If you're a digital photographer, then perhaps you're aware of some of the limitations of your garden-variety ink-jet printer -- the output size is often restricted to 8.5 by 14 inches, and over time, the color will fade. Epson's Stylus Pro 7500 seeks to address both of these problems. It handles roll-fed or cut-sheet media up to 24.02 inches wide (with a maximum printable width of 23.78 inches), and it uses archival inks that are supposed to last centuries.
A Lasting Impression
The Stylus Pro 7500 joins its bigger sibling, the 44-inch Stylus Pro 9500, as the newest member of Epson's professional series of ink-jet printers. The 7500 is designed to use the new Epson Archival pigmented inks that, when printed on suitable papers, offer much better long-term stability than all of Epson's desktop ink-jets except the Stylus Photo 2000, which uses the same pigmented inks as the 7500 and 9500. Dyes are soluble and therefore fugitive, whereas pigments are inert solids that provide much better resistance to fading. Epson also makes a Stylus Pro 7000, which is identical in every way to the 7500, except that it uses dye-based inks.
If you're skeptical about longevity claims, you have every reason to be, particulary after the cyan ink in Epson's dye-based Stylus Color 870 and 1270 was found to turn orange after prolonged exposure to ozone-emitting sources such as air conditioners. With regard to the 7500, all we can say with confidence is that pigmented inks are quite different from dye-based inks, so they shouldn't fall prey to this effect. So far, in our weeks of testing, the color exhibited no change on a variety of paper.
Running the Gamut
The Stylus Pro 7500 is aimed at a fairly specific niche -- those who need long-lived, large prints -- and this niche is further narrowed since Epson advises against using the printer for black-and-white printing. If you do, you'll run into two problems: (1) it's very hard to get a consistent neutral from the six inks -- grays tend to run warm in some parts of the tone scale, and cool in others; (2) worse, the prints are highly metameric -- that is, they look very different under different light sources. (This is true of any printed material, but the effect is much more obvious with this set of inks than with any other we've seen.)
Even for professional photographers, the Pro 7500 has some limitations. The pigmented inks have substantially lower saturation than their dye-based equivalents -- this is the trade-off for greater stability. On the Epson Doubleweight Matte paper, the reds were particularly weak, though the Photo Semigloss paper produced much better saturation. If you're hoping for the saturated, high-contrast look the dye-based inks produce on glossy photo paper, you'll almost certainly be disappointed. (Lest it appear that we're being unduly negative, we should mention that we've yet to see a pigmented inks that are demonstrably superior to Epson's -- the limitations are part of the state of the art.)
Third-party inks are currently not an option with the Stylus Pro 7500, because Epson's cartridges use an on-board chip to track ink levels. It's possible that some enterprising vendor will find a way to replicate the system in the future, but right now you're limited to using Epson's Archival ink.
The printer is no speed demon -- a 24-by-36-inch print takes close to half an hour to print -- but this is typical of large-format photorealistic ink-jet printers. The 9500, for example, is no faster -- it just handles larger paper sizes.