Getting Canon inkjets to work on a Mac…

So, the ugly, ink-swilling, temperamental Epson Stylus Pro 1270 finally died a death. Total inability to feed paper (bit of a disadvantage in a printer). So, with Vicky having a book to get ready for London Book Fair it was back to the PITA of finding an A3 colour printer for high quality home office use.

Mac users know that the only company to have a full driver complement for their range is Epson, with HP doing pretty well as a second place. Most normal people can now stop reading. The rest of the post is for therapeutic purposes and the sanity of other Marital Tech Support People who have to get the printer to print…

Firstly, we bought a Canon Pixma 9000. The reason was the great reviews (rave, in fact) of the image quality, PLUS the fact it had 8 ink cartriges, build quality of an armoured vehicle and we didn’t want to touch Epson again.

The first thing I should have realised were that all the reviews were from PC users, raving about the step up in quality. The ‘Mac compatible’ bit lulled me into a false sense of expectation. Rookie error.

So, we get it home (weighs a ton) and set it up and pages just RACE through it. I’d read that it was 5 mins/page in highest quality, but the test print ran through in about 15 seconds for A3. Hmmm.

The quality wasn’t great, so I looked for the ‘quality knob’ to twiddle and couldn’t find anything over and above the most basic settings. This was the same in every application.

The root cause is that Canon has not created a ppd for the printer on a mac. This means that the output is essentially just draft quality inkjet. There’s no way to control the cunning ink reservoirs, colour balance and profile, resolution etc. It’s SO annoying.

The choice then was to retrieve the packaging from the recycling dump (!) or ‘make it work’.

Steps, therefore were:

  1. Go to Canon’s site and get the latest “installer” for the Mac. This does not include a PPD and there’s no ‘driver’ available on their site. FAIL.
  2. Google to find out why I couldn’t select the PPD in the print dialogue box. This brough the realisation ‘there’s no PPD’
  3. Looking up PPDs on Wikipedia – remembered about Postscript and felt old
  4. Re-googled, PPD with generic Adobe. Found out that Adobe have a ‘generic print driver’ and tried to associate this with the 9000. Didn’t work, but failed in a more attractive way. Found some suggestions that if one saved work as a PDF then printed that it’d improve quality. Exported the Adobe Illustrator book cover as a PDF and then printed this. Better, but we were still looking at divorce…
  5. Turned to twitter and asked about PPDs for Canon. Doug Winter (@winjer), ever-helpfully, pointed me at the stunningly useful (formerly linuxprint). These folk test, edit and create print drivers for the linux world. Luckily a) the mac is based on unix and so this all works; b) unix folk can roll their own; and c) unix folk like sharing things free 🙂
  6. Here’s the driver page for Canon:
    No open PPD, sadly, but a pointer to and the promise of “working”
  7. TurboPrint has a mac-specific printer driver suite called (catchily) PrintFab. €49, but we needed the €79 version (interesting licencing approach – you need a more expensive licence to print bigger pages! The entry level just supports A4, while the ‘pro’ supports A3 and A3+). I admired greatly through gritted teeth as I downloaded.
  8. PrintFab installs as a new printer and – after a restart (bah) there’s a total transformation. Not only is the basic output better (certainly ideal for proofing), but the quality twiddling is nothing sort of breathtaking. ICC profiles, gamut adjustment, ink-by-ink adjustment (directly by ink mix, RGB or CMYK adjustments). The ink-saver mode is really useful and the photo quality is photolab level on 6×4 and 5×7, and passable for a 10×8. More work needed on this.

So, we now approach happiness. The Canon’s delivering on its promise and we have a great step forward from the (admittedly ancient) Epson. We also have a whole pile of new things to learn – colour profiles? Ugh.

Whatever happened to “just press Apple+P” ??