Epson SC-P900 printer review
Review: Epson SC-P900 printer
Looking at the 17″ pigment ink printer
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Keith has been trying out Epson’s new P900 printer for this longish review.
The 17″ width (A2) printer replaces the P800, but is a major new design, not only being smaller, but increasing the ink count to ten. The P900 removes the need to swap black inks for matte and glossy papers (mk/pk switch).
The P900 is very similar to the 13″ P700 which I’ve reviewed in similar detail.
It features an optional powered roll paper handling unit for roll paper up to 17″ width.
P900 prices: UK £1086.99 (inc VAT) | US $1195
Buy via B&H in the US
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The Epson SureColor SC-P900
The P900 replaces the larger P800, which I reviewed a while ago and found to be capable of very good prints.[P800 review]. If you’d like an overview of the P900, I’ve made a short video (21 mins) that supplements this review.
The P900 is a significantly new 17″ (A2 )printer. It has an ink feed system (based on that of the earlier 17″ printers) and a new 10 channel print head that no longer needs to switch between matt black and photo black inks.
The printer is similar, and from a print quality point of view, identical, to the smaller Epson SC-P700. I’ve lots of articles and videos about the P700 as well, which may be of interest.
There is also a new version of the ink set compared to the P800. The “UltraChrome HD PRO10” ink set adds a violet ink to expand gamut. There is a new “Carbon Black Driver mode” which is supposed to improve black density.
The printer is some 25% smaller than the P800. The optional roll paper unit is now powered, and is a spindle-less design. There is another article looking at the P900 roll unit.
A 4.3″ flip up touchscreen makes general use of the printer easier. This is a larger and higher quality screen than the P800 and feels far better designed from a usability and functionality point of view. The P700 and P900 share a lot of design features – both are designed to be very compact when all the paper trays are folded away.
An interior light (LED) optionally illuminating the print area. I noted this with the P700 and it really is a useful feature for increasing confidence that you are printing the right image and that it’s coming out OK
[Note that most images here can be viewed at a larger size if you click on them]
What you get
- SureColor P900 Printer
- Initial Ink Cartridges (and spare maintenance cart)
- AC Power Cable
- User Guide Kit (Documentation and Warranty)
- CD/DVD Disc Tray
Note: USB and Ethernet cables NOT included.
I’ve covered the setting up of the printer in much more detail in my ‘Setting up the P900 printer‘ article. There is also a video I’ve made showing the process of physically setting up the printer.
The 10 ink carts come in a box at the top of the P900 box. They need shaking before use, and this is just easier when they are still in another box.
There is a lot of blue tape to remove from the printer when first setting up
The box on top of the printer is the spare maintenance cart – put this aside, since there is already one present and fitted in the printer. It’s behind a small panel at the front right – I’ve just pulled it out to show here
The main setup requirement is to get ink fed through the ink system ready to print.
Plug the printer (devoid of all packing and blue tape) into the mains and start it up by pressing the button to the left of the screen. Don’t connect USB or network cables at this point.
After setting your preferred display language and the time/date, the printer will prompt you to load the ink carts.
There’s a guide to the process on the screen, but the ink carts simply click into place.
The front panel just lifts to show the slots for each cart.
The carts simply click into place. Match the ink name/colour to the right slot.
Don’t worry, the carts won’t actually go into the wrong slots. You can see the physical ‘keys’ on the side of these two carts, as well as the chips (gold/green) which store ink usage/levels information.
Once this is done, shut the lid and the printer will whirr away for some 15 minutes, initialising everything.
Whatever you do, don’t interrupt this by lifting the lid or powering off the printer. Printers get really confused by this and are likely to use up much more ink in recovering (yes, I have done this accidentally during setting up another printer).
Eventually the printer will declare itself ready.
It now needs connecting to whatever you want to print from.
You can look through the printer menus for options, but I often do a quick nozzle check at this point with any new printer. A single sheet of plain paper will suffice.
The touch screen works well and only needs a light touch.
Some of the images of the screen here do show some moire effects – that’s an artefact of me photographing them. The screen is of good quality and fine detail. It’s also a higher colour temperature than the warm lighting where I’m testing, so colours may look worse in some of my quick photos here.
Something I normally leave a while, but can be done after setup, is a head alignment.
This needs a sheet of photo paper. The test patterns are printed and you note results via the screen.
Space for the printer
The printer needs space around it for paper feeding and output. These are the official size needs from Epson
Note that this is without the optional roll unit attached to the rear.
Media loaded from the front comes out the back first, and is then drawn through the printer for printing. Here’s a stiffish sheet of paper at A2 size
Whilst a sheet of paper might be bent up/down as it comes out, any stiff media (especially poster board) will hit a wall pretty hard.
The roll unit has a similar slot at the back. It needs to be empty, but a front fed A2 sheet will still come out of the back some 30-40cm
Notice how I’ve wheeled out the printer table (it’s on castors). This is only partly to photograph it. A full 100 foot roll of paper is not light. I’m 6 feet tall, with long arms and I find it awkward to lean over the printer to reliably load paper rolls. Remember that with the spindle-less roll system, the paper rests on rollers – you do not want to drop paper onto them, dents will show up in printing.
If you’re new to printers of this size, note the difference between an A3+ (13″ x 19″) sheet of paper in the top tray, as opposed to an A2 sheet.
Oh, and it come further out of the front too, when printed.
The printer has Ethernet (10/100), USB (3) and WiFI connectivity (2.4 and 5). The wired ports are at the rear, under a fold out panel.
Note that you shouldn’t connect up networking until you install the driver and software on the computer you want to print from.
