Imaging Resource Interview: Katsuichi Shimizu and Michael Duffett, Canon


posted Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 5:26 AM EST

Canon-shimizuAlongside the PDN PhotoPlus International Conference and Expo in New York last week, Canon introduced its new PIXMA PRO-1 professional inkjet printer--which we've just reviewed--at a press event in Skylight West, an impressive event venue just a few blocks away from the show floor.

Prior to the event, Imaging Resource publisher Dave Etchells sat down with Katsuichi Shimizu, who is Managing Director, Member of Board, and Chief Executive of Inkjet Products Operations at Canon Inc.'s headquarters in Tokyo. A graduate of the prestigious Waseda University, Mr. Shimizu first joined Canon in 1970, and by 1987 had worked his way up the ranks to become the General Manager of the Copier Design Department. In 1993, he was promoted to Senior General Manager of the Imaging Solutions Business Center. In 2001, he became Deputy Chief Executive and Advisory Director for the Office Imaging Product Operation, and two years later he joined Canon's Board of Directors. He has held his current position at the helm of the company's inkjet printer group since March 2008.

Also taking part in the interview were Michael Duffett, Senior Director of Inkjet Marketing, Canon USA Inc., and Arthur Etchells, Director of Strategic Development, Imaging Resource.

Dave Etchells: Thank you very much for your time; we appreciate it a great deal. I have an assortment of questions here, and I understand some Mr. Shimizu will address, and others, other people may, but I'll lead off with some of the ones specifically for Mr. Shimizu.

We're very interested in the PRO-1 as a new device. It seems like it's really in a different place in the market that there hasn't been a lot of products before. Who do you see as being the primary customers for the PRO-1? What percentage will be professionals, what percentage might be amateurs or enthusiasts, and do you see the PRO-1 possibly opening up new markets that haven't really existed before?

Katsuichi Shimizu: The PRO-1 is focused on professional photographers, not amateurs. It's really for professional photographers who want to differentiate their work, so this printer has the capability to give them the freedom of paper selections and color profile making. Also, unlike existing products, this one has no bronzing, which means that under any circumstance of lighting, the view looks the same. This is the only printer in the world with this capability. This is a primary requirement of professional photographers, who make money from their printers. So this printer is really meant just for professional photographers who make money from their printers. (For example, wedding studios and the professional studio market.) Hopefully in the future, we would like to produce brother and sister models to cover high end amateurs and DSLR owners starting at the entry level.

Some professional photographers print on a wide range of their own papers, but have to adjust their levels together with the printer. By buying this printer, they can make their printers do what they want. The professional photographer [wants to] buy a printer and print out on their specific papers, so a broad range of paper selection is one of the key points. And in corresponding to his selections, he needs to have the ICC profiles, so we prepared a lot of them: How many?

Michael Duffett: As of launch, we'll have over 120 profiles. Developed internally with Canon, and also with some of our leading partners--Hahnemühle, Moab, Legion--so a very wide variety of paper textures and finishes to ensure, again, the maximum flexibility. Whatever that professional photographer's looking for, there's probably a profile ready to go. But as much of an effort as we've undertaken, I think that one of the things that they will also find is that our out-of-box experience is extremely important.

This go-round, we wanted to make sure that that performance, or that expectation, was met where I think most of the printer companies may have fallen down for the professional photographer in the past. That linear experience, the natural--you know, exactly what I see is exactly what I'm getting; there is no color adjustment, there's no missed color, is very important. I think we actually overexecute on that this time, and we will exceed the expectations of those customers, when they look at that linear output.

We've worked a lot with some of the Explorers of Light photographers we have associated with Canon on developing this product and getting ready for market, and one of their consistent comments is that "I was blown away, surprised how good the out-of-box experience was, where I didn't have to make adjustments." And that's a real time-flow/workflow savings. So those are all areas that we looked at from our research, that we knew we wanted to improve upon, and I think our team definitely has come through with that for the customers.

DE: So your sense was that previous printers aimed at the professional market, while they came with profiles or the profiles might exist for different printers, they were never really turnkey; that people still had to tweak them a lot? Whereas what you're providing are really good right from the very beginning.

