Price: 1498 . 510
Pros: Stylus Pro 4800: Heavy duty professional inkjet with excellent colour and new dedicated grey inks for monochrome. High-quality reel and sheet feeders, edge-to-edge printing. Choice of resolutions.
Stylus Photo R2400: Affordable desktop A3+ colour printer with new K3 long-life pigment inks. Special greys for monochromes. RPM technology extends apparent resolution to 5,760-x-1,440dpi.
Cons: Stylus Pro 4800: cons Heavy and too big for most desktops, especially with paper tray extended. Switching blacks for matt and gloss takes ten minutes and wastes ink.
Stylus Photo R2400: cons Very slow at all photo quality settings. Small ink cartridges. Requires black cartridge change for gloss or matt papers. Reel feeder is a bit weedy.
Since 2002 Epson has shipped its high-end, top-quality Stylus Pro inkjet printers with wide-gamut long-life pigment inks called UltraChrome. Now the company has introduced a second-generation set called UltraChrome K3.
UltraChrome K3 inks have purer colours for a slightly better gamut (especially in the red tones). Epson also claims reduced metamerism – where colours shift relative to each other under different lighting conditions. This is important if you want to use your printer for proofing. K3 inks dry instantly on a wide range of coated matt or gloss papers and have a claimed fade-resistance of over 150 years when framed behind glass.
K3 inks cost the same but cannot be used on existing printers, so Epson is releasing new K3 versions of all its top models over the next few months. First to arrive are the A2 format Stylus Pro 4800, and a desktop A3+ format model, the Stylus Photo R2400.
The Stylus Pro 4800 is virtually identical to the 2003 Stylus Pro 4000, which is popular with designers, photographers, and fine art printers. It’s the entry level to Epson’s professional printers, built from tough materials and intended for constant use.
Like the 4000, the 4800 has eight ink channels, but the colour set has been revised to include two shades of grey. This gives smooth midtones and highlights on B&W photographs. Inkjets usually print lighter greys from equal quantities of cyan, magenta, and yellow colours, invariably with a slight colour cast.
The 4800 uses true neutral greys and the results are great. You can choose warmer, cooler, or sepia tones, which mix in a little colour.
The 4800’s other inks are cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, and full-strength black. There are two sizes of
ink cartridge: 110ml (at £36.88 each) and 220ml (£58.50 each).
Epson makes two types of full-strength black, one for gloss papers and the other for matt. The 4000 printer holds both black cartridges at once and automatically switches between them depending on the paper you select. However, on the 4800 the new lighter grey cartridge occupies the eighth slot, so you can only fit one full-strength black. When you want to change from gloss to matt, you have to fit draining cartridges first, which takes ten minutes and wastes some expensive ink.
Image quality is superb in colour or B&W. Although the maximum resolution of the 4800 is 2,800-x-1,440dpi, the quality is still excellent at 720-x-720dpi, which is much faster and uses less ink. An A2 image prints in about eight minutes at 720dpi, nearly 11 minutes at 1,440dpi, and 23 minutes at 2,880dpi.
Roll with it
The 4800 is supplied with a roll feeder and built-in trimming knife for reels of paper up to 17 inches wide (big enough for A2 portrait, A3 landscape, or banners up to about 1.5m). There’s also an expanding paper feed tray for sheet sizes up to A2.
FireWire and USB ports are standard, but TCP/IP networking costs £259 extra. Epson’s printer menu software is reasonably comprehensive for Windows but less so for Mac OS X, although it’s perfectly adequate.
The smaller Stylus Photo R2400 uses the same eight-colour set with the new greys, and the head technology is similar to the 4800’s. Quality is similar, and it’s great at monochrome work.
New RPM (resolution performance management) technology gives an equivalent to 5,760-x-1,440dpi. Like the 4800, you have to manually exchange gloss and matt black cartridges. R2400 cartridges are small and cost £8.44 each – Epson says they’re enough for about 520 average A3 colour photographs.
The R2400 is slower and its construction is more flimsy than the 4800, so it is more suited to keen amateurs or more occasional use in small studios. Instead of a paper tray, the sheet feeder is a gravity slider, while the paper reel feeder is basic. It has FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, but TCP/IP needs an external USB print server.
The A3+ (329-x-483mm) edge-to-edge print format is enough for a double-page spread proof with cropmarks. Printing
an A3 photograph takes about seven minutes at standard Photo quality, 17 minutes at Best Photo and 19 minutes
at the RPM setting (plus two to four minutes for downloads). RPM results are marginally smoother than Photo under a magnifier, but not really worth the extra wait.
In conclusion, the R2400 is perfect for semi-professional use – the quality is great, but it works very slowly. The 4800 is no speed demon either (nor is its chief rival, the £830 HP Designjet 90r). However, the Stylus Pro 4800 bigger, very robust, and extremely versatile. Yet the older but still excellent 4000 model has now been reduced to £1,195 – that’s still the best choice, unless you frequently need to use your printer for B&W photographs.