There is an exception to that, in that if you know how to configure printers or this isn’t the only printer on the network, them you can configure a lot directly from the printer screen. However I’m aiming this review more at people entirely new to the printer and looking to get it up and running.
Printer drivers – setup
A simple method is to use the Epson install system. For accessing this, go to:
You need to put in your product type. Unfortunately the search is not very smart, so my ‘P900’ isn’t good enough. ‘SC-P900’ worked though. I’ve more about this in the P900 setup article and my P900 setup video).
I’m just showing the Mac info, but Windows will work just as well (we don’t have any PCs)
The setup is quite smart with different options and interrogating your network if needed
The setup is quite smart, guiding you through what’s needed.
One thing I’d note on Mac systems is to avoid any AirPrint options. I’m sure these have uses somewhere, but they are a real pain if selected accidentally. Usual symptoms are: ‘where have all my printer driver settings gone’
After this, my printer preferences show that the P900 has been added to our fleet of printers, and there is no mention of AirPrint.
The preferences can show the usual info, and run basic maintenance tasks.
There are various options that you can set from the printer preferences
Bidirectional comms, means that the driver is more aware of what’s going on with the printer, so for example a printer dialog can tell you what paper is currently in the printer.
Preview on the display is a nice feature I’ll show later, where you get to see the image being printed, on the screen.
The printer web page
The printer has its own web pages, which duplicate some of the device the settings you can access from the front panel.
As with many printer settings, if you don’t know what they do – take it as a hint to leave them alone.
With any relatively new printer, there are likely to be firmware updates. These should generally be installed when flagged.
You can check via the printer’s web page.
…or you can check from the printer front panel.
The printer will also check on power-up and offer you the chance to install any new firmware.
There’s also a check at the end of the set-up process. Here, the screen is showing an update in progress, with my laptop in the background running the set-up software. It can take several minutes and the printer will restart when finished.
As the warning on the screen points out – do not turn the printer off when updating firmware.
The display is the same as the P700 and is the best quality display I’ve seen on a printer (yet).
Menus are clear and easy to use with the touch interface. There is a good use of colour and even small text is crisp and easy to read.
I’ll use the example of a borderless A2 test print I made to show the display in use.
Here’s the basic display, showing ink levels and time left to print. This time was usually pretty accurate.
Here’s the print on its way through the printer. You can see that the image being printed is now on the display.
The display is showing part of the image being printed.
I can zoom out to see the whole image.
I can also see details of the printer driver settings being used. This covers multiple screens.
The little light icon at the top lets me turn on/off the internal lighting to check printing progress
The plastic top of the printer is darkened, so you may need to dim lighting to see inside clearly.
Lastly, the print is completed.
I’ll discuss ink usage in the conclusions, but at a certain point ink carts will be flagged as low or empty, on the printer, and at your computer
The initial warning can be ignored, other than as a reminder to have spare ink available.
There will then be warnings that there may not be enough ink to finish a print. Initially you can ignore these, unless you’re making a big print…
Finally, an error will be thrown up and you have to change ink to proceed. If this occurs during a print, you will lose the print…
Replacement is exactly the same as installation. Lift the front lid, press the grey tab for the cart you’re changing and it will release.
Take your new cart, give it a bit of a shake and pop it in the printer.
There is no lengthy initialisation process, just a bit of whirring and the usual printer doing things noises.
Looking in a cart
This is a P700 cart. It’s pretty much identical other than not having as much ink in it as the P900 ones (I’ll come back to this).
The ink is held in a foil bag, and this cart (replaced as late as it allowed) had but a few drops of ink left in it.
As with the P700 carts – empty really did mean empty.
The maintenance cart fills with ink used for setup and ongoing cleaning. During my initial testing, the maintenance cart was appreciably filled after printer setup. The printer comes with a spare. Don’t be tempted to get another one in though, it’s only used for deliberate cleanings and borderless overspray, so should last for ages.
There is more ink left in the carts after setup, with the P900 than the P700, although the maintenance cart is filed about the same.
The maintenance cart is only used sparingly in my printing, and during testing it took quite a while for it to fill*. It is exactly the same box as used on the P700 where I noted that a new box weighed 110g whilst the full one weighed 365g
*Note that due to shipping damage, my initial new P900 went back to Epson and I used a spare printer, which came already used for a while. This means that unlike the P700 I can’t give an estimate of how many prints I’d get before changing. My feeling is that by the time you’ve changed a couple of ink carts, that initial maintenance cart will fill. I suspect this will be some 40-50 large prints, but a lot depends on how big you print and your use of borderless printing.
The printer has three feed paths. Most paper, up to moderately thick art paper will use the top feed slot. For lighter glossy papers you can stack several sheets, but for larger and higher quality papers it’s one sheet at a time.
For thicker art papers and board (up to 1.6mm) there is a front feed, and for roll paper, there is the optional powered roll unit which quickly attaches to the rear of the printer.
The printer will prompt for media types – I find this helpful since it vastly reduces the chances of getting the wrong settings – the printer driver will know what’s set and can flag up mismatches.
The touch screen helps make this a simple process, whilst the printer remembering recent choices mens you don’t need to go through all the paper options each time.
The top feed did show some light leading edge marking on some soft art papers – these were probably a bit too thick and perhaps best fed from the front. I’d suggest being careful if you want several sheets loading in the top feed, since some A4 Premium Luster paper just wasn’t happy with multiple sheets, whilst a cheap glossy photo paper could be stacked 20-30 deep.
The paper output path has what are sometimes called ‘Pizza wheels’ – As with the P700, none of the prints I made showed any marks from this.
Top paper feed
The top feed folds upwards and extends to support paper.
