Epson's latest inkjet proofer is a worthy successor to the manufacturer's previous desktop wide-format efforts. Rising more than a foot high and stretching 3 1/2 feet wide to accommodate its A2 print carriage, it certainly doesn't look like your everyday inkjet. Cut-sheet media is loaded in a large expanding cassette at the front, taking paper sizes up to 17-x-24 inches. A roll-feed unit is mounted high at the rear to make it easy to reach when standing in front of the printer.
Loading a roll is easy: once threaded onto the freely removable rod and the endcaps are pushed on, the roll just drops into the unit, whereupon you just push the end of the paper through into the carriage. Note too that the roll-feeder and sheet cutter are already part of the printer as standard: you don't have to build them as with certain HP proofers. Our only concern is that you seem to lose roughly 15cm of unused paper between each printout on the roll media, even with back-to-back print jobs.
Removable ink cartridges are held in fixed slots on either side of the printer, separate from the permanent printheads inside. Eight inks are required in total, each fitted as an individual cartridge. In addition to the conventional cyan, magenta and yellow are matte black, photo black, pale black, light cyan and light magenta. The Stylus Pro 4000 uses Epson's pigment-based UltraChrome inks, which promise better staying power on the paper, being non-smearing and (it is claimed) colour-fast for up to 75 years.
Despite the extra inks involved, high-resolution (1,440dpi) print speeds are pretty good for a proofer of this class. An A4 double-page spread output to 13-x-19-inch cut sheets took only around 12 minutes compared with the 20 minutes or so we would have expected from earlier Epson desktop proofers.
Results are worthy of the 'proofer' moniker thanks to the combination of multiple inks (not least the three-tone blacks) and the 3.5-picolitre droplets achieved by the Stylus Pro 4000 printhead. However, if our experience is anything to go by, obtaining colour-correct output is something you have to work at. By default, the printer seems to want to output all high-resolution work with a yellow caste that is so strong that it sends conventional colour-calibration products round the bend trying to correct it. With a great deal of trial and error, you'll get there in the end, but this is certainly no out-of-the-box solution for colour-critical environments. Also bear in mind that the unit we tested is the plain vanilla version; if you want Epson's PostScript RIP as well, add another £300 to the price.
With a PostScript RIP in place and a long time spent on colour calibration, the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 successfully straddles the market for photo and fine art reproduction with prepress proofing. Just don't expect instant miracles because the colour setup isn't as simple or intuitive as the hardware is to use.