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.
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