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Review: Epson Stylus Pro 7900

By Rick LePage | March 28, 2010

More than a decade ago, I tested Epson’s first wide-format, photographic-quality, inkjet printer, the Stylus Pro 9000. At the time, there were a number of companies that offered wide-format proofers and signage printers, and the 9000 competed well in that space, but Epson was as interested in the nascent fine-art printing market, which was dominated largely by Scitex’s Iris printers.

Today, the Scitex and Iris lines are long gone, having ultimately been subsumed by Kodak, and Epson dominates the high end of the fine-art and photographic printing market, despite half-hearted attempts by HP and Canon. The company’s latest wide-format printers, the Stylus Pro 7900 (24") and 9900 (44"), represent a gradual, deliberate evolution of the line, not a sharp detour. Over eight months of testing the 7900, I found few surprises (good or bad), but that’s to be expected in a product line with more than 10 years of development (and success). What I did find, is a printer that is at the top of the heap with regard to photo quality, performance and paper handling, with a handful of negative issues that will matter only to few people. (While I did not test the 9900, most of my comments will apply to the wider model.)

Stylus Pro 7900/9900 specifications
Type Wide-format, pigment-based inkjet
Price $3,995/$5,995
Inks 11 UltraChrome HDR (10 printing)
Ink colors Photo Black, Matte Black, Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Light Vivid Magenta, Orange, Green, Light Black, Light Light Black
Ink cartridge costs $90 (150ml); $160 (300ml); $280 (700ml)
Ink cost per ml (est.) $0.60 (150ml); $0.54 (300ml); $0.40 (700ml)
Maximum resolution 2880 by 1440 dpi
Minimum paper size 8.27" by 11"
Maximum paper size 24"/44" wide; length variable by operating system
Thick paper support Yes
Straight path Yes; media up to 1.5mm thick
Interfaces USB 2.0; 10/100Base-T Ethernet
Operating systems supported Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7; Mac OS X (10.4.9 and up)
Weight 187 lbs./256 lbs.
Dimensions (W, D, H) 54" x 27" x 48"

UltraChrome HDR and more

The biggest changes in the 7900 are all on the ink delivery side. First and foremost is Epson’s 11-color UltraChrome HDR (high dynamic range) ink set, which adds orange and green to the standard nine-color pigment ink set that Epson has been using for years. Epson claims that the HDR inks—when combined with the improved HDR screening algorithms required for the new inks—give the 7900 the widest color gamut of any inkjet printer on the market, and both my eyes and gamut plots backed up these claims.

To get those inks onto the paper, the 7900 incorporates the MicroPiezo TFP printhead first introduced with the Stylus Pro 11880. This 10-channel head has 360 nozzles that produce variable-size ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters, as well as an ink-repelling coating that is designed to minimize clogs. At an inch wide, the TFP printhead is larger than those in previous Epson wide-format printers, which also means increased printing speeds.

As is the case with most of Epson’s UltraChrome pigment printers, the matte and photo black inks share a single channel to the printhead. This means that when you switch between glossy and matte (or fine art) paper types, the printer must purge the black ink channel and switch to the appropriate black ink. The amount of ink used during this process is minimal, and at this level—where most prints are designed either for sale or for proofing—I really don’t think this is an issue, but it is worth noting.

Other enhancements

While the HDR inks and new printhead are the obvious “big features,” the 7900 has a few usability and productivity enhancements worth mentioning:

Setup

The Stylus Pro 7900 is a behemoth: at nearly 200 pounds, you’ll need at least three people to set it up and get it into place. Luckily, once it has been assembled, you can move it around easily. The printer has both Ethernet and USB interfaces; most operations will likely use a networked setup, and getting the 7900 connected is a breeze. Epson also includes a utility with the 7900 that lets you check the Web for firmware updates, and will add them as needed.

The 11 ink cartridges that ship with the printer contain just about enough ink for you to load the ink lines and print a few samples, so make sure you’ve invested in a set of additional cartridges for long-term printing. Epson was smart about the ink capacities in the 7900, offering 150ml, 300ml and 700ml options, and you can mix and match any capacities. At 40 cents per ml, the 700ml cartridges are hugely economical, but your printing volumes might be better served with the lower capacity cartridges.

With previous wide-format models, Epson included a management utility that tracked print jobs and ink usage, which is a necessity for any shop that charges for prints. With the 7900, Epson has moved away from the dedicated utility to a Web service called myEpsonPrinter.com. This service has been in a public beta period for nearly a year, but Epson has gotten it to the point where it is quite useful for tracking media and ink usage. You can easily track multiple printers; set ink, media and overhead costs (including tax information); view charts of usage; download Excel spreadsheets of usage data; and more. Overall, I’ve found it quite useful, although I do wish that Epson provided a standalone utility for tracking jobs, and a number of other print shops with 7900/9900 models expressed similar concerns.

Print quality

Photo inkjet technology has reached a point where the leaps in print quality from generation to generation are no longer huge; they are incremental. With refined ink sets, better screening algorithms, and improved printheads, all three of the major printer companies—Epson, HP and Canon—have consumer-level photo inkjets that produce images of stunning quality.

At the professional level, however, changes in print quality, however small they might appear, are of extreme importance. Artists and photographers want the optimal print quality, with no visible “printer grain” and the widest possible color gamut for the best print reproduction on the paper that matters to them. They can see the difference between printers, and and this is where the Stylus Pro 7900 shines. The addition of the orange and green inks widens the color gamut to the point where, on most media types, the 7900 edges out even HP’s Designjet Z3200. On semi-gloss papers, the blacks produced with the 7900 were beautifully rich and dark, while still being able to hold shadow detail.

