We have started talking about photo printing as a good way to “honor” our best images. After an intro about photography printing in general, let’s tour the situation of Linux photoprinter drivers.
Because I owe an HP 7660, I’ll blog about my experience with this printer mainly, while trying to give hints about the “other two”, Epson and Canon. I realized I am always better off talking about what I know 😛
Cups & Gutenprint
The CUPS (Common Unix Printing System – web, wiki) project aims to provide a standard view of any printer under *nix, thus offering an uncomplicated way to execute operations like adding a new printer, choosing its default page size, managing print jobs and so on. Basically CUPS hides the complexity and diversity of drivers – a tool like Ubuntu printer management is just a GUI frontend to CUPS.
However, this set of basic operations can a bit limited when it comes to photo printing where you want to chose things like photo placement on the page or paper type.
This is where Gutenprint (web, wiki) comes to the rescue. Basically, Gutenprint is a set of high-quality photo printer drivers for Linux. Although a photo printer is installed and setup in CUPS (using a Gutenprint driver), Gutenprint has a more fine-tuned photography dedicated dialog that shows up in Cinepaint or The Gimp and allows you to fine-tune you photographic job. Here is a screenshot of Gutenprint’s main dialog in Cinepaint:
This allows you to chose your paper size, output quality, placement, margins and so on… The dialog that would show off in The Gimp would be very similar if not exactly the same. And here is the “Ouput” dialog:
Plenty of options here obviously, which you normally don’t need to tweak – the reason why in the next entry about printer color management.
If you own a Canon or Epson printer, Gutenprint is the driver of choice for you. Have a look at Gutenprint’s list of supported printers.
HPLIP and HPIJS
HP however has its own Linux driver project which includes several building blocks, just to make things more fun. HPIJS is the basic (CUPS compliant) printer driver. HPLIP (web, wiki) allows to get more goodies from HP printer such as faxing or scanning (if your printer supports it, that is…). Most Linux distributions ship HPLIP by default – which includes HPIJS, so it is no big deal at the end of the day.
On top of that, HP has its “HPLIP toolbox” (a standard Ubuntu package as well) which allows various operations on HP printer, such as cleaning cartridges, checking ink level and general printer configuration. I won’t go into details about each option, but here is a screenshot of what is to me the most important stuff, cartridges ink level – indeed the reason why I always install HPLIP toolbox:
Let’s just say that HPLIP offers a very good photographic quality even if some “edgy” functions can take some time to get supported. For example, someone mentioned in Ubuntuforums that HPLIP doesn’t allow to print B&W pictures for printers where the Gray and Photo Color cartridges are installed simultaneously. However, an HPLIP developer stated that they are on the case.
All in all, photo printer support in Linux is very much like other hardware support: if you check the Linux status before your purchase and don’t rush to get the latest stuff, it is very good.
Where the whole thing gets confusing
Let’s say I want to change my paper size from A4 to A6, just to do a print test. Well, I can do it in Gutenprint (from Cinepaint), in HPLIP-toolbox or in Ubuntu printer management software (PMS).
However, checking ink-level is possible only in HPLIP-toolbox. Adding an HP printer can be done in HPLIP-toolbox or Ubuntu PMS. A non HP printer can only be added from Ubuntu PMS. But photography print fine-tuning is done in Gutenprint.
All this takes some time to get used to. But once you have made your way through the maze and know which tool to use (or which one you prefer…) for what operation(s), it is straightforward. Really. I swear. I do use Linux for my photo printing and it works really well.
As stated, I own an HP 7660 which I would describe as “aging but valiant”. Its limitations are: A4 maximum print size only, dye based inks, cost of ink (but that’s not an HP specialty…).
Its advantages: cheap printer, good quality with HP paper (including a reasonable fade-resistance) and very good Black & White support through a dedicated cartridge – basically you remove the color photo cartridge and insert the B&W one instead. I think this line of HP was among the first printers to offer reasonably priced good quality B&W. And very good printing quality in Linux, if you chose “high quality 1200 DPI fulbleed”.
The only thing that proved tricky was margins setup. I had to tweak the .ppd file (the file that describes the printer’s option) to come to the desired result – now that it works I don’t touch it anymore, but it was a real pain in the neck to get working. Just in case it ca be of use to someone, this is the change I made.
*ImageableArea A4/A4: "9.72 36 585.28 833"
*ImageableArea A4/A4: "14.17 5.67 581.1 833"
And the result is what I want: a 3mm margin on top, bottom, right and left sides of an A4 sheet for a 2830×2000 pixels image. I find it ideal for matting and framing, better than full bleed. A pain to setup but once the pain is over, the results are very good.
The other very important step, obviously, was color calibration. And that’s for the next entry 🙂
And for closing, here is my pic for the post – not a real pano, just half a picture, if you wonder…