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Epson ET-8550 printer review

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Epson ET-8550 printer review

13″/A3+ EcoTank printer



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Keith Cooper looks at the Epson ET-8550 EcoTank printer.

The 13″ width A3+ printer is the first ‘cartridge free’ or tank based printer Keith has looked at for a detailed review. It has a hybrid ink set, with both pigment and dye black inks.

Keith looks at printer performance on different media and why proper selection of media and colour management are key to getting optimal results

The review is complemented with a range of short YouTube videos exploring aspects of using the printer.

Looking at the ET-8550

The Epson EcoTank ET-8550 is a 6 ink A3+ (13″ width) multifunction printer. In this review I’m primarily concentrating on its use for printing photos and artwork, and how to get the best results from its interesting hybrid ink set.

Printer features

The printer includes a flatbed scanner, so is marketed with the ability to ‘print,copy and scan’.

It’s this ‘home office’ pitch which has left many wondering if it’s a good option for photo printing?

How does it compare with dedicated photo printers?

The answer is as always ‘it depends’, but for those daunted by the length of my written reviews, the answer is ‘very well …with the right paper choices’

The ink system has two interesting features compared to the normal photo printer.

set of inks for ET-8550 printer review

No cartridges

You fill ink tanks from bottles. I’ll look at this below, but essentially the ink from the bottles is used to fill the tanks from above,

Hybrid ink set

The ink set has two blacks, a dye one and a pigment one. There is a grey dye and the traditional Cyan/Magenta/Yellow dye based colours.

This mixed ink set means that the print characteristics are not simply like a dye or pigment ink based printer, but a hybrid, the results of which depend on paper type and media settings used when printing. The results of this are clear in my creation of colour ICC printer profiles and printing in both colour and black and white.

A more modern interface?

The large (10.9cm) colour touch screen is easy to work with, but if you like, there is an Epson App (Smart Panel) which duplicates many control functions via a phone or tablet. The printer also has USB and SD card sockets at the front, allowing for direct printing, and the use of these devices as network storage. Whilst you might not want to go out and replace your file servers yet, both devices appeared on my local network as storage,

I will look at use of mobile devices later, but not in any great detail, since the main aim of this review is to look at high end print making, and that isn’t yet something I associate (yet) with printing from mobile devices.

install-smart-panelconnect-phone

printer-connected-to-phone

Printer setup

I’ve a detailed look at the setup process in its own article. Also, a video looking at the 8550 setup process.

There is a lot of blue tape to remove – check inside and round the back as well.

ready-to-set-up

There is a phone app that will guide you through the complete setup if you like.

Yes, you don’t need a computer connected – I cannot see why I’d ever want to do this, but Epson doesn’t go to this trouble for no reason…

smart-panel-app

Here’s the set-up for the wireless connectivity. You can connect directly, or as I have, connect the printer to one of our home networks.

wireless-setup-phone

Filling the ink

This is the different bit – no ink carts to load, just fill the six tanks from bottles.

ink-port-cover

Lifting the cover and blue tank caps gives access to the fill points.

filling-point

As a double check, I’d note that the bottles are physically keyed, so that the wrong ink bottle won’t physically attach to the fill port.

bottle-keying

The filling automatically stops when the tank reaches its ‘full’ level.

After filling, there is ink left in the bottles. This can be used later to top off the tanks.

leftover-ink

The Epson install software (on my MacBook in this instance) is fairly smart, giving you a number of ways of connecting the printer.

check-network

Once set up, there is a range of software you can install in addition to the printer driver.

Note that during printer driver setup, various Epson paper ICC profiles will be installed on your system. I’ll come back to profiles later, when looking at colour management, since along with media choices, they are key to getting optimal photo printing results from the 8550.

software-to-install

I’m going to suggest installing all of the options, since some of the software many be more useful that you’d thought.

Just one quick note for Mac users. Makes sure that the printer instance set up on your system is not the ‘AirPrint’ version. This has a reduced set of functionality and has little use for normal printing – the first time I did it by mistake I spent a while wondering why most of my printer driver options had vanished…

not-airprint

Connectivity

As well as the wireless option I’m using for testing, the printer has Ethernet (100MB) and USB-B connections at the back.

wired-ports

Note that you can have multiple connection methods for an individual computer, but each one will appear as a ‘different’ instance of the printer. So, since I also used USB when testing, I have two 8550 printers in my (MacBook) printer list – one USB and one on the network (wirelessly).

