Epson SureColor SC-P405

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The lat­est ad­di­tion to Epson’s re­vamped line-up of SureColor inkjet photo prin­ters is one for lovers of glossy prin­ters, al­though it’s pretty ca­pa­ble at most things. as tester Trevern Dawes finds out.

Not so long ago we com­mented that new inkjet prin­ters ar­riv­ing on the mar­ket were widely spaced events, but re­cently there has been quite a few ar­rivals from both Canon and Epson. Epson’s re­badg­ing of its photo printer line-up un­der the SureColor name now ex­tends from en­thu­si­ast-level all the way up to its pro­fes­sional wide-for­mat mod­els.

The A3+ for­mat SureColor P405 – called the SCP400 in some mar­kets – is a re­cent ad­di­tion to Epson’s en­thu­si­ast-level line-up and is de­signed to take over from the Sty­lus Pro R2000. When the spec­i­fi­ca­tions for the SC-P405 is stacked up against the list for the R2000 there ap­pears to be only a few mi­nor dif­fer­ences… most no­tably, an all-black cas­ing in­stead of black- and-

Epson’s gloss-ori­en­tated R2000 has gained a loyal fol­low­ing and it now gets the ‘SureColor’ makeover with some re­fine­ments to keep it com­pet­i­tive. Trevern Dawes tries out the SC-P405.

sil­ver and 14 millil­itres car­tridges in­stead of 17 mil­lime­tres, while the Pic­tBridge con­nec­tion is no longer pro­vided. Ba­si­cally it’s more of the same, as if to in­di­cate that this printer is sim­ply be­ing brought un­der the SureColor ban­ner in hand­some black to match up with the SC-P600 and SC-P800 mod­els, but there are a num­ber of re­fine­ments and up­dates.

The very first im­pres­sion of the P405 is that this is a ro­bust, size­able and classy-look­ing printer with all the es­sen­tial fea­tures such as a pa­per-roll holder, CD/ DVD print tray, in­di­vid­ual lines for the matte and gloss black inks, wired and wire­less net­work­ing and a gloss op­ti­miser car­tridge to fa­cil­i­tate print­ing on gloss me­dia. A sig­nif­i­cant draw­back is the rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive ink car­tridges – $24.99 for 14 millil­itres works out at $1.79 per millil­itre. Un­for­tu­nately, this is the sit­u­a­tion with all A3+ for­mat prin­ters.

The one-inch-wide in­no­va­tive ‘Mi­croPiezo AMC’ print head with ink re­pelling coat­ing is de­signed for more ac­cu­rate dot re­place­ment and re­duced main­te­nance, while ‘Ac­cuPhoto HG’ imag­ing tech­nol­ogy pro­motes smoother tran­si­tions and im­proved high­light and shadow de­tail ren­di­tion. Max­i­mum print res­o­lu­tion is 5760x1440 dpi de­liv­ered via eight sets of 180 noz­zles with a min­i­mum droplet size of 1.5 picolitres. This rates as the finest res­o­lu­tion avail­able in any inkjet photo printer.

Al­though the auto sheet feeder – ca­pa­ble of hold­ing 120 sheets of plain pa­per and 30 sheets of inkjet me­dia – usu­ally does most of the work, the printer has other pa­per han­dling fa­cil­i­ties. The rear man­ual pa­per feed guide clips onto the back of the printer as a sin­gle sheet holder for fine-art pa­pers. Sheets are placed in the guide and gen­tly pushed into a stop po­si­tion. Af­ter hold­ing for about three sec­onds, the printer will au­to­mat­i­cally advance the pa­per to the ready po­si­tion.

The front straight-through pa­per feed is in­tended for very heavy pa­per and poster board up to 1.3 mil­lime­tres thick. Ex­tra space is re­quired at the rear of the printer as sheets are drawn right through. The roll-pa­per holder assem­bly at­taches to the rear and the CD/ DVD tray at the front. The auto sheet feeder and re­ceiv­ing trays ex­tend out over three sec­tions. Both are strong pa­per sup­ports.

