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Review of Epson Stylus Pro 9800 and comparative comments on new advances for giclee Print E-mail

Three kinds of people use Epson printers (today this is past tense, since many photo labs have jumped to the newer Canon iPF9000 or HP Z3100):

  • Large successful giclee production ateliers. They usually have a BetterLight or a Cruse scanner for digitizing oil and watercolor paintings. They tend to use an Epson 10000 or Epson 10600. But since there is no Epson Stylus Pro 10800, they use an Epson 9800. A few use a Roland d’Vinci

  • Small businesses, usually family-run, or one-person enterprises, often home-based, or a second business, or a retirement business. In some cases it is a hobby turned into a small business

  • Prosumers, people with enough brains and some money, who want to try to print giclee or fine art photography on their own. Most have enough spare time on their hands, in many cases because they are retired on secure income.

We are reviewing giclee printers for all three groups of end-users. We are reviewing the Epson 4800, the Epson 7800, and the Epson 9800. To review the Epson 9800 we made a trip to Charlotte to inspect Fine Art Impressions, the atelier of Gary Kerr. This review will be ready by autumn.

Kerr has many Epson printers and is one of the leading giclee ateliers in the country. He uses a BetterLight camera, same one that FLAAR has (we also use a Cruse; each has slightly different pros and cons).

What is happening in the rest of the world of inkjet technology?

The world of giclee and fine art photographic printing is changing very rapidly. New inks are coming out. The first was Vivera ink from HP. This dye ink with 70-year longevity was used in their successful HP 30, 90, and 130. Now HP has created a pigmented version with as much color gamut as the dye version. The pigmented version is available in their desktop sized HP PhotoSmart Pro B9180.

What will be awesome is when this chemistry and printer technology are available in 24”, 42”, and 60” machines later this year. Advances of this nature are called “disruptive technology,” when a product is so radically improved that it jumps over other older technologies.

Five years ago Canon had 1% of the wide format printer market. Three years ago Canon had advanced to 2% of the market. As Encad began to collapse, Canon doubled to 4% of the market. Now is trying again with their Canon imagePROGRAF iPF 5000 and 60” Canon imagePROGRAF iPF 9000. The iPF8000 is also out and the iPF6000 will be out soon.

Of course interest in water-based printers is shrinking so fast that by the time these printers reach maturity, there will not be much market share left for anyone. The action has switched to mild-solvent, eco-solvent, and the new bio-solvent inks. Lots of people are also switching to UV-curable inkjet printers. That technology is so popular that FLAAR has over 60 new REPORTS on UV-cured printers.

So the water-based Epson 9800 printer is coming to maturity in a world of rapidly changing ink technology. Even some artists are using UV-curable technology to  print on exotic rigid materials.

He ordered two of these EPson 9800 printers, but after his experiences with the first one, he cancelled his order for a second Epson 9800. Based on my suggestion, he tried out the Canon iPF9000.

Price comparisons and product reliability

People buy on price. And only later find out whether a printer can hold up. So price comparisons (the up front cost) are not always a reliable way to decide what to buy. Some printers are so cheap they just don’t hold up to use in a commercial production environment.

This is why Canon is hoping for success with its imagePROGRAF series: iPF5000, etc. And why HP has come out with its new HP Designjet Z2100 and Z3100 printers.

Where to buy the Epson Stylus Pro 9800?

You can buy low bid from a box-pusher or you can use common sense and select a value-added resource. A box-pusher sells for the absolute cheapest price. They provide no real service, don’t know how to use a spectrophotometer, so can’t help you with functional ICC color profiles for color management.

A value-added resource knows how to pronounce the word giclee, knows what an atelier is, and is staffed by people who know how to digitize an original oil-painting (and you don’t use a 35mm camera either: serious giclee atliers use a BetterLight or a Cruse).

The giclee store we know the best is Parrot Digigraphic. They sell nation-wide to art museums, university art departments, large scale giclee production houses, small giclee ateliers, fine art photographers, family run businesses, and to individuals who can tell the difference between a box-pusher and a value-added resource.

What are your alternatives today (in 2007)?

The HP Design Z6100 is available: 8 ink channels.

The Canon iPF9000 is 60" with 12 ink channels.

The Epson Stylus Pro 11880 is just announced, 9 ink channels with 8 in use at any one time.

Every several years there is either a new Canon iPF printer or a new Epson or a new HP water-based printer that is made for giclee, decor, or fine art photography. It is hard to keep track of the advances in improved inks and color management features. FLAAR is keeping track by visiting giclee ateliers around the world that have these various brands. Each brand has its good points and a few issues and an occasional deficiency. 

Since FLAAR itself does not sell printers, for you to find out information on prices and availability of each model that can print fine art giclee well, we suggest you contact a company that offers all three brands: Canon, HP, and Epson. This way they are not going to push just one brand because they offer all three. Plus you need a company that has plenty of experience with fine art photographs, photo labs, and giclee atelier. 

The advantage of a place that offers both Epson, HP, and Epson is that they can provide some tips on the differences. If a store sells only one brand or the other, they will understandably push the brand they sell. One value-added retailer that we have visited several times is Parrot Digigraphic. They know each of the brands and models. Contact info is 978.670.7766.

 

Most recently updated July 25, 2007.
First posted September 26, 2006.

 
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