• Price When Reviewed: £2,345 plus VAT

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The colour inkjet market is getting a little crowded with manufacturers continuing to add to their already sizeable product portfolios without replacing existing models. This leaves users facing a somewhat bewildering choice when choosing the best unit for their particular needs. Epson’s new A3-plus size Stylus Pro 5500, however, is one model that is clear in its focus; it appeals to professional photographers in search of photo-realistic prints, and graphic designers who require accurate colour proofs. The 5500’s specs are impressive, with a great combination of features. It uses a six-colour system – black, yellow, magenta/light magenta and cyan/light cyan – to provide the subtlety, depth, and realistic flesh tones required for true photographic output. It’s also Epson’s first six-colour inkjet to offer a maximum resolution of 2,800-x-720dpi. Using the company’s variable-sized droplet technology, the 5500 can produce ink droplets as tiny as three picolitres in size – providing smooth gradients and capturing fine detail in your images. Thin wisps of hair in our test image of a girl’s head and shoulders were sharp and detailed, and in our second test – an A4 image of a fruit and veg medley – colours were rich, edges sharp and the texture of the subject matter rendered faithfully with just a little fall-off in the lightest areas. ColorFast inks The high-quality of output is also due to the fact that like its siblings – the Stylus Photo 2000P and the large-format Stylus Pro 9500 and 7500 inkjets – the 5500 makes use of Epson’s ColorFast pigment inks. According to the company, it’s thanks to these new inks that the Stylus Pro 550 can produce a wide colour gamut, fast drying prints from which accurate colour measurements can be taken for proofing purposes, and outstanding colour prints with a lightfastness in excess of 200 years. As we’ve commented previously in Digit, the ability to verify claims of 100 or 200-years longevity for inkjet prints is beyond us, but fast-drying inks and colour stability are certainly essential for accurate colour proofing, and the 5500 didn’t let us down in this respect. This, coupled with fast print speeds, networkability, huge paper-capacity and support for third-party RIPS, means that the 5500 is an ideal proofing solution. Speed machine The Stylus Pro 5500 tags itself a fast printer with print speeds up to 30 A3 prints per hour at 720 dpi on plain paper. Our test results bear this out. For photo-realistic output, however, it’s still put-the-kettle-on time – our A4-size test image printed at the maximum resolution took a full 15 minutes to appear, but the quality achieved was worth the wait. With a footprint of 640-x-584-x-318mm, the 5500 is on the large side, but not excessively so for an A3 inkjet. Set up was straightforward with the four ink cartridges slotting into place with ease. We were impressed with the capacity of the ink cartridges – a whopping of 110ml – which should save most users more than a few pennies in replacement costs. Like most Epson inkjets, the 5500 can handle a wide variety of media including archival matte paper and watercolour for fine art prints, and semi-gloss and glossy photo paper for photographic output. As is common with inkjets, due to differences in ink chemistry, best results are obtained using the manufacturer’s propriety stock, and the 5500 comes with a pack of mixed Epson Super A3-size paper to get you started. More impressive is the fact that the Stylus Pro 5500 has a 250-sheet plain paper tray as standard and an additional 250-sheet tray is available as an option. This is great if the 5500 serves as an network inkjet or you don’t change paper stock often. The main problem I encountered with the printer was that adjusting the tray for different sizes and types of paper was fiddly, with irritating error message appearing when settings weren’t correct. Connection to the Stylus Pro 5500 is standard with USB and parallel ports to match your system setup, although Mac users may wish to take advantage of an optional FireWire card for even faster printing. At £2,345, the Stylus Pro 5500 isn’t for everyone, but if you need first-class photographic output and accurate colour matching, then it should be top of your list.