- Review Price: £1445.00
Large format printing (LFP) covers everything from advertising banners at exhibitions, through signage and corporate branding at conferences to high quality prints of photos or paintings. It’s a specialist market, but one which can prove lucrative, if played intelligently. What you need to start with is a suitable machine to do the job and Epson’s Stylus Pro 4800, while entry-level in the LFP market, is a substantial printer with flexible media options.
The Stylus Pro 4800 is certainly substantial when you come to set it up. At 40kg it’s a two-man lift and you’ll also need a strong desk, table or stand to mount it on. If you intend to use cut-roll paper with it, you’ll also need clear floor space, or better a bin, to capture the outcoming prints.
The design is reasonably conventional, though everything has been super-sized to cope with paper sizes up A2. In some ways it looks more like an hp printer, than an Epson, as cut-sheet paper is fed from the front and makes a 180-degree turn to eject onto its paper tray lid. A large, telescopic tray feeds paper sizes from A4 to A2, using movable spacers to hold different paper sizes in place – you can only load one paper size at once.
Many users will want to print using roll paper rather than cut-sheet, and a roll feeder is provided at the rear, again taking paper of up to A2 width. The printer has an auto-feed for this paper source and an auto-cutter, so each print can be trimmed to its exact length. You have to lift paper guides on the top of the cut-sheet tray to ensure a smooth pass for roll-fed stock.
The two-line, 16-character LCD display is back-lit and shows an approximation of the ink status when not displaying other messages. This is an intelligent printer and can report back to a controlling PC or Mac with a number of useful statistics. It can be connected via USB 2.0 or Firewire links and there’s an optional Ethernet adapter, if you want to network the machine.
Because of the capacity of the ink cartridges – a full set of high-capacity cartridges gives you over a litre and a half of ink in total – they’re fitted separately from the print head and connected by flexible tubes. Ink is pumped to the heads and suction is also used to hold paper onto the wide platen, during printing. You can vary the suction level to match the weight of your paper stock.
Epson claims that you can change between matte and photo black inks at any time, making the Stylus Pro 4800 effectively a nine-colour printer. Although you can change ink like this, it’s not without penalty. You have to release the cyan, magenta and yellow cartridges and put ‘black conversion cartridges’ in their place for the system to drain down ink already in the pipework. It then has to recharge four colours from scratch, before it can continue to print. You can’t recycle the ink drained out each time, so there’s considerable wastage.
The Stylus Pro 4800 comes into its own when printing larger pages. At A4, it’s not quick. It took just under five minutes to print five pages of text and 1:12 to print a single, mixed page of text and colour graphics. We only really printed these for direct comparison with the small machines we’ve reviewed. When we printed a full A3 page, a print of an oil painting, it took the printer 4:24 and up at A3+, allowing for a full bleed, still only took 4:40. Both of these are good times.
Print quality on plain or photo paper, is very good. Black is dense and full, with the two supporting ‘light black’ inks, or as we techies call them, ‘greys’, providing smooth gradations of tone.
When printing large format pages, costing on the basis of 20 per cent of an A4 page isn’t appropriate. We don’t think Epson’s basis for costing a photo print, 40 per cent of a page, is that realistic either. If you’re going to spend this kind of money on a printer, you’re going to be covering most of each page you print with ink – 80 per cent would be a more realistic average.
However, the figures Epson provide give a cost of just under £3.50 for an ISO 400 standard, A3+ print. With a fair mark-up, you should still be able to come in at under £10 for this type of print.
Possibly a little pricey, when compared with similar HP DesignJets, The Stylus Pro 4800 does produce very high quality, eight-colour prints, in both colour and monochrome, with its three ‘black’ inks. Running costs are fair for a commercial device, so overall, the Stylus Pro 4800 should certainly be on your short list.
Score in detail
Print Speed 9
Print Quality 9