As this type of printer is not likely to be used on a daily ba­sis with any great vol­ume Epson rec­om­mends that it be switched off af­ter a print­ing ses­sion. This causes the print head to re­turn to the ‘home’ po­si­tion where cap­ping pre­vents ink dry­ing out. Run­ning an auto noz­zle check and, if nec­es­sary, a head-clean­ing cy­cle, at least once a month is also rec­om­mended.

INK AND ME­DIA

The Epson Ul­traChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pig­mented inks used in the pre­vi­ous Sty­lus Pro R2000 model have been re­tained. Ac­cord­ing to Wil­helm Re­search, these inks en­joy ex­cel­lent longevity rat­ings at the very top end of pig­ment print­ing. On Epson Pre­mium Photo Pa­per Gloss the dis­play life un­der glass ex­ceeds 100 years and in dark stor­age (books, al­bums, etc.) the rat­ing is over 300 years. Other Epson pa­pers vary in their un­der glass rat­ings from 85 to 150 years.

A fun­da­men­tal inkset for most inkjet prin­ters – com­pris­ing black, ma­genta, yel­low and cyan – is usu­ally sup­ple­mented by light cyan and light ma­genta, but in the SC-P405 the ex­tra colours are red and or­ange. The in­clu­sion of the red and or­ange means greater em­pha­sis on the warmer tones and per­haps a lit­tle less on the cooler tones. Epson claims the or­ange ink helps to ren­der more re­al­is­tic skin tones and browns. This could be a win­ning as­pect for those who con­cen­trate mostly on por­trai­ture and gen­eral peo­ple stud­ies.

MAX­I­MUM PRINT RES­O­LU­TION IS 5760X1440 DPI DE­LIV­ERED VIA EIGHT SETS OF 180 NOZ­ZLES WITH A MIN­I­MUM DROPLET SIZE OF 1.5 PICOLITRES. THIS RATES AS THE FINEST RES­O­LU­TION AVAIL­ABLE IN ANY INKJET PHOTO PRINTER.

THE FINE RES­O­LU­TION EN­ABLES CRISP, SHARP TEXT, EVEN AS SMALL AS EIGHT­POINT. THIS SERVED TO IN­DI­CATE THAT EX­CEL­LENT QUAL­ITY IS ACHIEV­ABLE, EVEN IF IT DE­MANDS SOME INI­TIAL JUG­GLING IN THE PRINT PAN­ELS.

The car­tridges ac­com­pa­ny­ing the printer are marked as “Ini­tial”. These weigh 40 grams as new and 22 grams when ex­pired which in­di­cates a ca­pac­ity of about 1718 millil­itres each. There­after the re­place­ment set – de­noted as the T312 se­ries – weigh 36 grams as new and 22 grams ex­pired. Here we have a likely ‘world first’ with the “ini­tial” or “start-up” car­tridges ac­tu­ally hav­ing greater ca­pac­ity than the stan­dard car­tridges!

The ‘Main’ panel con­trols all the es­sen­tial set­tings for print-mak­ing. ‘Me­dia Type’ lists 12 print sur­faces un­der five cat­e­gories – Photo Pa­per, Matte Pa­per, Fine Art Pa­per, Plain Pa­per and CD/DVD. Print­ing is ei­ther ‘Colour’ or ‘Grayscale’ while ‘Print Qual­ity’ is se­lected as ‘Speed’, ‘Qual­ity’ or a vari­a­tion of lev­els with ‘High Speed’ as be­ing ei­ther ‘On’ or ‘Off’ via ‘Op­tions’.

‘Mode’ is all about colour man­age­ment and here the choices are ‘Epson Stan­dard (sRGB)’, ‘Adobe RGB’ and ‘Epson Vivid’ as a group­ing of three – ‘Pho­toEn­hance’, ‘ICM’ and ‘Off’ (i.e. no colour Ad­just­ment). The ‘Ad­vanced’ panel as­so­ci­ated with this group­ing of three, al­lows ad­just­ments to be ap­plied to gamma, bright­ness, con­trast and sat­u­ra­tion along with colour vari­a­tion via a colour circle or slider bar sys­tem.

