Epson's America In Detail

By Tom Williams, Ink World Associate Editor | 10.01.09

National exhibition shines a light on the future of photographic-quality printing.

The night of January 18th passed unremarkably for many residents of New York City. However, in a small corner of Manhattan, those who descended upon Chelsea Market for the opening of Epson’s “America in Detail” exhibition were introduced to the cutting edge of photographic printing.

With the backing of Epson America, Inc., critically acclaimed photographer Steven Wilkes had travelled across the country for 52 days and returned with thousands of images. From those, he culled 40 pictures representing turn-of-the-century America in all its varied aspects and placed them on display concurrently in both San Francisco and New York City.

While Mr. Wilkes’ pictures clearly conveyed the ability to capture aesthetic attention, what made this event unique was the technology it encompassed.

“What truly separated Epson’s ‘America in Detail’ from other exhibitions I’ve attended of late is the medium through which the images were printed,” said Michael Beesley, photographer, digital photography group, QRS Corporation. “To the naked eye, the images appear as standard color prints. However, the realization that they were produced using a printer and inks makes the work that much more impressive.”

Mr. Beesley’s reaction was not uncommon amongst those who attended the opening, as the exclamation, “I can’t believe this was done on a printer,” was heard over and over.And it’s these reactions that Epson had in mind when it developed the new ink/paper/printer system this exhibition showcases.

“Last year we made a breakthrough in our ink technology that allowed us to develop a truly archival ink with the photographic look of a dye,” remarked Pam Barnett, public relations manager at Epson America. “The technology was incorporated into our Epson Stylus Photo 2000P, Stylus Pro 7500 and Stylus Pro 9500 printers. This photographic collection provides a way to showcase the technology so that artists can see for themselves the unmatched combination of beauty and durability.”

The Technology

The breakthrough to which Ms. Barnett referred encompassed the creation of Epson’s microcrystal encapsulation technology. Previously, all of the company’s inks for its Stylus photo and pro graphics lines were dye-based. Earlier attempts to move to pigment-based inks with better archival qualities had failed because of color gamut restrictions and durability issues. The new technology, however, allows Epson to overcome the shortcomings of pigmented inks by encapsulating each pigment crystal in a resin coating.

“The advantages of this technology are that the resin-coated pigments are more evenly distributed than conventional pigments, which gives a higher color gamut, higher gloss and a smoother image appearance,” said Ms. Barnett.

“Another advantage is durability,” Ms. Barnett continued. “Normal pigments lie on top of the surface and can be easily scratched. This helps to fix it to the media by giving it better penetration and scratch resistance. Because light reflects more evenly with the microcrystal technology, it also helps to provide superior gloss.”

Also of importance to artists and photographers when selecting a printing/ink system is its ability to be used on a variety of different paper types. In the past, this had conspired to limit the use of pigment-based inks. The new Epson system has addressed this concern through its compatibility with an extremely wide variety of Epson paper types, including the premium luster paper and fine textured art paper selected by Mr. Wilkes for this exhibition.

The Printers

In addition to archival advantages offered by Epson’s new inks, the expansive opportunities of the new hardware highlighted by the opening were enough to excite many printers and photographers alike. According to Mr. Wilkes, the wide format of both the 24-inch Epson Stylus Pro 7500 and44-inch Stylus Pro 9500 models, in addition to their six-color inks, 1440 dpi resolution and fast output speeds, allowed him to break through the boundaries that had previously constrained the artistic nature of conventional printing. Mr. Wilkes specifically cited the ability to create images in printed form without the size limitations of conventional printing as allowing “the viewer to experience art in a larger-than-life format.”

The nature of this effect was a powerful statement of Epson’s technology, and one that did not pass through the exhibition space unnoticed. “The most impressive aspect ofthe artist’s printing was his ability to reproduce them on a grand scale while managing to keep proportion and clarity without falling prey to pixelation problems,” remarked Mr. Beesley. “Until recently, this has been the main separation from traditional and computer printed images.”

With the advantages offered by the new Epson hardware and the excitement it is generating amongst professional photographers and artists, it’s not hard to see why printers from across the country are intrigued by the possibilities it presents. “The ease of working with this machine is key to us,” commented R. Mac Holbert, co-founder of Manhattan Beach, CA-based Nash Editions, the printer hired for this exhibition. “We are able to walk into this studio in the morning, have the cleaning cycle complete by a press of a button, and the printer ready to start printing astonishing photo-quality output at some of the fastest print speeds in the industry.”

“Not only does the printer allow us to do quick runs at a fraction of the cost, it also produces outstanding photo quality output,” added Jim Stasiak, director of technology at Englewood, NJ-based Westbury Press.

The exhibition is on display concurrently in New York until Feb. 16 and San Francisco until Feb. 9. It will also open in Santa Monica, CA, March 2-31; and Chicago, IL, March 9-April 6.

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