Epson inkjet printers have been a staple in photographers’ studios for many years and with good reason. Each generation of hardware and ink set development brings photo printing to new levels. That trajectory continues with the SureColor P5000, Epson’s latest, large format 17-inch desktop printer. (The company recently rebranded its familiar Stylus Photo/Stylus Photo Pro lines under the SureColor banner to unify the brand globally.)
The successor to the Stylus Pro 4900 is available in three editions: The Standard edition, reviewed here, retails for $1,995. Commercial and Designer editions are also available for $1,995 and $2,495, respectively. The Commercial edition comes with Pantone-friendly Violet ink instead of what’s called “light light black,” while the Commercial model includes an EFI Fiery eXpress for Epson RIP.
Featuring a 10-color UltraChrome HDX pigment inkset, the P5000 utilizes 200mL cartridges, adding orange and green inks to the core set of cyan, light cyan, yellow, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta and three levels of black (Photo or Matte, light black and light light black). The printer is also equipped with two maintenance tanks, including one for borderless printing. These tanks are designed as repositories for excess ink (yes, we know those words make you cringe; more about that later). Built-in roll printing and a high-capacity cassette complement front and top feeds. An optional SpectroProofer is also available.
The printer and its ink set deliver a broader color gamut, 1.5x higher density blacks and print permanence double that of its predecessor. That translates to up to 200 years for color prints and up to 400 years for black and white—provided you store them properly. Good luck finding a hard drive that will last that long.
The SC P5000 is a beast, albeit a handsome one. It weighs almost 115 pounds and, with the exit tray closed, measures 34.0 x 30.2 x 15.8 inches. Unboxing and moving the printer to a sturdy table is definitely a two-person job. But once you extricate the printer from its box, setup is easy, if a little time-consuming. Figure about 45 minutes to an hour, at best, until it’s ready to print.
Overall, the printer is well designed. It’s equipped with Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 ports, a built-in rotary cutter and a full color, 2.7-inch LCD control panel. The latter, along with an alert lamp on the front of the printer, provides important notifications about ink status, paper feed issues and more, reducing the time spent investigating what problem the printer might be encountering.
The printer does present something of a learning curve. While the control panel is useful, you may need to dig around the menu before discovering what options are there. It’s best to keep that user manual handy.
At the same time, of course, you need to manage your print output via software. Epson’s Print Layout application, a free download, proved very useful particularly when setting up panorama or custom print sizes. The software also provides tools for creating customized gallery-wrap prints. But the really good news is that the Epson Advanced Black and White Photo Mode finally has live previews so your adjustments are reflected on your selected photo rather than a reference photo.
Another plus is the addition of dustproof features such as the fully enclosed roll feed. The transparent but sturdy plastic allows you to keep an eye on the printing process. Epson has also improved dust and static control to reduce print head nozzle maintenance.
All is not perfect, however. Marring the overall excellent build quality is the rather flimsy plastic output tray. It doesn’t slide smoothly in or out of the main body and although we don’t think it will break, moving the tray requires a little bit of jiggling. The tray is also a little short for larger/longer prints and since there’s no catch basket, some prints will likely end up on the floor if you’re not there to grab them.
The front sheet feed requires a bit of finessing to precisely align the paper since there’s only a mark (rather than physical guides) to place the media. It’s easier to use the top feed for lighter-weight paper and save the front feed for thicker, more rigid media.
IMAGE QUALITY & PERFORMANCE
As expected, print quality is excellent. We output a variety of color and monochrome images on several different glossy and matte papers including Epson’s Legacy Platine and Moab’s new Entrada Rag Textured 300. Colors were beautifully rendered and there was no evidence of metamerism nor gloss differential.
With the higher (1.5x) density black inks, shadows were deeper and richer. While that’s a benefit, we found that blacks were sometimes a little too dark, even when printing with the proper ICC profile and a color-calibrated monitor. As a comparison, we printed the same images on the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (with the same color calibrated monitor, same paper and the appropriate 3880 ICC profile).
The Stylus Pro 3880 prints seemed, to our eye, to have slightly better balanced (lighter) shadows. This may have been an anomaly but it’s worth noting. In general, however, the higher density black inks increased overall contrast, dynamic range and sharpness as they were intended to do. Color gamut was also visibly improved on the SCP5000.
And speaking of black inks: Be sure to have extra cartridges on hand when preparing for a large print run. Despite the 200mL ink tanks, switching between matte and photo black gobbles up some of that liquid gold. Epson doesn’t release any numbers for precisely how much ink is used and we’re unable to quantify it, but the drop is visible in the ink level gauge on the control panel.
Speedy and relatively quiet printing is the norm, although fan noise is noticeable when it kicks in. The fan is not exceedingly noisy but we wouldn’t want to be talking on the phone next to it when it’s at full throttle.
Print speeds varied, depending on the image and settings but, for reference, on highest quality (maximum resolution is 2880 x 1440 dpi) non-bleed, 8 x 10 images took between three and four minutes. Switch to high speed (1440 x 720 dpi) and print speeds varied between 1.5 and 2.5 minutes. Your results may be different depending on how much ink coverage your images require.
The Epson SureColor P5000’s roll feed is exceedingly simple to use. And, the built-in cutter made clean, even cuts.
There’s little competition in the 17-inch desktop inkjet printer market. Probably the closest match to the Epson SureColor P5000 is the older, 17-inch, 12 color Canon color imagePROGRAF iPF5100. Paper handling options are the same as the Epson but the $2,100 iPF5100 has built-in calibration. If you’re on a budget, don’t print in large quantities, can forgo cassette and roll paper feeds but want wireless connectivity, check out the $1,300 Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000.
You’ll have to weigh the features (and price) of the Epson versus Canon printers for yourself and your work. But as we mentioned earlier, inkjet printing standards continue to rise with each new product, which gives the Epson SureColor P5000 an edge over the older Canon iPF 5100. And, with the Epson’s best-in-class print quality and excellent paper handling, we’d highly recommend the SureColor P5000 for pro’s who want—and need—the latest and greatest in inkjet printing.
By Theano Nikitas