Squeeze it 'till it squeaks! - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Mike McNamee Published

Ultra-Precise Reproduction Accuracy

Mike McNamee tunes Lukman Sinclair's new Epson 7880 to colour perfection

The brief we set ourselves was relatively simple to set out - colour profile a new 7880 for art reproduction specialist, Lukman Sinclair, squeeze the thing until it squeaked and then make it deliver breathtaking colour accuracy! This is not for the faint-hearted and ordinary users should not be tricked into thinking that they need this level of fine tuning, printers such as the Epson 7880 are good for 99.9% of commercial jobs right out of the box.

Botanical Reproduction

No we don't mean the birds and the bees, we have written about Lukman's specialisation before. It is the reproduction of very high-quality, colouraccurate copies of world-class artwork, made originally for organisations such as the Royal Horticultural Society and Kew Gardens. The demands are high. The output usually consists of a single 'perfect' reproduction, so that the original may be lodged in one of the learned societies' collections. The difficulty arises because the artist is able to make a direct comparison between the original and the reproduction, a task many artists can perform at levels of discrimination that match industry-standard colour measuring devices. The artists themselves may not express the colour difference in 'colour management speak' but they sure know when the colours match! With a formal training in photography and a lifetime of mixing his own artist's palette, Lukman is well-placed to perform the assessment of the reproduction and makes careful, selective colour adjustments using layer masks. Our job was to tune the profile so that the colours he created from the scan were a perfect match to the print. Along the way it gave us the opportunity to critically appraise the new Vivid Magenta ink set that comes with the 4880 to 10880 series of Epson printers.

That's the colour I want!' Epson's Neil Mackenzie (right) and Lukman Sinclair share a joke while McNamee sets up the profiling kit.

Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art Velvet

To set a benchmark before we commenced profiling and to give us confidence in the printer set up, we checked out the 7880 using the Epson profile which comes with the drivers on the CD. Epson have spent a lot of time and trouble on their latest generation of profiles and this one dropped in at 5.7DE Lab and 2.62 ΔE2000. This sent us scurrying to the database. We now have data on more than 1,500 printer/paper combinations and of these we have more than 350 from the Epson 3800. This has enabled us to build a picture of how Epson ink sets perform across a wide range of media and printers. The average is 3.4ΔE2000 for all data on the Epson 3800 and this includes both the matt black and photo black variants. A value of 2.6 therefore is quite a significant result which was not bettered by any of the recent trials on art papers. Things thus started on a bit of a high note!

Examining the data in detail showed that the bulk of the colour errors were in saturation component and that the bulk of the greys' error lay in the lightness component. This is typical for a matt paper as the Dmax is usually around 1.5 to 1.6 and the gamut is constrained by an inability to achieve very rich, dark colours - too much black ink has to be added to get the tone density, leaving the colour a little degraded in saturation. The truth is though, that in these very dark tones, the colour is difficult to detect anyway. The only other point we noted was that the in-built profile created a rather sharp transition from the powder blues into the blacks.

However, this extremely bright paper created a sparkling quality print that would be regarded by the vast majority of users as flawless. Another key feature was the subtle differentiation of the whites right out to between the 252 and 254 RGB points; we don't ordinarily get that differentiation.

Round one then put us in a very positive frame of mind as we progressed to the paper that Lukman's clients prefer the most - Hahnemuhle Photo Rag.

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