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Epson Stylus Pro 4000 Printer
A First Look

Photographic Inkjet Printing's
Next Superstar

I saw the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer for the first time at a trade show in New York in late October, 2003. It looked very impressive, and I knew I had to have one. But with a scheduled ship date in North America of January, 2004, I wanted to test one sooner than that, and I had also heard from many readers wondering when my review would become available.

Finally, in early December I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon at Epson Canada's offices testing a 4000. Below are the specs as well as my initial impressions. A more comprehensive report will be featured in an upcoming issue of Luminous Landscape Video Journal once I have received my own printer and put it though some more rigorous real-world testing.

Update: My Epson 4000 Review Update is now online.

Goldilocks — Just The Right Size

With the introduction of its Ultrachrome pigment-based inkset in 2002, along with the model 2100/2200, 7600, 9600 and 10,600 printers, Epson has provided photographers with what is close to the "holy grail" of photographic printing — wide colour gamut combined with long print life.

For many fine-art photographers the 2100/2200 models were all that was needed. Able to handle paper up to 13" wide, these printers hold 7 separate ink cartridges. The 7600, 9600 and 10.600 models are significantly larger and more expensive, though they do offer higher speed output and the economies of wide roll paper and large separate ink cartridges. In any event, these are out of the price range of most photographers, and demand a serious chunk of floor space — not amenable to most home decors.

With the introduction of the SP4000 Epson has filled a gap in its product line and has created a printer that will answer the needs of many commercial and fine-art photographers for whom the 2100/2200 was a bit too small, and for whom the larger models were possibly too large. Also, as will be seen, the 4000 has significant advantages in both speed and ink costs.

Godzilla — Big & Fast

This is the godzilla of desktop printers. Weighing it at nearly 85lb, it is more than 33 inches wide, 14 inches wide and 30 inches deep. It will fit on a desk, though a very large and sturdy desk.

One of the reasons for its seemingly excessive girth is the fact that it can take eight 220 ml ink cartridges simultaneously. No, it's not an 8 ink printer, but it does take both the Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges simultaneously— a first on an Epson printer. Whereas changing black cartridges when switching between glossy and matte papers is a minor inconvenience with the 2100 and 2200 printers, with the larger printers it is very expensive because all of the lines are flushed. The cost in wasted ink is about $75.00 each time the blacks are swapped. On the 4000 both black inks live inside the printer at all times, and which ink is used is selected automatically in software based on your paper setting.

Anyone who has done high volume printing with an Epson 2100/2200 printer knows that the ink costs are a killer. Even when bought from a discounter, in quantity, the cost per milliliter is high, and when doing a large print run I have found that I have to replace various cartridges as many as a half dozen times a day.

The ink cartridges that can be used on the 4000 are the largest that Epson makes — 220 ml, (the cartridges are the same as those used in the 7600 and 9600 printers), and so the cost per ml and the frequency of charges needed will be dramatically reduced. (110ml cartridges may also be used).

Speed is the 4000's other advantage. According to Epson it is approximately twice as fast as any previous Stylus Color printer, and specifically the larger model 7600. According to Epson the 4000 produces prints of slightly higher quality than the 7600, due as well to its new 3.5 picoliter head technology.


Epson SP4000 head assembly

Paper Handling

The 4000 handles both cut sheet and roll paper. Its front loading paper tray will hold up to 50 sheets of photographic paper of up to 17" X 22" in size. This means that standard 16X20" prints can be made without having to resort to roll paper. The tray also will hold up to 250 sheets of letter-sized paper.

Roll paper can also be used, utilizing rolls with either 2" or 3" cores, up to 130 feet long. There is a built-in automatic paper trimmer, and full-bleed 17" prints are possible. There is an auto-loading top feed, and also single sheet manual-loading, both front and rear feeding. Sheet and roll paper up to 250 g/m2 can autofeed and manual paper feed from the rear can handle media up to 1.5mm thick.

Interface

The choice of USB 1.1, USB 2.0 and also Firewire is available, along with the possibility of installing an optional 100 Base-T LAN card. Driver software for both Windows and Macintosh is provided, and yes, it is OS X compatible.

Like the larger 7600 and 9600 models the LCD on the top control panel shows the approximate status of the inks, meaning that you can evaluate their level visually any time the printer is turned on, without having to call up the Status Monitor on the PC's screen.

Price

The Epson 4000 has a MSRP of U.S. $1,795. There is a an optional printer stand for an additional $399.

