Epson Stylus Pro 7600
A Wide Format Ink Jet Printer

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Epson Stylus Pro 7600

With the release of the Epson Stylus Pro 9000 in 1999, Epson officially entered into the market of wide format digital printing. Since then, Epson has managed to continuously develop and improve their printer, ink, and paper technologies. The current product, which represents the culmination of this research and development, is the new Epson Stylus Pro 7600. This 24" printer offers a price to performance ratio that should make sense to virtually any photographer or photo lab. Epson also offers the Stylus Pro 9600 that offers the same functionality, except that the larger 9600 model has a maximum printable width of 44". The machine that was evaluated for this review was the 7600 UltraChrome model.

A 1440dpi color print on Epson's Enhanced Matte Paper. The level of detail that the Stylus Pro 7600 is able to print is amazing. Even under the scrutiny of a 10x loupe, a dot pattern is virtually imperceptible.
Photos © 2001, Cris Daniels, All Rights Reserved

Ink Set Options
Because some photographers and fine art printmakers still prefer working with a dye based ink set for various reasons, these printers are available configured for either the Photographic Dye ink set, or the UltraChrome pigmented ink set. The Photographic Dye ink set is virtually identical to the inks used in the smaller Epson 1270/1280 printers. The UltraChrome ink set represents what the large majority of users will likely prefer to purchase, and is also used in the consumer model Stylus Photo 2200 printer.

The UltraChrome inks represent a departure of the "Archival" inks used in the previous 7500, 9500, and 10000 models. Although the outright longevity ratings of the ink set is reduced vs. the "Archival" inks, the tradeoff between the increased color gamut and reduction of metamerism will undoubtedly make the UltraChrome ink set the primary choice of photographers striving to find the best combination of print durability and vivid color output.

The UltraChrome ink set is a seven-color set, the normal six colors plus a new light black ink for improved gray balance. The Photographic Dye ink set is a six-color set (CMYKLcLm) and does not have the light black cartridge. Because the two printers are based on the same chassis, Photographic Dye users simply install two black cartridges in order to use all of the possible cartridge positions. Epson sells the Photographic Dye 7600 and UltraChrome 7600 printers as different models, so the decision must be made at time of purchase so that the appropriate ink set configuration is purchased. For the UltraChrome users there are two options for the black position cartridge--the standard black ink cartridge (Photo Black), or the optional Matte black cartridge that offers superior performance on fine art papers.


Printed on Epson's Enhanced Matte paper, the optional Matte black cartridge yields prints with fantastic contrast and depth. The exceptional gamut of the UltraChrome ink set makes printing on fine art papers a rewarding experience.

Setup, Interfaces, And Options
Setup of the Epson Stylus Pro 7600 is simple. The printer is shipped in heavily protective packaging and requires at least two people to lift and handle the unit properly. The optional stand is the only part that requires physical assembly. After constructing the stand, two people can easily lift the printer and secure it to the stand with the included hardware. After setup, the printer is powered on, the ink cartridges are loaded, and the printer performs the initial ink charging procedure, which takes about 10 minutes.

The standard interfaces on the Stylus Pro 7600 include a PC Parallel port and USB 2.0 port. The USB 2.0 port is backward compatible to USB 1.1 standards, however USB 2.0 is much faster (480 megabits per second vs. 12 megabits per second for USB 1.1). Without purchasing the optional IEEE-1394 FireWire or Ethernet card, USB 2.0 connectivity is the only way to drive the printer in bi-directional printing modes without the printer pausing for data between passes. The current version of Mac OS X (10.2.5) does not support USB 2.0, so the optional IEEE-1394 FireWire card is likely the best connectivity choice for that platform.

Options that are available from Epson include a highly recommended $295 printer stand, a high tension spindle required for certain papers, manual media cutting system, and extended service contracts from Epson. The printer includes a one-year warranty standard from Epson, and as always I've found that Epson's
Pro-Graphics technical support is very helpful and courteous.


The green area represents a 3D gamut map of the Epson UltraChrome inks on Epson Premium Luster Paper. The blue area (inside the transparent green map) is a 3D gamut map of the Epson Photographic Dye inks on the same paper, notice how the UltraChrome gamut actually exceeds the Photographic Dye gamut in most areas.

The Print Head And Print Speed
The Epson Stylus Pro 7600 printer uses the Epson Variable Droplet DX3 print head. The smallest droplet size of this DX3 head is 4 picoliters, very small for a wide format printer, and one of the main reasons for the stellar output quality. This print head offers multiple resolutions, with the maximum true hardware resolution of 2880x1440dpi. The print engine speed is obviously affected by the print head resolution specified in the driver, and in most cases I felt that 1440dpi print quality was nothing short of excellent. After making well over 150 prints, it seems like 1440dpi is the best compromise of speed vs. quality. Any advantages to printing at 2880dpi were mostly gained when evaluating prints under a loupe, and at the large expense of productivity.

At normal viewing distances, even 720dpi looks very good when printing on fine art media, although I felt that the 720dpi output was too coarse on the high-resolution photo papers. Epson's quoted output speeds range from 8-192 square feet per hour. The printer is adequately fast, and is remarkably quiet, which is very nice when working in a small studio environment.

