What is it: a colour inkjet printer
Applications: proofing and pre-press work
The Epson Stylus Pro XL+ colour inkjet printer fills a very specific gap in the market. Its major selling point is that it prints on A3 paper, which makes it ideal for proofing and pre-press work. It sits between the price bracket of low-quality, budget inkjets and high-end, expensive colour-proofing systems.
The XL+, an upgraded version of the Stylus Pro XL, is a four-colour printer with two large cartridges - one for black ink and one for CMY.
If you're familiar with other Epson printers, such as the Color IIs, you'll find this printer easy to handle. Apart from the obvious design similarities across the range, many of the basic operations are also the same, such as installing a new cartridge or running the cleaning cycle.
A3 and A4 paper sizes fit into the front loading tray, secured by sliding paper guides - an extra leaf must be pulled out to accommodate A3. This arrangement worked well in tests, and there were no paper-feeding or alignment problems.
Enhancements to the driver software have made the XL+ faster than its predecessor. Also, the buffer size has doubled from 64Kb to 128Kb for better file handling. Full-page A3 graphics files are processed in about four minutes at 360dpi, and around 15 minutes at 720dpi. The real speed test, however, is for full-page A3 photographic images on high-gloss paper.
Delivery time for these varied between 19 and 22 minutes, which is impressive considering the size and resolution of the output.
The XL+ is compatible with both PCs and Macs. It also has optional Postscript emulation, which allows you to print Postscript files through a software interpreter - an essential facility for any graphic designer. This doesn't give quite the same accuracy as printing to a true Postscript printer, but it's an efficient and cheaper compromise.
Epson is the only inkjet printer manufacturer to use piezo-electric technology, which transfers the ink onto the paper with mechanical pressure, rather than the more usual thermal method. Because the ink doesn't need to be heated, Epson has enhanced other properties, such as waterfastness, lightfastness and the ability to print on a variety of media. In tests, full-page colour results were superb.
However, good results at high resolutions still depend on paper quality, which makes running costs high, particularly as Epson printers require the use of the manufacturer's own consumables.
A pack of Epson A3-size high-gloss paper costs #45 for 10 sheets. This produces photographic-quality results, but its high price limits its use to final proofs. The 720dpi coated paper gives equally good results for full-colour photographic images, but without the surface sheen. This is more affordable at u25 for 100 sheets.
Verdict: this model is better than the XL and has an amazingly low street price. It is an affordable alternative to high-end colour proofing systems which are well beyond the budget of small design consultancies and desktop publishers.
Contact: Epson on 01442 61144
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