The paper is fed centrally with the P900. There are two (light grey) paper guides that slide to the centre to set the paper size. When setting sheets sizes, ensure that the guides are not too close, since the pinching can curve the paper and affect reliable paper feeding.
Custom media sizes
The front panel allows you to specify custom paper sizes not available in the standard list. Typically this applies to custom sheets cut from roll paper or available from some suppliers in ‘panoramic’ print sizes.
For roll paper, it’s convenient to specify particular lengths of paper/print in the print software/driver, since the width will likely be a standard size.
Borderless printing is however only available with standard size media (see the printer specs – there are a lot of sizes).
The front loading tray pulls out a short distance. The printer notices this and offers three front load options.
As with the rear/top feed, the media is centrally aligned. There is the usual option of a short animated guide on the screen if you’re unfamiliar.
The media is fed into the printer. This is not quite the same place as paper from the rear/roll feed comes out, but is still output onto the extendable front tray.
There are guide marks for how far to slide the media in.
Note this example of a very thick paper where there is some damage to the corner. This is not a good thing since you are very likely to get head strikes, and at best, inky marks on the corner. I didn’t print on this sheet.
The guides have different markings on either side.
As with the top guides, they are connected together to ensure that the paper is central.
Another reminder that the media will come out the back of the printer…
The posterboard setting increases clearance for the print head.
This is after it is fully loaded, ready to print.
I’ve a short video looking at printing on poster board in more detail.
There is a special tray to support/hold discs for printing.
The disc (a printable type is needed) just clips in.
The tray is inserted and matched up to the guide lines on the feed slot.
The tray is drawn in for printing.
Just a reminder – do check the discs are OK for inkjet printing – the wrong ones will still be wet with ink when the tray comes back out.
Roll paper support
The P900 has an optional roll paper unit that attaches to the rear. This differs somewhat to the older P800 in that it is powered. This means that the paper is moved by the roll unit as well as the normal paper feed mechanism.
The P800 unit has a spindle which went through the core of the roll and was supported so that paper could easily be unrolled into the printer.
Here’s the P800 roll unit on top of the P800 (from my P800 review)
Here’s the P900 unit – a much more complex bit of kit. The printer is on the same table as the P800, giving an idea of the reduced footprint of the basic P900.
The paper unit has no spindle.
This means the paper (print surface) rests on those grey rollers. You can see the movable light grey end paper guide at the right. The unit accepts a range of roll paper sizes.
If you want to see more about setting up and using the roll paper unit there is an article and video:
There is a small flap at the back of the printer which flips down. This actually comes off quite easily, but the roll unit can be fitted with/without it in place.
The roll unit had two solid locating lugs – one has the unit’s electrical connections (power and paper sensors)
It also has two locking clips – released by the rectangular button.
Here’s a 16″ roll (100 feet of paper) loaded, with the front edge fed into the loading slot at the rear.
There is a guide to installation via the front screen (see the article/video for more)
Once the paper is loaded, details appear on the front screen. Note that the width is the detected width of the paper – in the printer driver, you just select 16″ roll paper.
16″ is an ‘Epson size’ – nearly all the paper/canvas I’ve got at this size is on 17″ rolls.
I’ll come back to actually using this paper in a bit.
With any new printer I like to start with printing known good test images (Colour and B&W) on a paper from the paper manufacturer, using printer profiles from the manufacturer. If I can’t get good results with this setup, then what hope have I for my own images and some random third party paper?
I’ve lots of test images available on the site but the one printed here (A2 Epson PLPP paper) is a Datacolor one I’ve used for years and know very well.
The one on the printer screen is a very wide gamut test image (the Roman 16 set of images – from my i1Profiler installation)
Here’s a detail from the Roman 16 one at a normal exposure, showing rather good colour.
Getting the light right and reducing exposure, shows the paper (lustre) texture.
There’s also a bit of differential gloss and some bronzing.
Is this bad?
Of course not – I’ve seen variations of this (usually worse) with every printer I’ve tested for the last 15 years. The effect is very dependent on paper choice, as well as printer settings – I’ll come back to this in looking at B&W and choosing print settings to work with.
As well as using Epson profiles for some of their papers, I created quite a few profiles of my own. I use X-Rite i1Profiler software, measured with an i1iSis scanning spectrophotometer, typically from nearly 3000 patches on an A3+ sheet.
Installing the Epson printer driver installs some profiles with interesting names. Note the P900_700 bit – this is what first alerted me to just how similar the P700 and P900 are from a print quality POV.
A profile of mine for Epson TPP on the P900 was essentially identical to the one I made for the P700. Any differences I’d put down to the couple of months between making them and the natural variation in measurements with my oldish i1iSis spectro – that and the weather…
Essentially identical – that means I cannot pick up an A4 print in my office and tell you whether it was printed on the P700 or P900. Unless of course I remembered to write down settings on the back.
There should be more Epson ones available in due course.
I’m told that the full range of profiles has been delayed as a result of the current pandemic.
Epson Media Installer
The Epson Media Installer software is an optional software install, which can be used to acquire media settings and profiles.
It’s meant to be a route for all paper suppliers to make profiles/media settings available for the P900.
At the moment, there is no ‘user’ access to the tools for doing this.
You can however make your own copies of installed media and install them on your printer.
One reason for this might be that you’ve a favourite third party art paper, with a P900 colour ICC profile, which uses a particular Epson media setting.
I might create a profile for a paper and in the process try two different Epson media settings.
There are only a few listed in the driver for the P900/700
Using the Media installer lets me create a custom media setting, which can optionally link to my ICC profile. I can give it a meaningful name, and if it’s a thicker paper than the media setting I’ve based it on, adjust things like the head height (to minimise head strike chances).