For ba­sic print­ing most users will adopt one of the gen­eral three set­tings while Pho­to­shop-type en­thu­si­asts pro­ceed to ‘ICM’ (let printer man­age colour) or ‘Off’ (i.e. no colour ad­just­ment – let Pho­to­shop man­age colour).

‘Pho­toEn­hance’ pro­vides an ‘Advance’ panel where ‘Scene Cor­rec­tion’ can be set to Auto Cor­rect, Peo­ple, Land­scape, Night Scene, Sepia or Grey. Test prints fea­tur­ing peo­ple – and so cor­rec­tion was set to Peo­ple – pro­duced re­al­is­tic skin tones while out­door scenes – locked in as Land­scape – were rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate. This can be re­garded as a very gen­eral way of mak­ing prints, yet the re­sults in­di­cate that us­ing ‘Pho­toEn­hance’ will be more than ad­e­quate most of the time.

Print­ing with Epson’s Pre­mium Semi Gloss, Pre­mium Gloss, Ul­tra Pre­mium Photo Lus­ter and Archival Matte pa­pers (us­ing ICM or Adobe RRB as the ‘Mode’) re­sulted in prints that were both too dark and too cyan. The first thought was to check that the screen was prop­erly cal­i­brated. No prob­lem here, be­sides other prin­ters on the bench were per­form­ing ac­cu­rately and ear­lier re­sults with both the SC-P600 and SC-P800 had been ac­cu­rate. A check with a col­league re­view­ing this same printer ac­tu­ally re­vealed ex­actly the same sit­u­a­tion.

In ‘Adobe RGB’ ad­just­ing bright­ness up by ‘7’ and tak­ing cyan down by ‘5’ pro­duced a good screen match. The mi­nor ad­just­ments made the dif­fer­ence be­tween a fair re­sult and an ex­cel­lent one. As pro­sumer prin­ters can vary slightly in a pro­duc­tion line, it should be stressed that these out­comes re­late to this one par­tic­u­lar printer and may not be a com­mon sit­u­a­tion with other SC-P405 prin­ters. How­ever, en­coun­ter­ing the same sit­u­a­tion in two ex­am­ples is a lit­tle un­usual.

The SC-P405 will ac­com­mo­date cus­tom ICC pro­files for those who like to fine-tune or work with other pa­pers. For those who are not work­ing via ap­pli­ca­tions such as Pho­to­shop, Light­room, InDe­sign etc., Epson pro­vides bun­dled soft­ware in the form of Epson Easy Photo Print. This pro­gram has its lim­i­ta­tions (e.g. no cus­tom siz­ing, qual­ity/speed with no vari­a­tions, no lus­tre pa­per list­ing and ba­sic im­age ad­just­ments) and should be re­garded as a ‘get­ting started’ ar­range­ment prior to work­ing with ap­pli­ca­tions that open up the full ca­pac­ity of the printer.

We all have pre­ferred ways to go about print-mak­ing af­ter ex­plor­ing all the meth­ods that a printer can de­liver. Once set­tled on stan­dard rou­tines for the SC-P405, they can be saved un­der con­ve­nient names for on-go­ing work.

GLOSS OP­TI­MISER

The gloss op­ti­miser car­tridge helps to over­come the gloss dif­fer­en­tial and bronz­ing prob­lems nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with us­ing pig­ments on gloss me­dia. Some direct com­par­isons in sur­face char­ac­ter were made against the re­cently re­viewed Epson EcoTank ET-4500. The EcoTank model em­ploys dye-based inks so the sur­face on Epson’s Pre­mium gloss pa­per is per­fect.

The same images were printed with the SC-P405 on Epson Pre­mium Gloss. While the four­colour sys­tem of the EcoTank printer cre­ates quite a good print, not sur­pris­ingly the seven inks of the SC-P405 add ex­tra gamut with less con­trast. That, how­ever, was not the is­sue, as it was how well the gloss op­ti­miser worked on the same pa­per.