Color Management
The Epson Stylus Pro 7600 has a driver interface that looks and behaves exactly like other standard Epson print drivers. The end user is left with a few different options for color managing their printed output. Some of the standard Epson settings like PhotoEnhance4 and Color Controls work well, but offer very little control to professional-level users. For professional level output, I made some custom ICC printer profiles to really dial-in the output of the printer. The printer responded extremely well to a custom-built ICC output profile, which really optimized the density, color accuracy, and gray balance for each different media that I used. Epson also offers ICC profiles on their web site (www.epson.com) that many people are finding work very well in their workflow. They are made by Bill Atkinson and are free to download.


While the standard Epson driver obviously facilitates black and white printing, the ImagePrint 5.5 RIP from ColorByte Software (www.colorbytesoftware.com) takes black and white printmaking to an entirely new level when used in conjunction with the Stylus Pro 7600 UltraChrome printer. Perfectly neutral images with no crossover,
ultra-fine dithering patterns, and the virtual elimination of metamerism in gray scale printing makes this software a must-have for serious printmaking tasks.

Borderless Printing And Media Options
While these printers offer the obvious ability to print from roll media, they are equally adept at printing on sheet paper. The smallest usable sheet paper size is 8.5x11". One very valuable feature is the ability to print borderless at many different paper sizes. When specified in the driver, the printer will trim both the top and bottom edges of the borderless prints so that no hand trimming is necessary.

There are many different types of media that work equally well in this printer, providing many ways for photographers to present their product to clients. When printing on Epson Glossy Paper Photo Weight with the standard Photo Black ink, the D-max I recorded was 2.10. Using the Matte black ink on Epson Enhanced Matte paper, the D-max was 1.72. Epson offers a large variety of both rolls and sheet papers that are compatible with this printer.

After making prints on standard photographic papers, I spent some time printing on canvas and fine art papers. Both Epson and LexJet (www.lexjet.com) canvases printed with vivid color, and because I was able to print the canvas media at 720dpi, the print times were very quick. Once the canvases were printed, I let them dry for a couple of days and sprayed them with Krylon Kamar varnish. The varnish not only adds a layer of protection as recommended by Epson, but has the secondary benefit of boosting the color saturation and contrast of the print.

Because fine art papers are a personal favorite of mine, I switched the black position ink from the Photo Black to the Matte black cartridge to perform a series of tests on various fine art media. The process of switching the black cartridges is simple and takes around 15 minutes, but does consume roughly $75 worth of ink because of the ink that the printer purges from the supply lines. This is a limitation that will likely preclude the constant switching of black position cartridges for many users.

It needs to be mentioned that the standard Photo Black cartridge prints on every media (including fine art) available. Because I wanted the richest prints possible on fine art media, I made the switch to the Matte black cartridge. Popular papers such as Epson Enhanced Matte, Hahnemule Photo Rag, and Epson Velvet all printed with excellent density and contrast. These media offer ways for photographers to present images to clients in a way that separates them from ordinary photo labs.

Running Costs
The standard 110ml UltraChrome ink cartridges have an MSRP of $69.95 each. Epson quotes that the paper and ink running cost for Enhanced Matte Paper is around $1.09 a square foot, Canvas at $2.83, and Premium Luster at $1.22. There are many variables in these calculations, but I can't image anyone being disappointed with the operational costs involved when weighed against the profits obtained by selling the prints. After creating custom ICC profiles for the different media types that I was printing on, I felt confident that I was creating less waste in both materials and time because I didn't need to meddle with color settings for each print. This kind of workflow will have a direct affect on the running costs of the equipment.

Final Thoughts
Having owned both the Epson Stylus Pro 7500, and 10000CF, I can say that the print quality of the Stylus 7600 should meet or exceed the standards of any professional. Under the scrutiny of a 10x loupe, the print quality is fantastic. While these are not truly continuous tone output devices, the technical advances in this printer have yielded output quality that can go head to head with virtually any other kind of printing technology, yet offers the flexibility of printing on many different substrates. It seems that Epson has listened to the end users and directly addressed issues such as excessive metamerism, mediocre gray scale performance, and the typically limited color gamut of pigmented inks.

At the retail prices of $2995 for the Epson Stylus Pro 7600, and $4995 for the Epson Stylus Pro 9600, it is hard to imagine that a working photographer couldn't justify bringing this kind of technology and output capability in-house. The running costs associated with these machines should allow the photographer more profitability than outsourcing print jobs, yet greater control over the variables and a quicker turnaround time.
Advanced users may opt to purchase third-party RIP (Raster Image Processor) software to drive the printer. Most of these third-party RIP packages allow versatile image layout features, postscript processing capabilities, and often provide more comprehensive color management options. The increased flexibility and ability to prevent media waste by ganging multiple prints on one large print job might be justification enough for busy professionals to explore this option.

The Epson Stylus Pro 7600 represents a landmark product in the digital imaging industry, and should be of great interest to all photographers looking to create large format output.

For more information, visit Epson's web site, www.epson.com.

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