Thursday, April 7, 2011

Epson Stylus® Pro 4900–First Impression Review

Epson Stylus® Pro 4900
Image Courtesy of Epson America, Inc

Last October when Epson announced the all-new Stylus® Pro 4900, Epson printing enthusiasts rejoiced for a much anticipated update to the 4880 had finally arrived. In fact, the excitement was so great that it’s actually taken me this long to finally get one as nobody seemed to have them in stock until now.

This sleek machine features Epson’s best inks (the UltraChrome HDR Ink set) and print head (the MicroPiezo TFP) that combine with its AccuPhoto™ HDR advanced screening technology to create the best tonal range and smoothest transitions my eyes have seen on a print. This is a special printer, no doubt.

Now I’ve been very pleased with my Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 printer, but this printer uses a superior ink set and print head that results in prints with more vivid color and smoother tonal range than I’ve saw on the 3880. When I print two prints using the same file and everything is the same except for the paper profile and of course the printer, the 4900 images are always easy to spot – even from a distance – they are the ones with more visual pop.

First Impressions

Large Ink Cartridges are Easily Loaded in the Left and Right Bays
Image Courtesy of Epson America, Inc

I’ve only had my 4900 for about two weeks, so I haven’t put it through the exhaustive testing my other printers have gone through yet. However, my printing work flow and test images are all refined to get to put a printer to the ultimate test and so far this printer is passing with flying colors. Features that I’ve loved so far are:

  • Design – This is a sexy printer that is very well engineered for easy access to the Ink Cartridges, and features a cool window that allows you see your image being printed without having to expose the print job to dust. It also features a nice color control panel and more useful external buttons for features like switching black inks.
  • Roll Paper Support – While this isn’t new for this series, it’s new for me as my 3880 didn’t have this. I’ve become spoiled with using rolls on my other large format printer so I am jazzed to have support for rolls on an Epson printer. Unfortunately at this time I don’t actually own any rolls so I haven’t been able to test this feature yet, but I will in the future.
  • Large Capacity 200ml Ink Cartridges – While they might cost a bit more to replace than the 3880 cartridges, there’s always cost savings in larger ink cartridges so I’m happy to see such large ones on the 4900. Unfortunately the printer only comes with starter 80ml cartridges, but that’s what I’m used to on the 3880. Given the fact that it took me 6 months of  frequent printing before I even emptied the first cartridge on the 3880, I think I’ll be in good shape with in on this printer for quite a while.
  • Large Capacity Paper Tray – You can hold up to 250 sheets of plain paper or up to 100 sheets of photo paper in the bottom tray which makes this printer ideal for shared workgroup environments. It also allows you to sit on your ass more while your paper is ready to go and not exposed to dust as it would if you just left it in the manual feeder.
  • Quiet and Solid – If you’ve seen the bigger 7900 and 9900 printers you know that they are built like a tank, but when you watch them print you are shocked to see how quiet they are and how they just don’t move or shake when printing. Well the 4900 has them same attributes which make it a useable printer in a crowded work environment.
  • More Media Types and Paper Profiles Built-In – The 4900 comes with an improved printer driver that now features more media types and more built-in paper profiles for some of Epson’s best Signature Worthy papers.

All these features would be meaningless if you couldn’t get good prints, and I’m here to tell you that I’ve yet to be disappointed with any print that has rolled out of this printer – it’s that good!

Woohooo – EFP and Hot and Cold Press Papers all now have built-in media types!

Things I Wish Were Better

This is a great printer, but I was still disappointed with a few things.

The first, and foremost is that it still has to switch between photo and matte black ink – rather than having both available with dedicated lines for all print jobs like my Canon iPF6300 does. The process is automated and can be done with a click of a button, but for an all new design I was really hoping this time and ink wasting shortcoming would have vanished.

This printer features nozzle verification and cleaning  as well as automatic print head alignment, which is great. However, the downside to this feature is that when you fire up the printer to print after it’s been idle for a day you have to wait several minutes before it finishes this process. This pretty much rules out this printer being used as a replacement to a workgroup printer if speed is important.

I was also very disappointed that I still can’t print on plain paper using the active black cartridge. Instead, only Matte Black is allowed so if I want to just do a simple print to plain paper while photo black is loaded, it has to switch ink tanks – grr!!!! While this may not be unique to this printer, I was really hoping this issue could somehow be resolved and it hasn’t.

Some of the Epson consumer printers come with wireless network access, so I was hoping that feature would trickle up to the pro printers. Unfortunately that isn’t the case so you’ll still need a network cable.