KS: ...and more varieties, more freedom.

MD: ...and a new level of performance.

KS: This printer is [intended to not be restricted to] Canon papers. We have no intention to expand our lineup of photo papers, just keep them as they are existing now. But you have freedom to print on third party papers, for example Hahnemühle, Mitsubishi, even Epson papers; anybody, or your own papers.

DE: You mentioned printing with your own papers, so there's some sort of profile-building utility packaged with the printer? Is there software to help you do that?

MD: Inside part of the software application, there is an ICC profile tool.

KS: You can make your own profiles.

DE: And that tool would work with a variety of spectrophotometers or spectrocolorimeters?

MD: EyeOne Pro and ColorMunki.

DE: You alluded to there being a "brother" and "sister" coming. This current model is positioned at the high end, so can we perhaps expect to see this technology moving further down the cost curve?

MD: And the other direction is also open to us, so just because we started at this point with a 13" x 19" doesn't mean that they will stay at that level and that size: There are lots of opportunities and lots of options for us to explore. Ultimately, where you're going to see it is where the customers are going to tell us they want that technology, and we'll be able to develop it for those customers.

DE: That's great. Part of the technology is the new inkset, and the lack of metamerism and bronzing, and that sort of thing. Will the larger ink cartridges and the ink transport system also be part of that migration to lower-cost products?

KS: I can't commit exactly to how we move down to lower-end models. Lower models need lower prices, so the ink capacity may become smaller, or there may be fewer inks. So, different solutions for different positions [in the market].

Arthur Etchells: What would you say are the key, defining features of the PRO-1, that you would like to see move to other parts of the market?

KS: Really, [we want to] leverage these ink materials from the top end: The number of colors may different, but ink materials will be constant, will be the same.

DE: So there may be a six-color, or a four-color, but with the same technology?

KS: Six or four, same technologies.

MD: I think the message you're going to see, or the constant you're going to see throughout everything tonight (referring to the product rollout happening just after this interview) is both quality and accuracy. Those are the two key things that we want to make sure as we generate new product ideas, and new products in the lineup, that those products either below or above the current one carry those same capabilities.

So -- very strong monochrome performance: we know how important that is, because it helps in stabilizing the color performance, but the truest, hardest test of a printer is black-and-white photography. To create a stunning black-and-white photo, you have to be able to generate that with the ink system itself.

Longevity: very important again, it's all about features that will impact quality and accuracy, either for a less expensive model, for the lower-tier advanced amateur, or for going up even higher for wider format, or for more industrial use of the technology itself.

DE: Mr. Shimizu, you mentioned bronzing, but you also talked about the fact that the image would not change its appearance under different light. So basically with this inkset, you feel there's no metamerism, where the light color affects the color of the print, or the perception.

MD: In general, the answer is yes. We worked very hard against seven major defects that you would have seen in photo printing from inkjet technology, maybe ten years ago. Color reproduction, graininess, gradient, metamerism, bronzing, all those issues are controlled and are limited for the customer with this technology, combining the fine printhead technology, the way we're delivering the ink, and the droplet combinations, as well as the ink chemistry and the combinations of the inks that we're providing, along with some very advanced algorithms that will help analyze those images to eliminate those problems from occurring for the customer in the first place. So, under varying lighting conditions you can see very clearly, it's a very neutral print. Furthermore, if I know the final display conditions, the ambient light correction part of our software can adjust the image to be perfect for that specific lighting condition, regardless of the condition that I'm working in today. So there are ways for us to even improve upon the basics that we're delivering with this product.

DE: I think I remember seeing the beginning of that ambient light adjustment technology on a press trip to Japan a couple of years ago.

MD: Well this was definitely a development effort for the PIXMA PRO-1 that involved our camera expertise and our R&D efforts from the camera group; our color specialists... color technology that we have, in addition to the R&D staff of the printer group. It was very much a collaborative effort. You may hear more about that in about two hours, by the way. <laughs> (Ed. note: The subsequent product-rollout event did indeed emphasize the collaboration between the printer and camera divisions of Canon on the PRO-1.)