The sur­face fin­ish dif­fer­ence be­tween the EcoTank dyes on Epson’s Pre­mium Photo Gloss and that of the SC-P405 on ex­actly the same pa­per is no­tice­able. Dyes pen­e­trate the sur­face while pig­ments re­side on the top with the op­ti­miser as an over­lay. “More glossy” for the SC-P405 out­come might be the best de­scrip­tion. The gloss op­ti­miser does its job well and has the added ben­e­fit of pro­vid­ing a pro­tec­tive layer. Any gloss, semi-gloss or lus­tre pa­per is au­to­mat­i­cally as­signed the gloss op­ti­miser, but if matte or fine-art pa­pers are se­lected then the op­ti­miser is switched off. The de­fault for gloss is to ap­ply the coat­ing only over the im­age area in a bor­dered print, how­ever, if re­quired, it can be set to the en­tire pa­per area. By turn­ing the op­ti­miser to ‘Off’, the dif­fer­ence be­tween a coated and non-coated gloss print can be ex­am­ined. It’s worth mak­ing this com­par­i­son to ap­pre­ci­ate ex­actly what the op­ti­miser achieves.

When cus­tom-sized prints are cre­ated, the gloss op­ti­miser doesn’t al­ways make an ac­cu­rate over­lay. It will be ex­actly on the im­age edges of two sides yet over­flows a few mil­lime­tres on the other two. This is only ev­i­dent at an acute view­ing an­gle so it rates as a cu­rios­ity rather than a con­cern.

Need­less to say, a pri­or­ity for gloss print­ing with the SC-P405 would ne­ces­si­tate or­der­ing ex­tra gloss op­ti­miser car­tridges. It is also worth men­tion­ing here that ex­tra cyan car­tridges will be re­quired too, as this ink runs down much faster than the oth­ers.

The Photo black and Matte black inks have their own chan­nels and no ink or time is ex­pended in chang­ing from one to the other ac­cord­ing to the me­dia type. Other Epson prin­ters are plagued by the black ink changeover sit­u­a­tion and could well take no­tice of the SCP405’s ar­range­ment.

FINE-ART AND ROLL PA­PER

The rear pa­per feed is used for print­ing on fine-art pa­pers. For this test, sev­eral sheets of A3 In­nova Smooth Fine Art cot­ton (315 gsm) were as­signed dis­play prints while rem­nant A3 sheets of Lu­mi­jet Radiant White (290 gsm) were set up us­ing greet­ing card tem­plates of four post­cards each.

All were printed via Pho­to­shop, let­ting the printer man­age colour. The ‘Ul­trasmooth Fine Art Pa­per’ from the printer’s ‘Fine Art’ list­ing was con­ve­niently adopted with qual­ity set at the max­i­mum Level 5 and ‘High-Speed’ switched off. Print times av­er­aged 7:50 min­utes for re­sults that were a good match to the screen. Need­less to say, or­gan­is­ing a cus­tom ICC pro­file would turn a ‘good match’ to a per­fect one.

The printer’s ‘User’s Guide’ ex­plains how the roll-pa­per holder is at­tached to the rear of the printer. First, the two roll hold­ers are fit­ted to the pa­per roll and the en­tire assem­bly clipped into the printer by slid­ing into two small ver­ti­cal slots. Then the pa­per is fed into the printer as far as it will go and held for about three sec­onds prior to be­ing drawn au­to­mat­i­cally into po­si­tion. It may take sev­eral min­utes to sort this out, but once done it’s a fairly sim­ple pro­ce­dure to re­peat.

No sep­a­rate drive mech­a­nism is in­volved as far as the roll-pa­per holder is con­cerned so the printer or­gan­ises the pa­per trans­port. As there is no auto pa­per cut­ter ei­ther, at the end of a print the ‘Roll’ but­ton is pressed on the con­trol panel. The printer then cre­ates a very fine cut line and ad­vances the pa­per. Af­ter cut­ting along the line with scis­sors or knife as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble, the but­ton is pressed again to re­turn the pa­per to the ready po­si­tion. Slack in the roll is then tight­ened by hand. To dis­en­gage the roll en­tirely, the but­ton is pressed for three sec­onds.