During the review process, I printed on nearly all of Epson’s professional paper line, in both roll and cut-sheet form, as well as a wide variety of papers from companies like Red River, Moab, and others. On fine-art, matte or glossy papers, 7900 prints were consistently clean, with no visible printer dot patterns, clean, smooth gradations of color, and extremely high fidelity with images on-screen (in a tightly color-managed environment).

When printing at the highest quality (2880 dpi) setting, the 7900 produced some of the most outstanding prints that we’ve ever gotten out of an inkjet. When I showed viewers images printed at 1440 dpi and 2880 dpi, most viewers could clearly tell the difference: the higher resolution produced the smoothest color transitions with no printer noise. What was more fascinating was that many 7900 prints at 1440 dpi still looked better than prints from a Stylus Pro 3800 or Designjet Z3200 at their highest quality settings.

And while most photographers are printing in color, the 7900′s black-and-white print capabilities are just as good. Again, the improvements over previous Epson Pro printers are slight, but prints on all paper types were drop-dead neutral, and I spoke with at least two print shops that were printing largely black-and-white photographs, and felt that the print quality was the best they had seen out of an inkjet.

Performance

The wide printhead on the Stylus Pro 7900 definitely helps with print speeds. On average, a 17" by 22" print took less then 5 minutes to print at 1440 dpi, and 7 minutes and 40 seconds at the highest quality setting. A 24" by 36" image took 10 and a half minutes to print at 1440 dpi, and 15 minutes and 15 seconds at 2880 dpi. At all print sizes and settings, the 7900 printed slightly faster than HP’s Z3200, which had been the fastest comparable wide-format I have tested.

Minor concerns

While the 7900′s feature set and print capabilities are excellent, it’s not a perfect printer. There were a few issues that came up during my review, most of which are relatively small, but they do bear mentioning:

Conclusions

Wide-format printers are among the most versatile and cost-effective printers available on the market. While the initial cost of entry is high, the economics often work out for professional photographers and fine artists who sell their work, even if they aren’t printing at 24" or 44" widths. The Stylus Pro 7900, with its UltraChrome HDR ink set, excellent print quality and highly flexible paper handling, is definitely the gold standard in wide-format photographic printing. While both Canon and HP make very good wide-format devices, Epson’s commitment and storied history in this market segment do matter, and the 7900 is pretty darn good proof of that.


Epson Stylus Pro 7900

 
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Price: $3,995
Epson’s Stylus Pro 7900 product page

Pros:

  • Excellent print quality, widest gamut of any printer we’ve tested.
  • Superb paper handling capabilities.
  • Outstanding black-and-white output with perfect neutrality.
  • Speedy.
  • Includes number of features designed to reduce clogging, including ink-repelling coating on printhead.

Cons:

  • Photo and Matte Black inks share channel, requiring switch when switching paper types.
  • Print cartridges that come with the printer are almost entirely used during ink-charging process.

Topics: Reviews | 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Review: Epson Stylus Pro 7900”

  1. Ed Dooley Says:
    April 12th, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I am looking for a commercial print shop that uses the 7900 or 9900. Do you have a list or could you recommend one?

  2. Josh Says:
    September 22nd, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Great article! I am in the market and trying to decide between HP and Epson. This is a great help.

    Two things I would like to understand more is the differences between the earlier 7800/7880 and the 7900. It would also be great to have a few more comparisons of the HP equivalent.

    Cheers

  3. Ron Waitt Says:
    November 4th, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Would you please explain the panorama feature as far as the length of the photo that this Epson printer 7900 or 9900 will print using the factory settings and or is there any maxium legnth to what can be printed without spending big $ on an extra rip program.

    Thanks
    Ron

  4. Mike Brewington Says:
    February 11th, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I started with the R1800 (ate me alive in ink costs) then moved up to the 3800 (needed the wider paper path and enjoyed reduced ink costs) Then I got a chance to pick up a barely used 7900. When I say barely used I mean 9 prints on the counter! I’ve been buying the 350ml cartridges. Ink costs coupled with 100′ rolls of paper have greatly reduced my costs per photo. Now kicking out a 24X36 is a piece of cake. The only issue I’ve had (besides being blown away by the sheer bulk of the unit) was when it came time to replace an ink cartridge, the printer refused to recognize it. Seems as how Epson has had a few issues in this department. IT Supplies had me a free replacement the next day so can’t really complain. Love the image quality and relative speed of this printer.

  5. P. Smouse Says:
    February 3rd, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    In regards to Mike Brewington’s issue with his 7900:
    I had a similar issue with my new 7890, which was rectified by placing some small foam pads underneath the contact finger assembly for the cartridge in question. Sounds crude but has worked flawlessly ever since. Don’t recommend this as a do-it-yourself project unless you are really familiar with working on these large units. Epson does need to do some further work in this area, it seems, which I suspect will be handled. Hopefully this issue has been rectified by now,and Mike has had no recurrence of his problem

  6. Sharon Feissel Says:
    February 18th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for the article on Epson 7900. We just got one. I have heard that the printer limits the length of a panoramic print, but I can’t seem to find information or a tutorial that talks about that limitation. Do you know what it is? Can I do 24 x 50, for example? Thanks for shedding some light on this question.

  7. kwame baah Says:
    October 17th, 2012 at 12:52 am

    i want to know how many rolls of the 20” * 100′
    paper can be printed by the epson 7900 set of 11 ink cartridges?

  8. Leandros photo studio Says:
    April 24th, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Same question as kwame baah… How many rolls of 24×100 will be used with the 700ml tanks¿
    I print nothing but 8×10′s photos full color ..

    Need to know soon. Please anyone¿ greetings from honduras

  9. shane d. Howles Says:
    September 8th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Any one have information on average print cost per 3 sqft using 100ft 24″ paper roll.
    Also any general comments on the use of the 7900.

    Thank you

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