Printing (2): Linux drivers

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.


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.

My experience

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.

file: usr/share/ppd/hpijs/HP/HP-PhotoSmart_7660-hpijs.ppd

replace: *ImageableArea A4/A4: "9.72 36 585.28 833"

with: *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…



8 Responses to Printing (2): Linux drivers

  1. deepak says:

    Hmm.. so I can see this print dialog in Gimp but not in Cinepaint. I’m running Ubuntu Gutsy stock packages. Any idea what could be wrong?

  2. jcornuz says:

    Hi Deepak,

    I think Cinepaint can be compiled with or without Gutenprint support – the problem is that not all packages have printing support enabled. I have found one that works fine in Feisty (with printing) but… I don’t remember where I got it from. Google will be your friend, hopefully.

    Take care,


  3. cklammer says:

    Look at all this effort … I mean all these issues we have with printing in Linux. One has to jump through hoops and invest many multiple times the effort one would employ under windoof.

    Printing is where Linux really, really sucks – why are things so f******g hard when it comes to printing in Linux. Windows outdistances Linux there so thoroughly that Linux is not even in the same universe as Windows.

    This state of affairs sucks. And CUPS is a step in right direction (I do not disagree with that) but it is still too hard and time consuming

    jcornuz: your posts are great. But time yourself performing the steps you have performed above and then compare the results with the effort that Windows requires. Using Windows, I do not have to do arcane stuff like manually editing text files or scouring wikis when it comes to photo print placement on the print form. Using Windows, I don’t have to recompile photo editing applications just to be able to print … the list goes on and on.

    It is my estimate and firm belief that technology-wise we Linuxers are 15 years behind Windows when it comes to printing.

  4. Neal says:

    I agree that in comparison to Windows photo printing in Linux is behind the curve. But I don’t think it is as bad as some think. The bigger problem is that photo printing seems to be an afterthought in almost all image and photo software. Even in Window I struggle to find programs that do it well. I’m surprised that with the rise in digital photography and hope printing that nobody had produced a quality standalone print application. Something that specializes in nothing but photo printing. Gutenprint is a step in the right direction, but I would still like to see a cleaner standalone product dedicated to photo printing.

  5. Don Glenn says:

    Same problem with many other apps. The manufacturers set their machines up for Microsoft, and Mac as an afterthought, and to them, Linux does not exist. There are just not enough of us to swing any weight.

  6. mka says:

    I fully agree with Neal in that a specialized application for phot printing would be a really nice thing to have for linux systems. With the driver situation like cklammer said i’m not so sure… i think there really should be better interfaces for placing photos and setting up papersizes etc. but have you ever installed the Windows driver for this beast?

    I mean… 188MB (archived) for getting this thing to print… is just ridicolous. The HP software ist just so ubelievably bloated… that i’m lacking the words to describe how i think about it. It doesn’t only take ages to install and tries to sell you HP supplies whenever it can, it even crashes peoples computers. If you search the web a bit you will find that i’m not alone with this feeling… people are already complaining a lot about HPs driver policies.

    In this regard i’m quite happy to be some years behind in driver support and really enjoy the nice and slim open source solution HP offers with hplip. Just 18MB supporting 1536 printers… haha tell this their windows driver programmers.

    And in fact hplip seems to support every single option their really good hardware provides. I think that after all it’s just a matter of supporting more options on the side of applications using the printing subsystem.

  7. Sean says:

    Hey in all I’m just glad that HP and most printer manufacturers support Linux in one way or another. Kodak refuses to support or release information to support building a driver for Linux. Although I have heard rumor of employees trying to push for support, usually ideas like that are quickly crushed by the upper management who all think Linux is evil and not profitable.

    This is such a shame because Kodak has a lot going for them, at least in my eyes. However, until they support Linux I refuse to support them! Get out of bed with Microsoft Kodak, and I will buy your product.

    I am looking at HP, I just hate their gimmicks with ink cartridges.


  8. Ernie says:

    These are really great ideas in about blogging.
    You have touched some pleasant things here. Any way keep up wrinting.

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