My mom’s inkjet printer gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago, and so one of my holiday-visit to-dos was to get her a new printer. After a bit of online research, I chose a Canon Pixma iP4700, since it was cheap ($50), simple, well-reveiwed and compact enough to fit on her rather small “printer shelf.” While I was putting it through its paces last night, I was shocked to discover that huge differences in photo quality between very-similar-seeming inkjet photo papers.
Here’s the photo I was using as a test:
I chose it because: A) I like the photo; B) it has a good range of light and dark areas. (Really, it was not a very mindful choice.)
The printer came with a few sample sheets of Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy II, so I tried that first. Worked great. The image looked like it came out of the photo lab, with no fiddling of the print drivers at all. Bravo!
Mom had a big box of Kodak Premium Picture Paper (Glossy) on hand, so I decided to give that a whirl. It has a similar glossy finish and similar weight, so I figured it would work just fine. Bzzzt. Wrong.
Printing with the same settings as I used for the Canon paper above was a disaster! All of the darker areas of the photo couldn’t absorb the ink, leaving a smeary, pixelated mess. The lighter areas were better, but still visibly dithered. Ugh. Clearly, the printer was laying down more ink than this paper could handle. And the color balance was totally off — way more magenta and less yellow than on the Canon paper.
I tried changing the print driver settings from “Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy II” (obviously, the Canon printer is pre-programmed to know about Canon branded paper) to the more generic “Glossy photo paper” and gave it another whirl. Nearly identical disaster, but with less ink mess. Still horrible, grainy look
I took one more run at it, bumping the quality setting from “Standard” to “High.” A slight improvement, but still couldn’t hold a candle to the print on Canon paper. And the color was still way off.
I did some Googling around and found that Kodak has published sets of “recommended settings” for using its various papers in different printers. Sure enough, the instructions for a very similar Canon Pixma model suggested choosing “Glossy photo paper” and “High” quality, and tweaking the color balance with less magenta and more yellow!
Unfortunately, the photos still looked terrible.
My conclusion: if you want really good photo quality, the paper’s compatibility with your printer really matters. And there’s no way to tell from the specifications which papers will work best. Clearly, the folks at Canon know something about how to design or specify paper that is optimally compatible with their ink formulation. I suspect the same may be true of other printer + ink manufacturers, but really I have no idea if this principle holds for other brands as well. We’ve had pretty good luck with generic matte photo paper in our old (but remarkably high quality) HP DeskJet 970Cxi at home.
There wasn’t much I could Google up on this topic when I tried, although there was some mostly-negative discussion of Kodak paper in non-Kodak printers here.
So, hopefully this article tips the balance a little bit.