Epson SureColor P600 Review
Pros: Broad print dimensions, vast print mediums, low print costs, fantastic image fidelity
Cons: Huge footprint, expensive
Our Analysis and Test Results
The SureColor stands apart from the class of home photo printers. This machine boosts piezo drop on demand inkjets that produce three drop sizes and 1440 dpi resolution that is backed by precision hardware facilitating spot-on registration in the application of its expansive color palette. This model will print on just about every kind of photo paper, as well as canvas, artboards and CD/ DVD labels. While this machine is expensive, it makes up for it in price per print cost, which comes in at $0.36 per 4" x 6" photo.
The Epson was a standard setter in the color evaluation. Its consistency across a variety of print sizes, resolution and fidelity to the original images was, by and large, outstanding. Our color evaluation was divided between resolution and the overall impression of the test images. Far from being subjective, we established specific print characteristics that had to be satisfied for a good impression to be made. Among these are accurate color depictions, crisp border definition, as well as the lack of bleeding, microbanding and stepped tonal transitions. Resolution, on the other hand, is an assessment of the detail maintained in an image in comparison to the same image produced by the other printers in the review.
We estimate that the SureColor's color accuracy was in the range of 90%, with a bit of inconsistency in light skin tones which showed just a touch of red. However, darker skin tones were quite good. This machine also retained the most minute details, particularly in highlights and shadows. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this machine's color performance is that there was no breakdown in quality from the small to large print formats. The large formats were where we often observed issues in stepped transitions and a breakdown in definition in other machines.
Black and White
The black and white analysis tracked with the color both in the assessment criteria as well as the SureColor's performance. To be sure, this machine has a leg up on the competition with its 3 different shades of black ink (matte black, light black, and light light black). While other models employ multiple shades of black ink, this machine's grayscale outcomes were simply stellar.
As with the color evaluation, the Epson's resolution across all print formats was top-notch. Moreover, the tone of the images was the most neutral. However, some of the images showed just a bit of magenta which imbued them with a warmer overall tone as well as a subtle color cast. Despite this minor hitch, the dynamic range delivered by this machine was off the charts. We had all the models under review print a grayscale dynamic range matrix and we could not find a flaw in the SureColor's rendering. This range was readily apparent in images with bright highlights and dark shadows as they maintained details that lesser machines lost.
As has been discussed in previous sections of this article, the SureColor's print capabilities are prodigious. The evaluation of what we call capabilities is primarily a cataloging of the machine's specifications such as print medium compatibility (what can be printed on and in what dimensions) as well as how many colors are in its ink palette. Additionally, we tested each machine's print time and paper capacity.
While the Epson didn't set any records in print time (63 seconds), it covered the widest range of print substrates. Additionally, the machine can print from a paper roll. So, it can essentially print 13" x 129" split-up however you like. It will also draw flat paper from a tray that can accommodate 30 4" x 6" sheets. Not too shabby.
In contrast to the upfront "sticker price" of a printer is the operating cost. The operating cost is simply the sum of the ink and paper costs. While the SureColor is a big purchase, if used regularly it will make up for it in the low cost of its prints. Our conservative estimate has it printing a 4" x 6" color image for just $0.36. To put that in perspective, the national chain printing lab we looked at came in at $0.33 per 4" x 6", and the quality was noticeably lower.
Getting a cost per 4" x 6" sheet of paper is easy, it's getting a cost for the ink to cover that paper that's hard. As such, we relied on the ink consumption data provided by large scale printing operations and then checked it against the ink we consumed printing over 320 pictures for this review. As we have said, the estimates appear to be conservative as we use less ink than the data suggested, which is a good thing for budgeting purposes.
As you might expect, the set-up metric assesses how easy (or hard) it is to go from a boxed-up printer to having a printed image in hand. As the desktop printers go, the Epson was straightforward. The instructions were easy to follow. The necessary driver — software that converts an image into a format the printer understands — was reasonably quick to download and is available for both PC and Macs. This model also has an LCD touchscreen that makes the set-up that much easier. Finally, the printer was pre-calibrated, which means that the first print coming out was of a decent quality.
While this machine was relatively painless for us to get going, that is not to say that you don't have to read the instructions carefully and have the appropriate operating system on your computer. If these prerequisites are met, we think that you'll agree with our assessment.
Several variables fall into a value assessment of a photo printer. Without a doubt, this printer is awesome. However, it's upfront cost is high. If you print a lot of photos, then it will save you time and money in the long run, and the quality of the photos will likely leave you satisfied. On the other hand, if you do not use the machine often, then its value goes down as printer heads can clog and ink evaporate in neglected machines. That said, we think that this machine is worth the asking price.
The Epson SureColor is a high-quality machine that has few limitations is print medium and dimensions. This printer renders color as well as black and white images that will leave the pros with little to complain about and will best many of the chain photo labs. Moreover, this model is easy to set-up and the cost per print is among the lowest in the class. However, this machine is probably not worth the cost and space for the casual user looking to pump out 4" x 6" prints every now and then. With these caveats in mind, if you want to step-up your photography game, this machine will give you plenty of room to experiment and develop your skills.
— Nick Miley, Jason Peters and Austin Palmer