Another important issue is size, and again it’s not really unique to this printer as the 4880 was large too. However, at 115 lbs and 34” wide by 30” deep means that this big boy is going to need a lot of space. What is really surprising is that the 4900 has a 26 pound increase over its 4880 predecessor (some of which is larger ink cartridges and an improved print head).  Generally things get smaller and lighter as time goes on, but not in this case.

Last, but not least, one of my most important features is to be able to get electronic print logs for data analysis, but I can’t do that with the 4900. It seams that feature was dropped from the Printer Watcher where you can do it on the 3880. Now I not only long for Canon’s Accounting Manager on Epson printers, I also long for any print job electronic data as well (logs are always available for printing via the control panel).


Image Courtesy of Epson America, Inc

With excellent build quality, phenomenal print quality and a reasonable price for a product this well made (especially when you consider camera and lens prices these days), you’d be hard pressed to find a better value. I definitely recommend print enthusiasts with the budget to upgrade to give this printer a strong look, and for those looking to step up – your search is over.

I’m still doing research for a larger review, but I wanted to address those in the market for a new printer now. I am fairly comfortable with my printing workflow and I know how to both get a great print using built-in Epson profiles as well as creating my own. Based on all that I learned during my printing series as well as my first impressions using the 4900 I can easily say – I highly recommend the Epson Stylus® Pro 4900 printer.

3880 users - if you have the space and you are looking to upgrade to a professional printer that can do rolls – this is a fantastic choice.

4880 users – I can honestly say that you’ll be very pleased with the improved results you’ll get out of the 4900. In short, if you' can afford it – get it!

7900 & 9900 users will enjoy the ability to get the same great prints on a smaller form factor. This is still a printer that you could potentially keep at arms reach (if your workspace allows it), so high volume printers will no doubt appreciate this top not print quality in such a small size (relative to the big large format printers).

More Information

To read my full 4900 review click here.

To get more information, about this printer as well as other printing topics consider the following:

Purchasing Recommendations

I’ve noticed that both Adorama and B&H both offer the Designer Edition which includes a RIP for the same price as the regular edition (thanks to a rebate). You can use this to get around some of the supply problems by just getting the Designer Edition for the same price.

Seattle area shoppers should also consider JVH Tech for all of their printing needs and tell them that I sent you!


Epson has provided me with this 4900 as well as the 3880 and various papers featured in my printing seriesJVH helped me out once again by getting my printer from my driveway to my office – despite the fact that I didn’t buy the printer from them.

I may get a commission if you purchase using the links in this article. Thanks for supporting this blog by using the links.

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This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Carl Blaise said...


I believe in your review of the 3880, you recommended, ideally, that one skip the 4800 and move up to the 7/9 series. Given your preliminary review of the 4900, do you feel the same about the 4900? More specifically, how much difference do you see between your 4900 prints and 7/9 series?

One other point you might ask your Epson contacts: I ordered sample photographs from the 3880 and 7/9 series printers, and felt that the 3880 example didn't do justice to what I've read about that printer. The 7/9 samples were large and looked fantastic. The 3880 samples were much smaller (8x10ish) ... and one appeared, to me, at least, to have that somewhat cartoonish look that some high dynamic range photos have. I don't have the room (nor really the need) for a 7/9 series, but the 3880 samples didn't generate excitement for me. Also, I wanted to get a 4900 sample but, at least as of a few months ago, Epson wasn't sending out any.

Anyway, very much appreciate the series on printers (as well as about B&H's 1k rebate on the 4900!) said...

Great question!

My opinion about the 4880 remains, but that's because at that time the 4900 hadn't come out yet. This is a much better product than the old 4880 so I recommend it for those who need 17" roll or larger capacity job support.

I'll share your feedback with Epson about the samples. Honestly I don't think any of the samples really do the printers the justice they deserve.

Carl Blaise said...

Okay, thanks. That's good to hear your impressions of the Epson samples ... now if I can only find a table big enough to hold the 4900!

Carl Blaise said...

One additional question: why are so few of Epson's papers in 11x14 and 16x20? I like printing in those sizes because it's easy for people to find those frame sizes (plus, from an aesthetic/symmetrical point of view, I think an 11x14 looks better than than an 8x12); if I add a border to prints those sizes I'm still able to frame without going up to the next larger size. It seems that if I want to take advantage of these sizes I need to use roll paper (and a printer that can cut) ... yet, I see that Moab, as an example, offers lots of papers in these sizes. said...

Sorry, i've been behind on processing comments on the blog - my apologies for the delayed response.

Don't get me started on the whole paper sizes and frames thing - my blood boils.

I have no clue why the printer, paper, camera, and frame makers can't unite to create sizes that - brace yourself - all use the same aspect ratio! That would be too logical.

