Four New Epson UltraChromeK3 Printers Announced
Stylus Photo 2400 / Stylus Pro 4800 – 7800 – 9800
In one of the worst kept secrets of the year, Epson announced on May 10th its new line of high-end consumer and professional printers, and advanced UltraChrome inks. This is one of the most extensive and exciting printer announcements ever. No wonder the news was hard to keep under wraps.
These printers are the models Stylus Photo 2400, Stylus Pro 4800, 7800 and 9800. As you might surmise from the model numbers, unless you've been living on Pluto for the past few years, these are the replacements for the current 2200, 4000, 7600 and 9600 printers. (The Stylus Pro 10600 is apparently discontinued).
So – what's new about these printers? A lot!
First of all, the inks. These printers use a new generation of pigment-based inks called UltraChromeK3. According to Epson these offer the widest gamut of ANY ink on the market, including dye based inks. Indeed it appears that Epson is completely abandoning dye based inks, and has said that pros wanting to have wide-format printers capable of handing dye inks should buy a 7600 or 9600 while supplies last.
To make life simple, let me start by saying that everything that I write about these four printers applies to each of them, except where I indicate otherwise.
UltraChromeK3 inks are reputed to offer, in addition to a very wide colour gamut, an increase of .2 Dmax. This is a dramatic increase in the density of the blacks.
How is this accomplished? In part though the addition of a third black ink, called Light-Light Black. Having three separate black inks means that dark tonalities can now be created almost entirely with these inks, rather than a blend of colour inks. And since we know that the reason that CMYK printers use black ink (K), is because while theoretically blending Cyan, Magenta and Yellow produces pure black, in the real world impurities prevent this, and we get muddy blacks instead.
Black and White Printing
In addition to deeper Dmax, having three black inks now allows these Epson printers to produce true monochrome (B&W) prints. There is a new Expert B&W Mode in the printer driver which provides monochrome printing capability, including the application of Sepia and Selenium tones in varying degrees, as well, of course, as true extreemly neutral black and white. (Makers of quad-tone inks will now be up nights wondering how to respond to this sea change in the industry).
The user can feed the driver either a colour RGB file or a mono RGB conversion.
This driver uses new screening (dithering) technology, which, together with the three black / gray inks, produces superior shading and tonalities. The K3 inks are also claimed to have a much tougher ink surface, able to stand significantly greater abrasion than the previous inks.
These inks are unique to the four new printers, and can not be used in previous printers. Also, the previous inks can not be used in the new printers.
Glossy and Matte
One of the areas where Epson's current Ultrachrome inks have been criticized is in their handling of glossy paper. There is bronzing visible, and while most fine art photographers prefer matte papers in any event, there are always jobs and projects that require glossy paper.
The new UltraChromeK3 inks utilize something called High-gloss Microcrystal Encapsulation Technology, which apparently provides a resistance to bronzing on glossy papers that closely approaches that of the amateur R800 and R-1800 printers with their special Gloss Optimizer cartridge. This capability is now apprently built right into the ink's suspension technology.
The observant among us will now be asking – since there's a new Light-Light Black cartridge, where does it go? The answer is that these are still printers with only 8 cartridge positions, and this new cart takes the place, on the 4800, of the second black cartridge. In other works, whereas the 4000 allowed one to have both the Matte Black and the Glossy Black cartridge in place simultaneously, and the driver could select which one to use depending on the paper type chosen, with the 4800 the user will have to physically change this cart themselves, because the Light-Light Black cartridge takes its place. The 2400 is now a nine ink machine, and so no cartridge substitution is required.
The 7800 and 9800 will also require the user to swap black cartridges between glossy and matte, just as they do now. Moan groan, you say. We'll, in a reversal of the usual giving with one hand and taking with the other, Epson has actually given us a break with these new printers. Unlike on the 7600 and 9600, where changing the black cartridge meant that all of the ink lines were flushed, at a cost of about $75 in wasted ink into the maintenance tank, with the new printers only the line for the black cart that's being replaced are flushed. The others are capped. This means that changing blacks is now just a matter of minutes, and at a very modest cost in wasted ink; just of that one cartridge.
And speaking of cartridges, while the 7800 and 9800 take the same 110ML and 220ML cartridges as each other, the 4800 now has its own unique cartridges. What's this, you say!
Well, there's method to Epson's madness. The reason for this is that the two bigger printers now use pressurized cartridges. These are needed because all three wide carriage models, the 4800, 7800 and 9800, use essentially the same print head, and can print at roughly the same speed, and because of the extra size of the two bigger models the ink needs to be under pressure to get to the heads quickly enough.
Epson 7600 and 9600 owners have been jealous for the past year of the 4000's faster print speeds. This is now a thing of the past, and an advance that large format print houses and users will be very pleased to hear.
As mentioned, K3 inks will be available for the 4800, 7800 and 9800 in the usual 110ML and 220ML sizes, but interestingly, these are now physically the same size, and will fit inside the body of the printers, rather than having the 220's stick out the way that they currently do.
One more thought on this topic. Current 4000 owners know that even if they never print with Photo Black, the printer won't work within one of these cartridges installed. Yet, when the printer does a cleaning cycle, all of the inks are purged. In my own experience I've run through two 110ML Photo Black cartridges in the past year, even though I've never printed on glossy paper. So, it could be that the cost of swapping on the 4800 might actually turn out to be less than not doing so with the 4000. Time will tell.
Price and Availability
I've been told that all four new printers will cost approximately the same as the ones that they replace. The 2400 and 4800 will start to ship, in the US and Canada at least, before the end of May. The 7800 and 9800 won't be available till September.
Of course the real question is – how do the prints look? The answer is, that as of today, May 10th, I've yet to see a sample. But, I hope to be able to run some test within the next 1-2 weeks on the 2400, and have my own 4800 before the end of the month, so it won't be long before we all know what to expect.
In the meantime, I have spoken with several Epson beta testers who have been using these printers for several months, and the word is that the print quality improvement over the current Epson printers and inks is extraordinary.
Of course a great many photographers who don't need the wide carriage capacities of the 4800, 7800 and 9800 will be asking – what about the 2400? How will it compare in terms of output quality?
As I understand it – very, very close. One of the differences between the 2400 and the larger models is that each of the bigger printers is linearized when it comes off the assembly line, and this data is burned into the printer's firmware. This allows the printers to be far more accurate. The 2400, because of its price point, is naturally subject to manufacturing tolerance variability. With a suitable RIP and a spectrophotometer one can linearize almost any printer, but this requires an investment of $2-$3,000 worth of equipment and software. As will most things in life, you get what you pay for.
More information as it becomes available.
And Three More Printers As Well
And, just to make sure that the busy elves at Epson stay busy, remarkably the company has also announced three additional printers – the Stylus Pro 4400, 7400 and 9400. These are aimed more at the graphic arts and design industry, rather than photographers, so I won't go into details here. You can read more about them for the moment at Photo-i.
Epson's specs on the 4800 / 7800 / 9800.
Fine art photographer and print maker Joseph Holmes has been a beta tester of the new Stylus Pro 9800 printer and UltraChomeK3 inks. An exhibition of his prints will open on Thursday, May 19th at the Ordover Gallery in Solana Beach, California. In a very informative article on his web site Joseph discusses his impressions of the new printer and inks.
Recommended reading for anyone considering a K3 printer.