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Is a Home/Office Printer Good Enough For Art Prints?

In this article we will compare two Canon printers that we use every day in our shop:

  • Canon G7020 - A four-ink desktop home/office inkjet printer/scanner combo. We mostly use it for printing customer invoices, reports, and other such business documents.

  • Canon imagePROGRAPH Pro-4100 - You can tell its professional because it has a long name that has "pro" in it twice. That makes it twice as professional. This is our 44" 12-pigment-ink fancy-pants printer that we use for fine art and photo printing.




I'm sure its obvious which one will win overall in terms of quality - but is the small home/office printer that costs a fraction of the big fancy one "good enough" in terms of color? Lets find out.


Table of Contents:


 

Conclusion


Based on our tests so far, outlined below, the basic conclusion is:



If you don't need to print larger than 8.5" x 14" and you don't care about several decades of print longevity, a desktop printer like the Canon G7020 may be, surprisingly, good enough in many cases, depending on the exact printer model in question... and on the condition that the printer and operating system you use supports using custom color profiles (and you utilize our custom profiling service, or otherwise make or obtain very-high-quality color profiles for your printer.)


Before you say "ok great" and leave - keep reading for a chance to win a print of one of the artworks featured in our testing. Details toward the bottom of this report.


 

How we reached that conclusion


Ok now you know the results, we can get into how that conclusion was reached. As much as possible, I've tried to create a level playing field between the two printers that still shows the actual real-world differences.


Here are some notes to keep in mind when reviewing this report.

Casual readers feel free to skip or skim over the notes.


  • You don't necessarily need to understand all the technical stuff to appreciate it - I'll try and explain everything throughout.

  • All tests here are done on Red River Polar Matte 330gsm. This paper was selected because is pretty solidly mid-range in terms of overall color gamut. It should give us a good idea of each printer's strengths and weaknesses. I also have a bunch of it in stock, and need to make new color profiles anyway, to support one of our newest clients, Rock'N Paper - so its a good excuse to use it for some testing. Note that we are a Red River Paper Print Services Provider and Affiliate Partner.

  • We are only testing on this one paper. Other papers could give different results, though I think this should give us a pretty representative sample that we can use to draw some broader conclusions

  • We chose these two printers because its two that we have in our print shop anyway and use every day. I'm sure we will test others in the future - subscribe to our newsletter to get updates about that.

  • It would be hard to draw too broad of conclusions about home-office printers in general from this report, since we are only testing this one. So take all this with a grain of salt.

  • We are comparing a $6700 printer with 12 inks to a $200 printer four inks and the inks are about $0.50/ml and $0.10/ml respectively. The printer that costs 30x as much and inks that cost 5x as much are obviously going to win overall.

  • The Pro-4100 uses all pigment inks, whereas the G7020 has only pigments for the black ink (the cyan, magenta, and yellow are dyes in the G7020)

  • We use only official Canon inks for both printers and both receive regular maintenance to keep them operating optimally.

  • For each printer, we made super-high-quality custom ICC profiles using the process outlined here: https://www.bslprints.com/post/profiling-with-argyll-for-artwork-reproduction

  • All prints used in our testing were done to fit on 8.5" x 11" sheets in order to have fair comparisons.

  • All matte papers are going to have a more limited range in dark areas compared to a computer monitor - in the side-by-side comparisons to the originals the prints may look washed out. That's not something you would see in real life unless you put the print up next to the same print but on a glossy paper. Generally speaking, the glossier the paper the darker the colors it can show.

  • For the Canon G7020 we used the Matte Photo Paper media type with quality set to High and our custom ICC profile.

  • For the Canon Pro-4100 we created and tuned a custom media type and printed using our custom ICC profile with quality set to Finest Quality.

  • All images were printed using Relative Colorimetric intent with Blackpoint Compensation turned off - this is to preserve as many of the colors as closely as possible. A future article will look at other rendering intents and Blackpoint Compensation settings.