Personally, 8x12, 13x19 and 16x24 are my favorites - i could see larger sizes so I could have these plus some extra space around them. The reason why I like these sizes is because they match the aspect ratio of digital camera images these days.

Cushi said...

I am considering buying the Epson 4900
1)What can the Epson 4900 Designer Edition do that the regular printer can not? For what purposes would one need the Designer Edition?......

2)I am concerned how will I get this monster into the house and to it's designated location? I don't know how to handle it when I'll need to move it for painting the room / house. Any suggestions?......

Thanks a lot said...

Hi Cushi,

Great questions.

1. If you are a photographer, you do not need the designer edition. It's the same printer, but it includes bundled software that you will not find useful as a photographer.

2. That's a valid concern and sadly the reality is that you need a couple of dudes who can handle carrying 115 lbs (even a super strong single guy couldn't handle it due to its physical size).

If you can't find someone to help you them I'd highly recommend paying B&H for their White Glove delivery where you can get it put in its final resting place. It's worth it as the medical bills for trying to move this beast by those who aren't strong enough aren't worth it. It feels A LOT heavier than 115 lbs too because of its large size.

I'd suggest painting first if the thought is in your head as you'd probably have to cover it and paint around it if you decided to paint later. Moving it won't be an option unless the brutes you used above will help you again.

Anonymous said...

From your review I understand I would have to manually change from Matte Black to Gloss Black ink.
The other reviews I have read say they are all installed and the 4900 does this automatically.

Which is correct? said...

From your review I understand I would have to manually change from Matte Black to Gloss Black ink.

Sorry for the confusion, but this is where things are a little tricky with the marketing material.

The 4900 doesn't have dedicated lines for its matte black and photo black inks so they must be switched when you go back and forth. HOWEVER, 3880 and newer (like this 4900) will do this switch without you haven't to get your hands dirty. You can have both inks inserted in the printer and it will automatically drain the line and recharge it with the appropriate ink. This process takes between 2 and 4 minutes depending on which ink it is switching to and it does waste ink.

The whole process can be done while you sit at your desk - no human intervention involved.

Does that clear things up for you?

NOTE: Printers like the Canon iPF6300 have one line for each of their inks so it doesn't have to do this ink swap dance and it can (and will ) use both matte black and photo black as needed on any given print job with no delay.

REM said...

how do you get a borderless print on 17 x 22 paper? every thing I try leaves an 1/8" gap on the left and an 11/16" gap on the right. said...


It's with great regret that I must report that the 4900 does not support true borderless for cut sheet paper. If you are annoyed, you are not alone.

You can get borderless with rolls though.


Anonymous said...

The Matte/Photo Black when using plain paper is indeed a major PITA. Had I known that before I bought it, I would have chosen something else (like the Canon). With that said, what I do is to simply tell it I'm using some photo paper. I manually set for speed and not quality and print away. I usually have a ream of ANSI B plain paper loaded for quick prints (line drawings and text). For regular prints I use roll photo paper. I rarely ever use Mate Black on the 4900 (I have an old 9600 just for that).

Anonymous said...

Have you experience error 1433 with your Pro4900? Our department bought 5 in June 2011. By Dec 2012, 4 out of 5 printers need head replacement at a cost of $2110 each. Now we own 4 very expensive door stop. said...

Hi Anonymous,

1433 is a print head needs to be replaced error right? It shouldn't cost more than the cost of the printer to replace the heads, so I'm wondering what Epson Advanced Tech Support said when you reported this issue?

If you had 4 out of 5 that needed replacement, then I'd think there are one of two things happening here:

1. A tremendous amount of full-time printing has just worn the heads out (they will eventually wear out, but an average service life is something like 5 to 7 years IIRC).

2. Your source for these printers sold you printers with heavily used heads.

Something sounds very suspicious here.

Who is your retailer? Who was your source for a repair quote and how much did they quote to replace the head?

Cushi said...

to Ron
I was planning on buying the 4900 for the capability to print rolls, until I realizes the the ink cost is $1,100 per six months! Even if for a little longer, as a sole user I won't use even a small part of the incredibly expensive ink. The 3880 is a very good printer but doesn't print roll. DO you have any suggestion? Thanks a lot said...


Who misinformed you that the cost is $1100 every six months? You'd have to be doing a heck of a lot of printing to go through all of the ink in 6 months.

The 4900 uses large ink cartridges that are expensive to replace, but the reality is that they last a long time and they don't go out all at the same time. I've replaced about 3/4ths of my original ink cartridges that were installed in March of 2011.

Personally I prefer the 3880 for doing sheets and the 4900 for doing rolls, but unless you often do big panos most of the time you'll find yourself preferring flat sheet paper over roll paper due to curling issues with better roll papers (not a real issue with thin or cheap papers).

