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Epson Stylus Pro 4900 Review: Hands On First Impressions

My new Epson Stylus Pro 4900 printer arrived at the end of last week and I spent yesterday getting to know it. I'm impressed and very pleased. Here are some first impressions.

First, a reality check. This thing is big and it is heavy. Quoted size of the 4900 is 34"(W) x 16"(H) x 30"(D) which is similar to previous similar Epson printers but while the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 weighed in at 83 pounds and the 4880 weighed 89 pounds, the 4900 is a real heavyweight at 115 pounds. Even if you're accustomed to muscling earlier generation Epson printers to where you wanted them by yourself, you will almost certainly need to find a friend to help with moving a 4900 into position. It still comes on a wooden palette and the shipping box itself is almost exactly the same size as I'm used to, but what's inside is indeed somewhat bigger. Most recent Epson printers in this size class had a profile where the paper tray stuck out from the rest of the front edge even when pushed all the way in. If you can visualize the entire front of the printer being extended to be flush with that pushed in paper tray, you've got the form factor of a 4900.

Installing the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 software and drivers
Installing the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 software and drivers

The much improved control panel on the Epson Stylus Pro 4900
The much improved control panel on the Epson Stylus Pro 4900

Look, an understandable status message
Look, an understandable status message

I've usually set my printer atop a standard two-drawer lateral filing cabinet with a top surface measuring 24 x 36 inches. The feet on the bottom of the 4900 are spaced just slightly far enough apart front to back to make such placement no longer possible. Cutting down a sheet of plywood to form a slightly deeper based though is all it took to continue using the file cabinet as a pedestal. The printer casing has changed to a two-tone black and gray color scheme rather than the all-over gray of previous Epson models.

Now for the good stuff.

Long gone are the days when desktop printers used just cyan, magenta, yellow and black and Epson continues to push the boundaries of ink technology. The UltraChrome K3TM with Vivid Magenta system used in the 4880 has been augmented in the 4900 with new green and orange pigment inks to create what Epson now calls their UltraChrome® HDR ink technology. Color gamut comparisons against the 4880 are similar over most colors but expanded significantly in the green and orange regions as you might expect. Pantone certifies the 4900 to correctly match 98% of the Solid Color Formula Guide. There's even a Pantone logo affixed to the front of the printer. Difficult test prints with gradients of green and orange show marked improvements over previous Epson printers. Black density and gray balance are excellent.

All together the Stylus Pro 4900 takes eleven ink cartridges. The 4900 utilizes a ten channel Epson MicroPiezo® TFP® Print Head that automatically checks print head nozzles and alignment. The previous generation top of the line Epson 11880 used a MicroPiezo® TFP® head while the 4880, 7880 and 9880 used what Epson called a MicroPiezo® AMC® print head. When the 880 line came out Epson listed the benefits as including twice the number of nozzles (360 versus 180) with higher drive frequencies, perfectly spherical ink dots and higher dot placement accuracy. At present, Epson only sells the 220 ml ink cartridges for the 4900. For previous similar printers they've also offered 110 ml cartridges. It is unclear if these will be released later for the 4900.

The heads include Epson's second generation ink repelling coating. Epson boasted that the 4880 "dramatically reduce nozzle clogging" while they claim that with the 4900 "clogged nozzles are virtually eliminated." Sounds good to me. Only time will tell, but I'm more than willing to give up hassling with the occasional clogged nozzle.

Both Photo and Matte Black cartridges are loaded at the same time with the printer automatically switching between them such that it prints with ten inks at a time. I disliked the last few generations of Epson printers that forced you to manually change black cartridges as this used up large amounts of ink. By keeping both loaded, ink waste is kept to a minimum.

Epson's new AccuPhotoTM HDR Screening algorithm builds on the AccuPhotoTM HD Screening used by the 4880 to produce even better results. It is extremely difficult to see any hint of dot grain in test prints even with a magnifying glass. I am quite impressed. The 4900 also includes a 12-bit black and white screening technology that includes custom warm and cool toning options directly in the print driver similar to the 4880.

Bronzing and gloss differential are reduced even further. Examining prints with both heavy and light ink areas shows little difference even when viewed at an angle under bright light. Display permanence ratings exceed 200 years for both color and black and white.

Print speed is exceptionally fast and quiet. Based on Epson measurements, the 4900 prints up to twice as fast as the Stylus Pro 4880. When I first printed a basic 8x10 test print it came out so fast I almost thought the paper was merely being ejected and something had gone wrong. In power saving mode, the printer is virtually silent. Even when printing, it's notably quieter than previous professional printers from Epson. They Stylus Pro 4900 is EnergyStar® compliant rated.

Color accuracy when using the provided ICC profiles appears excellent. My first print came off the printer looking great as has everything I've printed since. Epson claims they have modified their manufacturing process to include colorimetric calibration so every 4900 that comes off the assembly line should be quite consistent.

Epson has finally dispensed with the limited LED "dot matrix" front status display and moved to a 2.5-inch color LCD display. The vertical bars showing remaining ink levels are displayed in their appropriate colors and most message texts are in spelled out English or at least better abbreviated English. Thank you Epson. Also gone are the annoying left-right-up-down menu buttons having been replaced by a more modern navigational cursor layout at compass points around a central "OK" button. Other control button layout changes were made as well making the entire experience of using the printer much more user friendly. There's also a well thought out, raised warning lamp that shows amber if the printer needs you to do something to resolve a warning or error condition. This makes it much easier to notice a problem if I'm busy doing something else while the printer does its thing.

Gamut comparison of Stylus Pro 4900 versus previous Epson printersThe 4900 has four paper paths including the standard front paper tray and roll feed, as well as front-top manual feed and a front straight-through, manual feeder that allows use of sheets up to 1.5 mm thick. You can keep both the roll paper loaded all the time and switch to it or any other paper media via the driver. The roll feeder features what Epson terms their ePlatenTM loading technology that electronically controls media tension for smooth, consistent movement and automatically rewinds roll the paper upon releasing the media tension lever. Maximum paper width remains 17 inches as were the 4000 through 4880 printers.

As with previous generations, there's both a standard edition 4900 as well as a "Designer Edition" with bundled RIP software. Epson also offers a built-in SpectroProofer® spectrophotometer to provide for precise color measurements directly within the printer to potentially automate color management tasks. If you print mainly on Epson or quality third-party papers that provide profiles you are unlikely to need the SpectroProofer, especially given that it lists for over a thousand dollars all by itself. I'm happy with my X-Rite ColorMunki if I need to profile any papers.

If you're upgrading from an earlier Epson printer, you've probably already guessed that you can't use any of your remaining ink in your new 4900. The roll media holder, ink maintenance tank and borderless maintenance tank are also all new part numbers.

Epson is offering rebates of $500 on purchase of a Stylus Pro 4900 from now through March 31. They're also offering substantial rebates on other printers as well including the 4880 which will apparently remain in the professional imaging lineup and available for sale for at least the time being.

Very highly recommended if you're in the market for a printer of this size.

Date posted: January 23, 2011


Copyright © 2011 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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