New Epson printers for 2016 on 44 inches format, aimed at the professional and fineart photo printing market, are the Epson Sure Color SC-P8000 and SC-P9000. They would come to replace the existing Stylus Pro 9890 and Stylus Pro 9900 and although in appearance they are identical, the main difference is the new ink formulation for the new printers.
Recalling some history and counteractive the supposed change that stood for passing from Ultrachrome to Ultrachrome K3, which acctually wasn’t such a change as it was exactly the same ink formulation (with the exception of Vivid Magenta), the actual, new ink pigments take the name of Ultrachrome HD and provide a longer archival life, which is allways appreciated. On the other hand, Epson states that the new inks provide a dmax range of 2.8, while the previous Ultrachrome K3 provided a range of 2.5. It is interesting to recall that a classic darkroom, black & white, selenium toned photographicprint, can get a dmax range of 2.4. So, it does not seem any advantage to be able to mesure a higher dmax density, of something (artwork) whose destiny to our eyes -and brain-, a dmax range of “only” 2.4, is already perceived as absolute black.
The following example published by Epson, show a comparison of the “result” that we would get from UltraChrome HD vs. Ultrachrome K3 inks. We think the following example, shows the opposite than Epson provably would expect as the result of new HD inks is remarkably unpleasant and harsh, especially in the color version. Obviously the result is not such a result, as it only is a virtual interpretation of what is supposed to get from the new inks, but what credibility should be given to Epson on aesthetic and technical aspects, if the visual ones are as the following one ?
In presenting the new inks Epson says, “Epson Ultrachrome HD ink means serious amateur and professional photographers can now deliver superb images with highly accurate colours”. From it, you could literally deduce that what in GraficArtPrints and elsewhere, have we been doing so far (with Epson Stylus Pro printers) are giclée prints that are far from being superb and without highly accurate colors. It seems the need for more and more superlatives in every new product launch, makes these large companies, teams of consultants and marketing managers, finally exhaust the language and write nonsense.
New shades of ink
Several Epson Ultrachrome nomenclatures along history
The new Epson SC-P8000 printer, still makes use of a 8-ink set as well as the Stylus Pro 9890 (Ultrachrome K3) but with the Ultrachrome HD inks (new formula), while the new Epson SC-P9000, makes use of a 10-ink set as well as the Stylus Pro 9900 (Ultrachrome HDR), using eight Ultrachrome HD inks plus two Ultrachrome HDX. Moreover, the SC-P9000 model comes in two versions: Standard, aimed at photographic reproduction and Commercial addressed to proofing and graphic arts sector.
Standard version comes with eight standard HD inks plus Orange and Green HDX inks and can achieve up to 98% of Pantone Formula Guide.
The new VIOLET shade
Commercial version comes with only seven standard HD inks (Light Light Gray has been removed, with a consequent loss in black and white printing), plus the Orange, Green and Violet HDX inks. The removed Light Light Gray chanel is used for the “new” violet shade. Epson states that this mix can achieve 99% of Pantone Formula Guide.
The new formulation of inks for the “normal” range are called Ultrachrome HD, while the “special” Orange, Green, Violet, are referred as Ultrachrome HDX.
The “old” ink formulation for the “normal” range took the name Ultrachrome K3, while the “special” Orange and Green, are referred as Ultrachrome HDR.
Acttually, the variables K3, HDR, HD, HDX are popularly referenced as Ultrachrome inks themselves when in fact, Epson gives the name to the printer using the appropriate set of inks. So, the SC-P8000 is an Ultrachrome HD printer not using orange and green, while the SC-P9000 is a Ultrachrome HDX printer using Orange and Green (+ Violet – Light Light Gray in the Commercial option).
Although permanence tests are still underway and have not been published, Epson indicates that the new formulation of pigments can provide up to twice with most Epson papers. They also claim that has doubled the permanence of +200 to +400 years for black and white prints in the Advanced Black and White print mode .
Publish this kind of “information” seems more a marketing action, aimed to the general consumer to make him/her retain that the new inks provide double permanence ratings that current Ultrachrome K3 inks.
First, I assume that the new printer SC-P9000 Commercial version (with Violet without Light Light Gray) does not provide the Advanced Black and White function, since this printing mode is based on printing with three shades of black and this printer has only two.
On the other hand, if the black pigment is the most resistant and less subject to fading, color printing with all inks, will provide a permanence that will not reach that double that they want us to believe.
It is remarkable that the workshops offering the invention Digigraphie® by Epson to their customers, won’t be able to print unfinished editions with the new printers, because the unwavering Digigraphie® standards, state that all the prints in one edition must be done with the same combination of Printer / Inks / Paper.
According to these same standards, an unfinished edition of Epson Digigraphie® that for example was printed on an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 (HDR-ink set), could not continue to be printed on an Epson SC-P9000 since it uses different ink formulation (HDX-ink set).
The current print quality offered by Epson printers in expert hands, is exceptional in any professional models. It is paradoxical that Epson put a spoke in their own wheel, as the printing shop offering Digigraphie® seal, is not at all free to spend their money updating their hardware, until fully complete the editions of their customers. It is crazy to have such worm in your own house, in a free market world !!!
Technological progress vs. Head Cleaning
Considering the increase of ink shades (orange, green and recently Violet) a technological advance, is at least naiff. The gamut increase provided by these new shades, is only subtly noticeable and on some unique images. We do not believe that this subtle improvement, compensate the annoying fact of having more ink lines and nozzle heads to keep unclogged. We understand that the turnover of companies like Epson are as much important consumables (inks) that even hardware (printers), so their interest in making us buy more and more ink. The cost of maintaining the duplicate stock of twenty inks is quite high (keep in mind that if one single cartridge fails, the printer becomes unusable, so the need to have every ink twice).
Head cleaning is an action that takes place almost daily. Well, when the smart ink cartridges get to an approximate volume level of about 5%, this cleaning action is not possible and new cartridge/s with proper ink volume must be installed to perform cleaning. Once the cleaning is done with the new cartridge/s, then should be replaced again for the low level ones. With eight or more inks installed on a printer, this becomes a nightmare because there are often one or more cartridges that have not enough ink to perform such cleaning.
It is popularly known that Catalans are savers and we do not discard any cartridge until the message “replace cartridge” appears on screen. Perhaps the rest of the world, throw the cartridge away when appears “not enough ink to perform cleaning” on screen. This would mean a very unhealthy habit for common environment, as well as a considerable economic loss. If we discarded all the ten cartridges on a Stylus Pro 9900 when they reach 5% of ink level, we would be throwing away 50% of a full ink cartridge in each cycle !!!
This is a really annoying issue and we would appreciate Epson, investigate & develop a system that does not mean such a loss of time and money.