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Print making is my passion and for me the image isn’t complete until I hold the finished print in my hand, only then can I judge the quality and emotional impact of the image. The sale of my prints is also the way in which I make money to pay for this expensive hobby of mine.
My current printer is the HP B9180 which I purchased shortly after it was released to the market. The reliability, consistency, ease of use and print quality, particularly on fine art papers continues to satisfy my needs and it’s a pleasure to use. The print quality I get from it still attracts positive comments from customers who buy my work and fellow print makers who use the equivalent Canon and Epson printers. However, it is no longer produced and I have been pondering over what to replace it with when it eventually fails.
I was therefore delighted when Joshua Waller, Technical Editor of ePHOTOzine, invited me to review both the new Epson Stylus Photo R3000 and the well established and respected Canon Pixma Pro 9500 Mk 2.
This has provided me with the chance to start seriously considering the replacement question with some hard evidence to hand and I think I have finally come to a conclusion.
In this comparison my benchmark is my existing HP Photosmart B9180 and some of the factors I have considered are:
Ergonomics / Ease of Use:
I really want a printer that is “invisible” in use, I don’t want to be constantly thinking about how to change the settings for different papers or having to check profiles for colour consistency etc. I’m also working with a fairly constrained printer station area so need the printer to be compact in use with both stiff papers / board going through the flat paper path and not too much height when the rear tray support is extended for use with the thinner papers.
The lack of a front LCD panel on the Canon is something I missed when operating the printer, otherwise I would rate the Canon and Epson equal. (The simplicity of use of the HP B9180 with thick board is markedly better than either the Canon or Epson). The easy to use roll print facility on the Epson R3000 is a definite plus point for my use.
This is one area in which the Epson R3000 is the clear winner (comparable to the HP9180). The lack of Ethernet connection on the Canon 9500 Mk 2 is a real negative for my needs as my printer stand is on the other side of the room from my PC workspace - I carried out the review of the Canon 9500 Mk 2 using a 5m USB 2 cable draped across the room, not good Health and Safety! The ability to use Wireless connection is not something I need at the moment but is nice to have against possible future need.
Noise in Operation:
As I work in one of our spare bedrooms it is desirable not to make too much racket. My HP B9180 clatters and bangs like an old Ford model T and whilst it's good to be able to tell by the sudden quiet when the print run stops from downstairs it's not a pleasant sound. This printer also shows the effect of the mass of the print heads charging back and forth as it prints, so much so that I had to build a reinforced work station to stop it vibrating so loudly! In contrast, both the Canon 9500 Mk 2 and Epson R3000 printers were so quiet that at times I had to check that they were printing.
Range of Printing Media:
Both the Canon 9500 Mk 2 and HP 9180 are capable of being used with a wide range of print media, both own make and from other suppliers. Whilst Epson have an enormous range of own brand materials available - their Traditional Photo Paper producing some of the best prints I have ever achieved, with each of the 3 printers. I was a bit disturbed by their apparent insistence that the R3000 is only suitable for use with their own materials and that use of papers from other sources could result in problems.
Quality of Output:
Seen in isolation each of the printers produces very good print quality but judging the same print from each machine on the highest quality paper matched to the printer does highlight some differences.
|Black and White Original Image: Click to view. Prints below scanned at 300dpi, click to enlarge.|
|HP B9180 B&W Photo Rag||Epson R3000 B&W Traditional||Canon 9500 Mk 2 B&W PT101|
For Black & White printing the Epson R3000 using the Epson Traditional Photo paper blows away the best results I have been able to produce from either the Canon 9500 Mk 2 or HP 9180 (both of which produce similar quality prints). You would have to see and handle these prints to appreciate just how magnificent they look and feel and a lot of this is down to the quality of the paper. There is a depth and tonal range to the prints that is as good as anything I have seen produced by traditional Wet processing.
|Strong, Contrasty Colours Original Image: Click to view. Prints below scanned at 300dpi, click to enlarge.|
|HP B9180 Colour Photo Rag||Epson R3000 Colour Traditional||Canon 9500 Mk 2 Colour PT101|
For strong and contrasty colours the Epson R3000 also out performs the Canon 9500 Mk 2 and HP B9180 although the margin of difference is smaller here. Once again the Canon and HP produce prints of comparable quality.
Printing on Glossy papers again shows the Epson R3000 has a small advantage over the other two printers both in the level of gloss produced (never a strong point with pigment inks) and prints from it also appeared to show less Gloss Differential / Bronzing.
With satin, matt and fine art papers the Epson R3000 was marginally better than the other two printers but they all produced first rate prints.