Here’s an example where I’m editing a copy of the existing ‘Baryta’ media setting.
As well as here, you new media will show on the printer screen and in the driver on my computer, making it much less likely I’ll forget a setting and mess up a sheet of paper.
The installer will connect to and check your printer for what is installed – so the printer has to be on.
The installer is also a way of updating paper settings that may not have been available when you set up the printer
One use for a custom media would be to create a copy of a standard media type with altered settings. This could be the head height, time to dry or detection of paper size. Paper size detection for example lets you do overprinting, so the printer doesn’t get confused by existing print on the paper (see the article comments for more about this).
Black and White
No surprise, given my testing of the P700, but the P900 is capable of very nice B&W prints. Here at A2 on a lustre paper.
The surface finish, lit to emphasise texture.
As I’ll cover later, I only tend to print B&W images at the medium quality settings (1440 dpi) both for speed and to avoid bronzing on some photo media.
When printing at the top end settings, print time can be quite a bit longer, such as this view of the screen for another version of the image above. It took twicee as long as the setting I thought gave the best looking results.
There are several options for print settings – a basic 5 settings, or you can fine tune them.
I know from detailed measurements that there are some slight differences between this setting with the ‘Black Enhance Overcoat’ option picked.
…and this one with it not picked.
However, even with my specialist B&W test image I’d be hard pushed to get anyone to tell the difference.
I’ll just pick the best setting at 1440.
BTW If you don’t know this image – I created it years ago as a specialist test for B&W printing. There are several versions available for people wanting to use it for detailed measurements, although it’s still primarily meant to allow a quick visual identification of B&W print quality.
ABW – the best for B&W
I’m using the Advanced B&W Photo print mode of the driver, more usually known as ABW.
I’d suggest that if you’re printing black and white prints on the P900 with normal ICC printer profiles rather than ABW, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
The Epson ABW print mode in printer drivers is fine tuned to give better black and white prints, It incorporates toning/tinting, so unless you’re doing mixed colour/B&W prints the ABW mode is best. It reduces the colour tints (magenta/green) that you used to get with some B&W printing under different lights.
In the course of testing, I’ve printed numerous copies of this particular version of my B&W test image. shown above.
You don’t need to take measurements from it, but they can assist in finding optimal driver settings for a particular paper
Remember – the highest ‘quality’ print setting may not be the ‘best’ for many people
For B&W printing, I printed both directly from Photoshop and Epson’s Epson Print Layout software.
The (free) EPL software is easy to use and offers both ICC and ABW print modes
This panoramic print is printed on a lustre paper with a custom paper size, directly from Photoshop, using the ABW mode.
It’s a multishot stitch (hand held) taken under the Humber bridge.
One thing I look for in B&W printing is linearity. That means that a good looking image on my (calibrated) monitor should make for a good print.
After printing several versions of my test image at different quality settings I measured the greyscale patches with my i1Isis spectrophotometer. I’ll use the default ‘darker’ setting for ABW for printing these.
Plotting these measurements give me a range of graphs indicating the linearity of the B&W printing mode.
I look for a nice smooth gradation from paper white to darkest black, with no crunching up of shadows – the most common problem in B&W printing.
With Epson Premium Luster the line is reasonably smooth – enough that I’d likely not make any adjustment to any image before printing.
Trying Epson Hot Press Bright paper (a smooth matte art paper) at the highest quality setting (Q5), a slight crunch of shadow detail is apparent, but the Dmax (or maximum blackness) is a reasonable 1.7*
Switching to Q4 gives a slightly more linear response, but at the cost of a slight reduction in Dmax. Note that for matte papers you only get Q4 and Q5 to choose from.
No graphs? No, I did a couple of sheets and the results were almost identical to my P700 testing, as were my colour ICC profiles.
*If you want more detailed numbers and the danger of relying on Dmax numbers, have a look at my P700 B&W article. Just mentally replace P700 with P900 ;-)
Just as I first spotted on the P700, the two highest quality settings for photo papers produce a bit too much bronzing for my liking when printing B&W.
It’s an interesting form of false colours which needs careful lighting to photograph – seen here on Epson premium luster paper on part of my test image.
After testing several 700/900 printers I believe that these colours are caused on -some- media at the very highest quality settings as a result of interference.
It’s nothing like the horrendous overall bronzing I’ve seen with some B&W prints in the past, but is enough for me to avoid the two higher settings for ABW printing on photo papers.
The fact that my P700 ICC profiles work with the P900 saved me a good bit of printing, profile making and testing, making it easier to look at how easy it was to make prints at different sizes and media options.
At the risk of repeating myself, please do check the P700 review and related articles as well, since the two reviews are a few months apart and there will be details relating to printing that I may have missed or emphasised more in one than the other.
For my printing I’ve used Photoshop (CS6) and the Epson Print Layout (EPL) software. I’ve printed directly from Photoshop via its print dialog, and using EPL as a Photoshop plugin, where it’s accessed from the Automate menu. EPL works as a standalone application and can be used with some other editing packages. There is some more info about EPL below, but the majority of my printing was from Photoshop.
Note that Photoshop is what I use for most of my professional print work. Printing should be similar for other editing applications and on Win PCs
Amongst papers I tested were:
- Premium Luster
- Hot Press Bright
- Cold Press Natural
- Canson Rag Photographique
- Olmec Photo matte archival 230
- Hahnemuhle Smooth Fine Art 265*
- Pinnacle Lustre 300
- Pinnacle Baryta 310
*This is the ‘mystery paper’ I’ve used in several articles, since I’ve an unmarked box of the stuff
I’ve profiles available for some – they are available on request strictly for non-commercial use.
