Business Machine

If you’re in the business of selling photo prints, Epson’s new compact commercial inkjet printer offers convenience, speed, quality and economy for on-demand applications or in-situ operations. 

Epson D700

PDFsThe release of Epson’s first compact ‘dry film’ mini-lab printer, the SureLab SL- D700, opens up opportunities for commercial photographers, photo mini-labs and general businesses, organisations, institutions, clubs, etc., to own and operate a relatively small, on-site and portable facility for fast on-demand printing.

Mini-lab type operations are a prime target for this printer. It’s a compact, portable, economical and low-maintenance unit with no chemicals involved, no ventilation provisions required, no awkward waste disposal problems and requiring nothing more than a standard power supply. Print longevity rates are higher than conventional wet D&P systems. The SureLab SL-D700 is a stand-alone printer that links via a high-speed USB 2.0 cable to either PC or Mac computers.

Description
With dimensions of 430 millimetres in depth, 354 millimetres high and 460 millimetres wide, the SL-D700 is a relatively small mini-lab that doesn’t occupy too much desk space and is easy enough to position and set up. It weighs in at 23 kilograms. As a portable unit, fully loaded with inks and paper to take to venues and events on a short term basis, it will require a trolley for transportation or at least some muscle.

The printer is typical computer light grey. The scrap paper box with its translucent plastic front clips into position and resides above the dark blue slide-out for the roll paper feeder. Prints emerge at the top and fall into one of two optional paper bins or into a makeshift container. A status indicator with bright blue light is located at the top right-hand side. The scrap paper box catches the sliced pieces cut off at the start and end of each print.

SL-D700The SL-D700 employs six cartridges using Epson’s UltraChrome D6-S aqueous dye-based inks which have been especially developed for the printer. The cartridge capacity is 200 millilitres. The cyan, yellow, magenta, black, light magenta and light cyan inks enhance gamut and dMax characteristics to promote colour depth, intense blacks and brightness. Three cartridges reside on the left side of the printer and three on the right side.

As yet, no longevity ratings for the inks are available, however, as they are essentially the Epson Claria inks, a reasonable assumption would be 98 years displayed under glass and about 200 years in dark storage (based on Wilhelm Research data).

There are three print resolutions – 720x360 dpi is ‘High Speed’, 720x720 dpi is ‘Standard’ and 1440x720 dpi is ‘High Image Quality’. The minimum droplet size is 2.5 picolitres. The choice between speed and quality depends on the project and consumer demand.

The printer employs Epson’s ‘Micro Piezo’ print head technology with high resolution variable-sized ink droplets to deliver precise droplet placement. There is an auto nozzle check, a paper dust removal capacity and an auto cutter with long-lasting blade. An output heater ensures dry exit, especially with gloss media, to promote a finish resistant to damage and moisture. A choice of border or borderless printing is a feature. The printer accommodates paper widths from 102 to 210 millimetres and produces prints from 89 to 1000 millimetres in length.

With large-capacity cartridges, 65-metre long paper rolls and automatic features in a compact unit, everything is designed for low maintenance operation and medium volume output.

Out Of The Box
The packing carton for the basic kit weighs 29 kilograms as delivered. It contains the printer unit, a five-metre USB cable, a power cord, a set of 200 millilitre ink cartridges, a maintenance tank, a set-up guide, Mac and PC drivers on CD, a media spindle and a warranty for one year. Surprisingly, no paper receiving tray or bin is supplied. There is a standard and large, optional bin available, but if the printer is not on public display an inexpensive plastic box from K-Mart will do the job just as well.

There are four broad purchase choices for the SureLab SL-D700 in addition to the optional extras. These comprise the printer with a standard one-year warranty, the printer with three-year warranty, the printer with a ‘Photo Pack’ and a one-year warranty, and the printer with the ‘Photo Pack’ and a three-year warranty. Any repairs or adjustments required under warranty are on an on-site basis for metropolitan areas.

The ‘Photo Pack’ includes Epson Order Control software, two six-inch wide gloss paper rolls, two eight-inch wide lustre paper rolls, an A4 roll, two media spindles, a media storage case and a maintenance tank.

The Epson Order Controller V3.0 software is a facility for print job estimations, print scheduling, image editing and colour management.

Set Up
SL-D700The printer supplied for this review was not brand spanking new so a detailed description of the set-up procedure cannot be provided.

Other reports indicate it will take about an hour to carefully go through each stage to bring the printer up to the ‘ready to go’ position. This involves insertion of the ink cartridges and paper, plus installation of software. Each ink cartridge has its designated slot and the printer will not accept anything in the wrong position.

The maintenance tank, located on the right side above the cartridge bay, is already inserted. This collects “stray” ink. The remaining service life is continually monitored. A low level warning message, as per each of the ink cartridges, will eventually appear to allow time for a replacement to be acquired. Initial ink charging time is about 20 minutes. A blue light continues to flash and will cease when everything is complete.

When the blue paper roll tray is slid out, the paper to be removed is back-wound by turning the knob on the left of the paper insert position.  The roll lifts out, the grey flange is removed and the paper is separated from the shaft of the spindle. Both of the internal and external paper guides must be positioned to accommodate the new paper width. The need to adjust the inner guide is not mentioned in the Setup Guide.

