Calibrate your Printer to the Factory Standard
If you have an Epson R2400, 4800, 7800 or 9800 printer using the new Epson K3 inks, and you own or have access to one of the spectrophotometers listed below, then you may be interested in a new utility from Epson, called ColorBase. It is available for both Macs and PCs.
ColorBase is designed to calibrate your particular Epson printer, the ink batch and paper batch that you're currently using, and the Epson provided profile (or custom made ones) to match Epson's factory reference standard. It is available as a free download from several Epson web sites around the world.
For Epson 2400 and 4800 printers, spectrophotometers that V1.0 supports include the Gretag Macbeth EyeOne (not the EyeOne display), Gretag Macbeth iCColor 210 and 211, and the Gretag Macbeth Spectrolino, SpectroScanT and SpectroScan along with the Gretag Macbeth MeasureTool application. Version 1.1, which is used with the 7800 and 9800, also supports the X-Rite DTP20 and DTP70.
One of the things that separates Epson's consumer grade printers (Stylus Photo) from the professional grade printers (Stylus Pro) is that each Pro printer is hand calibrated as it comes off the assembly line. This individual calibration is burned into a ROM chip in the printer, and is intended to ensure that each printer is as close as possible to the factories "standard" printer. As for the consumer grade "Photo" printers, apparently manufacturing tolerances are claimed to be high enough that consistent quality between printers is largely achieved.
ColorBase is provided by Epson only as a download. It comes in versions for PCs as well as Macs, and in two flavours – V1.0 for 2400 and 4800 printers, and V1.1 for the other K3 printers. (This is a strange naming convention; naming two separate versions with a different dot release. What will Epson do when and if they upgrade 1.0?)
To find the software for your particular printer (at least on the Epson UK web site) go to this page and then select your printer and operating system. On the next page select Driver and Software downloads and then under the Driver and Software Downloads section at the bottom of that page select More. On the next page (are we there yet Dad?) you'll see Epson Colorbase under the heading Creativity Software. (Don't look at me – I just report this stuff). This is a large file. The Mac version for the Epson 4800, for example, is nearly 27MB.
Once the download is complete install the software and run it.
I won't review the steps that need to be taken, since they're fairly straightforward and automated. You'll need to load a sheet of Super A3-B (13X19") into your printer, and then once the test print has been produced, allow it to dry for 30 minutes or longer. The program thoughtfully provides a count-down timer, and even prevents you from moving on to the next step until the 30 minutes are up.
At this point you need to use your spectrophotometer to read the patches on the test print, just as you normally would when creating a profile. Once this is done ColorBase proceeds to create a special calibration file which is in some way attached to the Epson driver, and used any time that the particular paper type that you have specified is used. (Separate calibration files need to be generated for each paper type, and for the truly neurotic, every time that you change an ink cartridge).
It's important to understand that this is not a profile. It is a calibration file, similar I suppose to the one that is supposedly created for each printer as it is tested off the assembly line. Therefore it works with not only Epson's profiles, but also with any that you might produce yourself, and if you have invested in a high-end spectrophotometer, such as the ones supported by the software, the odds are that you have been making and using your own profiles.
So, if the Pro printers are calibrated at the factory, what on earth is ColorBase for, and why would you need it?
My own testing shows that the visible difference between printing with the calibration file active, and not, with both Epson's provided profiles and my own created with Gretag Macbeth's Eye One for my 4800, are very slight, but visible. On Enhanced Matte, my usual paper, I can see a slight increase in red density, as the most obvious difference.
According to Epson the real value in the use of ColorBase is when you are using multiple printers of the same type and wish to bring them all as close as possible. You could thus create one custom profile (or use Epson's) and then use that profile on each printer, allowing the ColorBase calibration done on each printer to bring them all to a matching factory standard.
Since I don't have multiple K3 ink printers available, I can't test this myself, but it sounds plausible.
Epson provides a reasonably well done Help file within the program, and there is a FAQ available on the Epson UK web site.
Canon 5D with 24-105mm f/4L IS @ ISO 400
Not in the Americas
Curiously, ColorBase is available as a free download from Epson's web sites all over the world, except for the USA, Canada and Latin America. I have no information as to why Epson U.S. does not officially support the software. I have my guesses, but since it is available elsewhere, especially from Epson UK in an English language version, it really doesn't matter much.
Something for the on-line conspiracy theorists to chew upon.
The Bottom Line
So, is it worth downloading ColorBase and using it? Yes – but with provisos. Of course you have to have a supported spectrophotometer. If you do, the chances are that you're in a professional production environment, or you're a stickler for print quality. In either case ColorBase will likely prove worthwhile, but primarily if your trying to bring several printers into line without the necessity of profiling each one separately.
If you don't have a spectrophotometer it certainly isn't worth your while to spend a thousand dollars or more on one, just so you can use ColorBase.
To my mind the real value of ColorBase for all Epson owners is that along with the individual hand calibration of each Pro printer done at the factory, it makes a clear statement about Epson's commitment to the highest print quality that the company's technology can provide.