There are quite a few print options in addition to the paper size – here listed in the driver settings for A2 paper
Borderless printing is available for many paper sizes. This from the specs:
- BorderFree Print Widths: 3.5″ x 5″, 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″, 8″ x 10″, A4 (8.3″ x 11.7″), letter (8.5″ x 11″), 11″ x 14″, B (11″ x 17″), A3 (11.7″ x 16.5″), Super B (13″ x 19″), 16″ x 20″ and C (17″x 22″)
The image is printed oversize for the paper, so you will lose some of it. The printer driver can auto-expand images, or you can use the retain size option to give greater control over how the image printed relates to the source image.
The normal driver (i.e. printing via Photoshop) has ‘Borderless retain size’ and ‘Borderless auto expand’ as print options. The EPL software only has the auto version. This can make overprint/expansion tricky to judge.
The auto expand works best if the image is the correct aspect ratio. I found printing from PS rather more predictable in this respect.
Given the variety of settings, I like to save collections of printer settings as a named preset.
So, for making A2 sized borderless black and white prints on Epson PGPP I’d created one for the ABW mode, borderless at A2. I’ve now changed the paper to Premium Luster and will edit PGPP to PLPP in the preset name.
This will give me two presets, identical in all respects (size/quality) but for different papers.
This perhaps seems excessive, but I do a lot of testing of different papers and printers, so it really helps ensure consistency and not wasting paper with incorrect or subtly altered print settings.
Here’s a colour version for PGPP.
One other observation about borderless printing. It’s only printer cleaning and borderless printing where waste ink is fed to the maintenance cart – hence my note about most people being unlikely to need another maintenance cart for quite some time.
Some paper suppliers offer papers cut in wide ‘panoramic’ aspect ratios. For example see my test of a lustre paper from my Fotospeed Panoramic paper review using the 17″ width Epson P5000
If you have the cutting facilities, then A2 paper cut in half lengthways makes for a useful panoramic sheet size of 594mm x 210mm.
I’ve looked at this on the P700 but the P900 has distinctly more advanced roll paper handling, so you may want to consider the increased flexibility of using roll paper for long prints.
This first example is a panoramic shot created from multiple photos taken with my Canon 5Ds.
The image was created at a high resolution, with no consideration of print size. That means that when it’s resized to 15″ wide to fit 16″ roll paper, it has a resulting print resolution of just over 515 pixels per inch.
This is shown in the Photoshop Image Size dialog – note that the Resample box is -not- checked.
I can feel the questions coming – what resolution am I going to actually print this image at? Am I going to resample it to 360 ppi (pixels per inch) or some other ‘magic’ number to better match the printer?
A short historical diversion at this point. Years ago, when printer drivers were simpler and computers and printers lacked the processing power to quickly apply fancy scaling/resizing/dithering algorithms, you could get improvements in print quality by using resolutions (pixels per inch) that were a multiple or simple divisor of the native resolution of the print head. For Epsons, this magic number was 360 (or 720), so prints at 360 or 720 – or 180 or 240 or some other number would be ‘better’. You can see the number still in the printer settings in the driver, with 720dpi and 1440dpi appearing. These numbers caused great debate on printer forums and led to claims of vastly superior performance for bits of software that looked after the intricacies of printing for you. 15-20 years ago I looked at such discussions with interest.
Back to 2020 and technology has moved on a bit. I no longer bother reducing/resampling high ‘native’ resolutions when printing, it has precious little effect on printing speed, and I find that keeping images at their natural resolution helps me when I want to process them for printing (which will often require some sharpening) for the size I want.
Modern re-sizing software has allowed me to comfortably make large prints from older (low MP) images and many of the image processing habits and principles of even 10 years ago can stand re-evaluation. If you perhaps feel uncomfortable with the idea of printing at an odd resolution such as 515.553 ppi, then I’d suggest that acid test of trying different resolutions and seeing whether anyone notices?
For this image I’ll need a custom paper size, which I’ve created at 406mm x 1020mm. I’ve saved the print settings as a preset, just so I don’t accidentally change them when experimenting.
The roll paper settings are set for 16″ paper.
The Photoshop print dialog lets me set the printer profile – the Epson premium Luster one is fine.
Before the print appears, I get an ink warning.
Nice try … but not this time.
The display shows me that at ‘high quality’ I’ll have 18 mins to wait.
Oh, and plenty of ink in that LGY cart.
The print comes out. I’ve extended the tray but will still need to take care of the print hitting the floor.
The display shows the image being printed. This is quite a large photo – click on it to see the screen resolution.
The printing carries on…
The end of the print is still in the printer. I can see it via the window on top.
I’ve three options
- Cut – rolls out the paper, lets me cut the print. The paper is then wound back ready to print again.
- Cut and eject – rolls out the paper, lets me cut the print. The paper is then wound back fully, ready to remove the roll.
- Remove – simply winds the paper back onto the roll ready to remove from the printer (with print on the paper)
I’ll just use the cut option here, since I want to print again.
The paper is wound forward.
There is a cut line on the paper.
Wallpaper scissors suffice for this. The front of the next print will have extra space on it, so it’s worth noting that you’ll probably have to further trim long prints.
I have an image from few years ago that was printed at some 47 feet long for an exhibition.
The file for that one is huge and breaks printer drivers if I’m not careful. However, I have a small 60,000 pixel long version, which on 16 inch paper will print to just over 5 metres long.
A custom page size is needed.
That and a support for the print as it rolls off the printer.