The paper spindle is colour-coded so the grey left side of the spindle corresponds to the left side of the take-up. It’s important to ensure there is no dust on the leading edge of the roll, otherwise transportation lines could appear on the prints. The paper has the coated side facing down and is slowly fed into the receiving slot until a blue indicator shows ‘OK’. Before the tray is closed, any slack in the paper is removed.

After a little practice, it takes only a minute or so to exchange a paper roll. In a busy mini-lab, more than one printer or rolls of different sizes and paper types already pre-loaded on spare spindles might be necessary.

Epson paper

Paper Choices
A variety of 65-metre long paper rolls sizes and surface types are available. Widths are 102 millimetres (four inches), 127 millimetres (five inches), 152 millimetres (six inches), 203 millimetres (eight inches) and 210 millimetres (A4) in either gloss (254 gsm weight), lustre (248 gsm) or matte (180 gsm). The reverse side does not contain any brand imprint. This is a welcome feature for applications such as making greetings cards.

The lustre finish is likely to be the most popular. It has a bright surface without a high sheen and is versatile enough to suit a wide variety of projects. The gloss paper will bring out the best in any image and the full capacity of the printer with pronounced blacks and lively colour. It has the greatest impact, has that immediate appeal for quick sales at event venues and will compete well with gloss surfaces from traditional D&P outlets.

At 180 gsm, the bright white matte paper with its distinctive smooth surface is probably a touch too light for business and greeting cards. However, as the reverse side is virtually the same as the coated side, it does open up all manner of possibilities, including portfolio books with right-hand pages only. The reverse side will accept text so these pages can always be printed later in a standard inkjet printer. When fast printing is required, the fact that matte paper only has a ‘High Image quality’ setting could be a disadvantage.

Print Panel
The SureLab SL-D700’s ‘Main’ print panel controls the paper type, print quality, the paper size, border/borderless printing and ‘Display Printer’ status. Colour is either the default of ‘Colour Controls’ or ‘No Colour Management’ or ‘ICM’.  Proceeding to ‘Advanced’ on ‘Colour Controls’ allows sRGB or Adobe RGB colour space to be set and then any adjustments can be applied to ‘Brightness’, ‘Contrast’ and ‘Saturation’.

When ‘Advanced’ is selected for ‘ICM’, it opens up to Basic, Advanced and Host settings, offers sRGB or Colormatch RGB colour space and, if ‘Show All Profiles’ is selected, the appropriate Epson SL-D700 profile can be locked in. There is no provision to name and save different settings, other than to change the original default.

In Use
The SL-D700 is not a quiet machine. The paper transport mechanism hammers away while the whirring when it’s in operation can be rather annoying, especially when the printer is positioned close to the computer. In a relatively quiet office, some means of printer isolation may be necessary.

The default ‘Earliest’ time between ‘Stand By’ and ‘Sleep’ is about four minutes. This may be altered from the ‘Main’ panel by clicking on ‘Start SL Printer Maintenance Tool’, then ‘Operational Condition Settings’, then‘Power Saver’, selecting a time and pressing ‘Save’.

The first print sent to the printer involves a ‘get moving’ time of about 45 seconds before printing commences. The next different print still takes the same time, but if multiple copies or a run of images is involved there is no delay between each print.

My initial prints created via sRGB and Adobe RGB colour space and both Colour Controls or ICM had a good screen match. If colour or contrast aren’t satisfactory, manual adjustments can be made. The paper cutter zips away to create a neat, clean cut at the start and end of each print. As the paper catcher is translucent, it’s easy enough to see when it needs to be emptied.

Print Times
Epson has compiled average and typical times for various combinations of paper types, print sizes and quality settings:

Gloss/lustre – fast speed: 

- 545 per hour for 5.0x3.5-inches

- 430 per hour for 6x4-inches

- 140 per hour for 10-inches

Gloss/lustre – standard quality 

- 455 per hour for 5.0x3.5-inches

- 360 per hour for 6x4-inches

- 120 per hour for 10x8-inches

Gloss/lustre/matte – high quality

- 225 per hour for 5.0x3.5-inches

- 180 per hour for 6x4-inches

- 60 per hour for 10x8-inches

The average times (based on print head activity) on 302 millimetres lustre paper – at a 302x305 millimetres image sizing – were 25 seconds in the ‘High Speed’ mode, 35 seconds in the ‘Standard’ mode, and 65 seconds in the ‘High Image Quality’ mode.

Prints viewed at normal distances appeared to be identical and only with a magnifying glass could the finer resolution of the ‘High Image Quality’ prints be identified.

Twenty images created as 203x254 millimetres pages in InDesign and printed in a run took just nine minutes at the ‘Standard’ print quality. It took 65 seconds to print a panoramic landscape to 203x750 millimetres at ‘High Speed’ and 165 seconds at ‘High Image Quality’. The difference in quality is hardly noticeable and would suggest that ‘High Speed’ would be appropriate for most of the time, with ‘Standard’ a fair compromise.

