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Jeffrey Smith

Product Manager, Consumables, Professional Imaging Division

Jeff has more than 20 years of experience in developing, marketing, and selling consumables solutions to support the Professional Imaging industry. As our Product Champion for all Professional Imaging consumables, Jeff continues to establish Epson as a leading manufacturer of Professional Imaging media.

The Media Development Process

August 15, 2009

Quite often, when I'm at trade shows or customer locations, I hear people say "Paper is paper ... it doesn't really matter what I use to print my images." But, according to professional photographers such as Greg Gorman and John Paul Caponigro, and world renowned fine art painters like Peter Max, the choice of media is just as critical as your printer and ink. So, does it pay to invest in premium paper and add to your printing costs? At Epson America, we strongly believe the choice of paper really does matter.

There are hundreds of steps involved in producing premium, high quality media products. But, before running any tests to certify a paper product is perfect in terms of quality and performance, it's imperative that one has an understanding of the demanding requirements of the end user. That said, we have an ongoing collaboration with many creative, industry professionals who help us determine the perfect blend of product attributes, including density, color gamut, shadow detail, tonal gradations, paper texture, caliper, look, feel, and Dmax, just to name a few.

This collaborative effort to develop the perfect product has taken more than five years. It's been an iterative process where we have developed prototype products and sent them to our team of experts to test and offer suggestions for improvements. Once they've provided their feedback, it's back to the R&D lab to incorporate these improvements into the paper.

A new and improved prototype is then sent to the team of experts for further evaluation. As we go through this process, it is important to note that product attributes are somewhat linked together and can produce a cause-and-effect relationship. Lets say, for example, we increase the caliper or thickness of the paper to give it a better feel. This may have an adverse effect on the paper curl or its ability to lay flat. Also, during this task, we need to be cognizant of the fact that our papers need to be capable of producing stunning prints in both color and black-and-white.

Once we've identified the perfect blend of product attributes, the qualification process begins. This step can take anywhere from three months, for a "fast track" product that encounters no issues, to a year or longer, for a product that needs additional refinements. The process starts with a "Planning Review", during which specific target markets are identified. Then, a "Trial Sample" is produced and tested to determine if it meets all target specifications. Only a small run is produced because, typically, changes need to be made in the manufacturing process to satisfy the target specifications. Once this step is successfully completed, we produce a large-run "Working Sample." It is during this step that most of the testing occurs. The following things are evaluated: physical attributes, image quality, paper handling, environmental conditions (high and low temperature and humidity), scuff resistance, water resistance, and more. Upon passing this step, the process moves to "Mass Production", which is where we evaluate the final product from three different production runs in order to ensure consistency from lot to lot.

Another important attribute of our portfolio of media products is image permanence. We conduct tests in this area in order to ensure prints will have adequate longevity. With photographs and fine art reproductions that approach a six-figure selling price, it's understandable that the customer has a vested interest in how long the image will last. That said, all of our papers have been tested by third-parties using a known industry standard in lightfast testing.

In conclusion, we believe it is a critical part of your creative workflow to select the appropriate paper. Not all papers are created equal. However, you can be confident all Epson papers are subjected to rigorous and demanding testing processes before the Epson name goes on the box. "You should not accept anything other than Epson media", says Michael Godard, one of the most prolific fine artists of today. "Epson media makes my fine art reproductions just as good as the original!"

If you have a comment about this article, send an E-mail to InsideEpson@ea.epson.com