The New Epson Stylus Photo R2400; A 13x19” Printer For All Purposes
Ever since color inkjet printers made for photographic printing were introduced
a significant portion of the photo community has felt they were left out because
color inkjets have not provided a good solution for black and white photography
compared to color. Now, Epson has responded with their new Stylus Photo R2400
that is really three printers in one. First, it is an even better color printer
of RGB photographic images than the 2200 it replaces. Second, it also prints
black and white with equally fine image quality. Third, it also provides the
ability to reproduce CMYK press proof prints of exceptional quality.
How this expanded capability and improved performance was achieved, and right on the heels of the new Epson Stylus Photo R1800, is an interesting story, because set side by side you have to look twice to tell the two printers apart. The key to what differentiates the two printers is the new Epson UltraChrome K3 ink technology and how the new R2400 uses these inks to make both superior color prints and fine black and white prints without skipping a beat.
Epson's UltraChrome K3 Ink
Although there have been considerable improvements and refinements included in the new design of the R2400 printer, I believe the most significant improvement in color print performance is due to Epson's new K3 inks. I think the reason for this is best understood in the context of a consideration of some color basics, if you will permit me the diversion. The RGB color displayed on your monitor screen is additive color; red, blue, and green light added together makes white light. To make a print of that image, the image file data is converted to CMYK or negative color, which is so named because the addition of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink on paper produces black. It is called negative color also because the function of ink is to subtract light illuminating a print, only allowing the reflected light to be in a particular color, absorbing all of the other colors of light falling on the print.
In other words, the intensity of color and its purity comes from the ink's ability to absorb light. Thus higher absorption efficiency creates more intense colors in a print, and ink colors that are purer cut off absorption more sharply between colors, which further enhances color intensity and saturation. Black ink, the "K" component in printed images, which absorbs all colors of light, is used to increase the absorption to both create a greater maximum density in a print and to reproduce darker shades of colors.
The K3 addition to the name UltraChrome by Epson refers to the fact that three
distinct black inks are used (PK/MK 100 percent black for either matte or resin-coated
papers, light black, and light light black). This makes the R2400 an eight-color
printer. This of course contributes to a higher print D-max, as well as better
subtle gradation and separation of the darker shades of color. It also supports
the R2400's black and white white printing capability. For black and white
printing, the printer uses all three levels of K black ink plus light cyan,
light magenta, and yellow. This six-ink combination allows a selection of black
tones from warm through neutral to cool black, as well as "toned"
effects like Sepia, Selenium, Kodak Brown, or Blue.
There is more to the Epson performance improvement than a new ink color palette strategy. Since Epson introduced UltraChrome pigment inks with the 2000P they have enjoyed a unique patented technology that involves a resin coating around each pigment contained in the ink. Generic pigment inks have been around for some time and have worked fairly well with matte fiber papers because once the solution which holds the pigment in solution dries it has a dull finish, which matches the character of matte papers.
The drawback was, however, that it also limited the color intensity that could be reproduced.
With each generation of Epson UltraChrome ink the patented Microcrystal Encapsulation Technology of the new K3 ink has been refined, now with a high-gloss coating. In principle it functions a little like the effect of taking a colored piece of cloth or paper and putting a drop of water on it, resulting in a damp spot that looks darker with more intense color. This latest version has increased effective intensity by making the ink more efficient at absorbing a very specific range of colors of light.
In addition to reproducing a more vibrant and colorful image the new UltraChrome
K3 ink is more compatible with resin-coated papers. The result is that surface
shininess is the same in image areas with the most ink saturation as it is where
there is no ink. The new Microcrystal Encapsulation Technology also makes the
printed image more scratch-resistant and delicate fine art
matte papers more scuff proof.
Of course, all new software for the printer driver for the R2400 was needed to accommodate a different performing ink and a new color palette. It also offers improvements in screening technology, particularly for the advanced black and white capability. Epson notes that this new generation of printers is tested after manufacture and calibrated to provide superior color managed performance with new profiles, aimed at more precise color matching performance. Finally, print life expectations are truly archival with as much as 108 years for color prints and over 200 years for black and white, as tested. For print life test results visit: www.wilhelm-research.com.
Testing And Using The New Epson Stylus Photo R2400
After many years of receiving countless e-mails asking me how to obtain good quality black and white inkjet prints, I was of course eager to try Epson's first printer to offer fine black and white printing as a feature. And after testing both the Epson R800 and R1800, with their new ink palettes including both red and blue inks, I was most interested to see how the new R2400 would reproduce RGB photo image files using a more traditional CMYK ink palette. Would the R2400 be as good as the very improved print results, particularly when reproducing flesh tones and the natural greens of foliage, as the R1800? And could one printer reproduce both excellent color and good quality black and white prints?
To answer these questions I selected a wide range of both color and black and white images, which included some photographs I had recently reproduced with the R1800 and with the 2000P. I recently converted the 2000P to dedicated black and white printing with MIS Associates all-black ink, a test that appeared recently in Shutterbug.
The paper media can also make a significant difference in print performance. In addition to some of the standard favorite Epson papers popular with users, I also made tests after calibrating and custom profiling the R2400 with some third-party papers, such as Premier Art Luster Rag. Epson also extended my range of test media by providing generous samples of one of their papers I had not previously used, Epson Professional UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper, and Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper.
You might think that I'd let my curiosity get the best of me and jump
right into printing black and white images. But no longer impetuous, I began
my work with the R2400 by printing test chart files to calibrate and profile
a couple of my favorite third-party fine art papers. Then I made a series of
prints with both Epson and third-party papers using my composite test image
that includes a step tablet gray scale, a couple of color reference charts,
and several color photographs. I could then compare the prints for consistency
of color and densities to be confident the printer was performing to specification
and color management was functioning to provide matching print results. Only
then did I make a set of test prints, also with a composite test image, using
the sample of papers at my disposal to try the advanced black and white capability
of the R2400.
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