EPSON 7900 – First Impressions

epson7900_actual

{note in hindsight – the entire line of Epson 7900/9900’s have serious issues and purchasers should avoid buying them.  Epson and my dealer refused to address issues well blogged about. What follows is how I felt at the first purchase}
After years of waiting, I bought my first industrial printer.  I am one of the first owners of an Epson 7900 in the US, so I pay the price. Here is what I have learned. From this first release, if I were a Mac-only person I could not get the job done so early success depended on the PC.
From scratch, without much help, other than the manual, prints came to life. However connecting to Macs and PCs take steps. Small steps. Lots of assumptions are dashed. Assumptions about how the printer should work as opposed to learning why it doesn’t and doing it the machine’s way. The key challenges are mastering the machine and the network.
There is another reason this is an industrial printer. Moving it from the palette crate, into your studio, is much a thinking man’s game as a brawny one’s. Even though I asked three buddies over, with a rug over a dolly, I got it most of the way – especially through narrow doors that must be taken off hinges. Alas the stair steps. Lifting up stairs takes three brawny men, two on the bottom. A few beers later it is back to science.
Although the Mac has a 16  bit color workflow down to the printer driver,  I moved to the PC temporarily because this was the only update for the FW image initially. The Mac versions from Epson are flowing now. The first firmware update ran for 45 minutes when I realized something had crapped out. No “status bar” and poor error detection in the SW. Second time the FW update took about 8 minutes, but only after horrendous network shenanigans to bring the printer online.
Long story short. I got both roll and sheet prints out. Big files (800 MB) take time. Sadly there is no feedback to know if your file hit a memory limit as the bytes wind their way to the  silent printer. Also the new 11 ink system is superb, but they do not have a dedicated hose for both black inks. The system evacuates a hose to switch ink out. More on this later.
PAPER AND PRINT PATH

When you run rolls, the mounting is easy from the front, but it is fairly easy to mangle to bring light weight paper through the print gate. You have to extend it with 3 feet  to spare. Kind of hard to do with cotton gloves. It is too bad they couldn’t write the firmware to open the platten, blast the vacuum and auto feed it through. I hate touching pristine paper.
The print path on the 7900 is near vertical with a great vacuum pull. But when the job is done, sadly gravity rules. For sheet the paper drops like a rock, nearly crimping a corner – so you must be vigilant. This is weak design. The paper catcher is a torture chamber disguised as a gauze dress. First there is no clear picture to show if you have assembled it right side out.  I assembled it two different ways. I had to go back to the dealer to see what they did.
They assembled it with plastic runners face up – which I think is right. But with prints rocketing out, wet emulsion side down it is a problem. In production I add boxes to the front an draw out large prints.
So I pulled  a first print off USB to compare to my desktop Epson 2400. Same file, same paper -Luster 13×19 sheet, both from the PC.  The appearance is almost identical. The 7900 printed in half the time, imaging darker areas with good latitude, definitely highlight blow-out, but no noticeable enhancement coming from those orange  and greens  inks.
The Epson 7900 is an industrial “roll printer”. Sheets are possible, but the paper loading is finicky and you have to really watch them drop – corners can bend on sheets when they hit the “backstop”. Unlike the table top Epsons, you cannot mount a stack of sheets. But a roll prints like a battle tank. The solid metal paper cover, the whole machine is a solid piece of engineering.
NETWORK MYSTERIES
I was able to print some of the time because the network management with operating systems is mysterious and perhaps not tested thoroughly.  Although you are supposed to send jobs on either USB or Ethernet, initially I could only get results off the USB. It is not said in the instructions, but if you fiddle with the printer menu panel you will see a network”Disabled” button. It does not mean you have disabled the network interface on the printer, it means you have disabled being able to make changes on the network settings of the printer. Sheesh. Why no have “lock network settings” or something. I lost a whole two days here and to get ink on paper I went back to USB cable. I have also determined I need to upgrade my network which has three wireless routers. But there are other issues in the meantime.
On the second day, I came to my senses and realized it was time to run this on a Gigabit network, so I simplified the topology of my three ancient wireless routers. The studio/home giganet is now one wired Gigabit router that attaches to a 16 port switch. The switch connects Macs, Dells,  two Apple WiFI Time Capsules for auto backup, and an Apple TV for large viewing.  A few new RJ45 wires with good ends didn’t hurt, though I bought an RJ45 crimper and was unable to make any work. New fresh wires are the best.
With computers running clean and fast, I want to make sure the printer is a good network citizen. The key is to put every device on DHCP, which is assigned from the router.  I sent a small band print, then 97 MB, then 850 MB with 16 bit color – wow. That last one took an hour on USB, but only 15 minutes on Gigabit Ethernet.
So now I have tamed the beast, now I am looking at big prints and color is a big problem. Too much color. On to look at paper profiles and work flow. More on that later.
How much storage is on the printer? Nothing in the manual.
Tips for the Newcomer
1. Buy an extra 11 ink kit. It comes with all the colors, but only a small amount. 60% is used up priming the ink hoses to the print head.
2. Every few months, visit epson.com/support and upgrade your firmware, driver and anything else you see. This is key to purchasing any new technology, as software often gets “perfected” after hardware.
3. Every time you start printing, try a small horizontal band to make sure you are have all the right imaging programs and print driver settings right. Crank up to big sizes as you become confident. My biggest to date is 16 bit color, 26 bit data from the Mac 850 MB, 22″w x 33″ 426 pixels/inch. I am planning a series of 24″x60″ windshields and I can say they are beautiful 1.5GB images.
4. Slow down when you are presented the print driver dialog. Really take your time to read every dialog box, and hidden panel and button in detail. It pains me to say, but the interfaces for key settings are often buried. For example, the default settings are short cuts for the fast print, when you expect to get the best quality with a fine print.
5. This is a network printer  that gulps huge files so put away your USB cable and upgrade to a Gigabit Ethernet system.
Biggest Beeves
1. If you send too big a job, there is no status on the printer data transfer. With no error message you simply wait and guess if the printer gave up the ghost. The light winks when the printer is printing, but the buzz of the print head tells you that already.
2. The math is wrong – 11 Inks, 10 hoses. Could they spare a hose? The promise that this Epson would run both Matte and Photo black is only half true. You mount two cartridges, but rather than build a hose for each ink, you have to run a process to evacuate the line and insert the new ink which takes 5 minutes. They actually have a special button on the LCD to change  black ink.  What were they thinking? A twelfth slot and a shunting valve prior to the head feed should work.
3. Paper catch system puts prints at risk.  This is a near vertical print path, so engineer your own catch table.
4. After  many prints, there appears to be a tone transfer problem between Adobe CS4, the Mac and the 7900 even with the right paper profiles. This is what I call an issue of latitude or dynamic range.  It prints too dark, and the whites are blown out. At first using Photoshop Exposure of +.4 compensated well, but this blows the whites out worse, so I have to mask off the high end whites, increase exposure on the rest.
#END OF FIRST WEEK
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Improving Color
Artist David Em’s experience of the same machine some months later working into the wee hours to try and solve the color imaging settings.
July 21, 2009
Mark,

