Review: Epson Stylus Pro 7900

In 1999, 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.

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Epson announces the Stylus Pro 3880

Stylus Pro 3880Epson America today announced a modest upgrade to its 17-inch professional photo printer line, with the Stylus Pro 3880.

On the surface, the 3880 offers a few incremental improvements over the Stylus Pro 3800, adding the Vivid Magenta inks, an improved printhead, and new screening algorithms. The case design, print engine, and ink system (with its spacious 80ml cartridges and 8-channel head that requires switching of matte and photo black inks) are identical to the 3800, which is testament to that printer’s design and its success in the market, as well as the relative maturity of the photo printer industry.

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The Stylus Pro 3800: Still the king

In my Stylus Photo R2880 review, one of the biggest questions I get is not about the quality of the printer, or even comparisons with HP and Canon printers in the same price range. No, it is: “How does it compare with Epson’s Stylus Pro 3800?”

This is understandable: while the R2880 is a very good printer, it does suffer from a few issues, notably the smaller ink tanks and the necessity to swap the matte and photo black ink cartridges when you want to move between matte and glossy papers. The 3800 also requires a switch, but the process is automatic and requires no user intervention. The 3800 does waste a few dollars of ink per switch, which is troublesome, but given the rarity with which people change paper type—and its high-capacity (80ml) cartridge size, this is a lesser issue for many pro users.

Right now, the Stylus Pro 3800 is under $1,200 at Amazon (a savings of $100 or so), while the R2880 is priced around $650 ($150 off the list price). If you’re looking at the two printers, how do you choose between the two? I think it’s pretty straightforward: what follows are some of my thoughts, based on fairly heavy usage of both printers (and nearly every other photo printer in the $300 to $5,000 price range).

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First look: HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer

At Photokina in Germany, HP today announced the Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer, a wide-format inkjet printer for professional photographers and designers, with a new ink formulation, speed and paper-handling improvements and other enhancements over previous models.

The Z3200 is the successor to HP’s the Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer, which, when it first shipped late in 2006, was one of the most innovative photo printers we had seen in a long time. The Z3100 utilized 12 pigment-based inks (including a gloss optimizer) to produce high-quality, gallery-ready prints, but it was the printer’s embedded spectrophotometer (from X-Rite) and seamless integration with networked Macs and PCs that set it apart from competitors like Epson and Canon. HP spent considerable effort streamlining the process of printing: everything from unboxing the device to profiling and adding new paper types had been thought through by HP’s hardware and software engineers. The result was a printer that created top-quality prints and was a joy to use, day in and day out.

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The Printerville review: Epson’s Stylus Photo R2880

Epson’s Stylus Photo R2880, an $800 large-format (13″) printer, enters a vastly different printer market than that of its predecessor, the Stylus Photo R2400. When the R2400 debuted in 2005, Epson owned all aspects of the archival photo printer market, and the R2400’s only real competition was the model it replaced, the Stylus Photo 2200. The R2880, however, joins a market crowded by competitors from HP and Canon, as well as Epson itself: there are now five large-format, pigment-based photo printers priced between $500 and $1,000, and Epson’s competitors have done a superb job of catching up to their longtime rival’s print quality. There are many observers who believe that Epson still has the edge in quality, but there’s no disputing that HP and Canon have put themselves into the game, HP with the Photosmart Pro B8850 (and its older sibling, the B9180) and Canon with the Pixma Pro9500. How does the R2880 match up? Read on.

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Canon cost per print data from Red River

We recently noted Red River Paper’s ink cartridge testing for the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 and Stylus Photo R1900 printers. These tests attempt to come up with a real-world cost-per-page metric for inkjet cartridges—which is one of the hottest topics in the world of photo printing—and they’re great data points to have when you’re evaluating printers.

Over the weekend, Red River’s Drew Hendrix posted their latest results, covering Canon’s Pixma Pro9500 and Pixma Pro9000 inkjets. Their results show that the dye-based Canon Pixma Pro9000 offers roughly the same cost per print as the pigment-based R1900, while the Pixma Pro9500 has a slightly better cost per print than Epson’s R2400. (The Stylus Photo R2880, which was introduced in June, is probably much closer to the 9500 in cost per print, based on our tests, which use the same test image and similar methodology to Red River’s.)

We’re currently testing the HP B8850 with some slightly different methodology, but one that we hope will give us slightly more accurate results. Stay tuned—we think this is pretty important stuff.

Red River ink life testing

Following up on our recent post concerning ink cartridge life, Red River Paper, one of our favorite paper companies, has posted some similar test results regarding Epson’s Stylus Photo R1900 and Stylus Photo R2400 printers. They used the same test image and similar measurement techniques to come up with a cost per print for images printed at 4" by 6", 5" by 7", 8" by 10", 11" by 14" and 13" by 19". They also work a bit deeper on trying to define a metric for something they call “Cartridge Equivalent Usage,” or CEU.

This report addresses concerns and arguments about the true cost of ink in desktop photo printing. Using the Epson R2400 and Epson R1900, we conducted a series of print tests to determine how much ink is used in a full coverage 8”x10” print. From that figure we extrapolated ink usage per square inch. The objective is to share a realistic cost per print vision with inkjet users. The choice to pursue photo inkjet printing is in the end an individual economic choice.

We think this is pretty important stuff, and it’s good to see others working on similar tests — the data regarding the R1900 is especially welcome, and it looks like Red River’s results on the R2400 are very similar to ours, which speaks well to this style of test’s repeatability. If you’re interested in this topic, it’s worth going through the report.

Based on some of the comments we’ve received, we think there are a few tweaks we can make to get the test methodology a bit more secure, and be extended to HP and Canon printers. Stay tuned.

Stylus Photo R2880 review: speed tests

We’re continuing to work on our full review of Epson’s new Stylus Photo R2880, which we hope to have online in the next week or so. In the interim, we have been able to finish our benchmarking of the new inkjet, comparing it with its predecessor, the Stylus Photo R2400, and the two semi-pro printers closest to the R2880 in fighting weight: HP’s Photosmart Pro B9180 and Canon’s Pixma Pro9500.

We know that speed is usually a secondary or even a tertiary consideration when looking at photo printers, but, with today’s increased competition, it can be a factor for some people when they’re choosing an inkjet. Below are two charts, noting the print speeds for six different print sizes, ranging from 4" by 6" to 12" by 18" on the R2880 and the other three printers.

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New Epson wide-format printers announced

At the Drupa trade show in Germany this week, Epson announced two new wide-format printers, the Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900. The new printers, which have a maximum print width of 24" and 44",respectively, incorporate a new pigment-based ink set, called UltraChrome HDR. The HDR inks include photo and matte black inks, light black, light light black, cyan, light cyan, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta, yellow, orange and green, and use an 11-channel head that switches automatically between photo and matte black.

Ink cartridge size (a hot topic these days) is quite large — 350ml and 750ml — and Epson claims that the 7900 and 9900 offer significant speed improvements over the existing Epson wide format devices.

Also notable in the new printers is an optional built-in spectrophotometer from X-Rite, called the Epson SpectroProofer, which provides “automatic color measurement data to the printer, allowing user profiling and linearization, enabling professional color management while at the same time reducing labor costs.”

The Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 are expected to ship this spring in Europe and Australia, although pricing was not announced. Epson America representatives stressed that this announcement was made by Epson Europe, although we would assume that ultimately the new printers and inks would reach the U.S. and Canada at some point not long after they ship elsewhere.

[Source: Print21, an online publication produced by the Australian trade association, Printing Industries.]