DE: <laughs> We're getting all the talking points.

MD: That's very key to the product.

KS: And also, for a long time we have been talking with professional photographers, asking what we were missing in the existing Pro series. We gathered a lot of comments or requirements from many professional photographers, and implemented them in the PRO-1. I think maybe, most of the requirement... the improvements in this printer came from photographers. So I need their comments saying "what else?"

DE: Yes, what else? Now you need the next batch of comments for the Pro-2, I guess, yeah. <laughs>

KS: The Pro-2! <laughs>

DE: Mike mentioned black-and-white printing, would you consider this to be a fine-art black-and-white printer? Is this something you think people would be buying this for?

KS: Maybe not, because at the beginning, at the start of the process, we considered monochrome-only printers. For example, eight colors, something like that. Because in the after-market of Canon printers, some companies (maybe British companies?) are working to modify our printers, picking up existing color ink outside, and implementing many grays; eight grays. And it's like the Mercedes-AMG series, or BMW ALPINA, like... they tune them! <laughs> They are tune-up models! Actually, there is such market, for the high-end professional black & white market. So looking at that, I considered making such monochrome-only printers, but economically, it is not so productive.

DE: A very small niche.

KS: So basically, we implemented color and monochrome into one hardware device. So that's why it has become a twelve color printer.

MD: But progress never stops, so as you just said, I'm sure Mr. Shimizu has the next generation, next generation, next generation already mapped out and people working on them, so... We are never satisfied. Good is never good enough, from Canon. That's why it's the hallmark of our products, you know. Our products ten years ago were great, and each time Mr. Shimizu comes to us and brings us the next generation of product, he says "It's the best we've ever done. It's the best delivery mechanism," and we are all like "Wow. We didn't think we could better than the last generation!" But miraculously, every time, we hit the next peak, and the next peak.

DE: <laughs> A magician.

MD: He's a very good magician!

KS: <laughs>

DE: You mentioned the ink delivery, too: Are there significant differences in the print head and the ink delivery on this system, compared to the Pro 9500?

MD: Yes. This one is off-carriage, so the ink resides [in the body of the printer, vs on the print head itself.]

DE: Yes, I understood that part; I was actually thinking the specifics of the head itself, with the nozzles and associated "plumbing": Were there significant changes in the nozzle structure and the technology there?

KS: Yes, of course. From the outside, it looks the same, but the individual nozzle design is different from the existing one. This is designed for new ink, the ink and the print nozzle need to be perfectly matched. So it's really quite a brand-new design, to match with the new pigment ink. Pigment ink is quite different from dye ink. Dye is just water. Pigment is particles, so you need to carefully design the print nozzles to push out the particles onto the paper. Quite different design.

DE: And as the characteristics of the particles changed from the Pro 9500 to this ink,, you need to make changes in the nozzles?

KS: Different material. Totally different. It's a new pigment material.

MD: The actual inks lay much flatter on the page, so you have less irregularity in the overall finish...

DE: Oh, that's interesting!

MD: ...and then we added the chroma optimizer, which definitely makes it a very uniform effect, so that's a big advantage.

DE: The ink laying more smoothly, does that mean smaller ink particles? Is that what helps it do that, or is it something else?

KS: The ink is a pigment, and the size of its particles is similar. Everybody's pigment particles are similar size. But the ink droplet... the nozzle size in this case is three picoliters... ten microns nozzle diameter or something like that. But the particle material is different now; new chemicals.

DE: So the same size, but the chemical structure of them means that they'll stay more separate so they don't clump up, and thus lay flatter?

KS: Chemical structure is different, yes.

MD: Longevity's also improved under lighting, you know... specifications for conditions with frame, without, etc.

DE: When I think of pigment, I tend to think of no fading, but there is always some...

KS: No, no; no fading. In the professional market, the mindset... dye is out of consideration, you must have pigment.

MD: Even though, of course, we've made vast improvements in our dye-based consumer products. You know, with the right papers, prints should last up to 300 years before any true fading happens with dark storage.

