To Start: We begin with the assumption you are deciding between the Epson P400 and the P600. You've ruled out other options. This is not an article touting these machines over others in the market. It is designed to help you decide between the two.
Near the top of the Epson printer lineup are the P400 and the P600. They are both excellent printers in their own right. They use very similar technology and have a couple of major differences. The question comes up often on discussion forums and from Red River Paper customers: "Which one is best for my needs?"
It is important for you to diagnose yo
ur situation and then use what you find to buy the right printer. Here's a little help on that journey.
Both printers are designed to make long lasting photographic quality prints. You can use them for all sorts of projects, but keep in mind that they are primarily good at printing photos that will last many decades.
The two machines are quite similar in terms of technology and print quality capability. The P400 and P600 both use the versions of the Epson UltraChrome pigment ink system to reproduce a wide color gamut on many different types of paper. Pigment ink is designed to resist fade for long periods of time - usually well in excess of what the traditional photo lab can offer. Both printers are 13" wide and are capable of using rolls and long sheets of paper. Both can print borderless and can use custom paper sizes.
- 13" Wide Printer
- Wide color gamut prints
- USB / Ethernet / Wireless connectivity
- Multiple paper feeds
- Roll capability
- Fast printing speeds
- Custom size capability
- Borderless printing capability
The meaningful differences between the printers are the ink color palette and resulting output, media optimization, black & white capability and black ink switching.
Ink Color Palette and Resulting Output Differences
While both machines use the standard cyan, yellow, magenta, and black inks, they use different "spiker colors" to fill in and round out the color gamut.
The Epson P400 seems better adept reproducing punchy, brilliant colors. This makes sense as it is optimized for glossy and satin / luster papers. The red and orange inks help push color saturation. If you were a film shooter, the Fuji Velvia look is an appropriate way to describe P400 output. If prints come out a little too punchy for your tastes the fix is as simple as a little de-saturation in Photoshop.
The Epson P600 uses light cyan and vivid light magenta as its two fill in colors. The result is more subtle "real world" hues and tones. The P600's output is well suited to portrait and fine photographic art printing. With some work in Photoshop you can certainly ramp up the saturation of prints if the punchy look is desired.
Let's get this out of the way quickly - both machines are perfectly capable of using all types of photo inkjet paper. That being said, the P400's Gloss Optimizer cartridge is used to improve print quality on glossy and satin/luster media. The optimizer coats the entire image (or sheet if desired). The result being that Gloss Differential and Bronzing are prevented. The Epson P600 works well on these same papers, but in some cases the differential and bronzing may still be present, especially when using high gloss media.
As far as matte and fine art papers are concerned, both the P400 and P600 perform well.
Black & White Capability
The Epson P600 offers the Advanced Black & White (ABW) system, which mixes three black inks (Photo or Matte Black, Light Black, and Light Light Black) to create neutral gray scale images. You can also use the ABW controls to add tonality to your prints. Having the extra two black inks allows for smoother mid-tones and transitions from light to dark areas of an image.
The Epson P400 can print gray scale either via a B&W converted image printed under color management, or by choosing the gray scale option in the printer driver. What you need to know is that with the P400, black & white is not a feature specifically factored into its design. Consequently, you cannot be positive each image will come out with neutral tonality. You can add a level of certainty by toning your image before printing. By adding some hint of color (duo-tone or tri-tone in Photoshop), you give the printer a much better chance of matching your intended look.
Black Ink Switching
Both the P400 and P600 have Photo Black (PK) and Matte Black (MK) inks on board at all times. Photo Black is used for glossy, luster, satin, and semigloss papers. Matte Black is used for matte and most cotton fine art media.
The Epson P600 performs an ink switching procedure when you go from a media type that requires PK, to one that works with MK. The switch is automatic (once you give the OK) and takes about two minutes. In the process ink is purged from the lines and replaced with the black ink needed. From the Epson.com website:
Black ink conversion times
- Matte to Photo Black approx 3 min 30 sec
- Photo to Matte Black approx 2 min sec
Ink used during conversion
- Matte to Photo Black approx. 3 ml
- Photo to Matte Black approx. 1 ml
In contrast, the P400 keeps both PK and MK inks at the ready. This means that you can print on glossy paper, then switch directly to a matte paper with no down time or line purge. We consider this a more convenient design and think it would be an awesome idea for any future multi-black ink Epson printers.
Ink cartridges hold 17mL
Photo black and matte black available without switching needed
Uses Gloss optimizer system for glossy and satin/luster papers
Inks: Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss
- Photo Black
- Matte Black
- Gloss Optimizer
Cost: About $399
Ink cartridges hold 25mL
Photo black and matte black "auto-switch" when you change media
Specialty Black & White printing system
Inks: Epson UltraChrome K3
- Vivid Magenta
- Photo Black
- Matte Black
- Light Cyan
- Vivid Light Magenta
- Light Black
- Light Light Black
Cost: About $799
Cost of Operation
The Epson P400 and P600 have been subjected to Red River's "true cost of printing" analysis. The reports addresses concerns and arguments about the true cost of ink in desktop photo printing. Using the Epson Stylus P400 and P600, we conducted a series of print tests to determine how much ink is used in a full coverage 8”x10” print. From that figure we extrapolated ink usage per square inch. The objective is to share a realistic cost per print vision with inkjet users. The choice to pursue photo inkjet printing is in the end an individual economic choice.
As you can see below, the Epson P400 costs less per print to operate than the Epson P600. We do not consider the difference all too significant given how the benefits, convenience, and quality you get from either machine.
These charts show the cost of ink used in making prints:
PK = Photo black ink MK = Matte black ink
Bottom Line Recommendation
So our take on which printer to choose boils down to:
- Need for "optimized" glossy or luster prints (P400)
- Importance of consistently neutral black and white prints (P600)
- Punchy color (P400) vs. more real world color reproductions (P600)
Either printer is a good option in our opinion. Good luck and happy printing!