is best left to Auto, which means that it is used only in places where the driver thinks gloss differential could be an issue, but you can set it to Overall, which applies the Chroma Optimizer to the entire photo when printing.

The Advanced Paper Settings section.

In general, printing from most mainstream photo editing apps on either Windows or macOS is straightforward: choose the printer and page size in Page Setup, select the media type and quality setting in the Print window, and click Print.[8]I almost always print using application-based color, setting the ICC profile of the media I am printing to, and letting the app process the color information. If you generally print on the printer manufacturer’s stock paper types, printer-managed color will also work, but when I use app-managed color, I am in complete control of the print process from the application I use to edit the photo.

Print quality

With eight inks, one would expect the print quality on the PRO-300 to be excellent, and in almost all of my tests, on a wide array of media types, the PRO-300 shone. The gamut of the Lucia Pro inks is wide enough to handle most photos you can throw at it, and when I displayed comparison prints between the PRO-300 and the nine-ink P900, most viewers couldn’t regularly pick which printer produced which output. Some pro photographers saw increased density in the shadows on PRO-300 matte-finish prints over the P900, while others felt that they were roughly comparable. There was a slight, but clear, advantage with Epson’s Carbon Black option when printing on glossy papers, but again, there is not a huge difference, especially for most use cases (it does take more time to print using Carbon Black, and it more ink than the standard quality options.).

There were instances where the P900 produced demonstrably better output than the PRO-300. Photos shot at blue hour, with exquisite gradients of blues, purples and yellows, often printed much better on the P900 than the PRO-300. And some shots with difficult out-of-focus details printed with noticeable artifacts in the transition areas on the PRO-300, while the P900 reproduced them much more naturally.

To be fair, these are photos that would be considered difficult to print on many older printers in this desktop-based class, but Epson’s addition of the extra (Violet) ink in the UltraChrome PRO10 inkset of the P700/P900 printers—along with their slightly better Dmax with glossy and other coated media—gives them a slight leg up in print quality. Whether most people interested in this level of printer will notice it is a different story. For most people looking to print photos for their walls and scrapbooks, the PRO-300 print quality is excellent.

Print speeds

As I noted in the P900 review, print speed will always take a back seat to print quality. I didn’t perform rigid benchmarking tests with the PRO-300, but I did enough testing to give you a sense of the performance you’ll see when printing at various print sizes.

With the PRO-300, the two print quality levels make things simpler than the five levels of options found in the P700/P900. The following chart shows the average print times (in minutes:seconds) for glossy media in four print sizes, at each of the quality levels.

PRO-300 print performance — glossy media (Photo Black inks)

4x6 5x7 8x10 11x14
Standard Quality 0:47 1:01 1:45 2:48
High Quality 1:23 1:48 3:16 5:27

PRO-300 print performance — fine art media (Matte Black inks)

4x6 5x7 8x10 11x14
Standard Quality 1:23 1:43 2:46 4:07
High Quality 1:50 2:14 3:38 5:27

In both the glossy and matte media categories, there isn’t a huge difference in the performance between the Standard and High Quality modes when printing at smaller sizes, although the differences do get magnified as you print at larger sizes. Printing with the Photo Black inks is a bit quicker than the Matte Black inks because there is less ink being used when printing; the ink is applied on top of the coated paper, as opposed to into the paper, which is what happens when you print with the Matte Black inks.

Overall, my advice would be to print at the Standard Quality level, unless you’re seeing specific things in a proof that you think might be improved at the higher setting.

Other notes of interest

Here are a few things that I felt were worth mentioning, but aren’t of huge import to the overall performance of the printer:

  • As was the case with Epson’s recent printers, Canon took a stab at employing some sort of media management tool that would let you add custom paper types to the print driver. Unfortunately, Canon’s attempt, the Media Configuration Tool, is plagued by a confusing interface that requires multiple steps (and a second app, Media Configuration Tool Add Paper) to get a paper installed. It’s also quite slow, and there’s no clear way to add a set of papers easily. I spent some time trying to work through it to add custom papers from Moab and Red River, but in the end, it was quicker and simpler to use the old-fashioned way of printing: use application-based color and pick the closest analog to the custom paper type found in the Print dialog.[9]It almost felt that the same contractor created both the Epson and Canon apps for media-management. They had similar language in the screens and similarly slow performance. As much as I complained about the Epson Media Installer, however, it has a much less confusing user interface than the Canon utility.
  • Canon has a number of other apps that you can download and use with the PRO-300, including two specific apps for printing, Professional Print & Layout, and Easy-PhotoPrint Editor, as well as a network utility. The Professional Print app, while capable and full-featured, is not essential, in my view, for most users’ needs; I prefer to print photos via my standard Lightroom and Photoshop workflow, and the PRO-300 prints without any issues from other photo editing and organizational apps, including Capture One, ON1 Photo RAW, Affinity Photo and Corel PaintShop Pro. The Easy-PhotoPrint app is a bit simple, but if you want to print disc labels (via the disc printing insert included with the printer) or templated projects (like calendars or cards), it does a decent job.
  • There is also a version of Easy-PhotoPrint for iOS and Android. It looks a lot like its Windows and Mac namesake, offering project-based printing, but it’s clunky and slow, and requires that you keep the app open during the entire printing process. It’s nowhere near as slick and full-featured as Epson’s Print Layout app for iOS, but it does work for basic photo printing. You will have more options—and can use a color-managed workflow—when printing from your editing apps in Windows or MacOS, however.
  • While you can use either WiFi or Ethernet networking when you set up your printer, you can’t have both. While it’s not a huge thing, it is worth mentioning, especially if you wish to use an iOS or Android device for directly printing via WiFi.
  • Why Canon didn’t invest in a larger, touchscreen display is a bit of a mystery; I’ve become a big fan of the usability—and readability—of the big touchscreens on the newer Epson printers, and the one in the PRO-300 feels old. The menu interface is also hard to follow on the smaller display.
  • Some potential buyers might complain about the lack of roll-paper support, this doesn’t feel like a huge omission to me. You can print on sheets of 13- by 39-inch panorama paper, which is a standard item for companies like Red River, and that seems to my mind a much easier thing to deal with than a roll adapter.
  • Canon made a point when they announced the PRO-300 that it was significantly smaller than the PRO-10, which it clearly is if you look at the older model’s specs. It is more notable to me, however, that the PRO-300 is roughly the same size (and a bit lighter) than Epson’s 17-inch P900.