DE: To some extent, it's mindset, as opposed to the technology or actual specs themselves.

KS: Even the dye, today, we have 300 years lifespan, and the fading durability is almost identical to pigment. But in the minds of photographers, a printer must be pigment-based to sell.

MD: There's also more flexibility with pigment on a variety of different media types. It's not going to be as dependent on the paper as part of the solution as with dye, so dye does require paper solutions to match.

DE: Like the swellable polymer layer...

MD: There's a little more independence with pigment ink, and again, that's one of the reasons we wanted to work... we needed to work with a variety of companies to develop profiles for their paper types, because we knew all those customers are going to look and extend into other paper types beyond Canon's.

AE: It isn't realistic just to demand they always use Canon paper, because there are other papers they might want to use.

MD: Well, I'm sure our paper division would be very happy to restrict everyone just to Canon papers, but that's probably not so realistic. <grins>

DE: So the color gamut on this printer is much larger than the 9500. What do you do... what's involved in achieving that broader color gamut? That's just simply different pigments that have more pure spectral characteristics?

KS: Basically, different material pigments. We were very fortunate that we could find the unique chemical structures of these pigment inks, and so that allows us to make a wider gamut, basically.

DE: And you mentioned... we've talked a couple of times about bronzing. How do you fight bronzing? Is bronzing part of the surface structure, that you don't have these layers or clumps of pigment, or is it an interference pattern within the pigment particles themselves?

KS: First of all, we have developed new pigmented black inks. This is very significant, very significant. And the dot-on-dot chroma optimizer; clear ink.

DE: Dot-on-dot, so you lay it over the top. So it's not just filling in where there isn't coverage by the other colors?

KS: Yes, this allows us to make a flat surface. Flatness is very close to that of a dye-ink printer.

MD: One of the characteristics of the dye ink, usually it looks more vibrant, more colorful. This is because in the basic physics, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. All the beams of light are parallel... reflecting at the same angles. There's a continuity between the angles as you're looking at the image itself, [because there's little scattering]. That's what the chroma optimizer allows us to provide the users.

DE: So some of the problem with bronzing, is that it's like interference patterns because of the surface structure; it scatters the light. OK. One question I particularly wanted to answer, I guess this would be my...

AE: If there's one group of photographers that are using the current technology, you know, which photographers do you think are going to be most excited about this new printer?

MD: My personal opinion? I think the photographer that hasn't considered Canon in the past will be most excited when they see this PRO-1. It'll be a given for a number of our existing customers to step up to the PRO-1 based on their usage pattern, but if I'm an advanced amateur or an amateur, I'm not going to step up necessarily. I'm going to be very happy if I've invested in the Pro 9000 or 9500 Mark IIs that we have, because their quality is very good for that market. Where we didn't have a product that really answered the needs was for that most discerning photographer. That's a whole new market for us, and they've considered other brands in the past. Now that opens us up to a whole new opportunity to say, "Look, this is the right choice for you, as a high-end photographer."

AE: So it isn't about black-and-white, wedding, outdoor, it's just the professional, higher-level photographer...

MD: You know, if you had to look at the subsets of professional photographer, obviously wedding is a key component in our marketing strategy. Portrait, the same. Landscape, very strong. Those are the people that benefit the most from some of the technologies that we've incorporated for quality and accuracy. So they'd be the ones that are looking for that as a solution. No professional photographer's just going to buy a printer for the heck of buying a printer. They're going to be looking for solutions and answers, and possibilities that they haven't been able to express before. And the example that we use, especially with the monochrome inks: if you have a portrait and the subject in the portrait had black hair against a dark background, that data would be pretty much lost with existing technologies. Now this technology brings that to the forefront, and you have the use of that data, you can see the fine hairs against the background. So your whole experience with that photo is so much more pleasing and enriching. If you're that kind of a photographer, with that kind of clientele... that's why you need this product.

DE: Just two questions left, then, I think. One is... There have been huge advances in both dye-based and pigment-based printing technology. In the distant future, do you see at some point that all printers be pigment-based, or will there continue to be strong arguments for both dye and pigment?