The printer also has an SD card slot and USB socket at the front. These can be used for memory cards and sticks, as well as a ‘PictBridge’ connection to cameras.

SD-and-USB-socket

The devices attached can be shared on your network, as well as being an optional repository for scans made with the built in scanner.

Here’s A USB stick with 5 photos on it – the server is mounted on my MacBook desktop.

storage

Note how it appears as two servers: ‘Epson ET-8550 Series’ for Mac and ‘epson098c06’ for windows users.

Yes I do name servers on our network using Arabic star names. It goes back to when I was a UNIX sysadmin 25 years ago… ;-)

The printer screen offers several options when you plug in a device.

usb-device

The ‘various prints’ option links to all sorts of layout and printing options.

Here, I’ve selected four pictures from the memory stick to print 4-up on a page with a striped background.

multi-print

There is a lot of stuff like this, but for details I’m afraid you’ll have to read the manual…

Ink refilling

One of the key features of the 8550 is that you get to refill the ink tanks once they get low.

Using the spare ink left over, it was time to top up the tanks (remember ink is used during setup – filling the various tubes and printhead.

I’m using the grey ink here.

grey-ink-fill-2

Lifting the cap, the bottle just slots in place – do not squeeze it. Just let it fill.

grey-ink-top-up

The precise ink levels in the carts are tricky to show., but here’s the grey ink refilled.

after-top-up

However, the ink levels are not reported.

ink-levels-after-charge

Here lies another difference from normal cartridges. With cartridges, the printer knows how much ink it started with and knows how much has been used. This give a way to calculate the ink remaining – there are no level detectors in cartridges.

However, I’ve just topped up the grey ink. You need to go to the printer menu and select the ink filling options – there you can tell the printer that a tank is now ‘full’

select-colour-re-filled

Setting the grey to ‘full’ now registers the level.

ink-topped-up

An important aspect of this is that you shouldn’t top up any inks unless you are filling them to the full mark, and registering it. If the printer doesn’t know the ink levels, there is a risk it won’t flag up an empty tank and run dry – never a good thing to do with inkjet printers.

The updated level even shows up on my phone’s printer control.

phone-ink-levels

Yay! another use for the phone, apart from saving me a walk into another room to switch off the printer.

Maintenance cart

There is a maintenance cart to the left of the ink tanks,designed to soak up ink used in cleaning over time. It is easily replaceable, but I suspect will last a long time – I’d not bother getting a spare until it started showing as very low in capacity.

maint-cart

Transport lock

With the ink feed system, you really don’t want the print head moving whilst transporting the printer. It’s possible for ink to syphon through the pipes and head if tilted too much.

So, there is a head locking mechanism which should be engaged if moving the printer

head-unlockedlockinglocked

That does not mean you can now tip the printer on its side. It does make spills rather less likely. Interestingly enough, Epson supply a big plastic bag for transporting the printer – just in case.

Head alignment

After setting up the printer, it’s worth running through the head alignment process to optimise print quality. Although it’s possible to do this with plain paper, I found that using a photo paper made it easier to check the test prints.

The head adjustment is accessed via the maintenance menu.

maintenance-options

There are two settings to adjust

head-alignment

Several sheets are required.

print-head-alignment

Fortunately, this is only really needed the once.

It’s something that is of more benefit if you plan on printing at higher quality settings and with lots of detail in your images. The printer worked just fine before it, but I always carry out such adjustments if offered, with any printer I test.

Media handling

The printer has a range of ways of getting media through it.

paper-feed-infopaper-feeds

The paper sizes and media types are set from the front panel when loading paper.

It’s possible for the computer settings to override the settings on the printer, but I always make a habit of setting the correct paper and size if possible, on the printer first. This has, over the years, saved me an awful lot of wasted paper though mistakes, in return for a few seconds setting the printer…

printer-paper-settings

The front tray is good for plain paper. Thin photo paper will work as well but I don’t generally want photo paper going through the duplexer unit at the back.

load-paper

I have tried double sided photo paper in the lower tray – it did not go well.

