Thursday, October 21, 2010

REVIEW: ColorByte ImagePrint 8

ColorByte ImagePrint 8

During my printing series, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a lot of industry experts, top photographers, and master printers. During my discussions I always try to find out what their tips and secrets are to getting a great print, and the product name that came up most often was ColorByte ® ImagePrint. In fact, it’s frequently been said that Epson’s Advanced Black & White feature is modeled off the success that ColorByte first achieved in making black & white prints at a time when it was thought that digital could never compete with film. In fact, many ImagePrint users have said they still prefer the black & white results they get with ImagePrint over what they can accomplish using Epson’s ABW driver.

Now, when talking behind closed doors people always ask me – aren’t RIP’s really just a rip off? After all, some RIP’s seem to do little more than offer a different user-interface to the printer driver, or layout. Others RIP’s are so advanced and complex that you darn near have to be a printer driver programmer to use the damn thing! However, I’ve done exhaustive testing with multiple RIP’s and have worked with numerous experts to get the most I can out of the driver. Up to this point in my testing, ColorByte ImagePrint 8 has show the most dramatic difference over the Epson driver than any other RIP product I’ve used thus far.

For this review, I used ColorByte ImagePrint 8.0.0.5. One of its major features – and for some, the biggest selling point – is that it contains multiple paper profiles created with the best spectrometer that money can buy. In addition to having a great spectrometer, the profiles are created for a variety of lighting conditions as well as both color and grayscale, leaving you with the right profile for the right condition for all of the most popular papers. In fact, ColorByte is so committed to customer satisfaction that if they don’t have the profile you need, they’ll generate it for you and make it available to everyone via their handy profile downloading tool. What this really translates into is a purchase that goes beyond the RIP but also a profile making service which saves you the money and hassle of generating your own profiles.

When you consider the cost of high-end profile making software and spectrometers (which are still a fraction of what ColorByte uses), it’s easy to see that this product it’s actually cheaper than tools needed to make great profiles and your time saved makes it well worth the investment! This is why top name pros like Bambi Cantrell swear by this product as being a critical part of their printing workflow.

User Interface


Main Window

Since my day job for the last 16 years has been in the software industry with an emphasis on user-interface development, I consider a good user interface to be one that is so intuitive that a manual isn’t required for the most common scenarios. In this sense, ImagePrint comes up short as I struggled to figure out how to do tasks like delete a page, undo (which is done via a history window accessible via View Undo rather than the OS standard Edit | Undo), and start over with a new page (which seemed to require restarting the app). I frequently found the tool icons to be illogical, but fortunately tooltips were there to save the day. However in some cases even the tooltip didn’t help me understand what it was a tool was supposed to do. In general, I didn’t care for the user-interface and would love to see a future version of this product to get a major overhaul under the supervision of a strong user-interface designer.

With that major gripe out of the way, this product comes with an exhaustive 277 page users manual and videos on the web site. Both of these resources help give you the information you need, so you can be successful in using ImagePrint. In fact, the manual’s 8 page printing quick start will be enough instruction for many to do all they’ll ever need to know in ImagePrint, so I commend ColorByte for its solid documentation. 

For those who want to do more complex tasks such as templates, backgrounds, frames, gallery wraps and more, the manual comes through to save the day.


SpoolFace

I appreciated its peppy performance and its detailed SpoolFace window to find out what happened to my print job. It was great to be able to view all the print job settings for those times when you think “oh, did I do X before I clicked print?”.


Job information may be intimidating for some,
but everything you need to know is in there!

I would have done many things different in the user interface to make it more user-friendly, but for those who’ve taken the time to learn and master this product, they are probably happy with things just the way they are. I’m not, but with the aid of the manual, I was able to figure out how to do the things I wanted to accomplish. 

Complex Print Layouts / Templates


Complex template layouts created with just a series of clicks

Do you want to create a template to layout photos for a portrait package? Do you want to use the same image for all of the image frames or do you want a different image for each frame? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is your product.

The layout features of ImagePrint offer the flexibility to create custom layout templates to your design specifications which is especially help for school, studio and wedding photographers. If you’ve ever tried doing this in Photoshop or even Lightroom, you know how frustrating it can be sometimes. This feature along with its great performance with huge image files, result in a feature that some will find it to be worth the price of the product.

Accurate Colors and Top Quality Profiles

Ask any major pro who uses ColorByte ImagePrint 8 what was there #1 reason for purchasing this product, and you’ll usually hear them say – it’s the profiles. ColorByte users will say that they didn’t have time to fiddle with printer profiles, so ColorByte has generated over 27,000 profiles for 400 different papers so you don’t have to!!! The printer profiles in ImagePrint create accurate colors, a wide dynamic range, and best contrast of any product I’ve used thus far.


Additional Profiles are easily accessed over the web via Profile Manager

This is a highly relevant feature as the cost in products and time required to build accurate profiles is a fine art in and of itself. To be able to use these profiles on your own images results in great prints that stand apart from those using the Epson driver, and ultimately a product that has the appearance that you slaved over the computer generating complex profiles for that extra 3% of quality.

