See below for a personal update on my experience with the 5500.
Bigger, Faster Stronger
A Review by Cris Daniels
The Epson Stylus Pro 5500 is the newest family member to the Epson Pro Graphics line of printers. The Stylus Pro 5500 utilizes the proprietary Epson 6 color encapsulated pigmented inkset. The printer also utilizes the superior MicroPiezo DX3 print head with true variable droplet sizes (3 picoliter) and a 2880x720 dpi resolution. The printer weighs in at just less than 49 pounds. I have had the machine for a few weeks now and feel very comfortable with its capabilities. I was hoping that it would provide me with a machine with Epson 2000P quality output, but with greater speed and economy as well.
Standard equipment on the Stylus Pro 5500 is a 250 sheet paper tray which can be loaded with all of the paper sizes up to Super A3. The only paper that will not work with the tray is the watercolor paper that has to be manually fed through the back of the printer (in the manual feed slot) as it is a bit too thick for the built in paper tray to feed reliably. The manual advises to load only 20 sheets of photo-type papers at once, and up to 250 sheets of plain papers, however you can load at least twice the amount of photo papers in my experience with no ill effects — the tray certainly has the room.
The Stylus Pro 5500 uses 4 ink cartridges, Black, Yellow, Cyan / Light Cyan, and Magenta / Light magenta. Each cartridge is a 110ml unit, and of course the Cyan and Magenta cartridges will yield less output because they are split color cartridges. The printer comes stock with both parallel and USB interfaces, with an IEEE 1394/Firewire or Ethernet interface cards as an option. The recommended system is a Pentium II or G3 with 256MB RAM. I tested the 5500 in a variety of configurations and it did print much quicker from a Mac G4 and Pentium III than it did on an older 233Mhz iMac I also have. It was obvious that the printer was waiting for data even with background printing disabled. The printer only has a 256kb input buffer, so for optimal performance, a machine that can feed the printer data quickly is essential.
A Production Printer for Photographers
The Stylus Pro 5500 is targeted at users who are Photography or Fine Art clients, or for proofing needs. The machine has quite a few differences from the Epson 1270/1280 printers. I have been using the 1520/1270/2000P/7500 in my studio since each machine was released and have a good feeling for each machines strengths and weaknesses. The two machines that the 5500 would be redundant with are the 2000P and the 1270. The 2000P is an excellent machine with many great features and excellent image quality, however speed issues and the cost of inks make it ill-suited to producing larger print runs. I am doing quite a bit of digital printing for local photographers (mostly portrait) and the 2000P is not an option due to the running costs. The Epson 1270 and newer 1280/90, as nice as they are, have the same issues in terms of running costs, and print durability is questionable over the long term. The 1270 also cannot reproduce some of the subtle tones that the 5500 can reproduce. Below is a cropped sample of the type of problem I have had with the 1270 in my workflow.
Original Image Epson 5500 / 1440 dpi Epson 1270 / 1440 dpi
I am very happy with the 1270. Overall it has provided me with great prints and certainly the price was right, however I have had a few people ask me if there is a real difference between the 1270 and Stylus Pro 5500 and this series of graphics illustrates one of them. The 1270 print is posterized in the neck area, and the shadow between the hairline and the flesh is simply a brown mess. I have not been able to circumvent this problem yet with the 1270. It seems to be an issue of switching from pure black to shadows (where color is mixed with black inks), the 1270 goes brown and looses its ability to render detail. The 1270 print is not usable for me as far as reselling is concerned. Upon inspection, the full image looks muddy and unprofessional.
For my personal photographs which tend to be more ìoutdoorî in content, the problem is not nearly as bad. These 2 prints were made in exactly the same manner and on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper — a paper not even optimized for pigmented inks, and clearly the 5500 performs to a much higher degree. The images are raw scans off the printouts, I realize that they are not color balanced to each other, I simply printed the original file as it was delivered to me on each printer using the same paper type. It is also very difficult to show the integrity of a print through these compressed pictures. The difference is far more noticeable on the real print, and the samples are printed on the Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper, kind of a difficult paper to scan anyway.
The 5500, due to a better driver, print head, or both, clearly shows its ability to render photographic detail at a higher level. The 5500 can handle the transitional tones very smoothly and outputs a very convincing continuous tone type image. These prints were performed with the standard ICC profiles for each device, and the Stylus 5500 has responded very well to custom profiling, delivering more accurate color and tones than this image illustrates. Also, the custom ICC profile gives me a better screen-to-print match, the stock profile prints a bit dark as you can see. However for the sake of accuracy, I wanted to show the tangible differences between these printers ìout of the boxî.
The Stylus Pro 5500 is also a far more cost effective unit to run in production environments. The separate and larger cartridges are cutting my ìper printî costs for ink in half if not better. That cost savings alone will pay for the increased cost of the printer in due time, and the printer has more professional output as well.
The print times are quite fast, at around 3 minutes, 40 seconds for a 1440 Photo mode 8x10" of excellent quality. The 2880 mode at least triples the time, with not any significant increase in image quality. I have found that the 720dpi unidirectional mode works excellent with the watercolor/art papers and provides very quick output speeds. The watercolor papers tend to work nicely at 720dpi because of the increased dot gain and paper texture.
The Epson Stylus Pro 5500 also prints with a minimum of a metamerism effect, the print is very much akin to the dye based machines, but with a slightly desaturated gamut as can be expected by the pigmented inkset. In conclusion, for the type of work I am doing, the Epson Stylus Pro 5500 offers me an opportunity to output images that have archival integrity, less expenses due to the inking system, great speed, and superior detail. For the high output inkjet user, this is an excellent machine.
Cris Daniels is a Florida-based photographer who also works with other photographers in migrating to digital imaging. Chris is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop.
© 2001 Cris Daniels / All Rights Reserved
September 30, 2001
Because the demand for my recently announced Monograph has far exceeded my initial projections I found my Epson 2000P printing almost night and day for several weeks. The reason for this is that though the 2000P is a superb printer, it is slow. For low volume printing this is not a problem, and neither really is the issue of ink costs. But, when one is doing production printing — literally hundreds of A3 sized prints in rapid succession, both the slow speed and the high ink costs become a serious issue.
The 5500 solves both problems for me. It prints approximately 2.3 times faster than the 2000P in 1440dpi Photo mode in Archival Matt paper. The 2000P prints took 18.5 minutes while the identical 5500 print took 8 minutes. I have no firm grasp on ink costs yet, but Cris indicates above that his ink costs are half or less than those experienced with the 2000P.
As for image quality, the 2000P and 5500 are very close. I have found the Epson-provided profile to be slightly warmer than stock prints from the 2000P. The display colour balance appears to be more toward daylight than tungsten, and consequently the perception of metamerism is reduced.
My printing to date has been limited to Archival Matt, my favourite paper and the one I currently use exclusively for display and sale prints as well as the Monograph. As I gain more experience with other papers and with some custom made profiles I'll report results here.