Under the tray is a CD/DVD holder for printing on disks

cd-tray-storage

It loads just above the tray.

cd-tray

Do however make sure you are using a printable disk that works with inkjet printing, since with the wrong disk type ink won’t dry well and will quickly smudge.

The second tray is for smaller photo paper. This works for thin paper.

I tried thin card and thick photo paper, with similarly unsuccessful results as with double sided printing.

small-paper-feed

The problem is that paper gets folded back over itself via the duplexer unit at the back. Fortunately this is easy to remove if need be for clearing jams.

The top feed

This is where almost all my printing started.

There’s a cover over the extensible guides.

top-feed-cover

Extend it as needed for the paper size in use.

top-feed-guide

Here. set for A3+ or 13″ x 19″

a3-plus-loaded

Note that if you want to use A3+ sheets there is space needed above and to the rear of the printer.

The tray is motorised and will extend as needed, and retract at power-off, of via the menu.

rear-space

That and some space at the front. This is a test sheet for creating a printer profile (see later for more colour management and profile info).

a3plus-sheet-printed

Note the interior light close to where the paper is coming out.

print-lighting

The LED is a very blue white and definitely not a light to make any judgements of print colour accuracy with.

Smaller paper

Seen here with A4 sheets stacked in the feed tray.

The precise number does depend on paper size and thickness, so if you’re trying a new paper, start off with just a few sheets, once you know that one works fine.

stack-A4-sheets

The printer supports a number of smaller paper sizes which may be used for cards and the like. Borderless printing is available for some paper sizes, but not others (A5 and A6 for example).

paper-sizes

Custom paper

The top feed can also take custom sheet sizes, such as this 1 metre length cut from a 13″ roll of matte art paper.

roll-paper-ready-to-load

The rear feed

Paper can be fed through the back of the printer, where the print path is direct and unbent through to the front.

This feed supports board ip to 1.5mm thick.

access-duplexer

You need to remove the duplexer unit. Lift the top feed guide to access the two spring loaded catches.

The whole unit comes out.

remove-duplexer-unit

Attached to the duplexer is the grey and blue feed guide for the rear slot.

duplexer-with-rear-feed

This unclips.

rear-feed-guide

The guide is then attached at the rear of the printer – it just clips in place.

rear-feed-align-in-place

When using the rear feed, wait until the printer tells you to load the media.

It will be pulled through the printer.

board-going-in

I’m using Epson Matte poster board here (A3+ 13″ x 19″)

One minor gripe is that the jaws of the feed guide at the back won’t accept board this thick, whilst the printer is quite happy with it.

too-thick

If using this board very much, I’d be tempted to bend the blue plastic tabs (carefully).

The print worked just fine though.

board-coming-out

Using the rear feed does give give fairly large start/end margins – no borderless printing.

posterboard

There is a video looking at the making of this print.

Scanning

The built in scanner can be used as a basic copier onto plain paper. It has no document feed, but to be fair if I want document feeding I’ll buy a full time office printer. For myself, the ‘office functions’ of this printer are a distant second in my concerns compared with art/photo printing.

The scanner has a rated 1,200 x 4,800 dpi resolution – what you choose to use it at though will depend a lot on what you are scanning and why. The glass is ~8.5″ x 14″

copier

I wanted to see if it could be used for something a bit more taxing. Scanning a watercolour painting and printing as a greeting card. I have a video about this and will shortly have a more detailed article.

Here’s the artwork, a watercolour painting. It’s slightly oversize for the scanner glass.

artwork-to-scan

To get round the size limitation I scanned the image twice and then flat stitched the images in Photoshop.

The included Epson Scan software is quite competent, and allows you to turn off auto corrections. Note that some of those higher resolutions will include interpolation from the actual scan data.

scan-settings-epson

Just to see how well the scanner does, I scanned an X-Rite Colorchecker SG card.

scan-for-profiling

Saving the image as a TIFF file (colour management turned off), I was able to import it into i1Profiler to create a custom profile.