  • All test prints, color profiles, and measurements were made within 24 hours of each other, in the exact same room to help ensure temperature/humidity/etc don't skew results.

  • All of the artworks pictured below were photographed using our in-house Digitization Service and are used here with permission by the artists.


 

Visual Test 1: Midnight Delight by Evelyn McQueen


Lets go easy on the G7020 and start with a print of Midnight Delight by Evelyn McQueen (Artful Originations) - this is a work that prints well on almost any paper and printer.



Printing that out, on each printer, on 8.5" x 11" Polar Matte 330 paper gives us these results. The left-most is the original file. The middle is the Canon Pro-4100. The right-most is the Canon G7020.


Note that the darkest colors are just going to look more washed out on a matte paper compared to the original. It doesn't look so stark in person, but this representation here is technically correct (assuming you are looking at it on a calibrated display). We'll go into more details about that further down in this article.





The results from the Pro-4100 and G7020 look quite similar here don't they? If this were the only image you were ever printing and you only needed small copies of it, the G7020 would be quite sufficient.


 

Visual Test 2: The Band Played On by Denise Hopkins


Lets ramp-up the challenge a bit and take a look at The Band Played on by Denise Hopkins.



Ok there is a lot going on here - so lets focus on two specific areas. First, the trombone player on the far left. (my left, not your left)




The big thing to notice here is that the Pro-4100 version has a bit darker darks, and more detail and accuracy-to-the-original in the dark blues. The G7020 loses some of the interest and subtlety of the original in this case.




Looking at this section of the image - I'd personally say the G7020 looks even a bit more accurate in the saturated reds than the Pro-4100 version (and is also a bit sharper). So, score a point for the home/office printer!


 

Visual Test 3: Mother and Child by Nina Cork


Now lets switch to a work that is a challenge for almost all printers on most papers - Mother and Child by Nina Cork.



This work is challenging to print for several reasons - the dark background and subtle highlights and skin tones can be difficult to represent in print, sure, but its the very dark blues that are the most challenging. Its a safe bet that whatever screen you are viewing this on is probably struggling with representing the dark blues in the Original correctly also.


Here, we can see the Pro-4100 does a better job with dark background (which comes out lighter on the G7020). There is also less subtlety in the skin tones on the G7020. The big difference, of course, is the dark blue areas. The Pro-4100 is able to maintain a sense of it being very dark blue and retains some of the interest detail in the areas beneath baby Jesus' feet. The G7020 seems to be struggling, unable to approach those very dark blues and just sort of gives up and makes all a much lighter, more vibrant blue. The results of the G7020 here are not unpleasant, but if what you are going for is accuracy to the original, its unable to deliver for this specific image.


 

Gamut Test 0: Overview


Now lets dive a bit deeper visually and plot out the color ranges achievable on Red River Polar Matte 330gsm by each of the printers. Returning readers will recognize our old friend the Chromaticity Diagram here.


The big rainbow horeshoe-trianglish-ish shape shows all of the different colors that humans with 'typical vision' are able to distinguish. As you get closer to the middle you get less saturated and closer to gray. As you move further out in any direction you get more saturated.


In this chart, the area inside the green outline is all colors printable on the Home/Office printer, the Canon G7020 onto this particular paper.


The red outline shows the total color range printable on this paper using the big fancy Canon Pro-4100 printer.


Note that every printer + paper combination will have its own color range, and glossier papers will generally have larger color ranges, even for the same printer - we are testing a matte paper, so it won't be able to handle the more extreme saturated colors that a glossy paper could.



Looking at this suggests the two printers have similar ranges for this paper, with neither being able to reproduce extremely saturated colors.


The Pro-4100 looks as though it has a bigger range in the blues and slightly in the yellow-greens, with the home/office G7020 having a larger color range in green, cyan, and red.


BUT WAIT THE HOME OFFICE PRINTER CAN PRINT MORE COLORS THAN THE FANCY PRINTER?