Prints up to 15,000 mil­lime­tres can be cre­ated if re­quired. Such a large print would de­mand some small test strips first, an ad­e­quate sup­ply of ink and a means of fi­nal sup­port. The longest print made for this re­view was a panoramic im­age sized at 294x838 mil­lime­tres on a cus­tom pa­per size of 329x1000 mil­lime­tres. Al­low­ing ex­tra space at ei­ther end is a good idea. Max­i­mum qual­ity set to Level 5 and ‘High-Speed’ switched off re­sulted in a print time of 18:20 min­utes. Cer­tainly a long wait, but a grand out­come.

Print­ing from a pa­per roll has its ad­van­tages in be­ing able to pro­duce a run of images at dif­fer­ent sizes. If the in­ter­me­di­ate cuts are ig­nored, all the prints end up on a long roll for eas­ier cut­ting later. It’s im­por­tant not to al­low a

THE ECOTANK MODEL EM­PLOYS DYE-BASED INKS SO THE SUR­FACE ON EPSON’S PRE­MIUM GLOSS PA­PER IS PER­FECT.

long print to form a roll, ei­ther in a freshly printed ‘wet’ state or in per­ma­nent stor­age.

The roll can be left in place and, pro­vided the pa­per is not con­nected, print­ing may pro­ceed with ei­ther the auto feed tray or the rear fine-art feed. Flat­ten­ing down the prints is the only draw­back, with the stiffer gloss pa­per tak­ing much longer than matte. As ba­sic as the roll pa­per feed may be on this ma­chine, it is a most af­fec­tive sys­tem and a plea­sure to work with.

Be­cause the printer doesn’t record the length of pa­per printed, it is nec­es­sary to main­tain your own in or­der to avoid the prospect of fall­ing short on a long print when at the end of the roll.

BLACK AND WHITE

Black and white print­ing via ‘grayscale’ has its lim­i­ta­tions with the SC-P405 as there is only one black ink work­ing with the colours for tonal en­rich­ment. Qual­ity lev­els can be ad­justed – along with bright­ness, con­trast and gamma – but the use of the full colour inkset as ‘Grayscale ’tends to pro­duce bluish, over-sat­u­rated re­sults. If black and white print files are as­signed RGB colour mode and printed as ‘Colour’ with the ‘Mode’ set as ‘Adobe RGB’, ad­just­ments to a colour caste can be neu­tralised or a spe­cific tone, such as sepia, can be dialled in.

The ‘back­yard’ method of telling the printer the pa­per is ‘Plain’ while us­ing an inkjet pa­per some­times works, but for this printer this is not the an­swer. Print­ing at Level 3 qual­ity with ‘High-Speed’ switched on pro­duces a more ac­cept­able tone and quite a nice print com­pared to print­ing at Level 5 with ‘High Speed’ switched off and us­ing ‘Adobe RGB’ as ‘Mode’. The dif­fer­ence may well re­late to the mix and amount of inks, but at least it is an aware­ness that can be used to ad­van­tage. All these as­pects con­sid­ered, es­sen­tially if mono­chrome print­ing is a ma­jor re­quire­ment, then en­thu­si­asts would be ad­vised to look to prin­ters that have mul­ti­ple black and grey inks ded­i­cated to this task.

PROJECT

Apart from all the stan­dard prints made with re­view prin­ters, a per­sonal project is al­ways also as­signed as an ad­di­tional test. This time it was a set of prints in­tended for bind­ing and made on Schoeller 230 gsm dual-sided matte at 350x270 mil­lime­tres.

Build­ing a cus­tom ICC pro­file would have been the best op­tion, how­ever it was con­ve­nient to adopt the Epson Archival Matte pro­file and work with Adobe RGB the ‘Mode’ with Level 5 qual­ity and ‘High-Speed’ off. An ad­just­ment to ‘Bright­ness’ of +10, cyan -7 and yel­low +3 pro­duced ac­cu­rate matches to screen.