I looked at this feature a while ago in a review [i1profiler scanner profiling]

scan-profile

The profile is assigned to the RAW scan file.

This animated GIF gives a feel for the sort of improvement it’s possible to get.

using-profile-for-scanner

That suggests that with some work it should be possible to get quite good scans using the Epson software.

However, for many years I’ve driven all my scanners (film and flatbed) from Vuescan.

It’s a superb bit of software and happily works with thousands of scanners no longer supported, as well as new ones.

use-vuescan

Here’s the scan of one side of the print – note the shadowing on the right.

The scanner was also somewhat variable in how much it picked up the texture of the paper – easily fixed in Photoshop with a masked curves layer.

A very slight hue shift was applied to the blue/purple areas to better match the original print.

colour-adjustments

The original image was scanned at 1200ppi.

This pushes the file resolution well above what might be thought best for such prints. Now that in itself is not really a problem but I was printing the image on one of my card templates, which are 300 ppi, so I needed to scale the image. The sharpening of the scaling gives the resulting cards very good crisp detail, whilst still maintaining the watercolour look.

The particular card here is a 285gsm etching paper from Fotospeed in the UK, which I’ve created a custom profile for.

card-printing

Note that I’m printing using the VFA media setting. As I’ll show in a bit, this is the one where both pigment and dye blacks are used, giving particularly good results on a paper like this, once profiled.

Office functions

The printer works well with plain paper, single or double sided. The pigment black gives good crisp text although the dye colours give just the sort of slightly washed out I’d expect printing colour on plain paper.

That’s not an 8550 complaint – if I want vibrant pie charts and sales graphs on plain paper, I’ll get a colour laser printer and accept that it won’t be much good for photos…

It’s not bad though and faster than using specialist photo printers, which with their smaller cartridges always make me think about ink use when printing the odd document.

The main tray takes just over 100 sheets of plain paper – not huge, but once again more than enough for my would be use of printing the odd invoice or letter. A single sheet of text prints in only a couple of seconds, with a bit of a delay if it needs duplexing.

Copying works fine (with enlargement too) and the printer has an array of preset documents you can print – from calendar and reminder sheets, to musical score sheets and graph paper. Access these from the aptly named ‘Various Prints’ menu option.

You can scan to an attached USB memory stick and print images from devices in various formats as in the example shown earlier.

From my limited (recent) experience of office printing, the printer doesn’t feel particularly fast (or slow), and if it’s home/office printing that you really want then this printer, with its emphasis on creative imaging is perhaps less likely what you are looking for.

I can’t say much more since testing office printers is way beyond my area of interest, but I’m sure you’ll find some more general reviews/comparisons where the concept of ICC profiles never entered the reviewer’s thought process ;-)

Colour management

The hybrid ink set of the 8550 can be thought of as a CMYK dye based printer with the addition of a grey dye ink and a pigment black ink optimised for text printing.

The grey ink allows for mixing with the strong colours, and along with variable drop sizes helping negate some of the need for light colours – usually light cyan and light magenta. It also helps in greyscale reproduction delivering better B&W printing (I’ll be returning to B&W in a bit).

At first thought, the black pigment ink might be thought of a primarily for text printing, but a closer analysis shows that for some media settings it is used with the dye inks.

Making profiles

The Epson installer places a range of Epson ICC profiles for different Epson media onto your computer. That’s fine, but I also wanted to test the printer with an assortment of other papers.

profiling-target

As a result of this I’ve created profiles for quite a few papers (Epson and third party). These were made using A3+ target sheets with just shy of 3000 patches per target. The targets were measured with an X-Rite i1iSis spectrophotometer and profiles created with i1Profiler.

