And We’ll Demonstrate It – Right Here
This is a preamble to our major product review of the new Epson SC-P5000 printer. The Epson SC-P5000 is a professional production printer that will be of interest to the broad clientele for its predecessor, the Epson P4900 printer. It may also be of interest to those new to printing and looking for some unique advantages the SC-P5000 offers, for example, maximum possible colour gamut achievable from today’s crop of inkjet printers, the economies of volume provided by its 200ml ink cartridges, or its automated and robust roll feed mechanism for making ordinary prints or panoramas using roll paper. These are key distinguishing features versus other 17-inch models on the market.
Along with the word “professional” may come concerns about complexity. How much do I need to know about all those settings, color management, profiles, Rendering Intents, resolution, what print settings to make where, and on it goes in order to achieve reliable results without sweating the techy details? That’s what this short note is about, because: (1) there is a printing workflow called “Printer Manages Color” which most reviewers seldom talk about, and (2) Epson is including with the SC-P5000 driver package a powerful little app that’s actually been around for a while, now refurbished in a new relatively unknown edition, called “Epson Print Layout” (“EPL” – Version 1.3.4); it doesn’t even require another application for printing, or it can be used as a Photoshop Plug-in.
“Printer Manages Color” is kind of like flying on autopilot. With very little knowledge of printing, you can let Printer Manages Color churn out decent quality prints from Lightroom or Photoshop rather easily. Is the quality of the results the best possible? Not quite; for that, you will need to sweat the details, but the output of the SC-P5000 using Printer Manages Color is “pretty darn good”. A smart group of color scientists from Epson and several specialized outside institutions made this possible. I had to educate myself about this possibility by trying it because I didn’t know before I tried what to expect. Let’s look at the results first, then a few words about what’s involved.
I did this testing with Epson Legacy Etching paper because it’s a solid matte and matte papers are more challenging for producing prints with good contrast and color saturation. To show you the true results as best I could, I needed to make the prints using “Printer Manages Color” and the standard “Photoshop Manages Color” with ICC profiles, then scan these prints in a manner that provides scanned digital files that are as faithful as possible to the originals. SilverFast Ai8 Studio and my Epson V850 scanner ably came to the rescue for the scanning task. The test image I used is the well-known and respected Atkinson Printer Evaluation Image. Each photo on that sheet has a particular purpose for revealing different characteristics of print quality; as such it establishes a comparative baseline that is a reliable indicator and predictor of print quality. I didn’t perform ANY image adjustments to either scan. I used the same canned SilverFast Reflective scanner profile for the Epson V850 scanner with both prints, set the working color space to ProPhoto, 16-bit per channel (i.e. “48-bit” scan) and 300 PPI.
I’m not going to tell you which is which – that would spoil the fun. Instead, you tell me in the Forum which is the Printer Managed one and why you think so. I’ll reveal the truth if there is curiosity. OK, so what’s the Printer Manages Color Workflow? I’ll provide it for Photoshop, but it’s pretty much the same in Lightroom:
In Photoshop (Figure 2):
- Select Print, which pulls up the Print options.
- In “Color Handling” select “Printer Manages Colors”
- For “Layout” select whether the photo is portrait or landscape
- If you can do so, select “Send 16-bit Data”
- Enter the Print Size
- Click on Print Settings (this take you to the Epson driver, Figure 3), in there:
- For Color Matching: Select Epson Color Controls
- In Printer Settings Basic select the Media Type (e.g. Epson Legacy Etching)
- For Print Mode Select Epson Precision Dot
- For Color Mode, select Epson Standard (which confines the color space to either sRGB or Adobe RGB, depending on which option you select)
- For Output Resolution select 1440 or 2880 (depending on your preference between speed and quality)
- Click Save (or Click “Save as Preset” if you will use it again, give the Preset a name)
- Go back to the Photoshop Print Menu and Click “PRINT”.
That’s it. Once you have this Preset, as long as you are using the same paper, you only need to implement steps 1 to 6, for step 6 making sure the correct preset is selected in the driver preset pane, then do step 13. This is all pretty easy.