The largest print was made on the maximum paper size of 302x1000 millimetres (from the 302 millimetres wide roll), using an image size of 179x900 millimetres. As the intention was a display print for framing, the ‘High Image Quality’ setting was preferred. The printing time was three minutes and 40 seconds, and the result was a joy. A fascinating exercise was to throw 20 print files at the Epson SureLab SL-D700 as fast as I could bring them up in Photoshop and scale each up to print with white margins onto 203x305 millimetres lustre print size. The printer kept pace and didn’t complain. I enjoyed that little game and ended up with a very pleasing mini portfolio of prints from my last Outback venture.

Black And White
Black and white printing is not a strong point of the SL-D700, but considering the prime use of the printer will be for colour work, this is not likely to be an issue. Using the full colour inkset to produce a monochrome result – as per all the Claria ink printers – is not going to create neutral results as a very slight greenish cast eventuates.

Converting black and white files to RGB and printing as colour is a helpful technique. Otherwise, go for a deliberate tint by adding a touch of yellow and magenta in Photoshop or in the ‘Colour Control’ panel of the printer – select ‘Slide Bar’ instead of ‘Colour Circle’ and try adding three units of magenta and yellow, and decreasing the saturation by three. By experimenting with different settings, users will eventually settle on the best outcome for their needs.

Event Photos
One of the advantages of the SureLab SL-D700 is its capacity to deliver photos on demand at any temporary location where a power supply is available. Images can be downloaded from a camera, viewed and selected in an image browser, and sent to the printer.

A crunch on time won’t allow Photoshop-type adjustments, but being able to offer prints within a short time frame could fulfil a market need, either as prints now or orders taken on images that can be adjusted. The Epson Order Control software will assist in rapid picture assembly.

If none of the listed paper sizes is suitable, the ‘User Defined ’panel allows a custom size to be created. This is then named and saved to the list. The maximum paper size is 210 millimetres wide by 1000 millimetres long. Photographers accustomed to printing at A4 would need to set the 210x297 millimetres size, name it as “A4” and save.

Running Costs
The running cost per print will vary according to the paper used, the printer resolution and the image content. Figures provided by Epson relate to the gloss/lustre papers (matte is cheaper) per print and should be regarded as average.

4-inches: 12-20 cents

5-inches: 20-25 cents

6-inches: 25-35 cents

8-inches: 55-65 cents

10-inches: 80-90 cents

12-inches: $1.50 - $1.70

As each 200 millilitres cartridge costs $69.95 (including GST), this works out to about $0.33 per millilitre. This is well under the usual $2.00 per millilitre for A4 and A3+ printers, and could well be an enticement to any photographer or organisation who don’t require prints larger than A4 (or longer prints with 210 millimetres width) and who makes prints on a regular basis. By the same token, organisations like schools, small businesses or even larger camera clubs could find the running costs appealing enough to pursue a facility they might otherwise choose to forego or to fulfil with an A4 or A3+ printer.  Apart from supplies of paper, ink and maintenance tanks, there is range of optional extras for SL-D700, including a stand and large paper catchers, spindles and a media storage box.

The Verdict
The Epson SureLab SL-D700 is designed for high-speed and medium-volume printing operations. When top quality, high-resolution printing is required, it delivers. Although the printer is not specifically intended to target non-professional photographers, if A4 is the largest general print required, it could well appeal to organisations and institutions such as schools, art departments and the like. Relatively economical running costs and low maintenance levels are a strong feature while minimal training is required to operate the printer successfully. Portability will open up all manner of possibilities for the photographer working on location to not only capture images, but also to download to a laptop and have prints ready for sale, or for clients to preview. The print speeds of the SL-D700 cannot be denied, but at a temporary site or an event, the speed of organising files to direct to the printer would be the key issue.

The lack of a print catcher tray for the basic kit might seem unusual, but with a tall plastic box positioned under the paper exit prints, can collected in sequence. Apart from the noise and the slower printing times for matte papers, there is little else to detract from what should be an appealing unit for commercial enterprises and even some non-professional photographers as well.

Printer Type: High speed ‘dry film’ inkjet photo printer for medium volume commercial applications.

Ink Cartridges: Individual per colour. 200 millimetres capacity. UltraChrome D6-S type. Colours are yellow, magenta, cyan, black, light magenta and light cyan.

Nozzle Configuration: 180 per colour.

Minimum Droplet Size: 2.5 picolitres with Variable-Sized Droplet Technology.

Operating Noise: 55 dB.

Max. Print Speed: 450 prints per hour at 100x150 millimetres size.

Power Consumption: 120 watts operational.

Dimensions (WxHxD): 460x354x430 millimetres.

Weight: 23 kilograms.

Price (inc. GST): Printer = $4795. Ink cartridges = $69.95 each. Maintenance tank = $22. 102 millimetres wide gloss paper roll = $41.25. 152 millimetres wide gloss paper roll = $63.25. 152 millimetres wide lustre paper roll = $63.25. A4 matte paper roll = $77.

Distributor: Epson Australia, visit www.epson.com.au