Profiles created for my ET-8550 printer review

  • HP Artist Matte Canvas 380
  • Hahnemuhle Smooth Fine Art 265
  • Hahnemuhle Watercolor 210
  • Canson Rag Photographique 310
  • Fotospeed Platinum Cotton 305
  • Fotospeed Etching 285 (used with the scanned artwork cards earlier)
  • Epson CPN
  • Epson HPB
  • Epson TPP
  • Epson PGPP
  • Epson Premium Lustre
  • Pinnacle Lustre 300
  • Pinnacle Matte 230
  • PermaJet Titanium Lustre 280
  • PermaJet Double sided Lustre 295

Extra profiles made during later testing of paper for greeting cards [Paper Spectrum]
These are covered in a YT video: Card choices for the ET-8550

  • Pinnacle Semi Gloss 300
  • Pinnacle Photo Gloss 240
  • Pinnacle Double sided Matte 300
  • Pinnacle Etching 310

Individual profiles are available on request for non-commercial use and experimentation – email me with which specific ones you want – they are ~3MB each.

If you’re curious about making your own profiles for the 8550, I have a video about this:
Using the i1Studio/CCStudio with the ET-8550

It was in looking at the measurement I noticed some distinct changes in results with the same paper, but using different media settings. In particular it seems that the VFA setting uses CMY colour with grey and the pigment black ink. Now, I suspect it also uses the dye black to some extent, but this is far from certain.

Adding that pigment black to the mix makes for interesting results.

These two screenshots are from measuring the Pinnacle Matte 230, after printing with both the VFA and Epson Matte settings. The data to the left is from measuring full black [click to enlarge]

The first is with the Epson Matte paper setting.

matte-using-EMatte

The feature to note is the rise at the red end of the spectral plot. This is typical of dye inks and one reason why getting good B&W prints from dye based printers can take some effort. It can show as an illuminant metamerism, especially under tungsten lighting, which has a strong red/IR bias to its spectrum.

Compare the graph with this one using the same paper, but the VFA setting. The flat curve is what I expect to see from pigment ink printers.

matte-using-VFA

Remember that this example is only for solid black, and the mix of inks will vary with the printed colour.

I’ll come back to just what this means in practice when considering paper choices, but above all it means that your favourite papers from a previous dye or pigment ink printer may OR may not be good with the ET-8550.

It also means that ICC profiles are vital if you want to make good use of third party papers – my printing suggests that this printer is capable of very nice looking prints.

Black and White

In all examples I tried, the ABW mode of the printer driver was superior to printing using either Epson’s or my own ICC profiles.

In the example below, I’m printing two B&W images via the Epson PPL software on different media (this is from my B&W video)

print with EPL

The image were opened in Photoshop, and exported to PPL. However, you can use it stand-alone.

bw-compare

In diffuse daylight the slight warmth of the ‘natural’ paper shows (printed with he VFA media setting) and overall print neutrality is good.

The print on Epson TPP paper is using the premium glossy media setting, there not being one for ‘baryta’ style papers. It also shows a bit more of a slight colour cast. Do bear in mind that this is tricky to show reliably in photographs.

The lack of media settings for some papers means that you may well need to do a bit of experimenting to see if a particular paper looks good with B&W printing on the 8550.

As part of my testing I printed dozens of A4 test images. This particular version of my B&W test image is designed for quick measurement with an i1iSis spectrophotometer, but I have many other versions of the test image freely available.

bw-test-prints

The upshot of my testing is that the ink set of the 8550 is capable of creating good looking B&W prints, but once again you need to see whether your paper is OK for your needs.

Much as I’d love to give an ‘approved’ list of papers for B&W, I can’t. I get a steady stream of people from the US asking if paper X or Y is OK? Sorry, I’m in the UK and only get to test papers available here – even then, some companies have never asked me to look at their papers and especially in current times I can’t afford to buy rolls/boxes of expensive paper on a whim…

Roll paper?

There is no direct roll support for the ET-8550, but it will print sheets cut from a roll.

13″ rolls of paper are less common, but this example is HWS Lite 215 – a cotton rag paper from Fotospeed in the UK

long-bw-on-art-paper

Printed using the VFA media setting and the ABW print mode. Take care with feeding and margins.

Similar papers – very different results

In general, art papers print well with the 8550 ink set, especially with the VFA media setting. That said, experimentation is necessary.

Here are two sets of measurements of a B&W test print. The first one uses Epson Hot Press Bright, a good cotton rag paper with a modest amount of brightener.