Before you get too carried away creating vast prints, just think of where and how you intend to mount and show them.
As long as you don’t power down the printer, it will store details of recent print jobs. These can be displayed on the screen.
This is from a print of my B&W test image when I was looking at the effect of different settings
The printer can print these out. This is very helpful in keeping track of testing.
Here are the print details
Print Quality and settings
I’ve mentioned the range of print settings earlier, along with my choices for B&W printing
There are several different settings in the printer driver controls which have an effect on print quality.
The most obvious difference you’ll notice is print times. An A3+ profiling target took just 3 min 30 seconds to print at the standard setting whilst a version at the very highest quality settings took just over 22 minutes.
There are essentially 5 different quality settings, the first two at 1440×720 resolution, the mid or ‘high quality’ one at 1440×1440 and two higher ones at 5760×1440.
We can add to this, the ‘Black Enhance Overcoat’ option that’s supposed to improve ‘depth’ even more.
So, given my experience with the P700 and now the P900, what settings would I print at?
With colour images on photo papers I’d use the mid ‘High Quality’ setting, since it reproduces fine detail a bit better than the basic mode. I can see no obvious improvements in the highest quality settings for most images.
As a test, I’d suggest leaving two identical prints overnight with only a note on the back as to which is which setting? Be honest in your evaluation, and maybe ask someone else if they can see a difference.
For matte art papers you only have two higher quality settings – I’d once again avoid the highest (slower) setting.
With black and white prints on photo papers, results vary with the paper. On Epson Premium Luster I found that a slight bronzing intruded into the higher quality settings ( 4/5 using ABW) On some papers the standard (lowest) setting gave the best tonality.
You may notice the ‘Gloss smoothing’ option is greyed out in the settings. For this lustre paper it’s not available with any setting.
For glossy papers you need to set the custom ‘Quality option’ first in order to select it.
What does it do? I have to say that in testing on the P700 and P900 with a glossy photo paper, I could not see any significant difference. I note that it’s not defaulted to on in any of the basic quality settings.
By all means try it, but much like the 5760dpi setting, do be honest in evaluating the results…
A note of caution
My observations about the ‘best’ settings not being the ‘best’ come as no surprise. Nor should they be taken as any criticism of the rather nice prints I was able to get from the P900.
Just remember that printer specifications are there as much to sell printers as to give guidance to what you should use for your prints. Since when did anyone without more money than sense decide on a family car just because it’s top speed was 168 mph rather than one with a top speed of 158 mph?
The true source of quality in prints comes from a combination of photographic ability, camera skills, editing and printmaking skills, not dials that go to eleven.
I guess you can tell that I don’t sell printers ;-)
Several Epson software packages, beyond the printer driver may be of use.
Printing from my phone – Epson iPrint
In testing the P900 I’m printing via a wireless connection, so my iPhone can easily find the printer. When I had the P700 here I looked at the alternative direct wireless access.
Both work well – here’s the process for borderless printing of a photo from my phone onto an A3+ sheet of paper.
A quick search and the phone finds the printer
A look at the ink levels (differences in colour/saturations are white balance differences for different screens/lighting).
A picture I took whilst testing the new Laowa 15mm shift lens
The basic settings for glossy A3+ borderless.
I’ve not gone into details for colour settings and adjustments…
A few minutes later, here’s the print.
Epson Photo+ is the consumer level print application optionally installed during setup.
Its main use for me is that it enables reliable printing of CD/DVDs and the inserts for cases. Printing these from somewhere like Photoshop is tricky for formating, whilst Photo+ gives all these template options.
I know it looks simple, but I have used it a few times…
Epson Print Layout
At the time of writing, the Epson Print Layout software is not installed in the initial setup. The official download page from Epson UK is:
The software is pretty straightforward to use and gives excellent results.
Alignment and media choices are simple to set, and you can store templates for multi image printing too.
The full ABW range of settings are available, but experience has told me that leaving these at their defaults is almost always best.
By all means experiment, if you have suitable supplies of paper and ink, but do step back every so often and be honest in evaluating what you see.
All your custom media and ICC profiles will be available when using EPL.
In the example below, I’ve selected Epson premium luster paper and the correct profile has been automatically selected (this is optional). If you use the Epson Media Installer to create or install media types, there is the option of specifying a profile to be picked when choosing your custom media.
Since it’s identical when working with the P700, I’d suggest also having a look at my notes on using EPL with the P700 in the review if you want to see more examples of using the software.
The P900 a whole new printer and noticeably smaller than the old P800.
I could say it is a larger version of the 13″ P700 although that should be the other way round, since the P900 ink system -and- the P700 are based on elements of the P800 (and 3880/3800 before that). This similarity is reinforced in noting that Epson ICC profiles (and my own) work for both printers.
Whatever the origins, this new ink set works well, giving me lots of crisp, high quality prints to look at. This example does an excellent job of reproducing the deep blue sky of a cold November day at A2 size.
Two particular features stood out to me as a long time user of Epson printers: Ink swapping and the screen.
No black ink swap
Yay, no more black ink swap. It wasn’t often a problem for me, just an annoyance I could do without. You can just print on whatever paper you want, without worrying whether the printer is set up for photo or matt papers.
There is a new 10 channel print head, which has allowed the addition of a violet ink. The violet ink has been an option for some larger format printers, such as the 17″ P5000 and 24″ P7000 I’ve reviewed. In those printers it was there to expand gamut for proofing purposes, and not the option you’d choose for photo printing. In the P900 (and P700) it goes with the 10 channel print head to allow both blacks to be active at the same time.
The ink set does slightly expand the gamut of the P900 from the P800, but images which clearly show it will be few and far between.
