New A3 photo printers from HP and Epson innovate in very different ways
Press release: EPSON introduces new bench-mark A3 photo printer
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HP Photosmart 8750 ink cartridge information updated
Epson and HP have provided definitive answers to some long held questions here at the PMA show in Orlando, Florida. Epson has finally revealed the A3 version of its impressive archival-quality R800 A4 ink-jet photo printer and HP has, at long, long, last, introduced its own A3 ink-jet photo printer for the consumer and low-end professional markets. Enter the Epson R1800 and the HP Photosmart 8750 Pro.
Epson Stylus R1800Epson's long-awaited Stylus R1800 A3 archival photo printer
We'll start with Epson's the new R1800. When Epson launched the A4 format Stylus R800 in October 2003 its innovative use of additional red and blue inks as well as a gloss optimiser to address the relatively poor natural glossy finish of pigment inks, was regarded as a stroke of genius. The natural question was, when would an A3 version be introduced to replace the Stylus 2100 (2200 in the US)?
It's been a surprisingly long 14 month wait, but the newly-announced Epson R1800 is indeed that dreamed-of A3 version of the R800. But we have been compensated for the long wait by some aggressive pricing. While Epson 2200s retail for around $650 (£360 approx) in the US, Epson's guide price for the new R1800 is only $550 (£305 approx). This may be explained in some design economies compared to the 2100/2200, but we won't find out for sure until we've played with one. However, the one demo unit I saw at the show didn't look quite as robust as the tank-like 2100/2200.
Exactly the same ink cartridges as the R800 are used the R1800 retains the R800's gloss optimiser feature. There have been some rumours that Epson has conjured up a remarkable new colour rendering engine for the R1800 that some how manages to endow the printer with a printed colour range that practically matches Adobe RGB's gamut. I double-checked this rumour with an Epson product manager.
It looks like some of Epson's more eager fans have misinterpreted technical specifications for the R1800 that centre around printer driver compatibility for Adobe RGB 1998 colour space images. Until now, the printer driver software for most consumer photo printers has been configured to cater optimally for sRGB images, which the majority of digital cameras produce. If you print Adobe colour space images on most consumer printers using standard printer driver settings, they can be robbed of some vital colour depth. The only way around this is to create custom ICM profiles for selected printer and paper combinations.
New-style buttons for the R1800
Printer profiling is an excellent solution, but it's not a simple procedure that the majority of consumers really want to bother with and the R1800 is definitely aimed at consumers. Epson's solution is simple: the R1800's printer driver now offers a check-box in its 'Advanced' mode that configures the printer for printing Adobe RGB images. It's not going to be as ideal as custom profiling, but it provides an out of the box solution that preserves essential image quality in Adobe RGB encoded images.
HP Photosmart 8750 Pro
HP's new 'big' baby, gthe Photosmart 8750 Pro
I'd like a penny for each time I've asked someone from HP if/when they planned to introduce a wider carriage A3 version of their popular A4 and smaller ink-jet Photosmart range. Not only has HP delivered, but some novel ink enhancements have been introduced as well. It's also the first A3 ink-jet printer to feature both direct print memory card slots and support for PictBridge direct printing via USB cable without the need for a connected PC.
(The following information has been updated)
Two new ink cartridges
Two new ink cartridges have been introduced for the 8750; a No.101 photo colour cartridge that substitutes the original No.99 photo cartridge and a No.102 enhanced capacity grey scale cartridge. The same No. 97 tri-colour cartridge as used in the 8750's current A4 siblings is used and you can also fit the optional No.96 pigment black ink cartridge, for plain paper printing, in place of the No.102 grey cartridge.
The new No.101 photo ink cartridge is not part of a strategy to increase overall colour gamut, which Canon and Epson aim for with their premium ink-jet models. Instead, the extra blue ink is designed to enhanced scenes that contain a lot of blue – skies and water, for example. While the additional blue ink enhances existing blue areas, other areas are left unchanged.
The additional blue ink in the No.101 cartridge replaces the photo black dye-based ink originally found in the No.99 photo cartridge. This photo black is rendered redundant when a grey scale cartridge is used as this provides all the photo black required. So although nine inks were fitted in previous three cartridge Photosmart models (cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, photo black and three shades of photo grey (including black), only eight were actually used. Now the 8750 can genuinely claim to lay down nine inks in total with the inclusion of photo blue instead of photo black.
The 8750's cartridge bay looks familiar, but it accepts two new ink cartridges
The new No.102 greyscale cartridge is very similar to the No.100 cartridge used by HP's smaller format printers, but enjoys extra capacity to cater for the larger areas that need to be covered when printing to A3 sizes. If you aren't familiar with HP's grey-scale inks, they enable selected HP printers to print neutral tone monochrome prints without having to profile or otherwise adjust the printer's settings, something very difficult to achieve with other printers which must build grey tones from combining colour dots.
If you thought the Epson Stylus R1800 was a bargain at $550, the HP Photosmart 8750 Pro undercuts its rival by $50 (£28 approx). Of course, a master of ultra-affordable printers is Lexmark and now, of the top four ink-jet printer manufacturers, Lexmark is the only one that doesn't have an A3 offering.