Black & White

As good as the Epson Advanced Black & White is, some have argued that it’s still lags a few generations behind what is possible using ImagePrint 8. For those frustrated with muddy or block blacks with their older Epson printers, they will find the results possible with ImagePrint to be a great leap forward over what they’ve been getting thus far. The real advantage comes in the massive dynamic range achievable using this product, which is sure to please those who have struggled in the past.

Great for Obsolete Epson Printers

Do you have an older generation printer that was working great until your computer died and you replaced it? Uh oh, now what? The good news is even if you can’t find  a working printer driver, this product includes all that is needed to print to many legacy Epson printers. See http://www.colorbytesoftware.com/ under “supported printers” to see if this might be the product to bring your old Epson back to life.

Dongle Schmongle


Dongle / Product Activation Web Page

One thing to keep in mind when deciding if this product is right for you is the fact that it uses a USB software dongle. A dongle is a little gadget that must be plugged into one of your USB ports in order for this product to work, so this means you’ll need to have a spare USB port (or buy a hub) to use this product. It also means setup is a little bit more complicated, but fortunately the instructions were clear.

I’ve always hated USB dongles for their lack of a pass-through technology that prevents you from losing a USB port, but alas I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this security protection to go away.

Conclusion

After some initial skepticism, I found the religion and understood why so many like this product. The reason why I love this product is because you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use it. In fact, in many ways it is easier to use than the printer driver once you get the hang of it. More importantly, you can go back into your job history and print again to get identical results (assuming the source image hasn’t changed) without having to remember all of your previous settings - that alone is a huge benefit!

Now, I did find that after being used to the printer driver and having an established workflow that when I switched to ImagePrint that my prints were brighter and had different shades of color than what I had grown used to. Upon close inspection I could see improved dynamic contrast, better aliasing and much smoother gradients so it really boils down to seeing your images printed with all of their details for the first time! This makes softproofing a little more tricky as I found that my display doesn’t match up to the ColorByte output, as it had with my calibration I had done using the printer driver. Fortunately, ColorByte includes detailed instructions on how to calibrate your display to improve your softproofing results.

I know the cost will be a problem for some, so my advice is that if you aren’t making money off your prints then this might not be a wise investment for you. If you are, then I suggest you suck it up and buy this product as the quality, consistency and ability to do identical reprints will help you recoup your cost in a reasonable time in the form of time saved and customer satisfaction.

Despite the fact that the stupid USB port eating dongle drives me insane (I hate those things), I can say with confidence and sincerity that I highly recommend this product. I feel that the quality of profiles and results you get from it make its steep price a value compared to the expense and energy it would take to do it yourself. This isn’t software that just talks to driver API’s, but rather the low-level printer interfaces directly so you won’t be able to reproduce these results with any other product (even those that also go directly to the printer).

I encourage you to download a copy today and try it out to see if it’s many features meets your needs. If you aren’t getting great results then call ColorByte to find out why as their friendly staff will help you to see why so many love this product. For additional questions, I encourage you to check out their FAQ.

Special Offer – Save up to $300 with our 10% OFF discount!!!

After months of discussions, I have worked with ColorByte to offer you the first ever discount that has been made available for a blog. ColorByte is offering a 10% off discount to readers of this article when you contact JVH Technical, LLC by phone or email. You can not get this discount through the web or ColorByte directly, so you must contact JVH and you MUST mention this blog in order to get the discount. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact JVH, ColorByte or me directly about this discount program.

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5 comments:

BRIANOGRAPHY - Brian Morgan Photography said...

I've been a long time supporter of Epson printers and the Colorbyte ImagePrint software. I use them on both my Epson 3880 and my Epson 9800. A colleague of mine just did some comparison work with some of the major labs around the country and when the prints all came back, including the one I printed with Colorbyte's ImagePrint RIP, the differences were clear and Colorbyte led the way. One of my favorite "features" is simply the consistency and ease of creating the printed product. I optimize my image, save it to a scaled and sharpened TIF (just my workflow), and then I can basically stop worrying about it and let ImagePrint handle it from there, trusting in great reproduction of my images. Thanks for all of your great work on the printer series - very informative and enlightening!

Anonymous said...

Hello Ron:

Is the discount still valid?

Ron Martinsen said...

Yes, but you must call JVH per the instructions to get the discount.

ImagePrint 9 is due out this month so you'd qualify for a free upgrade as well.

Ron

Anonymous said...

Yes, I downloaded ImagePrint 8 and, well, I find the GUI very unfriendly (especially when compared to the ease-of-use from something like Lightroom3 or Nik software). So, IP9's usability might be critical for me.

Thanks

Ron Martinsen said...

I agree the user interface of 8 sucks and I gave ColorByte a lot of feedback about that issue. I also gave them recommendations on how to improve it. I've been told there's lots of major user interface enhancements for 9, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they've done.