EPSON SureColor – SC-P800 review
Multifunctional printers may be convenient for home users, but for the photographer who wants the best possible photo quality, a single function printer should be the first choice. Epson have been producing high quality photo printers for a number of years and have just introduced the SureColor SC-P800 printer to their range. The P800 is an A2, a top of the range single function printer and the successor to the highly popular Stylus Pro 38XX series of photo printers.
The SureColor SC-P800 uses the same nine Epson UltraChrome HD pigment inks as used by the SC-P600 printer. These inks ensure that prints will not fade for a claimed 60+ years, using Epson recommended media. The nine inks include; Yellow, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Cyan, Light-Light Black, Light Black, Photo Black and Matte Black. Each cartridge contains a generous 80ml of ink. The inks have a large colour gamut, 2.86 Dmax for producing rich blacks and vibrant colours when using PGPP media. The P800 printer prints on media sizes from 3.5” x 5” up to A2 and 17 inch wide roll media via an optional roll media holder . There is also a front fine art media paper path for thick specialty media or board up to 1.5mm thick. On initial impression this seems to be the ideal printer for both the keen enthusiast and professional photographer, let’s put the SC-P800 to the test.
Setting up is straight forward, power the printer up, select the language from the drop down list which is displayed on the 2.7″ colour touch panel screen. The P800 is supplied with a full set of 9 inks, these are used to prime the ink tubes and print heads. Each cartridge has to be shaken before fitting, this is to ensure that the heavy pigment ink particles are circulated. The front cover is opened via the ink menu option on the LCD screen. Each ink slot is colour coded and each cartridge has its own moulding so there is no chance of accidentally fitting it in the wrong slot. The initialization process takes about ten minutes. Once done you can install the printer drivers and software and connect the printer via USB or Ethernet when prompted. The USB 2.0, Ethernet points and power connection are located at the rear of the printer.
The SureColor SC-P800 features include; printing via the top sheet feeder on media sizes from 3.5” x 5” through to A2, roll paper printing 17” width using either 2 or 3″ core, a front media path for single sheets of fine art paper and media up to 1.5mm thick. Connectivity is via High Speed USB 2.0 port or Ethernet, as well as WiFi Direct. The Wifi enables you to transmit photos directly from a WiFi enabled camera or mobile device, although most photographers will no doubt want to print from their PC using an image editing or DTP application. The 2.7inch colour touch screen display provides information on settings to use for the various media types, ink levels, and maintenance.
Located at the back is the automatic document feeder, which will hold up to 10 sheets of A2 plain paper or 1 sheet of photo quality media, 40 sheets of A3 plain paper or 10 sheets of photo media, 40 sheets of A4 plain paper or 20 sheets of photo media. This is a three section telescopic gravity fed tray, when collapsed it also forms the top cover to prevent dust and other objects falling into the works. A smooth action paper guide is used the keep the paper from skewing. A two section media catcher is at the front of the printer, this also folds away to form the front cover. Also located at the front is the single sheet media path feeder, this is for single sheets of fine art paper and thicker board, this is a sprung tray which has to be pushed in to release. Fine art media is fed in through the front and will make its exit via the top rear support tray. The media goes through a 45′ path, so not a straight paper path. For rigid board media you must close the rear support tray, now when the board media is loaded it exits via the rear slot using a straight paper path. This requires extra room at the rear to ensure the media is not obstructed. When printing starts the media will be pulled back in to make an exit via the front tray. At the rear there are two slots for attaching the roll media holder. This sturdy holder enables you to print on 17” wide roll media, ideally suited for printing panoramic photos up to 1500mm long. The roll holder for the P800 is sold as an optional extra and will increase the amount of space required for using the printer on a desk.
The printer uses on demand inkjet technology (Piezo electric) with 180 nozzles for black and 180 nozzles per colour. The minimum droplet size is 3.5pl using variable-size droplets and has a printing resolution of 2880 x 1440 dpi. The small droplet size ensures very smooth gradations of colours. To obtain the highest print quality you need to use resolutions that are in multiples of 1440, i.e. 720, 360 or 180 dpi. This avoids a screen clash (moiré), however, in most cases when other resolutions are used (300dpi) this may not be noticeable.
The SC-P800 printer on review with us is a pre-production model, which lacks some of the finishing touches of the final production printer. However, it is well designed and feels robust, the trays and telescopic action are very smooth, no unnecessary force is needed. The front control panel can be swivelled out to a 45 degree angle for easy viewing. The panel contains the 2.7inch colour touch panel for displaying printer status, menus and error messages. Next to this are the up and down arrow keys for menu navigation. The printer has just three buttons, Power On/Off, a Back button to return to previous menu screen and the menu Home screen button. There is a blanked off fourth button, I am surprised that Epson has not assigned this to a Paper reject or Cancel print button, although that option is available on the LCD screen. The menu screen contains all the necessary controls such as media selection, WiFi setup and connection, Black ink selection and low ink warning. Operation of the P-800 is very simple and most users should be able to be productive without having to refer to the manual.
