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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.