Conclusions

For years, Canon has played second fiddle to Epson in the photo printer market. Canon’s prominence in the camera market has helped give visibility to the company’s printer line, which has grown and matured to the point where their desktop-based offerings are comparable to Epson’s in many ways. The 17-inch imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, while nearly six years old, is an excellent large-format printer with a wide gamut and efficient ink usage that prints gorgeous photos on all types of papers. The PRO-300, while having fewer inks than the larger model, still produces excellent prints, with a much smaller footprint (and lower cost) than its larger sibling. And, it’s built like a tank, which, after my experiences dealing with the fragile paper handling issues on my Epson P900, was quite welcome.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the PRO-300: the print quality on all but the most complex of photos is comparable to Epson’s, it handles thick papers with ease, and it’s quite speedy. I wish the ink tanks were a bit bigger, and that I could feed 4×6 and 5×7 sheets in the rear feed, but overall, it’s a great printer, especially for photography enthusiasts who want to print at home (and who aren’t worried about producing work with more assured print permanence). Given the paper-handling issues we had with the P700/P900, if you’re in the market for a 13-inch pigment photo printer, the PRO-300 is a better buy, in my opinion, than the P700, even when you factor in the PRO-300’s higher ($100) price. The stronger paper handling and the lower ink costs outweigh most of the P700’s advantages (wider gamut, print permanence provenance, smaller footprint, cheaper price).


Scorecard: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300

imagePROGRAF PRO-300, $900 [Product page | Amazon]

Pros: Well-built 13-inch photo printer with very good paper-handling features; excellent print quality on all but the most demanding of images; ink costs significantly lower than the competing 13-inch printer (P700) from Epson.

Cons: Smaller ink tanks mean more swaps (even though the costs are lower than those of the P700) and more waste for people who print frequently; manual feed option can’t handle paper sizes smaller than 8×10; old-style, non-touch LCD screen feels like a relic.


Other links:


Changes & corrections

June 14, 2021: review updated to note that Epson does in fact provide PDF-based versions of its manuals.


Disclosure: We only review and recommend products that we use ourselves. The Amazon links above are affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission when you buy something, at no cost to you.  

References

References
1 Epson does a good job on this type of content with their Print Academy YouTube channel, but Canon’s focus has always been more on cameras and video than printing, and their YouTube content shows this bias, with relatively few videos about the print process with the PRO-300.
2 Unlike Epson, which clearly delineates their different ink sets (i.e. UltraChrome PRO10 for the inks in the 10-ink P700 and P900), Canon uses the Lucia Pro name across their pro line of printers. So the 10-ink PRO-300 and the 12-ink PRO-1000 are each called Lucia Pro. It’s confusing, to say the least.
3 Dmax is the measurement of the deepest black tone that can be printed on a paper. A Dmax of 1.5-1.6 is considered good for a matte paper, while most coated papers have Dmax values from 2.1 to 2.6.
4 Gloss differential is visible difference between areas in a print that have no pigments applied (i.e. pure white) and the rest of the printed image. Depending upon the amount of pure white in areas of an image, the difference can be quite visible (and ugly). Canon and HP have tended to use a clear coat ink cartridge for this, while Epson uses light gray ink to achieve the same effect.
5 Given that paper manufacturers use different measurement metrics for their paper weights and thicknesses, when I want to check weights and thicknesses of a new paper, I’ll perform unit conversions via Google. For example, I typed “18mil to mm” to get the thickness (0.45mm) of Red River’s Palo Duro Smooth Rag, which let me know that I would need to use the manual feed for this paper.
6 There are reports on the web, including from Keith Cooper’s review of the PRO-300 at Northlight Images, that people have had success using slightly thicker papers in the top feed, with the Avoid Paper Abrasion setting turned on in the Print window (this is discussed in the next section) I’ve tried a few, with mixed results, even with the setting turned on.
7 It appears that there is a paper sensor in the manual feed tray, so this should theoretically should be possible.
8 I almost always print using application-based color, setting the ICC profile of the media I am printing to, and letting the app process the color information. If you generally print on the printer manufacturer’s stock paper types, printer-managed color will also work, but when I use app-managed color, I am in complete control of the print process from the application I use to edit the photo.
9 It almost felt that the same contractor created both the Epson and Canon apps for media-management. They had similar language in the screens and similarly slow performance. As much as I complained about the Epson Media Installer, however, it has a much less confusing user interface than the Canon utility.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.