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Most amazing product at the show! Epson 5500 - The Death Knell for Silver Halide?
By Dave Etchells, The Imaging Resource
(Wednesday, February 14, 2001 - 12:22 EST)

Without a doubt, one of the most impressive (flat out amazing, really) products we saw at PMA this year was Epson's 5500 professional-level ($3,495) inkjet printer. More than any product we've seen recently, the 5500 shows the way things will be in the future, and marks a transition from one way of doing things (silver halide-based color output technology) to another (archival inkjet-based printing). We don't view ourselves as being the least bit hyperbolic when we label this printer as the "death knell of silver halide."

In recent years, inkjet printers have made great strides, both at the consumer and professional level. Yet, regardless of how good inkjet technology got, we've always had the feeling that photographic technology (based on silver halide imaging) was in various ways superior.

Until now.

With their latest professional-grade printer (the Stylus Color Pro 5500, announced Monday 2/12/2001), Epson has at least matched, and in many cases soundly beaten silver-based photo output technology across the board. The output samples we saw from the 5500 showed absolutely stunning image quality, were water resistant, rated for 200 year image life, about equivalent in cost, and similar in printing speed. There's no question in our mind that this technology will replace silver-based printing for many professional photographic applications.

For a long while, an easy objection to inkjet printing was that the prints faded in an absurdly short time. Over the last two years though, printer manufacturers have addressed the problem and made great strides in its solution. Pigment-based inks (rather than dye-based ones) have now completely eliminated the issue, with rated image life of 200 years.

Inkjet prints have also lagged photographic ones somewhat in the quality area. The "feel"of typical inkjet output has always been somewhat different from that of silver-halide prints, in ways that generally led to unfavorable comparisons. More than that, the tiny dots making up the inkjet prints have remained visible, although ongoing refinements have led to them being less and less visible. Recently ink droplet sizes on the order of 5-6 picoliters and 6-color ink systems (with light magenta and light cyan colors) have made the droplets all but invisible.

Color gamut has generally favored inkjet printers over photographic output, but the pigment-based ink systems have for the most part had lower gamut than their shorter-lived dye-based counterparts.

Finally, ongoing issues for inkjet in high-volume applications has been the high cost of consumables and rather slow print times.

With the Stylus Pro 5500, Epson has effectively eliminated all of the forgoing objections to inkjet, making a true no-compromises photographic output device. The 5500 uses both incredibly tiny droplets (3 picoliter volume) and very high resolution (2880x720 dpi). The resulting dots are not only completely invisible to the human eye (we could make them out with a 40x microscope, but they'll be invisible under even a standard 15x loupe), but are also placed on the paper with an unprecedented level of precision. This improved dot placement leads to a broader color gamut (thanks to greatly minimized overlap between dots), now approaching the gamuts of Epson's dye-based printers. Compared to photographic output devices, the high precision leads to much sharper-looking images. (Think of it this way: A high-quality photographic device can only locate an edge to a precision of 1/400 of an inch. With its 2800x720 engine resolution, the 5500 produces razor-sharp edges far exceeding what even 400dpi photo devices can manage.)

Another advantage of the 5500's pigment-based ink system is that it can create long-lived output on virtually any substrate that can be fed through it, including plain paper, watercolor rag, or cotton canvas. The creative possibilities are endless.

This leads us to the final areas of cost and speed. On the cost front, the 5500's output is remarkably affordable. Using list prices for the inks and paper (inks are packed in 110ml single-color cartridges for high efficiency), full-bleed 8x11 prints show a worst-case cost of $1.10 each, based on list prices for Epson's highest-quality paper. Full-page prints on plain paper can cost as little as $0.25 each. As to speed, the specs we've received are a little confusing: In our private briefing, we were told 2 minutes for 8x11 full-page output, while Epson's press release gives times of 5 to 11 minutes, depending on quality settings. Regardless, the speed is high enough that this is a viable solution for reasonably high-volume applications. (Particularly considering the price: We can imagine commercial labs simply lining these up to handle whatever volume needs they might have.)

Oh - the price! As we mentioned briefly above, the Stylus Pro 5500 will sell for a list price of $3,495 when it becomes available in March. Given its performance, print size (up to just under 13x19 inches) and print quality, this is an astonishing bargain. Of all the devices we saw at PMA, we'd have to say that the Stylus Pro 5500 is likely the one that will have the greatest impact on the professional photo business over the next year.

Original Source Press Release:

Epson Introduces an All-Star Graphics Desktop Printer for Professional Designers and Advanced Digital Image Artists

ORLANDO, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 12, 2001--
It's the most advanced EPSON ink jet printer to date with a
winning combination of features engineered to meet the needs of the
most demanding professional graphics users.

Epson America Inc. today announced a new 13-inch wide format,
high-end ink jet printer -- the EPSON Stylus® Pro 5500 -- designed
to create exhibit-quality prints and eliminate the costly need for
interim analog proofing.

Featuring up to 2880 x 720 dpi resolution, variable-sized
three-picoliter droplets and photographic quality output, this new
printer provides photographers and digital fine artists the perfect
desktop printing solution for creating high resolution images up to 13
inches in width at extremely high speeds and intensely detailed
output.

Furthermore, the EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 uses Epson's advanced
pigmented inks on a large array of professional photography and
proofing media that can resist fading for generations.