This isn’t a complaint, it’s because the P800 was a great printer to use, so how do you make a vast change to something that’s already good?
It’s in factors like the size of the printer and its usability that you’ll notice the changes – the black swap is one aspect of this.
Another is the quality of the screen.
The touch screen
The touch screen is of good quality, and very easy to get used to. So much so that I found myself jabbing other printer screens wondering why nothing was happening.
The screen panel (and lack of buttons) is simply better designed and built than the P800
Design and usability
The printer is lighter and smaller than it’s ancestors. I’ve seen some call it flimsy, but I disagree. The paper trays are light and have an elegance about them. If this is too delicate for you, then you need an altogether more industrial printer like the P5000.
Simple features like the LED lighting inside add to ease of use and that builds user confidence – something easily lacking when you start printing your work.
However, the lightness can perhaps go a bit far. I find the plastic top surface of the printer just too easy to scratch – so don’t use it to store things when the printer isn’t being used.
A look at the 3880 from ten years ago shows some similarities (ink carts) and how the P900 is, I’d suggest, designed to look more elegant on a tidy desk
No matter how much the printer is reduced in size, it still needs to fit large paper such as A2.
Take care to note the space requirements for the printer, especially if using the front feed slot with larger media.
The top feed was my loading slot of choice for photo and art type papers. Individual sheet loading worked well, but a few papers really didn’t like stacking. Interestingly enough this was worst with a stack of A4 Epson Premium Luster paper, when a stack of cheap photo paper fed through like a photocopier. Looking at what worked best, it seems the printer does not like sheets with much curl.
When setting the adjustable paper guides, do take care not to pinch the paper – this flexed it and was the cause of a couple of misfeeds.
Testing note: My original P900 was damaged in transit, so much testing was on a pre-production printer, used whilst my original (fixed) printer was stuck at Epson UK, due to the pandemic. I mention this since although the P900 I’m using looks identical, things do get modified/changed in manufacturing.
An important feature of the P900 is its new powered roll feed unit. It’s really easy to fit/remove, but adds appreciably to the size of the printer.
The new unit is powered, but is a spindle-less design, so the paper rests on soft rollers, along with some springy top rollers for paper tensioning.
I’ve used roll paper printers since 2003 and they have all had a spindle to support the roll paper.
The new design is easy to load paper into, but you do need to handle the paper perhaps more than I’d like. Cotton gloves help, but I’m not so sure about using an expensive paper with a delicate surface. There were no problems with photo papers but I’d want to remove paper from the holder when not in use – I’d definitely not want to leave a full (heavy) roll in the printer overnight.
Remember too that you need to manually cut the paper, so good scissors are a must – even if you later trim of with a rotary cutter.
Do you need roll paper?
If you think you might want roll paper support, think carefully about the reasons why? I’ve seen all sorts suggested in the past.
Paper cost is one – by the time you factor in wastage and the need to de-curl prints, it can be problematic.
if you’re thinking of making lots of prints, then the lack of a cutter will be irksome. Using the printer a lot means loading/unloading the paper a lot.
Long panoramic prints – yes, this is a good reason (what are you going to do with them BTW?)
If you do really need roll support, then don’t forget that excellent (~3 times the weight) 17″ P5000. It has a powered roll unit, with a spindle, a cutter and a paper tray underneath (see my P5000 review for more).
The P900 makes great prints on A2 and custom sheet paper sizes – these lay flat after printing.
The roll unit is another bit of nifty design, but do think of why you want to print, and of what.
The ink carts of the P900 hold 50ml (down from the 80ml of the P800). These compare with the 25ml of the (otherwise identical) carts for the P700.
The printer uses quite a bit of ink during setup, so much that with the P700 it won’t take more than a few dozen large prints before some ink needs replacing. The P900 uses a similar amount for setup, and leave noticeably more in the carts than the P700.
Here’s the ink display after setup.
That’s enough for a good number of prints, but those indicators are still on the wrong side of half full for my liking. I’ve also seen comments online suggesting that the setup ink carts are nearly empty – this is simply wrong.
The maintenance cart is quite low after installation, but current P900s will ship with a spare maintenance tank, which removes that problem. My ongoing testing shows that after this initial setup and use, the maintenance tank fills very slowly and is likely to last quite a while – essentially just borderless overspray and cleanings adding to it. I would not suggest getting a spare maintenance cart when you get your first replacement ink carts. I suspect the maintenance cart will last a long while for most people.
I’m sure Epson have their reasons for their ink cart strategy, but I can’t help feeling that offering interchangeable ink carts for the P700/900 at 25/50/100ml would have been a far more customer friendly approach?
It’s difficult, with the mixed and varied range of testing I do, to give meaningful numbers of prints it’s possible to make, but ink usage didn’t seem markedly different from the older P800.
During my use of the printer I regularly started printing sessions with a nozzle check on plain paper. Only two (short) cleanings were required – one after leaving the printer unused for well over a week and one after a few days which included a very significant change in the weather.
Do you -need- to update?
A question I’m often asked, and like many – it depends.
First of all, almost any decent sized modern printer can produce excellent looking colour and B&W prints. I’ll go so far as to say that if you can’t make a great looking print, then the problem is with your skill levels. Yes, I include myself in this BTW.
That means for people asking me is the ‘image quality’ of the P900 much better than before, then the simple answer is – of course it isn’t. We are at the point of diminishing returns, where if I could make excellent prints with the P800, then there’s no such thing as ‘super double excellent’ to apply to the P900.