It's difficult to judge this accurately on the small evaluations I did but so long as care is taken to limit the cartridge swaps on the Epson R3000 and the smaller Canon cartridges are purchased taking advantage of some of the low price sources now available I estimate that there will be very little difference in price / sq inch printed. Too much swapping of the Epson’s matt and photo black cartridges and buying the Canon cartridges at full price would however increase the print costs of both these printer above the, relatively, frugal HP B9180.
Here I have to be a little subjective as I only have limited experience with the Epson R3000 and Canon 9500 Mk 2. The HP B9180 just keeps on banging out prints of exceptional quality and, despite having had to have my first machine replaced after 3 years of heavy use I have no qualms that it will ever let me down if I need to do a sudden print run.
The Canon 9500 Mk 2 and Epson R3000 review machines were both delivered to me after others had been reviewing them and both had the print cartridges already installed. The Canon printer was immediately ready for use and I saw no problems with print head blocks, paper handling or anything else. In contrast the Epson had serious head blocking + paper feed problems (the latter turned out to be probably the result of damage to the paper handling path in transit). Likewise it is possible that some of the head strike problems I encountered may have come from the same source. Looking on the Web showed that more people seemed to be reporting problems with the Epson printers (2800, 2880 series - it's too early for there to be any reported for the Epson R3000) than were commenting on problems with the Canon 9500 Mk 2.
These are three seriously good printers and if a more up to date version of the HP B9180 were available I suspect that would be my next purchase. It isn’t, so I have to decide between the Canon 9500 Mk 2 and the Epson R3000, which is not easy.
On balance I will choose the Epson Photo Stylus R3000, despite some concerns about long term reliability. This is on the basis of the exceptional Black & White print quality possible with the Epson printer, the added benefit of a roll print facility and the Ethernet connection capability. For anyone looking for a cheaper A3+ printer, then the Canon Pixma Pro 9500 Mk 2 would also make a very good choice, although the lack of ethernet, and roll print could put some off.
I still hope that my HP B9180 has many hundreds of prints still to come from it, but should it fail I feel comfortable that a suitable replacement has been identified. Read our full reviews of the Epson Stylus Photo R3000, Canon Pixma Pro 9500 Mk 2, and HP Photosmart B9180.
|Printer:||HP Photosmart B9180||Canon Pixma Pro 9500 MkII||Epson Stylus R3000|
|Size||673 x 429 x 241mm||660 x 355 x 193mm||Closed: 616 x 369 x 228mm, Open: 616 x 814 x 424mm|
|Weight||17.1kg||Approx. 15.2kg||Approx. 15kg (without ink cartridge)|
|In the box||
HP Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer, HP 38 Ink Cartridges (1 each photo black, matte black, light gray, cyan, magenta, yellow,
light cyan, light magenta), HP Photosmart Premier and Essential software on CD, Quick Start booklet, User’s Guide, Power cord
|Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II Printer, USB Cable, Power Cord, Quick Start Guide, 10 Individual Ink Tanks, Set-up software and user's manual CD-ROM, EWS Booklet, Canon UK Warranty Card||Epson Stylus Photo R3000, warranty card, AC cable, 'start here' guide, software|
|Max document size||330 mm x 482 mm||A3+||Cut Sheet : 89 to 329mm (3.5 - 13 inches)|
|Ink system/type||HP Thermal Inkjet||InkJet 10-ink with minimum 3 pl Micro-Nozzles & FINE print head||Epson Claria Photographic Ink, On-demand inkjet (Piezo electric, Variable-sized Droplet Technology, 180 nozzles for each black ink, 180 nozzles for each colour ink|
|Quantity of inks||8||10||9|
|Monitor||LCD (2 line)||None||6.3cm, 2.5inch|
|Print speed - photo||High-quality A3+ Photo: 7 minutes 55s||High-quality A3+ photo takes around 195s|
|Resolution||4800 dpi x 1200 dpi||Up to 4800 x 2400 dpi||5760x1440dpi|
|Roll media||No||No||Yes - Width = 329mm only, 2-inch core|
|Connectivity||USB 2.0, Ethernet 10/100Base-TX||Hi-Speed USB 2.0||Hi-Speed USB, 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX, Wi-Fi|
|Software||HP Photosmart Premier and Essential software on CD, HP Photosmart CD, Drivers||Windows: Easy-PhotoPrint Pro, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, CD-LabelPrint, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Mac: Easy-PhotoPrint Pro, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, CD-LabelPrint, Adobe Photoshop Elements||Epson Web Support, Epson Easy Photo Print, Epson Print CD, EpsonNet setup, Online guide, Network guide, CD installer|