Hot on the heels of its Stylus Photo R3000 news, Epson has released details of how it responded to challenges posed by professional photographers that led to the printer’s development. These included a ‘doubling’ of ink cartridge capacity.
This is an unedited version of Epson’s Developers? Interviews, as supplied to Amateur Photographer magazine by Epson UK on 18 January 2011:
Three developers talk about how the new Epson Stylus® Photo R3000 was conceived.
World renowned for superior print quality and customer confidence, Epson?s professional printers continue to evolve. The motivation behind the development of our new printer was to respond to customers? wants and needs. Three developers on the project discuss how they met the challenges posed by demanding professionals
Planning Department Interview
What brought about the development of Epson Stylus® Photo R3000?
Thanks to their superior quality, Epson professional printers have always been extremely well received by photographers and artists. The ink used in them ? which is a key factor in print quality ? has vastly improved with the introduction of Epson UltraChrome® K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta. Professional photographers clearly recognise Epson?s superiority, namely the smoother gradations and wider gamut provided by three blacks and vivid magenta, achieving quality that matches, or even surpasses, that of silver-halide prints.
But our customers aren?t concerned solely with image quality. So, along with improving specs, like increasing speed, we strived to offer other features customers had been calling for.
Is it true that you met with customers all over the world?
As a matter of fact, yes. We?ve always spoken with users about our printers, but this time we interviewed a wider range of professional photographers. We saw their actual workflows, noted their comments and got some really good insights into how our products are being used ? insights that you just can?t get from a questionnaire.
What were some of the requests you received?
By far, the most frequent request we received was for increased ink capacity. Pros print a lot of large prints and don?t like to frequently change cartridges. Also, despite hearing great things about our previous models, many users wanted an easier way to load fine art paper, since they have to attach a guide each time and feed from the rear.
How did you respond to these requests?
For the ink cartridges, we more than doubled the capacity to nearly 2.3 times that of previous cartridges by employing an off-carriage mechanism. For fine art paper, we designed a new mechanism that accepts feeding from the front and also allowed us to keep the printer?s footprint small.
Responding to these requests was quite a challenge. When we first asked our engineers to design a mechanism that allowed front feeding of fine art paper, they flatly said it couldn?t be done! However, after a re-think and a lot of hard work, they managed to come up with a really great solution.
There are a lot of other improvements, too. For the first time on one of our A3 printers, we adopted a colour LCD panel, which shows ink levels and printer status and even displays on-screen assistance for performing operations such as feeding special media. Also, the minimum size of ink droplets was reduced to 2 picoliters. Moreover, we increased the speed for printing at 1440 dpi and added built-in wired and wireless network capability.
We?re totally confident Epson Stylus® Photo R3000 will help customers? creativity.
Mechanical Department Interview
You said it was a challenge to develop a front-loading paper path for fine art paper. Why was that?
Actually, it?s not difficult to feed fine art paper from the front. The challenge is to feed different types of media and thicknesses all from the front. This was due to the problem of feeding paper in the opposite direction, and also it was difficult to use the same paper path for CD-R or board paper as for media 0.3- to 1.3-mm thick.
So why did you try and develop a new mechanism?
We discovered that many customers who were using our A3 graphics printers recognized the value of fine art paper and thought paper handling should be improved.
How exactly did you develop the mechanism?
There were major three major points to consider. First was the front tray. Since we wanted to insert fine art paper from the front, the mechanism had to be very precise in order to feed the thin, delicate paper smoothly to the paper feed roller.
Second was the rear support, with the new one capable of feeding paper upwards. For front loading, the paper must be fed to the printing position backwards. With a straight path, it?s easier to achieve accuracy, but more space is needed at the rear of the printer. Hence, we chose to feed paper upwards so that we could eliminate the need for rear space in order to feed paper straight.
Lastly, we had to develop a new sensor that could automatically detect paper thickness. The new sensor detects thickness when the paper is fed. If the rear support hasn?t been properly set or unsupported paper is loaded, an alert message is displayed on the LCD.
The rear support can handle media between 0.3- to 0.7-mm thick. If you feed thicker media, for example board paper, the sensor detects the overly thick media and displays an alert message so the user can avoid problems. What?s more, the LCD panel gives on-screen guidance showing how to feed paper, thus enhancing ease of use. We think our users are going to like this printer and realise the added value of the improvements.
Design Department Interview
The printer has a very sophisticated design. What came to mind during the design process?
This printer is designed for professionals, so I focused on robust durability and precision. I also wanted to give it a sophisticated look to fit the working environment of professionals. Simple, functional, smart and well suited to the workplace. As a result, I came up with the simple, flat and kind of boxy look.
What did you focus on after hearing from users?
As we came to understand the different working environments of our customers, we noticed a lot of them installed the printer on relatively narrow shelves and other spaces. So we relocated the control panel to the front in order to make it easy to operate. Also, we gave careful thought to the color LED indicators and operability of buttons for hassle-free use. One little surprise we uncovered was that people would leave paper on top of the printer when not in use. We never intended our printers to be shelves, but we can never tell exactly how our printers are used!
How about inside the printer? Are there any improvements?
You cannot see them at first glance, but we included a damper on the top cover and a magnet-equipped stacker to make the cover smoother to open and close. Also, we tried to reduce superfluous space inside and improve precision.
Are there any additional improvements?
Yes. We colored operational parts light gray to stand out, such as the front tray. It?s a universal design and a great amount of attention was paid to small details. The angle of the control panel was also given a good deal of consideration in order to provide the best angle of view for optimal visibility in different installations. The Epson Stylus® Photo series has been a mainstay of many photographers and artists and I hope more people will experience our new printer.