Look at the line of ‘L’s. It’s pretty straight, indicating a nice linear response with no noticeable shadow crunching. The DMax is ~1.75, so a good black for an art paper.

hpb-vfa-abw

Secondly, a Hahnemuhle 265gsm smooth fine art paper. Now this is one I still have boxes of from when HP last sent me a large printer to test (2009 – where are you HP? )

It’s a nice paper, and I’ve used it as a generic cotton art paper for testing with many printers and printer profiling set-ups.

However, look at the L line from the test print (again using the VFA media setting).

sfa265-vfa-abw

Nice and linear until about 85% black where it flattens considerably. This paper produces seriously crunched shadows.

Why the difference?

It’s the paper coating – the layer that matches ink to paper. It’s handling the mix of inks differently to the first paper. My suspicion is that pigment black is starting to be added to the ink mix at ~80%

Does that mean the paper is no good with this printer?

No, you can print with the EpsonMatte media setting for B&W and it’s passable, but doesn’t really get the look I’m seeing on the other rag papers (such as cold press natural).

Is this true with colour?

No, where I’ve made full ICC profiles of both the papers, the results are obviously different even from the profiling targets.

profile-sheets-compare

Note how the intensity of colour and depth of blacks is distinctly greater on the 265gsm paper.

You don’t normally see this much difference between two very similar style papers. Looking at the blacks on the right, they show distinct crunching, as I’m seeing in the B&W prints.

However, that’s one of the things profiles can ‘fix’.

After making profiles I’ve got these screenshots of the gamut size of the two papers.

First the Epson Hot Press Bright

hpb-1

The sort of shape I’d associate with art papers.

See how the Hahnemuhle SFA 265gsm has a much larger gamut

sfa265-1

This is more the style of gamut I might see on a baryta paper on a pigment ink based printer.

Taking one of my test images, which has some difficult to print colours in it, I get two very different looking prints

curve-compare

Now, neither of these is ‘correct’ or ‘wrong’ They are the best example I’ve seen for a long while that shows how profiling produces the ‘best’ results for a particular paper, not makes them all the same or matches your screen

Printing

Most images during my testing were printed from Photoshop – albeit an old version (CS6). Some were printed directly and others using the Epson EPL software.

Borderless works well, but do be careful with the image expansion. If you’re not careful, it’s possible to get a fine white margin. This didn’t happen with the EPL software, but you have to remember that borderless relies on expanding the image beyond the page edge.

borderless

Note that if you want to print a lot of borderless prints, there will be overspray, and you will need to clean the inside of the printer to prevent ink buildup. I used absorbent kitchen roll to dab the plastic and foam under the print area.

Image quality and speed

The high quality setting was used for making most of my profiles and many prints it’s slower, but not enough to seriously bother me. At around 2 minutes for a standard quality A3+ borderless, it rises to over 9 minutes at the highest print quality setting. The B&W print mode and some media settings will require the higher quality setting.

If you’ve images with fine detail printed at high resolution it’s worth doing a few test prints to see if it makes a visible difference to your prints.

However I’d suggest leaving them overnight to make the comparison, and perhaps giving them to someone else to compare. Too many photographers (IMHO) get tied up in image detail concerns that few people can spot, when they would be better off paying attention to their photographic and editing skills.

Custom sizes

The printer accepts custom paper sizes up to just short of a metre. Some printer marketing points to lengths up to 2m, but not on my Mac.

The panoramic print below was on a Fotospeed Lustre paper from a 13″ roll.

panoramic-print-settings

Be careful with the width set for custom papers – there seems to be limits for what can be fed through a particular slot. Hence the width set at 329mm above rather than 330mm. Take care with margins if your custom paper size is not exactly the same as he physical media.

Here’s the print after printing.

pano-print

There is a video about this print: Making an ET-8550 pano print

Epson software

The Epson Print Layout (EPL) print software is not installed with the driver, but is available directly from Epson

Now, it doesn’t mention the ET-8550 specifically and I did find some glitches in setting custom paper sizes, but when it worked it worked just fine (On a Mac running 10.14 – we have no win PCs or new Macs here)

I used it with an A3+ (13″ x 19″) sheet of canvas for an A4 gallery wrap print.

gallery-wrap-canvas

Choosing papers

In previous printers I’ve looked at, the distinction between pigment inks and dye based inks was clear. In general, pigment inks gave superior B&W prints and with the usual increased number of inks, often finer gradations and smoother output and better performance with strong dark colours.