Turning to the second “make it easy” option, the Epson Print Layout (EPL) application (Version 1.3.4) for the P series printers is a REALLY NEAT piece of software that addresses complaints heard in the past about issues such as the complexity of print settings (what to set where), getting panoramas to print properly framed, setting up gallery-wrap canvas prints, creating layouts of multiple photos on a page and inability to soft proof ABW mode printing. It handles much of this (but with caveats mentioned below) in a simplified workflow that should appeal to many users. EPL is a one-stop shop for printing non-raw files, allowing you to set up everything you need to make a very high-quality print by entering all the necessary information using one simple column on the right side of the interface (Figure 4). You may use it as either a stand-alone application or a plug-in to Photoshop. It will not yet work with Lightroom.
Unfortunately, Epson does not yet provide a manual for it; Epson is working on a manual, to be released soon; however, Ian Barber has written a PDF ebook on this application available here for GBP 3.99. You may find it useful, although at the time of writing it’s not up-to-date with new features of the latest version.
With this application, you needn’t worry about what controls you access in Photoshop versus the printer driver. Everything you need is in one place, giving you the same options you would have from Photoshop and the printer driver. What’s more, however, is that when this particular feature works properly it will give you soft proofing when printing Black and White photos using Epson’s Advanced Black and White (ABW) mode. At the time of writing, it isn’t soft proofing correctly. Epson is aware of this and working on fixing it. ABW soft proofing for recent Epson printers has been a dream wish for some years, soon to be fulfilled. EPL also allows you to make custom print layouts putting more than one photo on a page. For now, there are difficulties associated with using this feature as well, so apart from some very elementary canned templates, the application houses, attempting more complex custom layouts is not yet recommended in EPL. It’s much preferable to use Lightroom for this. Epson is aware of this issue as well and working on improving it.
In this review, I’ll provide an overview of what EPL does; however, not how to use it, as this is a review, not a tutorial.
It’s actually quite intuitive (except for one function I’ll get to below).
Make sure you are not using Airprint versions of your printer drivers. As long as you are using the Series drivers when you first load EPL it will spend a minute or two searching and recognizing supported printers (i.e. P800, P5000, and others noted on Epson’s website). It also does this when performing new functions. If it appears to not be responding, look in the lower right to see if it’s working on a function. Once you load a photo into it, all the controls become available. Figure 5 shows all the main settings it enables, just by moving down the right column and making the appropriate selections.
Figure 6 shows many of the options (shown here for the SC-P5000 printer) from which one can select using the drop-down panes:
If you select ABW mode for making a Black and White photo from a color one, the interface looks like this (Figures 7, 8):
Unlike for the Epson driver itself, you see the effects of changed settings in this panel on your own photo, not a canned photo packed with the driver (Figure 9). However, the accuracy of this function is under development at the time of writing.
You can also tone the margins of the photo (Figures 10, 11).
Taking up on the layout options – the Custom Template function gives you a lot of flexibility to create custom layouts of multiple photos for printing on a single sheet (e.g. Figure 12, photos unrelated – just an illustration).
The process for creating and populating these custom templates is not as easy and intuitive as it is in the Custom Package function of Lightroom’s Print Module, but it’s workable with patience. This feature will be improved over time.
EPL provides ready-made templates for doing gallery wraps and panoramas, which I have not tested (Figures 13 and 14, photos from Epson). There are numerous controls for printing them the way in which you want them to come out, including paper size, required size for wrapping, custom canvas sizes, canvas rotation, thickness of the frame to be wrapped, amount of material to fold over the back of the canvas, setting trim marks, and some special effects.
For panoramas, the orientation can be set to Portrait or Landscape, they can be made borderless, and print width can be selected or set to automatically respect the short edge of the paper.
You may create custom Media Types (Figure 15).
This tool gives you the option to create either variants of existing Epson Media Types, or Custom Media Types for third party papers.
In sum, this is a handy application providing easy access to the core functions needed for making fine quality prints.
The bottom-line here: you can make printing as easy or as involved as you wish with the SureColor printers – the printer and the software have the options to deliver either way.