Just when you think inkjet printers can’t get any better, Epson proves you wrong. We got to look at a pre-production version of the latest photo printer from Epson, the R800. It takes photo printing beyond what was possible before, using an eight-cartridge system for ultimate colour reproduction.
The inks are cyan, magenta, yellow, matte black, photo black, red, blue, and something Epson calls Gloss Optimiser, which is a clear coating for ultra-glossy images. The reason for the ultra-high-quality output is mostly down to the inks. However, the small drop size helps get the finest detail and, because of the variable drop size, it can print less-detailed areas quickly.
The array of inks is a bit baffling at first. Cyan, magenta and yellow are as you would expect, but there are two blacks. The photo black is designed for high-gloss paper; the matte black is a higher density for printing on matte paper. The whole ink collection is known as the UltraChrome Hi-Gloss ink system. This is the first time an A4 printer has been endowed with this ink set, and it’s bound to be appealing for amateur and professional photographers alike.
The thing that makes UltraChrome Hi-Gloss inks special is that they are glossy pigment-based inks. Usually pigment inks give a matte finish, because the ink is made from tiny particles suspended in liquid that results in an uneven surface. Dye-based inks sink into the paper – so if the paper is glossy, it remains glossy. UltraChrome ink gets over the problem by suspending each pigment particle in a sphere of resin. These encapsulated pigment particles flatten out when sprayed at the page, thus reflecting more light and appearing glossy.
Compared with silver halide (traditional photographic prints), the R800 is at least as good for archival prints. Blue and red inks increase the colour gamut, giving the R800 the widest of any A4 inkjet printer.
When printing on inkjet printers the speed is variable, depending on the computer from which you’re printing. This is because your computer does the calculations to process the image; fast computers will print faster. The R800 isn’t a massively fast printer, despite having both USB and FireWire connectivity. Using the faster FireWire connection gave no speed increase. Our worst-case-scenario image, which had around 85 per cent coverage, took just under four minutes to print at the best quality setting. There is another setting called Photo RMP (Resolution Management Technology) which took considerably longer (around eleven minutes), but with no discernable improvement in quality.
The printer we looked at was a pre-production model, but should in theory perform as would the finished model. Its performance was outstanding – output was as good as I’ve seen from an inkjet printer. Colour was spot on, and the unit is flexible enough to print edge-to-edge on any size paper – even onto CD. Epson has set a new benchmark with this printer, and I’m sure it will prove very popular with both amateur and professional photographers. The R800 will be available in early February.