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Accessories Reviews

Color Management and the Epson Stylus Pro 7900 Printer

Hal Becker (HBB) on May 7, 2010


Keywords: epson, stylus, 7900, printer, paper, non_nikon, product, articles

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Introduction and Color Management Overview

Over the last several years, I have progressed through a number of Epson large format printers including the Stylus Pro 4000 (seventeen inch carriage), the Stylus Pro 7800 (twenty-four inch carriage) and currently the Stylus Pro 7900 (twenty-four inch carriage), which I have reviewed for this article. I have included the following brief overview of color management because I believe that anyone getting into large format printing needs to commit the time necessary to develop a personal color management philosophy, work flow, and operational procedures if they are to produce optimum results.

Some digital photographers report great success with large prints produced at local laboratories, camera stores and other sites that will accept camera memory cards, CDs, and thumb drives, and return finished prints in an hour or so. Other users of these services are less than enthusiastic. The joy of producing that first large format print on your own system that motivates people to gasp when they see it cannot be matched.

In spite of the rapid and continuing advancements in large format printing technologies, the process has not yet been reduced to the point and click state. It still requires user involvement and understanding at several levels, and a fairly solid grasp of color management fundamentals, which will not be developed overnight.

My approach to color management is based primarily on my work with digital photography, beginning several years ago with my transition from a pair of Nikon F3 cameras through a Nikon D100, a pair of D70's, to the Nikon D2X, D3 and D3X models I now use. It has evolved considerably over intervening years and continues to change in response to evolutionary and revolutionary advances in digital camera, image processing software, printer hardware, paper, and ink technologies. The dynamics of these technologies are far from static, and the only absolute that I see for several years in color management and large format printing is that there are no absolutes.

There are many paths to successful large format color and black and white printing, influenced by individual preferences and desired goals. Any number of books, workshops, seminars, web sites, and educational programs are available for those motivated to experience the joys of large format printing. While these tools will provide insight and guidance to large format printing, users must still be willing to dedicate the time and exhibit the patience necessary for success.

One of the keys to developing a successful color management workflow is an awareness of light and its role in digital photography and large format printing.  This awareness extends to the quantity of light, its quality, direction, color temperature and other factors. The difference between an ordinary and an exceptional print often revolves around an understanding of light and related illumination factors.

The light illuminating a subject or a scene can be bright and harsh, or soft and diffuse. It can range from the crisp, cool, blue of noon daylight in the shade, to the warm yellow/red glow of tungsten lamps or candles. It can be ambient sunlight, streetlights, moonlight, interior room lights, etc., or supplemental hot, always-on studio lights, studio strobes, portable speedlights and others.

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Hal Becker - Grand Canyon Arizona 2010

Other key factors include the various perceptions and interpretations of the original scene or image, throughout the color management process, that is to be printed and ultimately hung on a wall somewhere for viewing. Many of these interpretations are produced by various hardware systems involved, beginning with a digital camera, progressing through a computer with its color monitor, eventually to a color printer with a specific paper and ink set, and hence to a wall in a home or gallery under the ambient lighting. Throughout the process, several perceptions of these interpretations are produce in the eye/brain system of the color printer user.

For many users, the ultimate goal of sound color management workflow and practice is to reproduce an initial scene as perceived by the photographer with as much realism and fidelity as possible on a finished print hanging on a wall, under the available illumination. The interpretations and perceptions encountered along the way include the following list. Note that the final print may, or may not, be produced by the photographer.  One or more graphic artists may be involved in the sequence, and their eye/brain perception of color may be different that the photographer's.

