As part of my
Photo 2100 inkjet printer review I commented that compared to earlier
models Epson had done a remarkable job with gray scale neutrality
and color rendering. Even so some scope for further improvement
remained with custom ICC media profiles in
lieu of those supplied by Epson being the most common. I also mentioned that
I was seeing very
significant improvements in color and B&W by substituting the Epson
driver with a RIP called ImagePrint from ColorByte
Software. The following page contains my thoughts
on ImagePrint for Mac OS X and is followed by a comparison between the Epson driver
So what is ImagePrint?
What it isn't is a substitute for Photoshop
or any other image/graphic editing application; Photoshop,
Illustrator, Corel Draw, et al are all safe. ImagePrint is
a high performance print engine or RIP (Raster Image Processor) that
has been designed to optimally convert image data into a format that
can be easily interpreted by the printer. RIPS's are intended to
process large quantities of image data very quickly and in this
context a 100MB plus
multi-layer image will typically begin to print after only a few 10's
of seconds. In effect it replaces the conventional print driver with
which we are all familiar. Furthermore, and
unlike the majority of
currently available RIP's ImagePrint was written to address the
needs of the professional photographer rather than simply adhering to
convention and dealing with the purely illustrative graphics market.
The application was developed for, and is compatible with, a large range of
wide bodied (Epson 7600, 9600, 10600, Fuji Roland, HP, IRIS, etc)
printers. A LITE version or ImagePrint is available exclusively for the
desktop printers listed below:
The LITE version of ImagePrint does not include the
correction, package printing, auto-print or page tiling features
described in the ColorByte product literature. Nevertheless,
for those requiring them the full feature set is available at
additional cost. A demo version is available from ColorByte Software
although at time of writing this review it was only available upon
request. In order for ImagePrint to
be fully functional
will need a spare USB port on your computer to accommodate the software protection dongle. Without
this dongle ImagePrint will operate in demonstration mode; i.e. watermarking all images with the word
Depending on the printer make and model
ImagePrint supports various print speed (quality) and media sizes
including all the standard options from the Epson driver. For example,
Epson 2100/2200 this includes 720dpi, 1440dpi normal and high speed
printing plus 2880dpi printing. Multi-pass printing is also available
for printers such as the Epson 7600/9600.
The main ImagePrint application is also the
control centre for laying out images and sending them to an output
device such as an inkjet printer. ImagePrint provides a large
assortment of high-end layout and color correction tools although
as noted above some of these have been omitted from the LITE version.
ImagePrint is designed to be extremely easy to use with
visual feedback provided for virtually every feature. This means that
you can achieve true WYSIWYP (What You See Is What You Print) output
without sacrificing the power of a high-end printing application.
ImagePrint is a fully cross-platform inkjet printing solution that
should be equally competent in any Windows, Macintosh or mixed network
environment. However, for optimum printer performance on mixed
networks ColorByte recommend a multi-tasking operating system
such as Windows 2000, XP or OS X.
screen shot shown below shows the main tool palette and control panel (all
of which can be hidden if required). Unlike applications such as
Photoshop the image displayed in the Layout Area is a
Softproof which means it is previewed using the active media
profile rather than the more conventional working space profile. This
can be a bit disconcerting at first especially if a matte paper has
been selected, but you soon get used to it.
ImagePrint Interface and Tools
ImagePrint is suitable for printing both Bitmap and Vector
based images; a Postscript option is also available. You'll only need
the PostScript version if you print PDF or EPS files, or would like to
print directly from within any Windows application such as
Adobe Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop.
As befits any application claiming to be a RIP ImagePrint facilitates automatic page layout.
It allows the user to simply drop images onto
ImagePrint and these are then automatically positioned on the
page. If you want to move an image just drag it into position using
the fully WYSIWYG enabled page composition controls. User defined page
sizes can be saved and called back for use at any time using a
dedicated dialog. To configure a new page size it's simply a matter of
specifying the actual page dimensions and ImagePrint will take
care of the rest. The following screen shot shows
an example for A3 paper.
ImagePrint also supports roll paper and so those wishing to
print panorama images can do so without resorting to stitching prints
together. I haven't established the actual maximum print length but am
advised that it exceeds any roll media supplied by Epson.
20 April 2003
With the introduction of ImagePrint 5.5 ColorByte have
delivered some new and very welcome enhancements. After
overcoming a few hurdles (the beta version I was testing wouldn't recognise my Epson
2100) I finally got down to putting version 5.5 through its paces.
Image Centring and True Borderless Printing are now
possible. The image centring feature places the image centrally
relative to the actual page size rather than the more normal printable
area, which is a welcome improvement on Epson's definition of centre.
