For designers who demand large, accurate colour proofs - and photographers and artists who need saleable prints - a pro-grade printer is the order of the day. Canon's new Pixma Pro9500 Mark II is the first such new model since its predecessor - the Canon Pixma Pro9500 - went head-to-head with HP's Photosmart Pro B9180 in the summer of 2007 - and lost.
Even so, that Canon's picture quality had the edge over the HP. And this new model can be even better. The Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II uses the same ten-ink system of ‘Lucia' pigment-based inks, which supplements the standard cyan, magenta, and yellow inks with ‘photo' versions of cyan and magenta. These are topped up with red and green inks (for more accurate representations of skin tones and plant life respectively) and finished with three blacks.
The Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II doesn't change the original's colour system, so most of our test images came out looking exactly the same as the ones we'd carefully stored since reviewing the Mark I in 2007. Where we saw an improvement was when working with 16-bit images in Photoshop: the Pro9500 now ships with new XPS drivers for Windows Vista and CUPS drivers for Mac OS X, enabling such images to be printed without down-conversion to 8-bit. Photographers working with RAW images will appreciate the improvement.
To print using these drivers you need to first install them from the ‘Custom Install' function on the drivers disc. The ‘Easy Install' option appears to show that it installs all possible software, but it leaves these out. The ‘Getting Started' manual doesn't mention them at all - information on the new drivers is buried inside the electronic manual. This is indicative of the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II's software overall, which is poorly documented (although in fairness, so was the B9180's).
Printing 16-bit images requires using Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Pro software for Mac and Windows, available in Photoshop from the Automate menu. While it can be fiddly and slow to use, offering every image you currently have open in Photoshop, it's simple to select the right output driver and paper properties.
The software's main purpose is to avoid a clash of colour management between Photoshop and the printer driver, but it also provides access to the new Ambient Light Correction. This allows you to print images to look ‘correct' under different types of fluorescent lights with temperatures from 3000K to 6500K.
We compared a standard print under a GrafiLite daylight lamp with a corrected print under our office fluorescent lights and found a much nearer match than with the standard print under the office lights. The key problem with this feature is that it's not available on Mac OS X, the platform of choice for most designers.
The latest version of Easy-PhotoPrintPro also runs as a plug-in for Canon's Digital Photo Professional software for EOS camera users - but unfortunately not as a plug-in for either Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom.
Also new, we're told, is version 2 of Canon's Colour Management Tool Pro, which allows you to profile specialist papers from the likes of Hahnemühle and Ilford if you own a high-end spectrophotometer such as X-rite's Eye-One Pro. For some reason Canon hasn't included the software in the Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II's box, and at time of writing it wasn't on the company's website. We've seen the first version, which is easy enough to use, but not available for Mac OS X 10.4/5 or Windows Vista.
The Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II is an excellent printer that photographers capturing RAW images will prefer over the HP B9180 due to the quality of its 16-bit output. Illustrators and designers working in 8-bit may prefer the HP's Photosmart Pro B9180’s price tag – which is £140 lower – and built-in calibrator and network connectivity.