Our first test prints were produced using Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper with the “Printer Manages Colours” setting in Photoshop. This forces the printer to use the canned profiles that are installed with the driver. Printing times are reasonable; using the Quality setting an A4 print took 2minutes 6 seconds, an A2 print took 10 Minutes 15 seconds, timings are measured from print drop to final exit. Using our photo-i test print, the quality is excellent although the baby portrait is displaying a very slight magenta cast, this can be easily cured with a curves adjustment layer in Photoshop. As mentioned earlier, this is a pre-production unit so will not make too many comments on the colours. As the P800 uses the same UltraChrome HD inks as the SC-P600 (A3+) printer, I have used some of the profiles that came with that installation. The Epson profiles are very accurate and will produce stunning prints when used in conjunction with Epson’s own media. Just as an extra note on profiles, as a photographer we make adjustments to an exposure based on how we want the final picture to look, the camera’s metering in most cases will produce a good exposure. However, the creative minded photographer will want to make their own exposure adjustments to suit the scene. The same applies with printing, the printer profile manages colours well in most cases, but every now and then you may need to make a slight tweak in order to produce the colours you want. In an ideal setup, you should be able to print what you see on the screen, but in my many years of experience, this rarely happens, unless you use a custom profile.
Looking at the test print closely, the cotton reels maintain detail in both the Black, Brown and White reels, all the threads are clearly defined. The yellow and red reels display vibrant colours, without being oversaturated. The Green and Blue reels display an almost 3D quality. The colour swatches are not as vibrant as those produced by a Dye ink printer using glossy photo media, but nevertheless they are solid colours. The RGB and Grey gradients are very smooth from white to solid colour, no banding can be seen even under high magnification. This is due to the 3.5 picoliter ink drop size and Epson Variable Ink Technology.
The Black and Grey patches are neutral with no visible colour shift, each grey patch shade is clearly defined. The central B/W photograph is outstanding, detail has been kept both in the shadow and highlight areas. There is no over inking of black ink under the arch and the stone work is well defined. The highlight areas in the steps have also kept detail throughout. The neutral greys are due to the use of the Light Black inks, most colour printers use a combination of the colour inks to produce a grey tone, if this combination is not correct then a colour cast can be introduced, a good profile should cure this in most cases.
Although there are four Blacks, only the Photo Black or Matte Black is used at any one time. The printer automatically switches between Matte and Photo Black inks when you select the media type in the Print Properties, or you can make the selection via the LCD control panel. A small amount of ink is purged when changing between the Black inks, this is to clean the print head and ensure the correct inks are used with the selected media. The switching process from Matte to Photo Black uses approx. 3ml of ink, Photo to Matte Black uses approx 1ml of ink.
One thing to keep in mind about printing with pigment inks is that they do not penetrate the micro pores in the media, as dye inks do, pigment ink particles lay on top of the paper. When using Glossy papers this can cause a gloss differential which means when you look at a print from an angle you will see the glossy surface of the paper (white areas) where ink has not been applied and a slightly matte area which has had ink applied. Using Matte or Lustre media will minimise this effect. an easy way to get around this is to reduce the pure whites in the digital file from 255 to 245 (approx) this will then apply a small amount of ink to the pure white areas.
Roll media printing
In the past I have avoided using roll media on smaller format printers (A4 & A3) this was mainly due to the tight curl of the media on a small roll. However, this holder can accommodate a 3″ core which reduces the amount of curl on the media, especially when the roll is nearing the end. As mentioned earlier, the roll media holder is sold as an optional extra, but well worth the investment for the busy social photographer who may want to print a bulk run, or for the landscape photographer who wants to produce panoramic prints. This holder is a vast improvement over previous roll media holders on the Pro 38XX series of printers.
This printer has been built with the professional photographer in mind. The build quality of the P800 is exceptionally good, it feels robust, Epson has not cut corners on the quality of materials used. Print quality is excellent, especially with B/W printing. I have no hesitation in highly recommending it to any photographer who is demanding the highest quality photographic printing.
- Sturdy build
- Print quality
- Roll media holder
- Board printing using a straight paper path
- No USB 3.0
- No straight paper path for Front speciality Media (straight path is only used for board media)
The SC-P800 is available from June 2015 priced at RRP £974.18 inc. VAT (£811.82 without VAT) expect a street price of approx £800
inks – £36 per colour approx (internet price) = £0.45p per ml