Seiko Epson has developed a new eight-colour ink printing method aimed at the high-end PC printing and professional market and will shortly put compatible printers on sale worldwide, it said Wednesday.

The new method is called UltraChrome K3 and is a refinement of an existing Epson technology. It makes use of nine different types of ink, eight of which can be used at any one time.

In addition to the cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta and yellow colour inks, the system has four types of black ink. The basic black is user selectable to match the paper being used - either matte black or photo black - and then there are two additional inks both of which are new: light-black and light-light-black.

These differ from conventional black in their density and can be utilized to get richer blacks and better contrast in photos, especially in the shadows or areas where a fine gradation is required, said Alastair Bourne, a spokesman for the company.

Four in the family

There are four compatible printers in the company's initial line up.

The Epson Stylus Photo R2400 is a desktop printer aimed at the serious amateur or semi-professional user. It can handle resolutions up to 5,760 dots per inch (dpi) by 1,440 dpi and borderless printing on paper up to "Super B" size 13-x-19 inches (33-x-48.2cm). It can print an 11-x-14 inch (27.9-x-35.6cm) photo in 1 minute 47 seconds, according to Epson.

It will be available later this month in most markets and will cost $849 (no UK price available yet).

Three additional printers, the desktop Epson Stylus Pro 4800 and wide-format Epson Stylus Pro 7800 and 9800, are aimed at the professional market. The printers accommodate paper sheets or rolls of width 17 inches (43.2 cm), 24 inches (61 cm) and 44 inches (1.1 meters), respectively.

The Stylus Pro 4800 is available this month and costs US$1,995 while the latter two models, the Stylus Pro 7800 and 9800, will be available in the second half of this year and will cost $2,995 and $4,995, respectively, Epson said.