Well, no. Lets take a look at this diagram in three dimensions instead of just this 2D slice out of the middle. In 3D, as you move closer to the top, the colors get lighter toward white, and as you move toward the bottom the colors get darker toward black.


Again here, the red is the Canon Pro-4100 and the green is the Canon G7020



This shows us that the G7020, the green blob, has a bigger range in the medium-dark greens and medium cyan, but that the Pro-4100 dominates completely in the darker cyan and blue ranges as well as having a better range as we get into the lighter colors and approach white.


Looking at it from another angle



Here we can see that except for a very tiny spot in the orange range, the Pro-4100 completely wins with lighter colors of every hue - but the G7020 does better with dark magentas and reds.


Its a bit difficult to tell, but if we look at the very bottom of those blobs, we can see the Pro-4100 peeking out at the blackest point, indicating the Pro-4100 gets a little bit darker black than the G7020



 

Gamut Test1 : Midnight Delight


Ok so now that we have established what color ranges are printable by the two different printers on this particular paper - lets take another look at each of our test images, starting with Midnight Delight by Evelyn McQueen.





and, again, the side-by-sides showing the original image, then the Pro-4100, then the G7020


Now we can graph out the colors in the original image against the color ranges of the two printers on this paper. Again the green outline is the Canon G720 and the red outline is the Canon Pro-4100.

The first thing that I, personally, notice is that the original image has some saturated greens and some saturated blue-violets that are not printable on either paper and a few other colors slightly outside the range, but the vast majority of the colors are within the ranges of both printers.


An interesting thing here, is that the places where the colors spill over tend to also be the places where color gamuts of both printers are the most similar


Looking at in in 3D:


This confirms there are some dark blue-violet colors in the original, as well as some yellows (and some dark greens) that are simply not reproduceable on either printer.


With our print settings described in our Notes section, this means the colors outside of the printable range will just get brought into the nearest printable color, and all colors inside the range will stay the same.


 

Gamut Test 2: The Band Played On


Now lets take a look at more detailed look at our second test image, The Band Played On by Denise Hopkins.




Plotting out the colors from the original image against our known color ranges for each printer (Again the green line is the G7020 home/office printer and the red line is the Pro-4100 fine art and photo printer)



Looking at the 2D chart, it seems that the vast majority of colors are within the gamuts of both printers, other than some yellows and a couple random outliers.


In 3D, though, we get a slightly different story:


In 3D, we can see that almost all of the colors do, indeed, fit within the color ranges of both printers, but that there are some dark reds that are within range for the G7020, but out of range of the Pro-4100. You can see that here as the red dots that overlap with the green blob (that is here rendered as semi-transparent). This accounts for the more accurate reds we see in the flowers on the G7020.




We can also see there are a lot of blacks and dark violet-blues outside the range of both printers on this paper


Knowing what we now know about the Pro-4100 having a larger color range in dark blues, and an ability to printer black blacks, this accounts for the Pro-4100 being able to render more detail in the trombone player, as fewer colors are having to brought into the nearest printable color.




 

Gamut Test 3: Mother and Child


Going back to our third test image, Mother and Child by Nina Cork, we find that in 2D virtually all of the colors appear easily printable on this paper, on both printers.






But again, looking at it in 3D shows another story, with a huge, sweeping range of dark blues, blacks, and browns, that are outside the range of both printers. This creates graphs that are actually very interesting in their own right




As with the trombone player in The Band Played On, the out-of-gamut-range dark colors will get brought up to the nearest printable color - since these two printers have pretty different ranges in their printable dark colors, this accounts for why the dark blues and blacks of Mary's robes look so different between the two printers.


 

Test Charts


Now we are getting into the more abstract, scientific test-y kind of stuff. Instead of looking at real-world images, we will generate a chart of 500 colors for each printer, based on the color range for each printer on this paper. To keep things fair, since the two printers have pretty different ranges, we have chosen to generate a separate chart for each printer using the same algorithm each time, this means we are testing each printer against what it should be able print based on the known color gamut for that printer+paper combination.


