Epson Stylus Photo R300MThe Epson Stylus Photo R300M at $229 (as of Jan 2004) is an affordable and versatile high quality photo printer for the home or small business. It functions as a general purpose text and color graphics printer as well as a high-resolution photo printer. Both the Windows and Macintosh operating system platforms are supported via its high-speed USB 2.0 port. Installation and setup under Windows XP Pro 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 complete the initial ink cartridge "pump up" primer cycle then it does to install the software. The monochrome LCD display keeps you abreast of what's going on at all times. There's a moving "gas gauge" display during the primer cycle to let you know how long it will take to complete. This information display is also helpful when printing in standalone mode and any time you need to change ink cartridges or perform routine maintenance tasks. I didn't need to reference the manual, everything I needed to know was displayed on the LCD - very handy. Printing in standalone mode is easy thanks to the large, 2.5-inch color LCD monitor. You can visually browse the images on your flash card and select the one(s) you want to print. It also lets you see a preview of your selected layout and cropping as well as image adjustments. You can print an index sheet of small thumbnails if desired. The Photo R300M directly reads CompactFlash Type I and II cards including Microdrives, SmartMedia, Memory Stick / Memory Stick PRO, Secure Digital, MMC and xD-Picture Cards. Printing direct from flash cards is simple; insert the card, select the photo to print, select the desired paper type, size, # of copies and layout - then press the PRINT button. It took us about two and a half minutes to print a borderless 4x6" on Premium Glossy Photo Paper. Direct Connect allows printing from any PictBridge-compatible digital camera. You plug your camera into the printer's front USB 1.1 port and then use the camera's color LCD and PictBridge menu to select and print the desired pictures. The front USB port can also be attached to an Iomega ZIP drive or a CD-Recorder for copying images from your flash memory cards. The Photo R300M can be connected to a computer via the rear USB 2.0 port, it has no parallel port. If you're still running a PC with only a parallel printer port it's time to upgrade - most everything is USB now. If your computer has USB 2.0 then you will enjoy the fastest possible data transfers from the card slots. It's backwards compatible with USB 1.1 but at the slower data rate. Epson claims that the printer is compatible with Windows 98, 98SE, Me, XP and 2000, Macintosh USB compatible with Mac OS 8.6 - 9.2, OS X 10.2.
ColorLife paper setting has no borderless option.
Print times are from paper feed until drop in output tray.
The Windows driver software has been simplified since the earlier Epsons that we reviewed. Gone are the choices of output dpi (360, 720, 1440, 2880), they've been replaced by Draft, Text, Text & Image, Photo or Best Photo which makes more sense for novice users. Many users may never get beyond the first page of driver options as all you need do is select the proper Media Type (paper) and Mode. Digital camera images can be enhanced by clicking on the PhotoEnhance button or if you really want to diddle with the settings, click on the Advanced button. There's no less than thirteen different supported Media Types (Plain Paper, Bright White Paper, Photo Quality Inkjet Paper, Matte Paper - Heavyweight, Photo, Glossy, Premium Glossy, Premium Luster, Premium Semi-Gloss, Color Life Photo Paper, Inkjet Transparency, CD/DVD, CD/DVD Premium Surface) which adjusts the printer to the characteristics of the selected media. As expected, the R300 makes the absolute best photo prints on Epson brand glossy and matte photo papers, but it can often get expensive, especially when using Premium Glossy Photo Paper. There is a less expensive alternative, check out FreePhotoPaper.com - they have high quality photo paper for Epson, HP and Canon printers that rival the brand name papers - because they come from the same paper mills. I have personally tried the 11 mil glossy paper with the Stylus Photo R300 and the results are terrific. - this is a good printer for day-to-day printing tasks as well as producing excellent photo-quality prints. The R300M can function as a standalone photo printer with most all of the popular flash cards used by today's digital cameras. And it's a photo printer, CD/DVD label printer and a high-speed, multi-format card reader when connected to the USB 2.0 port of a host computer. It's affordable with an MSRP of only $229 - the model R300 without the LCD monitor is about $45 less. Just remember that the cost of special papers and ink cartridges can often add up to more than the price of the printer. We are pleased to see that Epson is now using the separate ink cartridges in their lower priced consumer printers. Speedwise the R300M is the fastest Epson printer we've tested yet, but it isn't as fast as the current crop of Canon (i860, i960, i9100) photo printers. The R300M's output is excellent, with sharp and properly exposed source images it yields true photo-quality prints. The R300M's photos are the equal of conventionally processed prints and it competes easily with the best photo inkjets from Canon and HP. The CD/DVD printing option is great -- no more stick-on lables to peel off or get stuck inside your CD-ROM drive. The printer we tested required no alignment and produced perfect CD labels right out of the box. The included software does include an alignment routine to "dead-center" the printing if required. I tried several different types of inkjet printable CD media and saw quite a difference in the quality of the printed output. Some disc surfaces absorb more ink than others and can look somewhat dull and other discs produced very vibrant colors and were most impressive.
This is a 300dpi scan of a CD that was printed on the R300M printer. This is un-edited and looks as close to the original as I could make it. Due to the JPEG compression used for these web images there is some artifacting in the red areas, this is not found on the disc. As you can see from the inner CD label, it is a Verbatim brand DataLifePlus CD-R disc. I tried some "generic" inkjet printable CD-R media with a silver surface and the colors were very dull and muddy looking. It's best to find the printable media that has a white surface on it, these produce the most vibrant colors. My suggestion is to buy a small number of discs when first trying a new brand until you're sure that they will work out OK. 1/16/04 update - Be forewarned that these inkjet printable discs are -not- waterproof. I didn't know this until a reader asked me about it -- so I got one wet and watched a good portion of the ink wash off. This was a CD that had been printed several days earlier so it was thoroughly dried. I think I'll keep using my Casio thermal CD printer to label my discs.