Similarly, dyes excelled with bright colourful images, especially on glossy papers.

Pigment inks were for prints that could last for many years and dyes for snaps that were not to be kept.

Well, dyes (with the 8550) now look to push the 30-50 year mark which with good media and storage/display will suit many purposes.

A limitation of the ET-8550 is the limited range of media types available in the driver – that and the current lack of ICC profiles for third party media.

I expect more paper supply companies to offer profiles, and some will even build a custom profile if you order some paper.

The 8550 produced good results on gloss and lustre papers – this is just using the dye inks and results are broadly what I’d expect, probably with an improvement over straight CMYK printers with the addition of the grey ink.

Baryta style papers such as the Epson TPP looked good, but these usually excel on pigment ink printers.

Where the pigment black ink comes in, and I believe it’s only at the VFA setting, it makes a considerable difference to performance with matt art papers. The differences are quite distinctive, as I showed earlier.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I know of knowing which category a particular art paper will fall into without testing.

So, a Hahnemuhle 210gsm watercolour paper was in the ‘big gamut’ category, whilst the Fotospeed Platinum Cotton 305 was in the small gamut camp (and hence much better for B&W). For some colour images (such as the scanned watercolour) it worked well, but paper choice should partly be driven by what sorts of image you want to print.

So, if someone on a forum tells you a paper is ‘great’ and hasn’t tried it with the 8550, take the advice with a suitable pinch of salt. Even more so if they just mention a brand.

The Epson supplied profiles are OK to start off with, but a limited range of papers.

Update: I’ve also tested the 8550 with a clear 160 micron clear film. See the videos list at the top of the page

ET-8550 printer review conclusions

The printer is small and compact for a 13″ printer, although if you start using large media, you’ll quickly find out how much extra space is needed.

No parts of the printer left me feeling I was likely to break them, although I come across a vocal subset of printer users who seem to feel that if there are not steel girders in its construction somewhere it’s not worth using. They will pass it by.

The paper tray seems best used for plain paper and thin photo paper – almost all my photo prints and cards went in via the top.

The initial one-off alignment process is fiddly and I was glad I had my old geology hand lens to look at the printed details.

The photo speed at highest printing quality feels slow, meaning that I’d not want to be printing a large number of greeting cards unless I had something else to do whilst feeding/minding the printer. It’s not really slow, just I come across people wanting to print large volumes of prints and forgetting the time element in their (general lack of) costing calculations.

The office functions are advanced enough that they will handle basic home office needs. It copies – great. It doesn’t have a document feeder, so what? This isn’t the office copier…

I can’t offer any good guide to ink usage, given the very varied nature of printing/testing I do, however after a lot of prints, the ink levels had not moved very much – yes it is almost certainly quite a bit cheaper to run than many other desktop printers I’ve looked at.

Ink loading and refilling is pretty much idiot-proof, but of course it’s possible to squirt ink all over the place, but you really would have to be quite incompetent to manage it ;-)

To answer some assorted questions I’ve been asked after some of my videos:

  • No it doesn’t work with dye-sub inks
  • If you want to print cards on cheap card stock, the results will look awful
  • No it doesn’t print vinyl stickers – it needs media designed for aqueous inkjet printing

Who is it for

I can see the printer appealing to a designer/photographer who wants to get into printing more seriously, but without the desire to go up to the dedicated pigment photo printers. Here, the office functions are in the useful category and help offset what is still not a cheap printer.

Print quality can be excellent but is very dependent on paper choices and profiles. This is fine for some users, but if you are just looking for something ‘that works’ the limitations of available media may be an issue to start with.

This is a printer that can fire the printing enthusiasm – sure, paper will cost and the inks will need filling up, but it’s easy to use.

Given my background using big large format printers, it’s not a printer I’d choose for prints I would sell, but definitely one where I’d happily put the prints on my wall.