Large ink cartridges are a HUGE savings in the long run because you aren't replacing ink very often and your cost per print goes way down. For example, my Canon PRO-1 printer uses small cartridges that last between 4 - 6 months so at first their $432 cost sounds much better than the cost for the 4900, but I would have replaced them at least 4x+ times during the same duration that I've owned the Epson 4900.

These aren't consumer printers, so honestly ink isn't your big expense. It's really the paper that cost you the most over the long haul.

With that said, if you have the space I much prefer the overall cost of ownership and ease of use of a Canon iPF6400. I've never had head clogging problems, its easier to use and its great with sheet paper (except you do have to eject the roll which is annoying).

Cushi said...

Hi Ron, thanks for your response.
It's true that the 4900 ink is cheap per drop, however, the 4900 takes 11 cartridges at $99/ea = $1089. If I could use the ink for several years until I finish it (of course not all at once)it would have been worthwhile.
They state that the ink is good for 6 months only. Even if doubled to a year, as a single user I'll only use a portion of the ink.
I do not do heavy duty printing but I have compositions that are long and I would like to be able to print them as well as long, custom sizes.
the Canon iPF6400 sounds great; it would be great to have 24" printer. Therefore, I looked into the 7800/7900. Besides the fact that I can get a brand new 4900 for $1,150 and the canon is at least $2700-$3000 , it & the 7xxx are huge; I am not sure that I can accommodate one of them.
The 4900 is an excellent printer. But it's a pain. I have not yet resolved the issue of a very stable piece of furniture that can be moved. I even looked into casters that are used for MRI & Mamography where slightest move isn't acceptable and it shook.
If I go to the 3880 which is only 43lb and the ink is x3 cheaper, how will I have long images printed?
This is really a headache!
Thanks a lot said...

They state that the ink is good for 6 months only.

Ha, ha - yes, you are right - they do. However, I don't know of anyone in their right mind that throws their ink away based on the expiration dates. I also haven't noticed any harm in going well beyond the expiration dates. I think the 6 month date is a case of lawyers being cautious as Epson has already been through some painful ink related ligation.

Yes, the 4900 makes gorgeous images and yes you are correct that the 7900 is a monster. It's excellent, but it's huge.

I have my 4900 on the floor - seriously. I didn't even bother solving the problem on how to elevate it. It has a very solid chassis - just likes its bigger brothers the 7900 & 9900, so if you have something that can support its weight you should be fine as the printer itself shouldn't shake on a stable platform.

How often are you really printing long images? If the answer is a lot then go for a 7900 if you plan to stay with Epson. If the answer is on occasion, then your local Epson dealer will generally accommodate the occasional print job for their printer customers if you just ask.

If you aren't buying local, then just network around on forums and you'll find someone with a 4900 who would most likely charge you a nominal fee (especially if you bring the paper and icc profile) to print your longer images.


Cushi said...

HI, I'm back; did some "homework" there is a local place that have 9880 for use - they do not print for you). My 15x42 will cost at least $100 depends on how much time I use the equipment (mac will take me much longer than PC!). On canvas - at least 140!
Yes, I stated that even when using the 4900 ink beyond the expiration date it too expensive. WHAT IS THE LONGEST TIME THAT IT IS OK TO USE THE CARTRIDGES in terms of quality (not that you finished it)? I don't believe that I'll use enough of the ink to justify the cost!
I have a furniture to put it on that I use & need. for the 9800 etc I have to get out two furniture that I need and don't have where to move to and still it won;t fit comfortable.
I need to paint the room I guess the solution is to paint around...

If I'll plan on Printing the long ones out, I can get the 3880; it's excellent quality uses they use Epson UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta Ink . 9 Vs 11 but very rarely, images with specific color, the difference is noticeable. It;s much cheaper and so is the ink. I know professional photographers that print on the 2800/2880.
the 9800 has 10 but 3 different black,
The consideration about the long prints: if I can do it at home I'll do it much more then when I have to give out.

Charlie said...

Hi Ron,
Really hate to take you back to the borderless printing question. I am trying to print borderless on 17 inch roll canvas. My image size is 17.25 x 24.25 on a custom page defined as 17x25. I'm printing using the "Borderless Roll Retain Size" option. I think this setup is what the manual specifies. The printed image produced has a 3/16 margin on the left side (as facing the printer). If I print using the Auto-Expand option (and scaling the image as per the specification in the manual) then I do get coverage to the edge of the page, but the image is still not centered on the page and the image is resized in an undesirable fashion. Any suggestions?
Thanks said...


Did you see this article?

On a separate note though, borderless on canvas doesn't make much sense because the borders should be glued/stapled down on the stretcher bars anyway.