  1. Initial scene as perceived by the photographer.
  2. The scene as interpreted by the sensor and related hardware/software technologies in a digital camera.
  3. The image as interpreted by a computer monitor, prior to software manipulation and perceived by the photographer or graphic artist.
  4. The image as interpreted by a computer monitor following software manipulation, and perceived by the photographer or graphic artist.
  5. The image as interpreted by a specific printer using a specific ink set on a specific paper and perceived by the photographer or graphic artist.
  6. The image as perceived by the photographer or graphic artist immediately following printing and under the ambient illumination of the printing studio.
  7. The image as perceived by the photographer or graphic artist following the required drying time for the print, under ambient studio illumination.
  8. The image as perceived by the photographer and others when hung on a wall under the intended illumination, which may, or may not, be close to the illumination of the scene as initially perceived by the photographer in step 1), above.

As noted above, several stages of the production process involve the photographer's and/or graphic artist's perception of images interpreted and presented by various technologies.  At each stage, the original image is modified either by the various hardware/software systems, and/or by the photographer or graphic artist processing it.


 

Color management practitioners should be aware that the human eye/brain system performs considerable "processing" of perceived scenes, colors and images.  For example, to the human eye/brain system, a white shirt appears white regardless of the color temperature of the illumination source; bright blue sunlight to reddish/yellow tungsten lamps.  Digital cameras and color printers have no such innate ability and the photographer's or graphic artist's perceptions and image manipulations are required to achieve the desired color fidelity.  With practice, large format color printer users will become aware of these often subtle differences, and make the appropriate adjustments in their color management workflow.

Photographers and graphic artists should also be aware that each of the interpretations presented by the various technologies in the above eight stages is slightly different than the others.  The digital camera interpretation is recorded in a semiconductor sensor and displayed on a very small, relatively low resolution LCD screen on the back.  The computer monitor interpretation is a much higher resolution, more faithful image generated with projected light produced by small red, green and blue pixels.  The color image produced on a sheet of paper by a printer is illuminated by reflected ambient illumination, which is usually quite different than that produced and perceived at the original site, or by a computer monitor.  The printer user's goal is to be aware of these differences and apply the procedures necessary to retain the image's resolution and color fidelity throughout the color management process and workflow.

From another perspective, the human eye/brain system has a much greater dynamic range than current generation digital cameras can capture, current computer monitors can display, and current generation color printers can reproduce.  These differences also contribute to the differing interpretations and perceptions that occur during the color management interval and sequence.  In time, camera, computer and printer technologies may overcome these limitations.  For now, numerous color management techniques, including High Dynamic Range (HDR) software applications and printer ink sets can be applied to the task.

In time, and with practice, as their color management philosophy and workflow evolve, digital photographers and large format color printer users will develop a much more discerning eye with respect to scene illumination, color temperatures, white balances and other related parameters.  It will take time to learn the many parameters involved and their interrelationships.  It may be frustrating and discouraging in the early stages, but with patience and persistence, the end result will be well worth the effort.

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Hal Becker Hal Becker (HBB)

Phoenix, USA
Moderator, 8441 posts

11 comments

Robert DeBellis (tsafplnikon071012) on September 11, 2012

I have owned this printer for 1.9 yrs. I went on vacation for 2 wks and when I got back I had permanent clog on the Cyan nozzle. No matter how cleanings, normal or power, it will not clear. The printer has had light use since I've owned it. I've run through about 400 mls of C/VM ink to try to solve this. The cost to have it repaired to repair is astronomical, exceeding $2200 ( $1800 parts at $175 labor). To add insult to injury, Epson won't allow users to purchase parts or the software required to do the repairs myself. I can not in good conscience recommend this printer to anyone unless they are rich. A boat or a drug more economical. Bob DeBellis

Hal Becker (HBB) on December 20, 2010

Martin: Sorry for the delay in responding to your question. There is so little action here, I forget to check. The 7900 comes in a very large box strapped to a wooden shipping pallet. The printer is 54 inches wide, by 48 inches tall by 28 inches deep, and the box is correspondingly larger. The printer weighs over 200 pounds and you will need help in assembling it on the stand and moving it into its designated space. Let me know by private email if you have any additional questions. I check that daily. Regards, HBB in Phoenix, Arizona