–oOo–

This review is unusual in that due to web site issues it’s been finished some time after all my videos. Do have a look at them for particular examples of using the 8550. However, do note that the review video itself is ~45mins long…

Questions are always welcome – email me at Northlight.

All of my ET-8550 videos

Full specifications

From Epson

Technology
  • Printing Method: 6-colour inkjet printer
  • Nozzle Configuration: 360 Nozzles Black, 180 Nozzles per Color
  • Minimum Droplet Size: 1.5 pl, With Variable-Sized Droplet Technology
  • Printing Resolution: 5,760 x 1,440 DPI
  • Category: Home, Photo
  • All-in-One Functions: Print, Scan, Copy
Print
  • Printing Speed ISO/IEC 24734: 16 pages/min Monochrome, 12 pages/min Colour
  • Printing Speed: 32 pages/min Monochrome (plain paper 75 g/m²), 32 pages/min Colour (plain paper 75 g/m²), 25 Seconds per 10 x 15 cm photo (Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper)
  • Colours: Black, Photo Black, Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Grey
Scan
  • Optical Resolution: 1,200 DPI x 4,800 DPI (Horizontal x Vertical)
  • Output formats: BMP, JPEG, TIFF, multi-TIFF, PDF, searchable PDF, PNG
  • Scanner type: Contact image sensor (CIS)
Paper/Media handling
  • Number of paper trays: 3
  • Paper Formats: A3+, A3 (29.7×42.0 cm), A4 (21.0×29.7 cm), A5 (14.8×21.0 cm), A6 (10.5×14.8 cm), B5 (17.6×25.7 cm), B6 (12.5×17.6 cm), C6 (Envelope), DL (Envelope), No. 10 (Envelope), Letter, 10 x 15 cm, 13 x 18 cm, 100 x 148 mm, User defined, B4 (25.7×36.4 cm), Legal, Executive
  • Duplex: Yes (A4, plain paper)
  • Rear paper path (special media): Yes
  • Media Handling: Automatic duplex (A4, plain paper), Borderless print, CD/DVD print, Fine Art Paper Path, Rear specialty media feed, Thick Media Support
General
  • Energy Use: 17 Watt (standalone copying, ISO/IEC 24712 pattern), 0.8 Watt (sleep mode), 7.5 Watt (Ready), 0.3 Watt (Power off), TEC 0.16 kWh/week
  • Supply Voltage: AC 220 V – 240 V, 50 Hz – 60 Hz
  • Product dimensions: 523‎ x 379 x 169 mm (Width x Depth x Height)
  • Product weight: 11.1 kg
  • Noise Level: 5 B (A) with Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper / Photo RPM mode – 37 dB (A) with Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper / Photo RPM mode
  • Compatible Operating Systems: Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, Windows 10 (32/64 bit), Windows 7 (32/64 bit), Windows 8 (32/64 bit), Windows 8.1 (32/64 bit), Windows Vista, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition SP2 or later, Windows XP SP3 or later (32-bit),
  • Included Software: Epson Photo+, Epson ScanSmart, EpsonNet Config
  • Interfaces: USB, Ethernet, Wireless LAN IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, USB host, SD Card Slot
  • Mobile and Cloud printing services: Apple AirPrint
  • What’s in the box: AC cable, Ink set, Quick Start Guide, Warranty document
  • Colour: Black
Other Features
  • Panel: Type: Color, Touchscreen, Diagonal: 10.9 cm
  • Memory Cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC, MicroSD*, MicroSDHC*, MicroSDXC*, MiniSD*, MiniSDHC*, Mini SDXC* (* Adaptor required, not supplied in box)
  • Features: Touchscreen, PictBridge, Direct Print, Direct print from USB

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2 Comments
  • Ali AlArab | Aug 7, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for the very detailed review and the numerous videos on YouTube. We bought this printer and recently started printing photos at home which we never did before. For a beginner like me who never printed more than black and white A4 papers before it was very helpful and informative. I think this is a fantastic printer to learn printing on due to low cost and ability to experiment with. It also doesn’t hurt that it can produce good quality photos once we improve our technique in printing.

    thank you for always being available and answering questions too.

    best
    Ali

  • Rick Fee | Aug 5, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    Superb report, thank you, Keith!

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