Epson Stylus Photo R800
The Epson Stylus Photo R800 at $399 (as of April 2004) is a very versatile and high quality photo printer for the home or business graphics user that needs archival prints. You can consider this printer to be the narrow carriage "little brother" of the larger format Epson Stylus Photo 2200. The R800 uses UltraChrome Hi-Gloss pigment inks for longevity and includes a gloss optimizer to give your glossy prints the kind of punch that is usually only seen on prints from dye-based printers. And it has both a photo black and a matte black cartridge to yield the best possible printing on glossy and matte papers. The printer automatically selects the appropriate black ink depending on the media being used. The R800 is a general purpose text and color graphics printer, an ultra high-resolution photo printer and a CD/DVD label printer (when used with inkjet printable CD/DVD media.) It's taken Epson a while to catch up to Canon in the photo print speed department and they're very close now. This is without a doubt the fastest Epson photo inkjet printer that I've ever used -- see print speed timing chart below. The R800 can print a borderless 4x6" print in about 45 seconds! And it does up to 17 ppm when printing just black text. This is also one of the quietest inkjet printers on the market. I can't really see much difference in the output quality of 4x6" prints between the Photo, Best Photo and Photo RPM settings -- the print times are extended dramatically when using the higher dpi print modes. Even 5x7" prints are more than passable (gorgeous actually) when printed using the lowest "Photo" quality setting. For 8x10" or letter- size prints you now have a large enough print to actually see the difference -- but only if you look really, really close. Most users will be satisfied with both the printed results and the short time it takes to print them when using the basic "Photo" setting. I can only conclude that the super-small, 1.5-picoliter ink droplets are responsible for this amazing print detail. The Matte Black ink makes a very noticeable difference in the print quality when using the Matte Paper Heavyweight or Enhanced Matte papers. Color or B&W images with good dynamic range make gorgeous monochrome prints that rival the best of what I used to make in my darkroom some twenty-five years ago. Just like the Stylus Photo 2200, the R800 with its UltraChrome inks is an ideal printer for monochrome prints, especially on the Epson matte or art papers. Both the PC Windows and Macintosh operating system platforms are supported via the R800's fast USB 2.0 or IEEE1394 FireWire ports. Data transmission time is minimal, even when printing 40MB images from Photoshop with my Pentium 4 and its USB 2.0 port. The R800 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. Installation and setup under Windows XP Pro was a breeze. 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 eight of those 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 R800 is noticeably faster than previous Epson printers, here's our "unofficial" 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 - this eliminates the variable processing times of different computers.
PLP Premium Luster Photo Paper, DWM Double-Weight Matte.
Here's a hi-res 600dpi scan of a Stylus Photo R800 4x6" print, the blown-up section is 100% to show how fine those 1.5-picoliter ink droplets are and the lack of any inkjet printing lines. The print was produced using the Photo RPM print mode on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper, the source image was a 3-megapixel Nikon 990 picture. As expected, the R800 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 R800 and the results are terrific. This is the first time I have used the paper with the new UltraChrome inks and am happy to report that it works as brilliantly as with the dye based inks. (Note: Epson's claim of archival printing is only valid when both Epson inks and Epson brand papers are used.) The Photo R800 supports roll paper in 4" and 8.3" widths with an adjustable roll holder. 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 24-inch panoramas but it's very annoying for the 4 x 6-inch prints you hold in your hand. You also have to manually cut apart your prints as the printer does not have a builtin paper cutter. Printing on CD and DVD media is a useful thing as most computers today have CD burners and archiving your digital photos on CD or DVD is definitely the way to go. I'm sure you're as tired of those sloppy looking, hand-written CD labels as I am. Or maybe you've tried a CD labeling gizmo like the Disc Stomper where you print on a self-adhesive round label. They're OK if and only if the label goes on right the first time - with no bubbles or wrinkles and is properly aligned. Even when applied properly you run the risk of the label "peeling off" after time and getting stuck in or damaging your CD drive.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. Even when fully dried, the ink can be smeared if handled with wet fingers. The R800's pigment ink is more resistant to smearing than the Stylus 960 with its dye inks but it still isn't permanent. When printing on the silver-surface discs the color saturation is only about 50% maximum even with the driver set to darkest printed colors possible. (Only ink-jet printable CD-R and DVD-R media are compatible with the EPSON Stylus Photo R800. Ink-jet printable CD-R media are produced by several major media brands including Imation, Maxell, Memorex, Mitsui, TDK and Verbatim. The ink-jet printable CD-R media can be purchased from a variety of online retailers including www.cdw.com, www.macconnection.com, www.pcconnection.com, www.warehouse.com, and www.zones.com.)
The bottom line - The Stylus Photo R800 is an excellent choice for those searching for the "one printer that can do it all" plus it offers archival printing of gloss and matte media and prints outstanding color and B&W prints. It can handle ordinary text and graphics printing tasks and do it very quickly. And as an extra bonus it can label the CD and DVD discs that you create (if you use inkjet printable discs.) It's a very fast text printer and a fast photo printer. The individual ink cartridges are less expensive to replace than the single multi-color cartridges but be warned that these printers aren't cheap to operate. Epson is happy to sell you ink cartridges whenever you need them, at the cost of about $14 each. The 1.5-picoliter sized ink droplets (currently the world's smallest) make photos that are nearly indistinguishable from conventional photographs and with the new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss pigment inks they can last just as long (Epson claims 80-100 years depending on media used.)