My New Epson R2880 and My Photo Printing Process

As a sys admin, the one thing that would always make my skin crawl was printers.  I haven’t been an internal sys admin for years.  But I am a serious amateur photographer.  I enter competitions, I’m seeking higher accreditation/certification than I have already, and I’m probably going to start selling some framed stuff soon.  I’ve owned the same A4 HP Photosmart 7150 since late 2001.  It certainly was not up to the task. 

For serious stuff, I would always use something like Photobox.  A little while ago, a buddy started 360 DPI in Dublin and I’d get him to print stuff.  The problem was that what I was seeing wasn’t what was coming out on paper.  That wasn’t any fault of the service provider; the issue was at my end.

First thing is the screen.  It must be calibrated.  No 2 screens are the same.  Brightness, contrast and colour vary.  When you edit you must have a calibrated screen so that red really is red, green is green and blue is blue.  Brightness, white balance and contrast must be set to a uniform level.  That means what you see on the screen is what you send to the printer … sort of.

I bought a Spyder II Express for around €80 around 2 years ago.  It’s a dongle with a driver/software package.  The software asks you to plug in the dongle and hang it on your screen in a specific location (you are given a visual guide).  The software sends through various colours on screen and the dongle measures them.  Variations allow it to calculate how to profile your screen.  That is then saved to Windows (or Mac) and is loaded when you log in.  You are meant to repeat this process and do it in your typical working light. 

You really do notice the difference when the profile is loaded.  My Dell E6500 seems to be quite cold in terms of white balance and gets warmed up by the profile.  My Sony Vaio screen is very bright and is darkened.  Now I can see the actual colours, contrast and brightness when I edit in Photoshop.  But I still make mistakes – usually with the curves tool.  I noticed that I sometimes make the mid tones a little too dark.

That’s a problem if you send a set of shots of to be printed and only see the issue when the prints come back 3-7 days later and you have a deadline.  You can do nothing about it and you have to pay for the prints.  If you are lucky you have time to edit and reprint.  But you have to pay for a second set.

That forced me into buying a printer.  I decided on the Epson Stylus R2880.  This 8 ink cartridge A3+ printer has an awesome reputation in the amateur photography scene.  I’d seen lots of prints from this model over the last few years.  Black and whites are tint free (blue or green cast is a common problem with digital printing) and colour reaches out and smacks you for its attention.  I ordered it last week and picked up a few Epson A4 Premium Glossy sheets.  The larger models like the R3880 are more expensive to buy but more cost effective per page printed.  However, you really need to print a lot to recoup that initial spend.

The printer arrived today.  My office needed a bit of a sorting out and I got that finished tonight.  The printer was set up to my PC and laptop – yup it has 2 USB 2.0 sockets in the back.  It accepts paper roll which is more economic, allows for big panoramic prints but does require cutting.  It also has a CD/DVD printing tray.  I did the printing from Photoshop. 

As usual I resized the image and sharpened according using USM.  I set up the page to A4 borderless high quality, etc.  In the print window I set Photoshop to control the print and I selected the ICC profile (more on that in a sec) for the printer and paper I was using.  A few minutes later I had a colour and a black and white print.  It’s safe to say I am a happy customer.  The b/w is especially amazing.  The contrast, the sheen, the retention of black and white graduations are all up to par.  Both images printed exactly as on the screen.  Result!

I’ve got some Permajet Gloss and Oyster (matte paper is better for framing behind glass) paper on order.  The Epson printer driver only has ICC profiles for their paper.  An ICC profile tells the printer how to apply a known ink (official ink from the manufacturer) to a known paper (the paper developer usually creates a profile to match the paper with the ink).  This ensures that the image shown on a calibrated screen should end up being what ends up on paper.  So you end up then with complete control through the process.  If an ICC profile isn’t available for your paper/ink/printer combination then you can pay to get one made.

Now I’m itching to get the A3+ paper in the door.  I am really looking forward to producing some large prints and seeing the quality I get then.

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