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Small workgroups of graphic artists seeking a large-format color proofer and comping device found it in Epson's Stylus Pro 5000, a breakthrough printer when it was released a few years ago. With the 5000's successor, the Stylus Pro 5500, Epson has included the photographic and fine-art market in its scope.
The 5500 offers great print quality, excellent performance, and long-lasting prints while retaining the characteristics that made the 5000 an exceptional graphic-arts printer.
Archival Inks and Speed
The Epson Stylus Pro 5500's primary enhancement is the use of pigment-based archival inks--similar to the ones found in Epson's Stylus Photo 2000P--that Epson claims will last more than 200 years when used on specific Epson papers. The device uses six inks and has a maximum print resolution of 2,880 by 720 dpi. Depending on print size and ink coverage, its four high-capacity ink cartridges can produce from 150 to 1,000 prints each. The 5500 can handle page sizes as small as 4 by 6 inches and as large as 13 by 19 inches.
Overall, the Stylus Pro 5500 is close to twice as fast as Epson's consumer ink-jet printers. A 5-by-7-inch photo that took 4 minutes and 22 seconds to print at 1,440 dpi on a Stylus Photo 1280 took 2 minutes and 20 seconds on the 5500. An 11-by-17-inch image took almost 20 minutes to print on the 1280, but it took only 8 minutes and 30 seconds on the 5500.
The 5500's print quality is superb; images printed on Epson's new resin-coated photo semigloss paper are crisp and vibrant, rivaling traditional photographs. Matte-finish and watercolor paper is also available, and the 5500 prints satisfactorily on plain paper. We also printed from a variety of graphics applications, including QuarkXPress and Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. The 5500 isn't a PostScript printer, but its high resolution and consistent color allow it to create comps that come very close to a final proof. (Epson will offer a $995 software-based PostScript RIP for the 5500 by the end of this year.
Metamerism Be Gone
Epson claims that the 5500's smaller ink droplets (the smallest ink dot is 3 picoliters) prevent the color-shift problems that afflicted the 2000P when printing neutral-toned or black-and-white images. This phenomenon--known as metamerism--causes a print to look different depending on lighting conditions. Our tests corroborated Epson's claims: images that exhibited a severe color shift when printed on a 2000P showed significantly less metamerism when printed on a 5500. It isn't entirely gone--metamerism is a characteristic of pigment inks--but the 5500's output is much more balanced than Epson's earlier pigment ink-jets.
The only problem we encountered with the Stylus Pro 5500 was a relatively minor one--an occasional paper jam when we used the manual-feed slot on the printer's back. Another annoyance is that if you're using Mac OS X, you'll have to wait until the end of the year for a print driver with only limited features. And a full-featured driver won't be ready until Carbonized versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, and QuarkXPress are released.
Macworld's Buying Advice
For heavy-duty prepress comping, the Stylus Pro 5500 is unbeatable. Its archival inks, excellent print quality, and great performance make it a fine choice for artists and photographers, as well as graphic artists.m