The fine res­o­lu­tion en­ables crisp, sharp text, even as small as eight-point. This served to in­di­cate that ex­cel­lent qual­ity is achiev­able, even if it de­mands some ini­tial jug­gling in the print pan­els.

THE VER­DICT

The in­clu­sion of the op­ti­miser car­tridge clearly de­notes that the SureColor SC-P405 as a printer for those who spe­cialise in work­ing with gloss me­dia. Con­se­quently, for mostly fine-art and or matte print­ing it would prob­a­bly be wise to look be­yond this model and con­cen­trate on the likes of the SC-P600.

The SC-P405 is a neat and com­plete pack­age. The in­clu­sion of an USB ca­ble war­rants a men­tion as it’s a wel­come and thought­ful in­clu­sion that’s so fre­quently over­looked in other prin­ters’ box con­tents. Al­though the roll-pa­per holder is rather ba­sic, it’s a most use­ful fea­ture in deal­ing with a host of print­ing jobs.

In many ways, such a solidly­built printer prom­ises a lot of happy print­ing, but sev­eral as­pects tend to tar­nish ex­pec­ta­tions. The barely sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance with black and white, the ‘canned’ pro­files not as ac­cu­rate as they should be, the over­spray of op­ti­miser on cus­tom-sized images and oc­ca­sional pa­per feed sit­u­a­tions where sheets from the auto feed tray are drawn through with­out print­ing might sug­gest this is more of an over-priced ‘ev­ery­day’ printer. Nev­er­the­less, with a lit­tle per­se­ver­ance and per­sonal ad­just­ments, a con­sis­tent work rou­tine can be es­tab­lished where top-qual­ity colour prints roll off with ease.

The Canon PRO-10S (priced at $999) is the direct and for­mi­da­ble com­peti­tor for the SC-P405 while Epson’s own Ar­ti­san 1430 (at a much less ex­pen­sive $399) can’t be ig­nored. The Ar­ti­san 1430 is a dye-based A3+ printer with equiv­a­lent light fast­ness inks that work well on all me­dia, es­pe­cially the gloss type where a gloss op­ti­miser is not nec­es­sary. It is also not-so-bril­liant when it comes to black and white work and ink costs, but the dif­fer­ence in price be­tween the two mod­els buys a lot of ink. Buy­ers should also be aware that putting fuel in A3+ for­mat ma­chine doesn’t come cheap. How­ever, the P405 is now ac­tu­ally more com­pet­i­tively priced than when it was orig­i­nally launched.

We could drift our thoughts to what might be con­sid­ered printer per­fec­tion if Epson were to com­bine its Claria dye-based inks (with their bright and durable 98-year un­der-glass rated colours on any sur­face with­out bronz­ing or gloss dif­fer­en­tial prob­lems), the convenience of the Ecotank sys­tem, and the 35 cents per millil­itre cost of the D-700’s 200 millil­itres car­tridges.

Those who must ex­per­i­ment may make some ‘back­yard’ ef­forts to marry ev­ery­thing up. Per­haps Epson can bring all this to­gether in the fu­ture, but in the mean­time we do have a num­ber of A3+ photo prin­ters that turn out ex­cel­lent prints… and the SureColor SC-P405 hap­pens to be one of them.

Ro­bust and classy – styling con­forms with the rest of the SureColor desk­top photo printer range.

The ‘Main’ panel sets all the re­quire­ments for print-mak­ing.

The ‘ICM’ panel is where the ‘In­put Pro­file’, ‘In­tent’ and ‘Printer Pro­file’ are es­tab­lished.

The ‘Page Lay­out’ panel in the printer driver.

The ‘Util­ity’ panel re­lates to the main­te­nance fa­cil­i­ties of the printer.

The con­trol panel is ba­sic, but en­tirely ad­e­quate.

Epson’s Easy Photo Print is sup­plied as part of the soft­ware pack­age.

‘Print CD’ al­lows photos, graph­ics and text to be cre­ated to print on CD/DVD la­bels.

The ‘Print Pre­view’ op­tion should al­ways be se­lected.

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