Martin Best (wildpix) on November 15, 2010

Hi, many thanks to all for some great info. Have decided on the 7900 as a result. Onkly one issue, Im in kenya, and can get various delivery options(greatly varying costs as well), but i need to know box dimensions to best ship. can anyone help? cheers martin

Hal Becker (HBB) on September 13, 2010

Gilbert: Sorry, I haven't tried to create custom settings for metallic media, but am aware that there are several traps to avoid when setting anything up on the P7900, including: 1) Paper type in both the driver and on the printer must match. 2) Ink type on printer must be appropriately set: Matte Black or Photo Black. 3) Roll vs Sheet feed must match on printer and in driver. 4) Have you downloaded the most recent P7900 driver and LFP firmware? 5) ... I stick pretty closely to the Epson papers for most of my printing. Suggest you post your question on the Printer Forum and see if Ernesto or others can help. More members visit the Printer Forum than come here, as this is so hard to find. Regards, Hal

Gilbert Romane (Gilly) on September 12, 2010

Hi Hal, great detailed review. I am a 7900 owener myself and am loving it. Up to now I have been using only Epson media but have recently purchased some new metallic media to replicate the old cibachrome prints in the wet world. I have been supplied with a .icc profile for this new media but have not been successful for creating a custom media setting that details this paper. Just like I would select Epson Premium glossy 250 paper and all it's associated settings. When I use the Epson LFP remote panel 2 application to create a customer paper setup, i get an error message that say the printer is not ready. Not sure if it's a communication error with the printer or if I am missing a step in the procedure. Have you tried this with any success? thx Gilbert.

Hal Becker (HBB) on June 21, 2010

Mark: Thank you for your kind words. They are appreciated. The reason I dry my prints for as long as possible, is to avoid the "outgassing" problem I mentioned briefly toward the end of the 7900 review. In the early days of my large format printing, I dried them for a couple days or so and took them to the framer for matting and framing. After a year or so, a couple of framed prints came back to the framer with a ghost image on the inside of the glass. It was hard to see at first, but it was there. We looked at a number of framed prints still on the gallery wall, and there it was also. Areas where the ink was densest/darkest in color were the most visible, while lighter colored areas were not so visible. The framer opened up the frame, washed the glass and put it back together again. Once I started using the longer drying time, the problem disappeared. Outgassing is a function of several variaables; ink/paper combination, and most significantly, the humidity in the room where the print hangs. Very dry climates, e.g., Phoenix, where the humidity today is 11.0 percent, accelerate the evaporation of the vehicles (liquids) used to convey the ink to the paper. Higher humidity climates will slow the process down accordingly. In my observation, matte papers seem to dry quicker than coated papers, which take longer. Coated papers have a series of resin costings which absorb the ink and retard the drying time. Matte papers are also coated, but it is much different than the resins used on coated stock. If you are selling your framed prints, you may want to consider a test to see if the outgassing occurs, and how long it takes. I trust you always place a matte between the print and the glass such that the print never contacts the glass, or plastic in your case. Somewhere on the Epson web site is a two page discussion of the outgassing issue. I haven't looked for it in a while, but if you can locate it, it is worth reading. Thanks again for your comments. Regerds, HBB in Phoenix

mark richman (mdjak) on June 21, 2010

That was an excellent and compelling writeup. First, thank you very much for taking the time to do so. I started with a 13x19 Canon printer some years back, graduating to the Epson 4000 followed a year or so later by the 4800. They were and are workhorses, but I always wanted larger. Size does matter. So, once I heard of the rebates, I too shopped online and found the printer for an excellent price, no tax, free shipping, and a very handsome rebate which Epson promptly made good on. The 7900 was delivered and it indeed took four people to carry inside and place on the stand. As you state, setup is straight forward and well documented. I absolutely love mine. I did not update the firmware but probably should, I don't use mine that often as I'm strictly amateur. When I have family and friends over, I take portraits, group and single, with my 5DII, and then come inside and print them. I haven't found it necessary to allow drying time at all, though I am in no way challenging your knowledge on same. I buy large poster frames at AI Friedman which have plastic instead of glass, so perhaps that explains the lack of problems. My wife bought me the 30" Rotatrim cutter at B&H for Father's Day, but gave it to me weeks ago. It is a must. Thanks again, Hal, for a great review. Mark