It turns out we’re not alone, lots of other people have experienced
the dark image problems with several Epson printers. CS4 seems to be
part of the problem, as well as some compatibility issues related to
various versions of the Mac OS.

Now the good news: I got some good predictable results without
overexposures. One part of the fix may have been setting the 7900 as
the default printer. Here are the other settings:

COLOR HANDLING: Photoshop Manages Colors
PRINTER PROFILE: [exact paper profile you are printing to. Otherwise Adobe RGB]
RENDERING INTENT: Perceptual
COLOR MODE: Off (No Color Management)

This seems to get things in the correct color, brightness and gamma
ranges with no blowouts. There’s still room to tweak brightness,
contrast, saturation, and so forth on individual images, but it’s
within reasonable levels. I left some samples (straight from the
files, no adjustments) on your worktable.

— David

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Improving Latitude

August 8 2009

There are continued issues with highlight blowout probably due to poor color profiling. These darkroom refinements may not look right on your screen, but they look good on the print.

  • Increase exposure .5 – Your light areas will blow. So you need to preserve them.
  • Select dark areas and limit output level of darks (cuts the black ink output)
  • Select light areas and limit white output.

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Network off line / Snow Leopard / Epson Support

December 23 2009

Upon adding a MacPro, I could not get the printer online readily. I sent a hopeful email to Epson support. Surprisingly the company called me the next day! The seasoned print engineer had all kinds of good advice.  To get my printer back on line with Snow Leopard, the trick was to remove the old printer driver. Go on the Mac to System Preferences->Print & Fax->Select the Epson-> [-]. This removes the old driver. Hopefully you have gone to the Epson site to get the newer driver. Select “Epson sPro 7900” driver. Wait a bit as Bonjour sets it up.

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See new posting Nov 17 2012 – Selling the Epson 7900 – this is a lemon printer – everyone on the web agrees it is an ink waster.