This will tell us about how things work inside the printable color range, not just the edges of it like the artworks told us about.



This is the chart we generated for the Pro-4100 fine art and photo printer


Looking at it diagramed out, we can see this more-or-less follows the shape of the red line indicating the known gamut boundary for the Pro-4100 printing on Red River Polar Matte 330gsm



And here is the chart we generated for the G7020 home/office printer


Diagramed out, again we can see that the colors present here more-or-less follows the shape of the known printable gamut by the G7020 on this paper


 

Science and Math


The test charts then are printed on their respective printer. We then scan back in the actually printed values using a tool called a spectrophotometer that will tell us exactly what color is actually printed.



We can then compare the values we asked each printer to print, compared to what actually got printed. That gives us a spreadsheet for each printer that, to give you an idea, looks like this, with a row for each of the 500 patches on each chart




From there, we can use that data to make some conclusions:


  1. The total Gamut Volume of the Pro-4100 is slightly larger on this paper (but not by a lot). This means that even tough the G7020 wins in some dark colors, the Pro-4100 more than makes up for it in the lighter ranges, darkest blacks, and the dark blues. Higher number is better.

  2. The Pro-4100 wins in deepest black printable on this paper by a good margin. There is a noticeable difference in these. Blacks on the Pro-4100 will look black, but on the G7020 will be more of a very dark gray. Lower number is better.

  3. The printers tied with how much of their total range was in the darker colors. The 4100 did so much better in the dark blues and blacks that, overall, it made up for the larger range in dark reds and greens of the G7020 and pulled out a tie here. Higher number is better.

  4. The average delta E values are within expected range for this test and indicate the Pro-4100 is a little bit more accurate, on average, for all in-gamut colors compared to the G7020. Lower number is better

  5. Maximum delta E shows how they did with their most out-of-gamut color on their respective color charts. The G7020 did slightly better than the Pro-4100 here, but not by a statistically significant amount. Lower number is better.

  6. The Pro-4100 having only 16.2% of its colors noticeably different than the test chart, compared to 22.4% of the G7020's colors being noticeably off, is a nice win for the Pro-4100. Lower number is better.

  7. delta Ch measures how accurate the near-neutrals are. Humans are more sensitive to color-differences in near-neutrals, and the Pro-4100 shows here that, on this paper, it is noticeably more color-accurate in this important range. Lower number here is better.

  8. The G7020 was noticeably off on more than 70% of its near-neutrals, compared to 33.6% of the near-neutrals from the Pro-4100. Lower number is better.


 

Testing Conclusion


The G7020 does quite remarkably in terms of overall color range, as long as you stay away from very dark blacks and very dark blues. It does not have the same degree of overall color accuracy as the Pro-4100, so some subtleties will inevitably be lost. With a high-quality ICC profile, one can do a surprisingly wide range of color-accurate-enough art printing on the G7020. Its important to note that we only tested a matte paper here, doing a similar analysis on a glossy paper would yield much more information.


The G7020, of course, is much more limited in print size, ability to do high-volume printing, and its inks are not rated for the same longevity as the Pro-4100's


 

How you can win prints of the artworks featured here


Simply click the heart at the bottom of this article, and then scroll down a little further and leave a comment letting us know your favorite of the three artworks:



you can comment the name or just the number. On January 15th 2024 we will pick three winners randomly from the commenters and will contact you (using the info you provide us in your account for this website) and get your shipping address. Prize will include free shipping within the US or to most countries.



 

Interested in having us evaluate your images, printers, or color profiles? Are there any particular printers or papers you would like to see evaluated? Let us know by sending an email to sales@bslprints.com

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3 Comments


2. The Band Played On

I love the colors and the movement that the texture of the paint creates.

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2. The Band Played On


Love the detail and liveliness of the painting.

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Jenny Blackmon
Jenny Blackmon
Dec 28, 2023

2

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