The absence of Borderless Printing wasn't something that I spilled
tears over but it's now available and appears to function as
advertised. The following screen shot shows the dialog where the user
activates these features. Media Type and Feed Adjustment
are only available on the Epson 7600/9600/10600 printers.
Centre Margin and Borderless Printing
The package print feature gives the professional photographer
a fair degree of flexibility. A different template can be
applied to every image on the page and Templates can be designed to
any size with as many frames as your page size can accommodate. Set-up
the frame orientation in either landscape or portrait to maximize page
use and let the Auto-Rotate feature take care of the rest. Images will
be rotated automatically to fit the frame size.
ImagePrint support for Templates
Multiple images can also be manually laid out on the same page, and better
still each can be based upon a different color space - sRGB, Adobe RGB, ColorMatch images can all be mixed on one page and ImagePrint
will ensure each is accurately rendered. Below we see a screen
shot that shows the color adjustment tools, although as I mentioned
above these are not functional with the LITE version. The Color Control tools also include Tone &
Contrast adjustment, Color Balance and most useful of all
a facility for adjusting the Ink Limit. Double clicking any
8-bit color or grayscale image brings up a high resolution preview
image with its own dedicated toolbar complete with Zoom,
Move and Crop tools.
ImagePrint Page Layout and Color
Color Management and B&W Support
ImagePrint is a fully color managed standalone application that
supports a number of file formats (Photoshop PSD and Tiff to name but
two). Unfortunately ColorByte have chosen to store the ICC profiles in
a dedicated ImagePrint color folder. This means that the system monitor profile must be copied to this folder to
enable accurate Softproof previews (a simple alias to the user
ColorSysnc folder doesn't work; actually it will cause
ImagePrint to crash on startup - a bug!). There are literally dozens of ICC media profiles available for
download from the ColorByte web site to ensure that good quality
prints can be achieved from a wide range of media types. If your
preferred media isn't yet supported they'll create the profile for
ColorByte ImagePrint - Gray Scale
ImagePrint has the added advantage of
allowing the user to enhance grayscale images by introducing Tints
to warm or cool the final print. The control for Tints is
provided via the Color Management dialog but before it becomes
active the user must select one of ColorByte's proprietary greyscale profiles.
The following screen shot (a quad tone image by Nick Wheeler downloaded from the ColorByte web site)
shows a few examples of tints or tones that can be applied to
grayscale images. Since the ImagePrint preview is showing the
user a softproof of the final image it is fairly easy to see the
effects of even small tint changes.
ImagePrint Tints - Image Courtesy of
The folk at ColorByte have obviously spent
a lot of time perfecting the mix of inks for Black & White printing and this results
in no sign of Metamerism when using the special gray profiles.
They have also significantly reduced Bronzing effect that
plagues the new Ultrachrome ink printers from Epson. As
ColorByte continue to improve the dither patterns I now find the
output from ImagePrint to be the equal of Epson.
Actually, the level of detail from shadow through highlight is vastly superior to that of
the Epson driver. ImagePrint excels at printing B&W
images on media such as Archival/Enhanced Matte, Epson
Velvet and other 3rd party matte finished surfaces when the Epson
Photo Black ink cartridge is replaced with Matte Black.
20 April 2003
As part of the version 5.5 update ColorByte have added a couple of
new features that directly impact on image quality; the first is
auto-fill. Basically, when you select a ColorByte ICC media
profile, the Quality Mode and Inkset are automatically
configured in the Printer Set Up window. All that remains for
the user to do is select the paper size and number of copies. A
warning is given if the selected profile doesn't match your printer.
Currently auto-fill only works with profiles supplied by
ColorByte Software and the new Epson printers: 2100/2200, 7600,
9600 and 10600.
Another feature but alas not available for
the Epson 2100/2200 is an ink optimisation process which goes under
the banner Wide Gamut Technology. This new ink limiting process
replaces the traditional means of dealing with total ink limits and
black generation. It is based on new proprietary technology which
ColorByte to separately ink limit in different chromatic areas
rather than overall as in traditional methods. This results in
ImagePrint apparently [I can't test it :-( ] delivering
wider gamut output than previously possible along with reduced
"bronzing" which tends to effect color images. Wide Gamut
Technology is only available for the Epson 7600 and 9600 7-color
Ultrachome printers. I wonder if I could convince Epson to give me one
Whether it be Color or B&W the final print quality, flexibility and speed of ImagePrint
mean that it far exceeds anything possible from standard print drivers.
Even with the benefit of high-end hardware/software profiling
applications the Epson driver comes a very poor second, especially in
B&W. For a long time my benchmark for printing extended shadow detail
Piezography BW; ImagePrint easily matches this in both
color and B&W. However, Piezography is only suitable for
B&W printing so it was still necessary to use the Epson for
color. That was until ImagePrint came along. Now? Well,
if you print Color and B&W images
I think it is probably better to purchase ImagePrint LITE and use the generic
ColorByte profiles in lieu of the Epson driver and custom profiles.
