DCRP Review: Kodak Professional 8500 Digital Photo Printer
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: April 1, 2003

Last Updated: April 1, 2003

The Kodak Professional 8500 is a big printer in many ways. For one, it's physically large -- I needed a wide-angle lens to take a picture of it. It also makes big prints, on paper as large as 8.5 x 12 inches. It also has a big price -- nearly $900.

With all that in mind, you can see why the 8500 is intended toward serious enthusiasts and professionals, rather than the average home user.

Let's take a closer look at the 8500 now.

Look and Feel

As I mentioned, the 8500 takes up a lot of space. It's as big and heavy as my laser printer, which comes as a bit of a shock after testing much smaller dye-sublimation printers.

The dimensions of the 8500 are 17.1 x 9.0 x 14.1 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs a whopping 13 kg (28.7 lb). Kodak publishes a few other dimensions as well, such as "minimum space required with the paper tray inserted." That one is 21.0 x 10.8 x 29.5 inches. Bottom line: clear off some space on your desk.

One thing that makes the 8500 unique is that the "paper trail" is closed off, in order to keep the dust off the "ink" and paper. Dust is the enemy of dye-sub printers, as it can ruin your prints. There are dust covers on the front and back of the printer, as you can see, for specifically this purpose.

Let's zoom in on the 8500's controls now:

I should mention at this point that the 8500 is not a standalone printer. It can only be used while connected to your Mac or PC.

The lights and buttons are fairly self-explanatory. Here they are, from left to right:

  • Power lamp
  • Error lamp (paper jam)
  • Media lamp (out of ink or paper)
  • Online (takes printer on/offline)
  • Print (reprint a job still in the image buffer)
  • Interface (switches between parallel and USB ports)
  • Open top

The paper tray (seen in the first picture on this page) holds 50 sheets, which is the same amount of "ink" per roll (that's typical with dye-subs). It can hold three sizes of paper: A4, 8.5 x 11, and 8.5 x 12.

Let's pop the top and see where that "ink" goes.

And here's the fancy stuff that makes those great prints. I'm not going to explain how it all works, but I can tell you that the printer makes four passes before your print is finished. First it does the colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow. Then it does one more pass to put a protective coating on your print. All this time, the paper is kept under the dust covers.

There are two types of ink available: glossy and matte. Each ribbon prints 50 photos, and they are sold in two packs. More on that later.

Now here's the back of the printer. Over on the left are the two ports used for connecting to your Mac or PC. They are USB and parallel. No FireWire here.

The only other item of note here is the AC-in port.

Printing

So you're in Photoshop, and your image is ready to be printed. Kodak has drivers for Mac OS X (and 9.1 too) and Windows, so you just hit print and you're off.

I should mention that Kodak includes Adobe Photoshop Elements with the 8500. Unfortunately it's the old version (1.01). It looks like it costs $69 to upgrade to the latest version, if you buy from Adobe directly (you may be able to do better elsewhere, so check around).

Here's the print menu. Some of the options that require explanation include:

  • XtraLife - adds protective coating to image (this is the fourth pass)
  • Sharpness (none, normal, high)
  • Enhancement (on/off) - improves the crispness of high contrast transitions
    within an image in the printing direction.

Clicking on Adjust Color brings up the following menu:

Here you can adjust brightness, contrast, gamma, red, green, and blue.

After you hit print, your computer processes the image and transmits it to the printer. This takes at least a minute in most cases.

Once the printer gets going, it takes just 75 seconds for an 8 x 10 inch print, which is very snappy. I should add that the 8500 really does print at 8 x 10, unlike the Olympus P-400 (reviewed way back in 2000, but still available) which is a little smaller than that.

The 8500 prints at 314 dpi, which may not sound like much compared to inkjet printers. The difference is that dye-sub printers are continuous tone -- images aren't made up of little dots like on inkjets.

How do the prints look? Great. I haven't seen a lot of difference between the various dye-subs that I've tested... the output has always been excellent. They look like they were professionally printed, and the Kodak logo on the back of the paper adds to that feeling.

Trying to show you how the print quality looks isn't easy online. The sample below will never replicate what it really looks like, so here's my suggestion: go somewhere where they sell the printer and have a look at its output. Scans don't do it justice.

Operating Costs

Dye-sublimation printers traditionally are more expensive to run than inkjets, but that is changing. Costs for the "ink" and paper have come down considerably over the years. That doesn't mean that operating the 8500 is a bargain.

Kodak sells the ink and paper separately. The ink comes in two "flavors": glossy and matte. The cost for either one is $110 for 100 prints. That's $1.10 per print, just for the ink.

Paper costs a lot too. As I mentioned, it comes in three sizes: A4, 8.5 x 11, and 8.5 x 12. I only have prices for the last two, and they are:

  • 8.5 x 11 - 100 sheets - $60 --> 60 cents per sheet
  • 8.5 x 12 - 100 sheets - $65 --> 65 cents per sheet

Adding that up, it's about $1.70 per print, just for the ink and paper. Considering that most online photo printers charge $2 or $3 per 8 x 10 print, this may not be a bad deal. But if you're coming from the inkjet world, this is a tough pill to swallow.

Final Thoughts

If you've got the bucks, the Kodak 8500 Digital Photo Printer is impressive. It's fast, easy-to-use, and the output is great. It takes up a lot of space and is anything but portable. Not only does it cost $900 to buy, it also costs a whopping $1.70 per print.

If you want to save a few bucks (on the initial cost of the printer, not the materials), the Olympus P-400 is also worth a look. It can't print a true 8 x 10 (just a little below that, actually) and is a bit slower, but it's half the price.

Hopefully this article gave you a good overview of the Kodak 8500 and the pros and cons of owning a dye-sub printer. It's a great choice for printing your own photos, as long as you are comfortable with the cost.

Feedback

Jeff always appreciates your comments and questions. Please, due to my limited resources, do not write asking for a personal recommendation.

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