A Hands-On Report
By: Nick Rains
Rains is a talented and widely published Australian freelancer. Below is
his first-hand report on owning and using (for a while at least) the
latest-generation Epson wide-format printer, the 9500.
Much has been made about inkjet longevity over the last couple of years and
Epson realized that many users of the 9000 and 7000 printers were using 3rd
party inks to get a decent lifespan for their prints. The basic
Epson dye inks are totally unsuitable for selling for any purpose apart from
very short life display prints for shops etc. The best figures I have seen
have been about 2 years before noticeable fading - and that's indoors, behind
Epson thus decided to bring out their own "Archival" inkset with the
release of the 9500 printer. They said the inks would last in excess of 100
years and that may turn out to be true ‹ tests are underway currently and
the results are due out very soon.
It was not the stability of the inks which caused me trouble with this
printer, it was the very pronounced banding at Fast and Medium quality
The earlier 9000 was capable of superb prints with rich blacks and a lovely
tonal range, you can imagine my disappointment when the upgraded printer
turned out slightly less rich prints with a corduroy-like appearance. I was in
touch with Epson pronto and after many weeks of silence and certainly no
action, they told me that this was a known problem and the microporous coating
on the papers was to blame.
They said that the problem was being addressed and in the meantime I should
make my prints at 1440.
At this setting the printer is sloooooow. Epson's own figures give a speed of
less than 10 sq feet per hour. That's over 1 hour for an A0. The quality was
fine at that speed but life is too short for such speeds especially in a
commercial sense. If you were just doing high end art prints and able to
charge IRIS type fees than the printer will make money but if you try and do
mass printings for less demanding clients the speed issue is a real killer.
The other problem is the cost of the consumables. The 9000 was acceptable in
this respect and the cost of the "Archival" inks was expected to be
25% more. What no-one mentioned was the fact that the inks seem to be weaker,
especially the Light Cyan and Light Magenta. This means more ink must be laid
down, leading to the banding problems and more ink cost.
The 9500 seems to use about 50% more ink than the 9000 for the same job. I
actually used up a whole Lc cart in a day, and given the speed of the printer,
that's not many prints. The bottom line is that the cost of the consumables
makes the printer uneconomical for printing poster work or for any low to
medium end stuff. Only at the high end can enough be charged to cover the time
and costs involved in making a print.
I could actually get a matt Lambda print for only AUD15 more than the cost of
my consumable for an A0 print! In fact I could get Lambda prints made onto
Crystal Archive for only slightly more than double my actual costs. Its
hard to be competitive in those circumstances even if you are touting 100 plus
years as we were.
Essentially, the printer can do beautiful work. If you want to follow the
steep learning curve and learn all about colour management then it can be
a good printer. I can see an individual photographer printing editions of his
own work and charging good prices for high quality, long lived prints but
really, you can get a lot of good lab prints done for AUD$20,000.
If you want to print on the fine-art papers then inkjet is the only way to go
as IRIS has shown. This printer will give IRIS a run for its money, in the
hands of an expert operator.
In a production environment, it will make a good proofer and indeed many users
are doing just that. However, as a general purpose printer it is too expensive
and slow to be economical.
To anyone thinking of investing in this machine I would say this ‹ go in with
your eyes open and do your sums carefully. Inkjet printing is very time
consuming, expensive, and whilst fantastic results are possible, it is not at
all easy. This printer is capable of good result within very narrow
limits. For me these limits were way too restricting.
© 2001 ‹ Nick Rains
You might also be interested in a hands-on
report on the Epson 7500