The quality of B&W printing from ImagePrint means that it has
for the present completely replaced my previous Piezography BW
If ImagePrint has a weakness it is the Interface - it
is not the most pleasing to the eye and does need some serious work to
remove some clunky aspects.
To be fair much of the clunkiness is specific to the Mac OSX version. A feature that is not currently included with ImagePrint is visual feedback on the amount of ink still remaining in the
cartridges; we need it badly. I also mentioned above that I find the OS X version will
occasionally crash for no obvious reason. This level of instability
along with the poor but slowly improving GUI seems to be the price we need to pay for much
improved print quality and flexibility (note:
version 5.5 appears more stable). Most of the weaknesses I
found with ImagePrint stem from the fact that OS X has only recently
reached the point were it itself is able to handle the complexity of
driving a printer. Epson, Canon, HP et al are all struggling to
produce OS X drivers that offer similar functionality to their Mac OS9
and Windows equivalents.
ImagePrint on the Windows platform has been around a lot longer
and by all accounts a lot more stable. ColorByte seem keen to
improve matters and ensure that bug fixes and updates are provided
free to Licensed users. A special download page from which updates and
bug fixes can be obtained is provided for this purpose.
Obtaining a price for ImagePrint from the ColorByte web
site is now relatively simple, which wasn't always the case. The LITE version which
is really all that is required for desktop printers such as the Epson
2100/2200 is $495. However, this increases significantly when the
high-end page layout feature set and annual maintenance agreement is
included. The cost of ImagePrint for wide bodied printers such
as the Epson 7600 and 9600 ranges from $1495 to $2495 with the annual
maintenance agreement available for an additional $495. The
maintenance agreement is optional and ColorByte have indicated
that all "dot" upgrades within a version release will be free. If you
choose not to take-up the maintenance option you only get 30 days
I have been evaluating ImagePrint since the Beta version became available for
Mac OS X (early December 02) and have been very impressed
with what's on offer; likewise the support provided by ColorByte.
Even using the ColorByte generic media
profiles I produced
color prints with no additional editing or tweaking.
As mentioned above there have been some issues regarding stability and not all of
the advertised features were operational at first. However, as of
April 2003 many of the absentee features seem to be
functional and stability has greatly improved.
Being a RIP ImagePrint does a lot more than simply provide an alternative driver for printers such as the Epson Photo 2100/2200 -
Further details of pricing and a demonstration disk can be obtained
23 July 2003
As part of ColorBytes policy of continuous improvement they
have recently updated ImagePrint for Windows and Mac OSX to
version 5.6. This new version includes one significant new features
and a few bug fixes. The main new feature is called Monitor Black
Point Compensation and is found in the color management
system tab. The default slider position is 50 and at this value will
produce a slightly more saturated and dense print than ver. 5.5.
Monitor Black Point Compensation
RGB source profiles such as Adobe RGB (1998) are derived from monitor
color spaces. They refer to black as being infinitely black L=0. If
treated as such when matched up with a printer profile we would see no
or very little shadow detail. In version 5.5 ColorByte treated
the black point at a fixed level which would be equivalent to 100 on
the slider. As this level ImagePrint gives exquisite shadow
detail ColorByte acknowledge that there are types of images
that one would prefer to control this point. By decreasing the slider
the blacks are pulled down resulting in more contrast and saturation
in the output with the sacrifice of some shadow detail. This feature
is tied directly into the CMM so all previous profiles are still
valid. Monitor Black Point Compensation only has an effect of
images in an RGB source space.
Other New features include:
Application level printing (requires PostScript option)
Moving regions with arrow buttons
Moving regions strictly vertically or horizontally with Option-Mouse
Launching SpoolFace from button on the toolbar
Chimes after providing new job to queue
Text edit features enabled for IPManage and SpoolFace
Holding Template window visible after clicking in the main window
Enabling "Snap to Grid" for templates frames
Using output CMYK profiles
So how does ImagePrint B&W output
compare with the Epson driver?
I've already commented upon the quality of
ImagePrint's greyscale output but just how good is it compared to
that from the standard Epson driver?
The following screenshots are
provided so that you can compare the gray balance of ICC profiles for
the Epson driver when using "No Color Adjustment" mode
with the equivalent mode in the ColorByte ImagePrint driver.
However, in order that we can actually make the comparison I first
needed to print and then measure a special profiling target comprising
multiple patches with known RGB value for each patch. In the case of
the Epson driver this is done with all color management features in
the printer driver turned off. To turn color management off in
any Epson printer driver you simply choose No Color Adjustment
mode. Prints made using this mode tend to look dark and have a
strong color bias (usually green).
