I'd been waiting impatiently for the Epson Stylus Pro 7600 since it was launched in May. Now that it's out, I have to say, it's been worth the wait.
What makes the 7600 so great? It has a lot of outstanding features, the most exciting being the new 7-color UltraChrome inks and incredibly low price.
For $2,995, the 7600 offers a tremendous value. No matter what kind of photographic images you produce, the 7600 gives you the same print quality as the 9600. If you don't need the 9600's 44-inch output, this may be the only printer you'll ever need.
If you have a design studio, using the 7600 with Best Software's XXL RIP will give you SWOP certified results. (Best XXL is compatible with the 9600, with no upgrades needed.)
Let 'Er RIP
If you don't need SWOP certification, you can purchase the EFI Fiery Spark Professional 2.0 RIP from Epson for an additional $1,995. The great news here is that the RIP is now implemented as a software solution rather than as the past hardware RIPs from EFI. Its only drawback is that the software will only run in a Windows 2000service pack 2environment. In the Mac environment, it will only work as a client operation, which means you still have to buy a dedicated box to be a RIP. If you're in a heavy-production environment, this may be a very worthwhile investment. The EFI RIP gives you greater printing, nesting, and color-control operations than just using the 7600 as a traditional printer.
Setup's a Breeze
Setting up the 7600 is totally straightforward. Unless you are really buff, get someone to help you lift the printer onto the stand. Then you should be making test prints in about 15 minutes.
You can hook up the 7600 to your Mac via 10base-t Ethernet, USB (1.1), or firewire if you get the additional interface card from Epson. PC users can also access the printer via the traditional parallel connection.
While my test machine didn't have the firewire card, I found the USB port about twice as fast as the parallel port. If you're like me and just print large Photoshop files, this may be sufficient.
Note that while the 7600 works with either Epson's Photographic Dye or UltraChrome inksets, the machine will initialize itself for the inkset you start it up with. You can't switch back and forth between inksets. There are two UltraChrome black inks: Photo Black and Matte Black. While you can change these as you go, an extensive cleaning is required. Ultimately, it's best to settle on one or the other to avoid ink delivery problems.
To me, the Photo Black is the all-around choice. Matte Black is optimized for fine art/watercolor papers and Epson's Matte Photo paper. So if your print mostly on fine art papers, stick with the Matte.
7600 vs 7500:
Better in Every Way
So, how does the 7600 compare with its predecessor, the Stylus Pro 7500? While some in the fine art world think the 7500's Epson Archival Inks have a little bit longer lifespan, the 7600 is an improvement in every way over the old printer. All things being equal, it prints about 25 percent faster. Using the firewire interfacea $200 optionis good for another 25 percent speed gain, which is highly recommended if you print 'round the clock.
Speed is nothing without quality. That's what amazes me about the 7600. Both the 7600 and 9600 printers have 2880 x 1440 dpi resolution, and heads with a 4-picolitre drop sizecompared to 8 in the 7500/9500 printerswith 33 percent more nozzles to disperse the ink. Epson's variable droplet technology makes the ink droplet larger on areas of solid color and smaller on areas of fine detail, completely eliminating any noise or artifacts common to inkjet printing. Look at the prints under a loupe. The dot is almost nonexistent!
Print quality and color gamut are definitely a marked improvement from the 7500, as well. Ultra-Chrome inks reproduce a wider range of vivid colors, provide a longer tonal scale, and do a much better job of reproducing subtle mid-tones. My work has a lot of bright primary colors, which are always hard to reproduce, and I've had great results with the new UltraChrome inks.
I've started a whole new series of images now that I can make such great B&W prints in my studio! Traditional B&W photographers will be very excited about the quality here.