Epson Stylus Photo 960

The Epson Stylus Photo 960 at $349 (as of June 2003) is a very versatile and high quality photo printer for the home or small business user. It functions as a fast general purpose text and color graphics printer, a high-resolution photo printer and a CD/DVD label printer (when used with inkjet printable CD/DVD media.) Both the PC Windows and Macintosh operating system platforms are supported via its USB and parallel port. The Photo 960 supports Epson PRINT Image Matching (P.I.M. and P.I.M. II) as well as the new Exif Print standards. You can visit the Epson PIM site for a complete rundown of its features. In a nutshell, the printer takes the exposure information stored in the header of a P.I.M. image and uses this to make the best possible picture, faithfully reproducing the colors, lighting and shadow detail found in the original scene. Color management has always been a big stumbling block in the workflow of the non-professional user and P.I.M. helps to overcome this all too common problem. Installation and setup on my Windows XP Pro system was quick and painless. You install the software first and then turn the printer on when prompted. After the printer and port are identified the rest of the driver software is installed. It takes longer to install all of the ink cartridges and complete the initial "pump up" primer cycle then it does to install the software. And as noted in the manual, the first set of ink cartridges will not yield as many prints as others because a certain amount of ink is required to "prime" the printer's feed lines and print head. The Stylus Photo 960 is faster than previous Epson photo printers, here's some of our own in-house test times. The timer was started when the printer fed the paper in and was stopped when the print dropped in the output tray.

Paper Types: PGPP Premium Glossy Photo Paper, DWM Double-weight Matte
PLP Premium Luster Photo Paper, CPP Colorlife Photo Paper. Epson Stylus 925 printer. They've added five icon/choices for Quality (Draft, Text, Text & Image, Photo and Best Photo) to help simplify setting the printer up for the best possible output for the task at hand. You still need to select the paper type, size and orientation before printing. There's no less than 13 different paper choices (Plain Paper, 360 dpi Inkjet Paper, Photo Quality Inkjet Paper, Matte Paper - Heavyweight, Photo Paper, Glossy Photo Paper, Premium Glossy Photo Paper, Photo Quality Glossy Film, Inkjet Transparencies, Colorlife Photo Paper, Premium Luster Photo Paper and Premium Semigloss Photo Paper.) The Stylus 960 has a straight-through manual feed path to accommodate the heavyweight fine art papers up to 1.3mm thick. More experienced users can click on the Advanced button to access all of the possible printer settings. Output resolution choices (360, 720, 1440, 2880 dpi), paper source (sheet, roll, manual), paper type, paper size, orientation, high speed, edge smoothing, minimize margins, black ink only, print preview and color management controls. It all sounds rather mind-boggling but once you know what it all does you can make even better prints. The Photo 960 supports roll paper in 4" and 8.3" widths with an adjustable roll holder and an automatic paper cutter assembly. With the 4" paper you can print borderless 4x6" prints faster and cheaper than when using the 4x6" cut sheets. The problem with using roll paper is that the prints retain their "curl" next to forever. This isn't a real problem when making wall size 8.3 x 44-inch panoramas but it's very annoying for the 4 x 6-inch prints you hold in your hand. The cutter is easily adjusted in the driver software and you can choose between "normal" which makes two cuts between prints and wastes a bit of paper, "paper saver" which makes only one cut or manual. Printing on CD-R media is a very useful thing seeing as how most computers have CD writers and archiving your digital photos to CD is definitely the way to go. But I'm sure that you're as tired of sloppy looking hand-written CD labels as I am. Or maybe you've tried one of those CD labeling gizmos like the Disc Stomper where you print on a self-adhesive round label that you stick on the CD disc. They're OK if and only if the label goes on right the first time - with no bubbles or wrinkles and it's properly aligned. Even when applied properly you run the risk of the label "peeling up" after time and then getting stuck in or damaging your CD drive. And with the 40X and higher speed CD readers you also run the risk of spinning an unbalanced disc because of the label and what's printed on it. Ever wonder what makes some of those CDs buzz like a bee hive when they're spinning?

The Stylus Photo 960 makes it easy to print directly on CD or DVD discs. Attach the special printing support tray over the top of the normal tray and place your CD or DVD in the provided CD carrier. Move the paper thickness lever all the way up and then push the carrier in to the marked position. Pull the paper thickness lever down to the "+" position, hit the paper feed button and it lines up the CD for printing. Using the Epson Print CD software makes creating and printing these custom labels a snap. Alignment is always difficult when printing on circular media so there's an adjustment setting to get things right. However, I would recommend staying away from full-coverage photos or backgrounds, keeping them perfectly centered is often difficult. If you stick to just graphics and text instead of a full coverage background image then no one will ever notice if it isn't perfectly centered. Epson recommends allowing the CD to dry for at least 24 hours to prevent any smearing of the ink. Not all printable discs are the same, I much prefer the white-sided ones to the silver ones, they have better color reproduction. You can only print on those discs that are specifically manufactured as "ink jet printable" discs, regular CD discs cannot be used.

The bottom line - The Stylus Photo 960 is a good choice for those searching for the "one printer that can do it all."   It can handle the day-to-day text and graphics printing tasks as well as producing excellent photo-quality prints. And as an extra bonus it can be used to label the CD and DVD discs that you create. It's a fast text printer and a fast photo printer and now it's more economical to operate than previous Epson dye-based ink jet printers thanks to its individual ink cartridges. The 2-picoliter sized ink droplets make photos that are nearly indistinguishable from conventional photographs and when printed on the proper Epson media, they can last just as long.