KS: In the case of Canon, we clearly identify the position of pigment and dye. Dye ink is useful for the consumer sector only, and also for production-level printers [high-volume ones], because production printing is mostly single prints [which need a gloss finish.] The mindset from the silver-halide age, is that the single print is primarily glossy. But for wedding photograph, that's basically [non-glossy]. So, the professional segment we use pigment. The consumer sector is basically dye. And also the industrial, pro-lab machines, because we have a new DreamLabo 5000 for production level printing.

DE: For production. So the industrial, production machines are dye-based.

KS: Basically dye-based, because traditionally those users are using silver-halide printers, which are basically dye prints; just silver halide dye.

DE: And so, there'll continue to be that distinction, because the consumers want the glossy finish, and dye-based is always going to do a better job on glossy.

KS: But looking at Photokina last year, I saw a new tendency of glossy photo albums. For photo album users, semi-glossy papers were always used, because when you make an album with silver-halide prints it's sticky, so you can't employ glossy papers. They therefore traditionally use semi-glossy, so the people's mindset has become: when it comes to albums or weddings, it's semi-glossy. For the consumer, though, single prints, are glossy.

DE: I guess that may be changing, because these papers don't stick to each other.

KS: It may be changing. In case of inkjet, even with the dyes, it's not sticking. Even in albums. So a new photo album tendency is glossy-paper albums, which is also nice.

DE: For my last question, we've been reading about the catastrophic floods in Thailand, with great concern and sadness, and we know that some of your facilities, your printer facilities have been in some of the affected areas.

KS: In the water.

DE: As you say, in the water. They've flooded. What impact do you think that will have on printer production, what model lines might be affected, and we also wondered too, because there are many other companies -- supply chain companies for many people in the photo industry -- to what extent do you think that impact will be felt, more broadly?

KS: Well, we have two factories in Vietnam, and one factory in Thailand that is suffering, and this is flooded right now. But very fortunately, at the end of September, we built a new, big factory in Thailand. It's about 230 kilometers northwest, and is at 230 meters altitude, so no water problems, and it is completed.

DE: It's completed now.

KS: It's completed now. So we are ready to produce products there, so we are going to move the production to this new factory, and the current schedules are that the production will resume somewhere in November.

DE: That's excellent.

MD: We're still working on the final timing for everything, so there are still some unknowns that we need to be able to lock down.

DE: But the good news is that you're not having to wait for the water to go down.

MD: The good news is the investment in that plant had just come online, and as Mr. Shimizu mentioned, two of our biggest plants are actually in Vietnam, so... Part of the flexibility of the manufacturing system is how we use those spare plants.

DE: So there is just one major printer plant that was affected by the floods.

KS: Yeah. And maybe we will no longer use this factory, but the Thai government said this is a once in a half a century flood. The background is El Nina, the violent weather, though, so it may take place next year too.

DE: Yes, it's a roll of the dice.

KS: So we will do the production in the new, big plant. And the affected printer plant has already produced some inventory and shipped to the United States, so for the time being production is suspended, but we will resume somewhere from next November. So for a short time range, the supply chain may be suspended, but not a big problem.

MD: Luckily, we had made the priority on the production volume to come to the United States first, because we knew we were going to be launching this event, and we wanted to be able to make the claim that we're shipping right around the PhotoPlus time frame, and we have been very successful in the US market penetrating that professional photographer with the existing Pro 9000 and 9500 Mark IIs, so as a group we made the decision that the investment would be prioritized for the US. Surely no one envisioned the next step that happened the last couple of weeks, and we're fortunate that those early steps that we took, it helped protect us a little bit.

DE: Very fortuitous. So basically, all the printers that would be sold over the next couple of months anyway, they're already on the boats, or already here.

KS: Very fortunate.

DE: Yes, whoever decided to build that new plant must look brilliant now. <general humor and pointing at Mr. Shimizu> It was your decision? Oh, yes, he is a magician! <laughs> He's a prophet too, he knows the future! Very good. Well, that's all my questions, I appreciate the time very much.

KS: Thank you also.