The 110ml ink cartridges have a MSRP of $69.95, while the 220ml cartridges cost $112 each. Of course these are usually available for less from online discounters. Clearly the 2200 ml cartridges are the best deal, though buying 8 new cartridges after the ones that ship with the printer run out is going to seriously dent ones Visa card.

Image Quality

There is little to complain about and much to like about the SP4000's image quality. At this level of sophistication gains are small. Don't expect a dramatically visible improvement over any previous Epson Ultrachrome ink printer, but clearly progress is being made.

One area where there is still room for improvement is with regard to "bronzing" when Photo Black ink is used on non-matte papers. It's still there, though one can expect a D-Max of up to 2.0 with glossy papers, and 1.69 with matte papers. Life is full of compromises.

Timing Comparisons

Epson 2200
Epson 4000
7.5" X 9.5" image on
Epson Enhanced Matte Paper
@ 1440 PPI
6 min 30 sec
4 min 30 sec
12" X 16" image on
Epson Enhanced Matte Paper
@ 1440 PPI
14 minutes
8 minutes

My timing tests didn't jibe with Epson's claimed speed improvement. As can be seen above, the 4000 is faster than the 2200 by about 75%. Worthwhile, but not quite as good as claimed.

I also made prints on Premium Luster paper at 2880 PPI, unidirectional, and found that the printing times exactly doubled over printing at 1440, just as seen with Epson's previous models.

Profiles

Unlike when the 2100/2200 first shipped, the 4000 automatically installs the supplied profiles on a Windows machine. Profiles are provided for all of Epson's available papers. Though my testing time was limited I clearly saw that the provided Epson profiles were superior to those that came with the 2200, especially in how shadow detail is handled.


Brickworks #7 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

The above photograph is very challenging to print because it contains a wide range of blacks, grays and subtle shadow detail. The provided Epson 4000 profile for Enhanced Matte paper did a much better job with this than the Epson 2200's equivalent. In fact it was very close to an expensive custom profile that I had made for the 2200 last year, and also very close to the excellent output from the custom profiles provided with the Imageprint 5.5 RIP.

I think its fair to say that SP4000 owners will be very pleased with their print output straight out of the box.

Self Calibration

The SP4000 is self calibrating. It is constantly check its head alignment, and for ink clogs, and if it finds one, even in the middle of a print, it stops, fixes itself and then carries on. Very impressive.

Preliminary Conclusion

For me the decision to purchase an SP4000 is a no-brainer. The ink savings alone over the 2200 will pay for the printer in less than 6 months, and the 75% increase in output speed is always welcome when a big print job is underway. Being able to make 16X20" prints is most welcome, and since I rarely make anything bigger I'm happy not to have to devote half my work space to a 7600 floor model printer. Spousal approval is therefore assured.

Do be aware though that this is not a quiet printer. While the head and paper movement itself is relatively hushed, the fan is noisy, especially in a small room.

When the 2100/2200 printers first came out Epson seriously underestimated demand, and the printers were in short supply through much of 2002 and 2003. With the SP4000 I am told that Epson has received tremendous dealer enthusiasm, and that means that initial orders will be big. Will the factory be able to keep up with demand? I can't say, but if a 4000 is on your shopping list I'd get my order into my favourite dealer sooner rather than later. I predict that this will be the fine art printer for the next couple of years.

I will update this report in February, 2004 once I have started to use the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 in a production environment, and you can look forward to a full report in the next issue of the Luminous Landscape Video Journal.


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Concepts: Printing, Inkjet printer, Ink cartridge, Printer, Computer printers, Ink, Typography

Entities: New York, Visa, North America, Canada, U.S., Color printer, MSRP, Matte paper, Windows, OS X, Michael Reichmann, Epson, Matte Black, PC

Tags: Epson, paper, ink cartridges, Epson Stylus Pro, separate ink cartridges, roll paper, matte paper, epson 4000 review, Luminous Landscape Video, Landscape Video Journal, ink printer, Epson 4000 profile, Pro 4000 printer, Epson printer, ink costs, black cartridges, previous epson ultrachrome, Epson Canada, ml ink cartridges, wide, fine-art photographers, larger model, Matte Black cartridges, profiles, Epson profiles, black ink, prints, Stylus Color printer, optional printer stand, large separate ink, fine art printer, wide roll paper, floor model printer, built-in automatic paper, loading paper tray, Photo Black ink, Ultrachrome pigment-based inkset, manual paper feed, Premium Luster paper, wide colour gamut