Crane & Co. sells Museo paper business

museo-logo.jpegWe’re currently getting ready for the annual PMA convention, which will be held next Thursday through Saturday in Las Vegas. While we were working on lining up meetings with the media companies, we discovered that Crane & Co., the venerable stationers based in Dalton, Mass., had sold their Museo line of digital fine art media to a new company, Intelicoat:

On December 17, 2007 Crane & Co. announced the sale of their digital fine art paper business, including the Museo brand of products, to Intelicoat Technologies. Intelicoat is the leading coater and converter of inkjet media including papers, films, canvas, and other fabrics. Crane will continue to supply the base paper and existing technologies.

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Old school postcard printing

We’re always on the lookout for interesting paper stock for our printers; most of the time, though, it’s paper that actually goes through the printer. Last fall, while wandering through our local photo store (Pro Photo Supply, if you’re in the Portland, Oregon area), we found some postcard stock from a company in Wisconsin called Romar.

Romar’s Post-Pix are definitely from the pre-digital era. They have a paper protector that hides a strong adhesive on the front of the card; you simply remove that and affix any 4" by 6" photo in its place. The result is a nice, thick postcard that holds up well in the mail, and makes a great statement with your own pictures.

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Enhanced black printing on B9180 & B8850

At Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco, we got a little tip from the folks at Hewlett-Packard about the Photosmart Pro B9180 and B8850 printers, as well as the wide-format Designjet Z2100: when you’re printing on matte or fine-art media, the printer uses both the photo and matte black inks, in addition to the gray ink. The end result is that you get deeper blacks, and much better tonal range in the shadows, especially when working with black-and-white images.

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HP ups the ante: the Photosmart Pro B8850

We’re only two weeks into the new year, and already, 2008 is shaping up to be a big one for photo printers. Last week, Epson unveiled the Stylus Photo R1900, a B-size (13″ by 19″) photo printer optimized for glossy output. Today, Hewlett-Packard is announcing the Photosmart Pro B8850, a B-size printer similarly designed for the advanced amateur photographer, and priced at $549.

The B8850 uses eight pigment-based inks, including separate black inks for photo and matte-finish papers; a gray ink for printing improved black-and-white photos; and the standard set of cyan, magenta, light cyan, light magenta and yellow inks found in most midrange to high-end photo printers. It has a bottom-feed paper tray that can handle approximately 50 sheets of standard photo paper, and a manual feed tray for handling rigid media types up to 0.7 mm thick. It has a USB 2.0 port on the back, and LED status lights for each cartridge that turn on when the ink level dips below a certain percentage.

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Closeout deals on R1800

As we noted yesterday, Epson’s new Stylus Photo R1900 is replacing the R1800.

If $550 is too rich for you, and you don’t mind using yesterday’s printing technology, Epson is currently offering the R1800 on its online store for $400 (after a mail-in rebate), with free ground shipping.

[Update: it looks like they’ve run through their inventory. The printers are listed as ‘out of stock.’]

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Epson announces Stylus Photo R1900

Epson today announced the Stylus Photo R1900, a $550, B-size (13″ by 19″) desktop printer with pigment-based inks, advanced paper-handling capabilities and productivity features aimed at serious amateurs and professional photographers. Unlike the pricier Stylus Photo R2400, which is best known for its black-and-white printing capabilities (and its voracious appetite for ink), the R1900 is designed primarily to produce optimal color prints. In place of the R2400’s light black and light light black inks, the R1900 has a gloss optimizer cartridge that sprays a clear overcoat on top of glossy media, producing a “superglossy” print that lacks the bronzing or dullness found in glossy prints made with most pigment-based printers.

The R1900 uses a reformulated inkset, called UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2, consisting of eight individual inks: the gloss optimizer, matte and photo black, and cyan, magenta, yellow, red and orange. Epson claims that the orange ink, which replaces blue in the original Hi-Gloss inks, increases the printer’s overall gamut and provides improved flesh tones, while the new formulations of magenta and yellow inks improve the blues and greens, respectively, in most prints.

In conjunction with the new inks, the R1900 incorporates a new color imaging technology, Radiance, co-developed by Epson and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Munsell Color Science Lab. According to Epson, Radiance provides an advanced color gamut; better ink efficiency; reduced grain; and minimized metameric failure, which results in “improved color constancy under different lighting conditions.”

