Introduction, Design Features
This printer is so good at what it does, you may not want to buy it.
That might sound strange, but specialty printers by definition are designed for a particular group. And no matter how good they become, they may still be suitable only for that same group. Photo printers are already a niche product. Yet within that niche, there are models that range from small, battery-operated dye-sub printers to room-filling professional models optimized to churn out hundreds or even thousands of prints each day.
The Epson SureColor P5000 is the smallest of Epson’s production-class printers. It replaces the Stylus Pro 4900, which was introduced back in 2010. The P5000 is Epson’s highest-quality 17-inch wide-carriage photo printer, in that it has the best inks, finest print quality, and fastest speeds. Sounds great. So what’s the catch? The P5000 weighs 114.6 pounds and is considerably larger than the 17-inch printers that are targeted to photography enthusiasts, such as the Epson SureColor P800Canon ImagePrograf Pro-1000.
Like the Epson Stylus Pro 4900, the Epson SureColor P5000 has a rock-steady drive mechanism that provides a sharp and highly consistent printed image. It uses a vacuum feed system to pull in the paper, and its heavy footprint gives it a more stable base for precisely placing each ink droplet. The P5000’s 11-cartridge, 10-color ink system adds green and orange to the mix that’s also included in the P800’s 9-cartridge, 8-color system. And it has improved dust and static control for reduced printhead nozzle maintenance.
Important for high-volume environments: the P5000’s printhead can be checked and cleaned without using any ink or paper. And that self-cleaning process can be confined to a pair of ink channels, as opposed to the entire 10-channel system. You could set up the P5000 to check and potentially clean the printhead before each print job. The entire procedure is quick and can be completely automated.
The downsides for the SureColor P5000 are mostly related to its niche characteristics. Even though the $1,995 purchase price might fit the budget of some photography enthusiasts, it may simply be too large and heavy to be practical, especially if you’re placing it into a home or small office. The P5000 is intended for daily use in high-volume environments. For that reason, its host of internal routines continually monitors the various components, just to keep them in tiptop condition.
If you do fit the target audience for this printer, you’ll likely be delighted with it. Your ink costs will be much lower than with 17-inch wide-carriage printers that are targeted to photo buffs. Our P5000 photos were sharper and more accurately colored than those from any other printer we’ve reviewed. In this case, it may be less a matter of the stated print resolution or even the number of nozzles; top billing should go to this model’s incredibly stable drive mechanism. The precise placement of the ink droplets is an often overlooked factor that’s key to the overall quality of a printed photo.
We’ll be reviewing the Standard Edition of the Epson SureColor P5000. A more specialized version, the Commercial Edition, replaces the light light black ink cartridge with a violet ink cartridge. That allows the printer to match 99 percent of the Pantone Plus Formula Guide colors. The Commercial Edition is designed for professional proofing, where the print colors have to match a known standard exactly. For example, an ad agency might need to print a brochure for client approval that shows the precise colors of a particular product. If the colors are off, even by a tiny amount, the client might complain. The Commercial Edition is not recommended for photography.
The Epson SureColor P5000 is almost the same size and weight as the discontinued Stylus Pro 4900 that it replaces. However, it weighs more than twice as much as the Epson SureColor P800 (114.6 pounds versus 49 pounds for the P800 with its optional roll paper adapter attached). It’s also much larger: Where the P5000 is 34 inches wide, 15.9 inches high, and 30.2 inches deep, the P800 is 26.9 inches wide, 10.5 inches high, and 23.1 inches deep with the roll adapter. All three printers have a 17-inch wide carriage.
So why does the P5000 weigh over twice as much as the P800? While the latter is solidly built by photo-enthusiast printer standards, the P5000 is built like a tank. Everything feels extremely strong and sturdy. The paper cassette is much thicker and tougher than you’ll find on a consumer-grade printer. Epson doesn’t provide duty cycle numbers for its production-class photo printers; there’s no standard sheet size or amount of ink that might typically be used on a page. However, it’s clear from even a cursory examination of the P5000 that this model is constructed for heavy-duty use in professional environments, where downtime means missed revenue.
Like the 4900, the P5000 supports both USB 2.0 and Ethernet connections. It doesn’t support Wi-Fi connections. That’s typical for this class of photo printers, where the assumption is that you’ll be dealing mostly with large graphics files that need to move quickly over a fast wired connection.
