I’ve owned Epson dedicated photo printers since the late 90’s when I was running Jon Cone’s Piezo System on an Epson 1270. The results, when you could get them, were stunning, mostly down to the Piezo Ink system with Quad Tone RIP that replaced the OEM Epson inks and workflow. Even today, the best prints I’ve made have been Piezo prints on Exhibition Matte. Nothing else comes close. The problem was the innumerable clogs you’d have to deal with, the improperly banded prints, the wasted paper and ink trying to clean print heads. Essentially, if you didn’t print everyday, and I don’t, with the Epson archival pigment ink systems you could expect constant, expensive problems. Constant head clogs; constant marathon head cleaning cycles that wasted massive amounts of expensive ink; occasional removal of the print head to soak in some magic solution promising to clean and unclog the head; reams of expensive exhibition grade paper fucked up by banded printing or ink smears or some other one-off mishap. I don’t think that printer ever stopped working, I just got so sick of it I trashed it.
From the 1270 I moved on to a wide carriage Epson 4000 pigment ink printer which printed up to 24′ width and had huge (and expensive) ink tanks. It did nice B&W – certainly not as nice as the Piezo system – but better than most wet prints I could do in the darkroom. Good tonal gradations, black blacks – when it printed. While it was nice to have the ability to print large, I never much printed bigger than 10×15 anyway, and, of course, the printer was a nightmare for clogged heads and banded prints and wasted paper unless you used it on a daily basis. And whatever software Epson bundled with it sucked. I eventually got so sick of it I took it to the dump and made a solemn promise never to buy another Epson printer, a promise I broke about 6 months later when I got a killer deal on a refurbished Epson R3000. Well, you can guess how that worked out and where that printer currently resides. Clogs, wasted paper, wasted ink trying to clean the heads etc. You’d think Id have learned by now. Off it went to the dump with another solemn vow – I will light myself on fire before I buy another Epson inkjet printer, period.
I’d read that Canon printers didn’t have all of the issues associated with the clogging and banding of the Epsons, and so bought a Canon Pixma PRO-100, a non-pigment ink 13×19 printer that promised exceptional archival (99 years) B&W prints via three dedicated black/grey inks. It didn’t clog or band so bad, and you could let it sit for good periods of time with no adverse effects, but the B&W output was terrible, with either blue or warm color castes that you couldn’t get rid of. I found the only way I could get any acceptable B&W out of it was to tell it I was using plain paper, which had the practical effect of just using the one black ink. And then it started to clog heads after I made the mistake of trying to use third party inks in it (the OEM ink tanks were tiny and super expensive to boot). So that went to the dump a few months ago. Now what do I do?
So, this November, with maybe 6 months to live, I’m printer-less and my wife is after me to print up a final accounting of a 50 year photographic career. Being the scufflaw I am, I had an idea. A lot of these big-box stores sell Epson/Canon Printers and give you a ‘no questions asked’ return policy if you don’t like it for any reason. I’m pretty sure I’m going to find a reason not to like it, but if I’ve essentially got the ability to print up a shitload of prints and then bring the printer back and get my money back, what’s the downside? So after doing my research, and finding a large, corporate merchant stupid enough to sell me one with a free return policy until January 30th, I bought…..another Epson. I decided, given the ‘free’ nature of the transaction, that I can in good conscience renounce my solemn promise to light myself on fire if I was ever to buy another Epson….I’m not buying this one, just using it free for 3 months. Consider it balancing the scales for all the money Epson stole out of my pocket for defective inkjet printers over the last 25 years. Epson richly deserves the balancing of the scales.
An Epson ET-8550 Eco-Tank archival (non-pigmented ink) 13×19 printer to be precise. On the advice of a reviewer of two, I also downloaded the Epson Print Layout software, (which for some reason doesn’t come with the printer, a huge oversite on Epson’s part because it’s so good – super intuitive while giving you all sorts of goodies to use ICC profiles to tweak your prints). The 8550 uses what it calls an “Eco-Tank” ink system: instead of using replaceable ink cartridges it has 8 empty ink tanks that you fill and refill with large bottles of Epson ink which are remarkably affordable. No need to cut corners with third party inks, no need to be buying overpriced teeny ink cartridges every week.
Plus, using the the printer with the Epson Photo Layout Software is a breeze; everything works perfectly. Never any clogging, no wasted inks, never a wasted piece of expensive Ultra Luster paper. I’ve gone through 4 50 print boxes of letter sized Canon Premium Ultra Luster, 3 13×19 50 print boxes of the same (great paper, super black blacks, beautiful tonal gradations), and 2 boxes of 50 print Pacific Inkjet Premium Luster (almost identical to the Canon Luster), all without wasting one sheet of paper. Given past experience, that is remarkable. No clogs; no banding; no need to ‘clean the head’ periodically. The printer just works.
Plus, its B&W output is exceptional. No annoying colorcasts, just a nice steely grey output that could be mistaken for a wet print. Plus, the EPL software has easily accessible and understandable ability to add subtle toning if that’s your thing.
All in all, the ET-8550 is an exceptional printer. Epson has finally figured it out. If you are a B&W printer who prints occasionally and tends to let the printer sit for a bit, this is the printer for you. OEM Ink is relatively inexpensive too.
I have printed so many prints on this thing that I’m surprised it hasn’t started smoking when I fire it up. It has been flawless; exceptional B&W prints with absolutely no fuss. But I’ve still got the box and all the supporting documentation, and the printer itself still looks new. But for some reason, I’m not sure I can look some kid in the eye at a return desk on January 30 and tell him I had a bad experience and I’m here to get my money back. Granted, after all Epson has put me (us) through – being their no cost Beta testers over the course of 20 years for shitty, unreliable printers – they richly deserve it.