Epson's Solution

When you get invited to another sales presentation in a holiday inn it's easy to find something more important to do that day, like taking the gerbil to the vets. When Epson invite you to the Royal Academy of Arts you take notice.Setting the launch of latest technology amongst the artistic antiquities, and current creations of the nations best and brightest, was a neat way of underlining the complex relationship between creation and invention.Artists are forever striving to extend the boundaries of what is possible, limited only by the resources and material available at a given point in time. Inventors are continually aiming to expand those resources. Sitting in a two hundred year old ampitheatre graced in previous years by many famous creative posteriors is a great encouragement to perspective. It underlined to me the fact that as far as digital images and printing are concerned we are still very much in the equivalent era of the great Victorian pioneers. Given that the pace of change and innovation races at a much faster pace these days, we may well see the scale of a previous century of development scaled in just ten years.As digital photography has progressed in the last decade, so has the printing technology to enable not only long lasting prints, using uv stable pigment inks, to replace the previous chemical reactive photographic process, but also massively increasing the colour gamut range to enable more faithful reproduction of colours seen by the camera and the eye. Inkjet printers have long moved ahead of their four colour based CMYK toner equivalents, by the simple solution of adding an additional colour range to the established ones, particularly with Magenta and Cyan. Some current solutions are to go for up to twelve separate colours in the box which seems to be
a bit excessive, especially at a time we are all expecting to be more environmentally conscious. Epson is confident it has achieved desired results with just eight colours, and has incorporated them in its new flagship printers, for high quality and fine art. It still has a basic range of four colour machines as featured in New Products this month.The Vivid Magenta range is the third generation of their proven ultrachrome inks. The Micro Piezo spray head which does all the work has been massively improved, effectively doubling the number of nozzles per square inch, and hence accuracy and sharpness. This enables the head to deliver an astonishing 40,000 droplets of colour - per second! Unlike HP and Canon, the Epson system does not use a thermal device - partially boiling the ink prior to application to ease flow. This is the Achilles heel of many inkjet printer heads, and makes them less durable. The improved technology is incorporated in three updated models replacing the familiar A2, A1 and A0 studio printers, now launched this month as the Stylus Pro 4880, 7880 and 9880. In addition there is a new 64 inch machine, the massive 11880, to top the range. All Epson printers use gravity feed, dropping the paper from above, and are thus excellent at using up bits of off cut sheet media that would otherwise be wasted. The smaller models will take almost any sheet of paper, or card up to 1.5mm, and even the 64 inch giant will not cough at a piece of A3. Epson are also backing up their new models with on line Europe-wide assistance which sounds a bit like the AA, but without the bright yellow coats. This will not only provide up to the minute technical back-up but also have useful performance indicators on cost of ownership and printing.Performance monitoring is increasingly an issue with large format inkjets. Manufacturers claims tend to be based inevitably on laboratory trials in clinical conditions, and are often optimistic in terms of consumption and reliability. Experience suggests that most machines are efficient in constant use, but that stop start, occasional idleness, and frequent changes of media, can all play a part in knocking a big hole in performance, as diagnostic software insists on self-checking, realigning media and cutting, as well as flushing bucket loads of ink through the system to make sure the heads are working properly. All clever stuff no doubt, but I am equally sure in ten years time we will all have a good laugh at some of the innovations which were not as progressive as they might have been.