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Monday, August 1, 2005

Gadget Bag: Bigger & Better

Large-format printers deliver big size, big color and more

bigger & betterEven a well-exposed and beautifully composed photo can lose something when printed small. A large print, particularly of a landscape or wildlife, draws you in. It allows you to become immersed in the scene, providing a taste of what it felt like when the shutter was released.

Prints in sizes of 13x19 inches and larger were once only available through your local photo lab, and the resulting photos weren't always what you had hoped for. You often had to choose a custom or professional facility instead. While they produced quality work and were responsive to your critiques, you had to surrender final control over your image to someone else.

Large-format inkjet printers return total control of your photographs to you. Prints made from these models, whether destined for a client or gallery wall, provide high color accuracy, wide tonal range and decades of fade-resistance. They also include advanced tools for improved color management and color accuracy.

Although these printers are more costly than their desktop siblings, the investment is more than made up for when you discover the quality of the prints produced in your own home office. You easily can recover the cost when compared to buying such prints.

Epson Stylus Photo R2400
The recently announced Stylus Photo R2400 from Epson is one of the company's latest models to include its new UltraChrome K3 inks. The eight-ink system adds three black cartridges to complement the existing cyan, magenta, yellow, light magenta and light cyan inks. Along with its Photo Black or Matte Black ink cartridge, the light black and light-light black inks allow the printer to produce varying shades of gray. This addition not only helps to produce more neutral black-and-white prints, but creates more subtle tonal transitions in color prints as well. Yes, the black inks are gray, but calling them black lets Epson simplify the product name as K3, as K refers to black. The pigment inks also feature high fade-resistance, delivering color prints with a lightfastness of 108 years, and 200 years for black-and-white prints.

Capable of producing prints of up to 13x44 inches, the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 provides a good introduction to large-format printing. Measuring 24.2x12.6x9.1 inches and weighing 34 pounds, the printer features three different paper paths to accommodate papers of various thicknesses. This is especially important when printing on material such as posterboard. Besides size, this is a feature that easily differentiates a large-format printer from a small model. List Price: $849.

Epson Stylus Pro 4800

With a maximum print width of up to 17 inches, the soon-to-be-released Epson Stylus Pro 4800 creates prints as large as 17x22 from cut-sheet media. It outputs color and black-and-white prints with a maximum resolution of 2880 x 1400 dpi, delivering its UltraChrome K3 inks in droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters. The paper handling is rugged and precise, and can manage posterboard as thick as 0.05 millimeters.

Although Epson drivers deliver good results, photographers with more demanding tastes will benefit by the support of raster-image processing (RIP); the printer supports several third-party RIPs that deliver highly accurate ink profiles for a variety of media. When color accuracy is critical, the RIPs reduce the frustration of producing prints with an unwanted color cast and provide improved workflow and print management than is available with the native driver. The printer measures 33.4x14x30 inches and weighs 83.7 pounds. It supports borderless prints with media up to 17 inches and includes a built-in media cutter. List Price: $1,995.

Epson Stylus Pro 7800

The Epson Stylus Pro 7800 accepts print media up to 24 inches wide and panoramic prints up to 132 inches long. In addition to providing borderless printing and a built-in media cutter, the printer handles paper as heavy as 12 pounds bond with a thickness of 0.05mm. It measures 46.3x46.5x29.3 inches and weighs 131 pounds. List Price: $2,995.


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