R1900

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Glossy papers from Red River and Moab

We’ve been testing quite a few printers in the past month or so–in fact, there are 10 printers set up in various states around my office as I write this. When we evaluate a printer, we start out with the printer manufacturer’s papers with our test images; in theory, that combination should offer the best quality “out of the box.” Realistically, it’s also the way that most people will use their photo printer. (The printer companies have also understood that providing a range of high-quality papers is a smart business move, so it’s a much easier way to go than it was a few years ago.)

When you want to compare prints between printers, it helps to have a more-level playing field. Looking at a print from competitive printers on the same paper stock can help draw some clear delineations on the qualities of a specific unit. To get to this point, we profile the paper-printer combination with either X-Rite’s i1 or DataColor’s PrintFIX Pro, which gives us an ICC profile that we can use when printing from Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. Both products do a very good job of creating ICC profiles for us: the X-Rite solution offers more automation, but the PrintFIX system–since replaced by the Spyder3 Studio–is significantly less expensive. We find the profiles created with both to generally be of high quality, although you can often find very good profiles on the paper vendors’ Web sites.

When printing on matte papers, we’ve found Epson’s Ultra Premium Presentation Paper Matte (formerly Enhanced Matte) to be a good strong paper that has held up well and reproduces images very well on printers from Epson, Canon and HP.

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USB vs. FireWire: does it matter for printing?

When it comes to printer interfaces, most photo printers sold today have a single USB 2.0 port for connecting to your PC or Mac. Both Epson (with the Stylus Pro 3800 and HP (Photosmart Pro B9180, among other models) ship printers that include an Ethernet port, which is great for networking your printer, but USB is the general standard. And, in the case of HP’s Photosmart C7280 All-in-One, you can get a very good printer that is also WiFi-enabled (more on that printer in a future post).

Epson also ships a few printers with both FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 interfaces, notably the Stylus Photo R1800 and R2400, and some of Canon’s higher-end printers have FireWire instead of USB interfaces. We’ve had a few people ask over the years if there was any advantage to using one or the other port, so while we were running some speed tests on a group of printers here in the office (for an upcoming round-up), we ran some tests on an R1800 and a series of 300-dpi photos. The result? No difference at all, from a borderless 4- by 6-inch image all the way up to an expansive 12- by 18-inch print.

The results (shown in the tables below) really aren’t that surprising: USB 2.0 has theoretical throughput speeds (480 Mbit/sec) that are slightly higher than FireWire (400 Mbit/sec), although USB 2.0 tends in practice to be a bit slower for things like file transfers between disks (when other factors are equalized). In this case, even with a 300-dpi file, you still aren’t throwing that much data down the data pipe to the printer.

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HP Z3100, Canon iPF6100 reviews posted

Macworld.com has posted our reviews of two wide-format photo printers, HP’s Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer and Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF6100. Both of these printers offer excellent color and black-and-white print quality on glossy, matte and fine-art papers and have good ink efficiency and strong performance.

The Z3100 is priced at $4,095 and has 11 inks; a 12th cartridge, which is a gloss optimizer for reducing the bronzing effect when printing on glossy paper (Unlike most high-end photo printers, it does not have a cyan ink, using blue and light cyan to . The printer also has an embedded i1 spectrophotometer from X-Rite, which lets you easily create ICC profiles for new media types, as well as update the profiles for existing papers (which is often recommended when changing inks). The Z3100’s software is among the best we’ve ever seen for adding new media and keeping ICC profiles current across all your network machines. One other unique attribute found in the Z3100 is the fact that, when printing in black and white on matte or fine art papers, the printer uses four monochrome inks—photo black, matte black, and two grays—in essence giving you quadtone prints. (Epson and Canon printers use photo black with glossy papers and matte black with fine art papers.)

The iPF6100 (which also comes in a 17-inch version, the iPF5100) is priced $500 less than the Z3100. It has 12 inks and supports direct printing of 16-bit images via a Photoshop plug-in for both Mac OS X an Windows XP and Vista. We found the print quality of this generation vastly superior to the iPF5000/iPF6000 series (although subsequent firmware updates did improve the print quality somewhat), and it was definitely one of the faster wide-formats we’ve tested.

These are the first printers in this class from Canon and HP that approach the print quality of Epson’s Stylus Pro line. During our jury testing, when showing prints from Epson, HP and Canon pro-level inkjets, pro photographers and amateurs alike could not consistently pick which printers produced which prints. This is a far cry from years past, where Epson printers consistently produced prints that were recognizably better than the competition. We think Epson’s printers are still top notch, but HP and Canon have gotten into the game.

Product links: Z3100, iPF6100