Before looking at the results for my
No Color Adjustment tests I must first check the linearity of
the printer output as produced when the driver is set to more common
print modes such as PhotoRealistic or ICM. In the
screenshot labelled Figure 1 the heavy black diagonal line
depicts a linear relationship between the Input and Output
RGB values. By linear I mean that for an input value of 1 we get an
output of 1, for input of 10 we get an output of 10 and so on -
R=G=B=Neutral. The three colored lines are the compensation curves
needed to linearise the actual printer output. Since the curves sweep
below the diagonal we can also determine that the correction required
to linearise the output will in the main darken the image slightly.
Also notice that the three
channels deviate from the black diagonal by only a small amount.
From figure 1 we can clearly see that the Epson printer and
driver combination should be capable of producing very good grayscale
with virtually no color cross-over.
Figure 1 - Gray Balance
for Photo 2100 in PhotoRealistic mode
So if the Epson driver in
PhotoRealistic or ICM mode is so good why do we bother using
or even creating custom media profiles? A good question and one that
doesn't have a simple answer. Furthermore this discussion isn't
intended to provide the answer except to say that in obtaining such
linear output Epson made some very significant compromises which
resulted in the loss of a lot of the color gamut that the Photo
2100/2200 is capable of reproducing.
So let's get back to ImagePrint
and the more conventional method of profiling an Epson inkjet printer.
Figure 2 represents the relationship between the greyscale
Input and Output values for Epson's own generic Epson
Premium Semi Gloss paper profile. Particular attention should be
paid to the various points at which the color channels cross each
other (crossover) and compare them with Figure 1. Notice that
once No Color Adjustment mode is selected in the Epson driver
all semblance of linearity disappears. A print made using this mode but
leaving out the profile will be truly horrid in appearance; being dark
and very likely green. The gradient of the curve at the shadow-end
(bottom left) is initially quite steep and then abruptly becomes less
so. This area of the curve shows the extent to which the input data
must be compensated in order that the shadows are rendered correctly.
Unfortunately such crude corrections often tend to result in color
cross-over, posterisation and banding, albeit not as
evident with the Photo 2100 as it has been with earlier models.
Color cross-over can be very obvious when printing monochrome images.
Figure 2 - Generic Epson Premium Semi
Figure 3 reproduces the
relationship between the greyscale Input and Output
values for my Photo 2100/2200 printer using the same media type,
i.e. Epson Premium Semi Gloss photo paper but this time based on
a custom created profile. The measurements were made using Gretag
Macbeth i1 Spectrophotometer and recorded in the measure module of
ProfileMaker Pro 4.15. Note that whilst the shape of the curve
for each color channel is broadly similar to the generic Epson profile
it is sufficiently different that quite significant improvements in the
neutrality of grayscale prints can be obtained on my printer. Even so
it is nowhere near as good as I achieved using PhotoRealistic
Figure 3 - Epson
Driver Gray Balance for the 2100 Photo Printer
Figure 4 depicts the printer
in same condition or mode as Figures 2 and 3 but this
time using a profile built for ColorByte ImagePrint 5 RIP.
Notice the shape of the curve is entirely different from the previous
examples and that crossover is virtually non existent. The curve is
gradual and relatively smooth, and so avoids the potential for
posterising and banding. Leaving aside the fact that the tone-curve is
the opposite of that shown in Figure 1 ColorByte seem to have
managed to get the raw output from the Photo 2100/2200 nearly as
good as Epson did in their highly tuned and corrected Automatic/ICM
mode. ColorByte Software have done so whilst also ensuring that
the output retains a wide color gamut along with very smooth gradients
in both color and grayscale.
Figure 4 - ColorByte ImagePrint 5
Gray Balance for the Photo 2100 Printer
In Figure 5 below you can see clearly the
trade-offs in color gamut that occur when trying to optimise the gray
balance of the printer. The Epson driver custom profile was built with
the driver set to No Color Adjustment mode and corresponds with
the gray balance graph shown in Figure 3. The ImagePrint
custom profile (Figure 4) has a marginally smaller color gamut
but gray balance is excellent. Whilst I haven't shown it in the
screenshot profiling the printer in Epson's PhotoRealistic mode
results in the color gamut has been significantly reduced.
Figure 5 - Comparing
the Color Gamut
This has been a very simplified explanation of why
profiling the printer doesn't necessarily mean that the result will be
a near perfect grayscale. It should also be obvious from the screen
shots that in developing their own driver for mass usage in
PhotoRealistic mode Epson haven't spent anywhere near as much time
or energy optimising the greyscale output for custom media profiles.
This means that those wanting to get the best out of a printer such as
the Photo 2100/2200 will need to look beyond the Epson driver
for a solution - the solution I chose is ColorByte ImagePrint.