Now, there are improvements in inks and printer drivers for the P900 that may show slight differences, but these generally fall short in my ‘will anyone notice’ test. Black and white printing continues to improve, although as I mentioned earlier, the highest level print settings give no real benefits and are likely to show increased bronzing on some media. Leave the highest ‘print quality’ settings for marketing purposes and make great looking prints at the mid (or even the lower/faster) settings.
If I had a reliably working 3880/P800 with plenty of ink, I’d need to want the lack of black ink swapping an awful lot to update.
No, the reasons for getting a P900 are ones like wanting to making big prints, or moving from an older simpler printer. If you’re jumping several generations of printers, then expect not only the ability to make better looking prints, but a huge jump in printer usability.
So – what’s it like to use?
It’s very easy to use, Right from initial setup, and connection of the printer there is obvious effort gone into making the process straightforward. The printer’s screen is both useful and with a clear interface. I like the light inside – you realise how useful it is, when using a printer that doesn’t have it. The Epson Print Layout software becomes something I’m happy to use rather than just testing for completeness sake.
The printer is relatively small and easy to move – it doesn’t take up the space you’d have thought of for a 17″ width printer. It does take up a lot more space in use though, especially when printing large sheet paper, and front loading larger media needs that space at the back.
The roll paper unit is elegant and easy to fit, but if I’m using roll paper a lot, I’m almost certainly going to be looking at a bigger printer as an option.
Given the ink cart size and similarities in price, I’m going to suggest that a lot of people looking to get a P700, give some serious thought to the P900. The practicalities of going to 17″ width just became a more attractive option for people with older 13″ (A3+) sized printers.
If you’ve questions or comments, please do feel free to email me at Northlight, or use the comments section at the foot of the article.
P900 prices: UK £1086.99 (inc VAT) | US $1195
Buy via B&H in the US
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- Printing Technology: Advanced MicroPiezo AMC 10-channel, drop-on-demand printhead with ink-repelling coating technology
- Maximum Print Resolution: 5760 x 1440 dpi
- Maximum Printable Area: 17″ x 129″
- Print Speed: 8.5″ x 11″ print: 1 min 29 sec, 13″ x 19″ print: 2 min 23 sec4
- Minimum Ink Droplet Size: 1.5 picoliters; Variable Droplet Technology can produce up to three different dot sizes per line
- Nozzle Configuration: Color and monochrome heads; 180 nozzles x 10
- Ink Type: UltraChrome PRO10 pigment ink; 10-ink, 10-color Cyan, Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Vivid Light Magenta, Yellow, Gray, Light Gray, Violet, Photo Black and Matte Black
- Fade Resistance / Print Longevity: Color: up to 200 years; Black-and-white: up to 400 years3
Epson Intelligent Ink Cartridges:
- Ink Cartridge Shelf Life: 2 years from printed production date or 6 months after opened Printer is designed for use with Epson cartridges only, not third-party cartridges or ink *5
Printable Area and Accuracy:
- Maximum Paper Width: 17″, Max. cut-sheet size 17″ x 22″
- Minimum Cut-sheet Size: 3.5″ x 5″
Sheet Media Handling:
- Sheet Loading: Main Top-loading Up to 17″ x 22″; up to 120 sheets plain paper, 30 sheets photo paper, and single sheet loading of thicker fine art paper
- Front Media Path Up to 17″ x 22″; single sheet manual feeder, designed for thicker papers up to 1.5 mm thick
- BorderFree Print Widths: 3.5″ x 5″, 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″, 8″ x 10″, A4 (8.3″ x 11.7″), letter (8.5″ x 11″), 11″ x 14″, B (11″ x 17″), A3 (11.7″ x 16.5″), Super B (13″ x 19″), 16″ x 20″ and C (17″x 22″)
Roll Media Handling:
- Single Roll-to-Roll / Top-loading Roll: 17″ roll
- Media Core: 2″ or 3″ core
- Printer Language: Epson ESC/P® raster photographic drivers standard
- Interfaces: Hi-Speed USB 3.0 (1 port), 100Base-T Ethernet (1 port), 2.4 GHz (802.11n) and 5 GHz Wireless (IEEE802.11 b/g/n/ac)6, Wi-Fi Direct®6, AirPrint®, Google Cloud Print™, Epson Print Layout for iOS
- Rated Voltage: AC 110 – 240 V
- Rated Frequency: 50 – 60 Hz
- Rated Current: Less than 1 A/110 – 120 V
- Power Consumption: Printing: Approx. 24 W | Sleep Mode: approx. 1.1 W | Power Off: approx. 0.14 W
General: (US info)
- Operating Systems: Mac® OS X® 10.6.8 or later, Windows® 10, 8.1, 8 and 7 (32-bit,64-bit)7
- Temperature: Operating: 50 ˚ to 95 ˚F (10 ˚ to 35 ˚C)
- Storage: -4 ˚ to 104 ˚F (-20 ˚ to 40 ˚C)
- Humidity: Operating: 20% to 80% (no condensation)
- Storage: 5% to 85% (no condensation)
- Sound Level: Approx. 41 dB(A) according to ISO 7779
- Dimensions: Printing: 24.2″ x 35.6″ x 20.5″ (W x D x H)
- Storage: 24.2″ x 14.5″ x 7.8″ (W x D x H)
- Weight: 35.3 lb
- Eco Features: ENERGY STAR® qualified, RoHS compliant, Recyclable Product8, Epson America, Inc. is a SmartWay Transport Partner9
- Safety Approvals: UL (MET), FCC (Class A), CSA, CE, EMC Electrical Requirements
- Country of Origin: Indonesia
Warranty: Standard 1-year full unit exchange with toll-free phone support Monday through Friday
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