Hal Becker (HBB) on June 21, 2010

Jim: Agreed ... rolling the protective coating on canvas is a bother at best, but worth the effort. Should I find myself printing a lot of canvas, I will investigate a LPHV spray rig. Meanshile, I found that using the smaller, six inch wide foam rollers eliminates the lint problem entirely. I dilute and thoroughly mix the material as recommended and apply three thin coats, letting them dry between coats. When first rolled on, you will see streaks and small bubbles, which do flatten out as it dries. It took a bit of experimenting to discover proper technique with these rollers, but it all worked out nicely in the end. Yes, I always let prints, including canvas, dry between acid free blotter paper sheets for at least a week or more, if possible, before using coatings of any kind. So far, I have not experienced the ink transfer process you describe. While I have tried the canned, spray-on coating on Velvet Fine Art prints, I do not use it for two reasons: 1) It lightens the deep, dark, rich black backgrounds sightly that the P7900 can produce on matte paper with matte black ink. 2) All of my paper prints are matted and framed under glass, so a protective coating is not necessary. I understand the clogging issue. I had a P4000 for a couple years that would clog just by looking at it. I saw large air bubbles in the lines that I suspect were part of the problem. No ink in the lines will show up just like a clog ... missing colors ... right? I'm just guessing at this. Long story short, Epson, to their great credit, swapped the 4000 out for me three or four times at no charge, no questions asked, sending me a 4800 the last time. I had already decided to move to the 7800 by that time, so I sold the 4800 to a friend. A year or so on the 7800, skipping the 7880, and on to the 7900 which has been the best one yet. Thanks for your kind comments. Let me know if you have any additional questions. Regards, HBB in Phoenix, Arizona

Jim Stamates (Jimi) on June 21, 2010

Hal, Lots of great information. Thanks for taking the time to write and post this. I'm still with one of the first 7600s to reach our shores and I've printed so many 100 foot rolls I could start a tube company. Clogging is a problem on these earlier models. I do shake the heck out of the ink if it has been sitting a while. (2 month trips out of country) then I let them sit overnight before printing. (works if you have back up ink around too long, too) Also, I've printed on canvas and from my experience I hate rolling on coatings. No matter how careful I am I always get specks of fuzz? and have to pick them off. But the big problem I had was the roller would pick up the blue ink and lay it back down, noticeable on white. Now the question, I use paper between the prints and dry them for a day or two, longer if I have the time. Are you saying you have to dry them between paper for a week or two? That long? Thanks again,

Hal Becker (HBB) on June 21, 2010

Kristofor: Ideally, you want to view the dried print (at least 24 hours) under the same illumination that will exist at the final site on a wall where it will hang. A color temperature meter is very useful for determining this. Here I have a set of tungsten track lights at about 3200 Kelvin, and another room with overhead fluorescents at about 6000 Kelvin. The appearance of a print when viewed under these two sources is dramatically different. This has proven to be a very useful exercise to demonstrate the point about the color temperature of a light source and its effect on a print. Natural daylight around 5500 Kelvin is probably a good starting point. One can adjust from there depending on the final site for the print. I have tested a few of the relatively new compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL), rated at 5000 Kelvin, and found that they start much higher (one sample at 6000 Kelvin plus), and drift down slowly over a few hundred hours to their rated color temperature. Color management and color temperature workflow are like photography itself: A journey with no conceivable destination. Thanks for your comments. HBB in Phoenix, Arizona

Kristofor Jensen (kkjensen) on June 21, 2010

Great write-up! Is there a particular kind of home (or studio) type of lighting that you prefer for consistency? With the recent flux of compact fluorescent lights on the market I've been appalled at the variance in their color temperatures and am not sure what direction to go. Halogen?

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