Black and White Prints
with the EPSON 4800 PRINTER

So what can I tell you that you don't already know about the Epson 4800 printer? As I'm writing this - November 14th, 2005 - the web is filled with reviews. Big juicy technical reviews. Consider this a testimonial.

If you've moved around this site at all, you'll see that I only do black and white prints. In fact - I make my living doing black and white prints.

As far as my photography background goes, I did traditional darkroom prints, both for myself and at one time for a commercial lab for decades. When inkjets looked like a possibility I went through the experience with various 3rd party monochrome inks, and several Epson printers.

There's might still be an Epson 1280 somewhere up in my loft with who knows what inks in it.

The first real success I had was with the Epson 2200 and the ImagePrint RIP. This combination convinced me that my old Zone VI enlarger was on the way out.

And finally, I began to read about the 2400 and the 4800.

I watched and waited and as soon as the Epson 4800 was available in the States - or more specifically at B&H - I ordered one.

Biggest problem - getting it up the stairs. Compared to the desktop printers I was used to, this was enormous. I had already ordered a heavy piece of furniture to put the printer on - and when we (the two old moving men) and myself got it up the three flights to my apartment - I looked at the big box and said to myself, what have I done? (I live in a typical, small New York studio apartment).

But here it sits, resting comfortably. A nice roll of Ilford Smooth Pearl paper on the roller. And I can even say - without knocking wood - that I have not had a single problem with the printer since it arrived. I do treat it like my baby.

I made a cover from two large trash bags taped together and I keep it covered at night to keep dust and especially cat-hair (I have one cat) out of it. I set up a system of little obstacles where the printer sits so that the cat can't get anywhere near it.

One well-known issue - the pain and expense of switching from Photo Black Ink to Mat Black Ink and back again. This was not going to be an issue for me.

I knew when I got it that I was only going to use Photo Black Ink and not be switching back and forth between Photo Black and Mat Black. I knew before I ordered the printer that once I settled in on my paper of choice - I wouldn't be doing much switching without a very good reason. Switching paper usually means a lot of testing.

It was no different for me in the darkroom. When I decided that a particular developer & paper combination was working - I never switched to anything else. I used Ilford Gallerie Graded Fiber and Dektol for as long as I can remember.

With the 4800, I use Photo Black Ink and Ilford Smooth Pearl. If I switch paper and or ink - there will have to be a good reason. I am not even using a custom profile. I started with the Epson Driver setting for Premium Semi-gloss photo paper (in advanced B&W mode). Printer Control Management is set to Color Controls, and I've made a couple of tweaks in there in terms of contrast and warmth. I haven't changed those settings since the first day I got the printer, unless it was to experiment with toning.

Epson Driver

My photoshop workspace is Adobe RGB and I send RGB to the printer which as I say is set to Advanced B&W mode.

I am not a commercial printer. I don't need to print to customers specifications (only my own). If I was, I would probably end up with two printers. IMAGEPrint does make a RIP that now allows you to put Photo Mat Ink in the Light Light Gray slot and switch inks on demand. Haven't tried it, and don't need to.

Differential gloss - has been greatly eliminated and is not visible under glass which is where most of my prints are headed.

Color shift as you move from one light source to another, I can't see it. Not anymore that I could see it with a traditional darkroom print as I moved from one light source to another.

So you see - this isn't a review - this is a testimonial by a happy user. The speed increase over the 2200 is substantial.

If I think about it - I can come up with a couple of gripes:

- If you do use the 220 ml. ink cartridges (which I don't) - the plastic doors over the ink compartments don't close. As I mentioned, since I live with a cat would rather use the 110 ml. cartridges and keep those doors shut. Also I just don't go through ink that fast - so I'd rather put fresh ink in (remember only b&w). As far as I remember, light cyan and light magenta do run out first though.

- The Epson Print Driver still leaves something to be desired. I've set up a custom configuration - which it remembers fine - but the driver isn't exactly what I would call "sticky." For example I almost always use roll paper. Every time I exit Photoshop and go back in to print again - I need to re-select a) the paper source as roll paper and b) the custom configuration. Doesn't seem to me that it would be that hard for the driver to remember one more thing.

- I have had to do a couple of head cleanings. There is an automatic setting when you print a test pattern that is supposed to determine whether a cleaning is needed or not. I have found this to be unreliable. In fact I don't use it any more. If I start to see banding or something along those lines (no pun intended) I do a pattern print out, look at it, and if necessary I order a cleaning cycle.

But this is as much nitpicking as I can do. The printer feels and is built like an industrial strength printer, and that is what it is.