The control panel puts many of the key functions right on the surface with an assortment of buttons and indicator lights. There are dedicated buttons for loading paper, cutting roll paper, performing maintenance routines, and pausing or canceling an ongoing print job. When it’s not being used to navigate the menu system, the five-point button array (left, right, up, down, and OK) can call up some of the more frequently needed functions. The left button becomes a paper source button to switch between sheet and roll paper. The right button becomes a menu access button. And the up and down buttons advance the paper feed in their respective directions. Brief text labels or descriptive icons readily identify all of these functions.
Using the non-touch 2.7-inch LCD, you can access a wide range of settings. Most of these are setup and performance options geared toward professional photography studios or graphic design firms. For example, you can change how long the printhead pauses between each pass, from 0 to 10 seconds. This gives the print more time to dry, which can prevent slight image blurring. Similarly, you can vary the paper suction from -1 to -4. This alters the gap between the printhead and the paper, potentially fixing media feeding problems.
Among the maintenance options, you may want to set the Auto Nozzle Check menu option to automatically check and clean the 3,600 nozzles before each print job, since it’s a relatively quick, inkless, paperless process. You can also schedule the automatic cleaning on an occasional basis, or you can turn it off. It’s worth noting that when the Auto Nozzle Check is switched off, it will still check and clean any time you switch between the matte black and photo black inks.
Setup Paper Handling
Even though it’s a production-class printer, setting up the SureColor P5000 is no more complicated than setting up a consumer-oriented photo printer or an inexpensive AIO. Once you’ve placed it onto a table or similar structure and removed the packing materials and restraining tape, it’s simply a matter of installing the 11 color-coded ink cartridges, loading in some paper, installing the print drivers and related utilities onto your computer, and connecting either a USB or Ethernet cable. Because there’s no wireless support, you’ll need to do your printing from a computer.
If you plan to print using roll paper, you’ll also need to install the core spindle into the roll paper feeder. The P5000 ships with an adapter that lets you use both 2-inch and 3-inch core roll papers. And in a step up from the P800, the P5000 has a high-speed rotary blade that can perform simple, but very clean cuts onto the roll paper. This model can even do borderless printing with roll paper—up to 529 inches. While that maximum length is supported within the print driver, some software applications may not natively support prints that long. In that case, you may want to use the Epson Print Layout software that’s included with the printer.
The P5000 has three paper input slots for sheet paper. The paper cassette can hold as many as 250 sheets of plain paper at a time. When you’re using photo paper (up to 0.35 mm thick), the number of sheets will drop rather quickly depending on their thickness. The sheet paper sizes can range from 8×10 inches to 17×22 inches.
When using thicker photo papers (up to 0.48 mm), such as fine art or canvas-based photo papers, you should use the rear manual feeder. It accepts only one sheet at a time, but uses a vacuum feed system to orient the sheet. After pulling in the sheet, the printer will check to see if the sheet is correctly positioned for the printhead. If it isn’t correctly positioned, the alert light on top of the printer will light up in red. The LCD will then instruct you to reload the sheet. If that sounds a bit finicky, remember that catching misalignments early will help you get rock-steady prints without wasting your paper and ink first.
A third paper input slot, referred to in the user guide as the front manual feeder, handles unusually thick media (up to 1.5 mm), such as poster board. This slot could be handy to have for those few times when you might need it, though most photographers will probably never touch it.
We had no problems with the P5000 when printing with a wide range of papers. All three paper input routes loaded the sheets without issue. We used a variety of fine art papers from Epson using the profiles that are built into the printer driver. And we used fine art and canvas papers from Hahnemühle, Ilford, MOAB, and Red River using the ICC profiles that those companies have developed to match their papers with the P5000. We were able to find the profiles for all of these papers, even though this is a relatively new model, because the paper manufacturers can create a single ICC profile for each paper that will work with the Epson SureColor P5000, Epson SureColor P7000, and Epson SureColor P9000.
We also used two different roll papers that Epson provided for this review: a 13-inch by 20-foot roll of Exhibition Canvas Satin and a 16-inch by 100-foot roll of Premium Luster Photo Paper. As with the sheets, the roll paper loaded without issue and printed as expected. The built-in rotary blade made clean cuts to the roll paper with no hanging fragments or uneven lines.