``The EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 represents an outstanding investment
for graphic artists, professional photographers and other creative
professionals who are looking for a cost-effective way to produce
photo-lab quality prints that can be sold in addition to giving
designers a tool that's perfect for tasks such as comping and
pre-press proofing,'' said Mark Radogna, senior product manager,
professional graphics, Epson. ``The EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 represents
the most technologically advanced printer to ever display the EPSON
logo.''

One of the Stylus Pro 5500's most advanced features is its
high-speed output. In about three and a half minutes, the printer can
blast out a high-quality letter size (8.5 x 11-inch) photograph that
is superior in image quality to its predecessor the Stylus Pro 5000.
The printer can match the quality of a chemistry-based letter size
photo in about five and a half minutes and even surpass that level of
image quality in approximately 11 minutes (using the highest
resolution level).

Epson's award-winning Micro Piezo® DX3(TM) print head technology
enables the Stylus Pro 5500 to place extremely precise and now
variable-sized droplets of ink on a wide array of media for
ultra-sharp resolution and high print-to-print consistency.

The printer's innovative six-color, high-capacity, six-cartridge
inking system (cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta and
black) now uses six heads with 96 nozzles to create intensely detailed
photographic output on a wide array of media, while maximizing the
efficiency of ink use. The quick-drying ink system also makes it
possible to manually handle prints immediately after exiting the
printer without the risk of smudging.

EPSON Stylus Pro Archival Ink and Media

As the level of print quality continues to rise for professional
graphic artists, so does the need to preserve images against time and
the elements. Epson continues to address this issue by equipping the
Stylus Pro 5500 with EPSON Archival(TM) Ink technology -- a
breakthrough in chemical engineering that enables prints to last for
generations without fading or damage caused by light or moisture.

This pigment-based ink system is designed to deliver a color gamut
that rivals dye inks and gives users the ability to create
heirloom-quality prints on a wider range of media than standard
dye-based ink.

Epson is also launching a new line of cut sheet archival media for
the Stylus Pro 5500 that includes premium luster paper, glossy photo
paper, matte, semi-glossy paper, canvas, water color papers,
DuPont/EPSON proofing media and many more.

Cut sheets as wide as 13 inches in width and up to 19 inches in
length are easily inserted into the printer's 250-sheet feeder, which
can also handle media as thick as 200-pound bond. An optional
250-sheet tray is available to increase the printer's total paper
capacity up to 500 sheets.

The EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 uses the latest driver technology,
offering compatibility with Macintosh OS 8.5.1 through 9.1, in
addition to Microsoft's Windows 95, 98, Me, NT 4.X and 2000 operating
systems. A wide selection of printer interfaces includes a USB,
parallel and EPSON Type-B expansion slot standard with optional cards
available for 10/100 BaseT and FireWire.

EFI Fiery Spark Professional RIP

An optional Fiery Spark Professional RIP (Raster Image Processor)
from Electronics for Imaging Inc. (EFI) is also available for the
EPSON Stylus Pro 5500. The RIP is designed to help maximize several of
the printer's advanced features combined with applications that are
engineered around the needs of graphic artists, advertising agencies,
fine arts studios and other professionals who create color composites
and proofs for press runs.

Fiery Spark Professional also adds the benefits of advanced
throughput options, job control, workflow flexibility, easy-to-create
high quality graphics and presentations. Additional RIPs for the EPSON
Stylus Pro 5500 will also be available from several other third-party
manufacturers.

Pricing and Availability

The EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 basic printing system is now available
for $3,495 (estimated U.S. street price) and can be ordered through
authorized Epson dealers nationwide. The optional Fiery Spark
Professional RIP is available for an additional $2,995 (estimated U.S.
street price).

Service & Support

The EPSON Stylus Pro 5500 printer is supported by the standard
EPSON Preferred Protection warranty program. This one-year program
includes toll-free advanced telephone access Monday through Saturday.
The EPSON Preferred Plus Protection Plans are service programs that
offer one or two additional years of protection. For more information
on Epson warranties, service programs and products, call
1-800-GO-EPSON (1-800/463-7766) or visit the company Web site at
www.epson.com.

About Epson

Epson offers an extensive array of award-winning image capture and
image output products for the consumer, business and graphic arts
markets. The company is also a leading supplier of value-added
point-of-sale (POS) solutions for the retail market. Founded in 1975,
Epson America Inc. is the U.S. affiliate of Japan-based Seiko Epson
Corporation, a global manufacturer and supplier of high-quality
technology products that meet customer demands for increased
functionality, compactness, systems integration and energy efficiency.
Epson America Inc.'s headquarters is in Long Beach, Calif.

Note to Editors: EPSON, EPSON Stylus and Micro Piezo are
registered trademarks of Seiko Epson Corp. EPSON Archival and DX3 are
trademarks, and EPSON Preferred Protection Plan is a service mark of
Epson America Inc. Third party brand or product names are trademarks
or registered trademarks of their respective holders.



Contact:

     Epson America Inc.
John Jatinen, 562/290-5173
john_jatinen@ea.epson.com
or
Walt & Company
Gilbert Aviles, 408/496-0900, ext. 1071
gaviles@walt.com

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Top 3 photos this month win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate