In its never-ending quest to stay ahead of Hewlett-Packard and Canon in the photo- printer market, Epson has released the Stylus Pro 4000, a large-format ink-jet printer that improves upon a tradition of excellence most recently found in the Stylus Photo 2200 (
; October 2002) and the
Stylus Pro 7600 ( ; February 2003).
With the $1,795 Stylus Pro 4000, Epson focused considerable energy on improving the print engine, including minor improvements to print quality. This was a wise decision; the 2200 and the 7600 produced stunning prints, and Epson sticks with the same UltraChrome pigment-ink formula in the 4000. As a result, the overall quality of both color and monochrome prints is excellent. Prints made on resin-coated, semigloss photo papers looked as though they’d come from a photo lab, and prints made on matte-finish papers had a depth of detail and richness that no other ink-jet printer can match.
The 4000’s printhead is larger than its predecessors’, making this the speediest Epson printer I’ve ever tested. For example, an 8-by-10-inch photo took slightly over two minutes to print at the basic 720-dpi print quality; approximately three minutes at 1,440 dpi; and under six minutes at the highest-quality setting, 2,880 dpi. These times were 50 percent faster than those of the Stylus Pro 5500, Epson’s previous large-format ink-jet, and about 60 percent faster than those of the 24-inch-wide Stylus Pro 7600.
For most prints, the 1,440-dpi setting will give the best mix of quality and speed; at 720 dpi, fine detail in a printed image can look a little rough. Fine-art photographers looking to sell their work at larger sizes may opt for the 2,880-dpi setting, but I found few images that required that level of detail and that were worth the increased print times.
There are plenty more smart enhancements in the 4000, including a slick automatic nozzle-alignment feature that replaces the laborious manual process in Epson’s previous large- and wide-format printers. The 4000 uses a light beam and a scanner to align the nozzle automatically, saving you from eyestrain.
But the smartest new feature is in the ink system itself, which uses an eight-ink printhead instead of the seven-ink head found in the earlier UltraChrome printers. This extra ink channel eliminates the biggest limitation of the 2200 and the 7600: having to swap photo- and matte-black ink cartridges, a process that wasted valuable ink and time. Both ink types are now loaded into the printer, and the 4000 automatically chooses the proper black ink, depending on the paper type selected in the print driver.
If you’re more interested in proofing than in photographic output, the 4000 is also available in a graphics configuration, with two cartridges each of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. While I didn’t test that version of the printer, Epson claims that it’s nearly twice as fast as the photographic model.
The 4000’s input tray handles paper as large as 17 by 22 inches and supports borderless printing. The printer also has two manual-feed slots and a roll-feed mechanism for rolls as wide as 17 inches, as well as a built-in paper cutter. Ink life is excellent; I got more than 500 prints of varying sizes out of my unit before any of the cartridges needed replacing.
My only complaint is with the driver: you have to create multiple printer instances with OS X 10.3’s Printer Setup Utility for different combinations of roll, sheetfed, and borderless-print options. You can have as many as nine versions in the Print dialog box, but you’ll probably need only two or three.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Excellent print quality, efficiency, and smart design make the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 a winner. If you want to sell your photos, or if you work in a high-volume environment and need the fastest output possible, there’s no better large-format printer on the market today.