Epson Keeps Releasing New Printers
Not that long ago, your choice for a printer came down mainly to deciding whether you wanted to go with the dye-based Epson 1280 or the pigment-based Epson 2200. Things have gotten somewhat more confusing these days though and the array of possible printer choices has reached almost bewildering proportions. Hopefully this brief rundown of models will help make sense of things.
The Stylus Photo R300 and R320 represent the low end of the spectrum in terms of cost while still producing excellent results. They feature individual dye-based ink cartridges in cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow and black. Both print only up to 8.5 inches wide, but do support banner printing as well as printing on CD's and DVD's. The R320 adds a small LCD screen, memory card slot and firmware support for printing without the need for a computer. Personally, I don't have a need for this capability, but some may. You can get much better results if you take the time to optimize your images in Photoshop or other software before printing them, but if you want a quick snapshot, this may be just what you need.
The Stylus Photo R800 is a pigment-based printer with eight individual ink cartridges. These including the reasonably standard cyan, magenta, yellow, photo black, matte black to which Epson has added blue and red to achieve a wider gamut, and a gloss optimizer cartridge that will need a bit of explaining. On a normal printer, solid colors mean solid ink coverage, while lighter colors mean lighter ink coverage. To produce lighter colors while minimizing the chances of visible ink dots, Epson introduced light cyan and light magenta a few years back, but ink densities still varied enough that a "bronzing" effect could be seen on some glossy papers. The gloss optimizer cartridge is used to print what is essentially clear ink in areas that would otherwise be bare, in order to make ink coverage more uniform, thus minimizing the variable sheen "bronzing." The R800 prints up to standard 8.5 inch wide letter paper or banner paper of the same width. It also prints directly on CD's and DVD's with the included adapter. Current color profiles for the R800 seem to sometimes print darker than optimal, but I'm sure Epson will address this in time.
The Stylus Photo R1800 is basically the big brother to the R800 and can print up to 13 inches wide. It features the same cyan, magenta, yellow, photo black, matter black, blue, red, and gloss optimizer pigment ink configuration and produces similar results. The wider carriage means it does take up considerably more space than the R800, but the added flexibility seems well worth it to me.
The Stylus Photo 2400 is the upgraded version of the venerable 2200. While the 2200 printed with cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, black (photo black or matte black) and light black, the 2400 adds light-light black as a slightly different approach to keeping ink densities more even. Obviously Epson is still learning what works best themselves in terms of ink strategies.
This new ink setup is what Epson refers to as Ultrachrome K3, an allusion to the three black inks it includes ("K" being the standard letter for black, as in "CMYK"). The inks feature an improved high gloss encapsulation that lets Epson achieve an even wider gamut with pigment inks than the already excellent 2200. It should make prints more scratch resistant too.
The light-light black yields higher archival ratings, but is reported to not work quite as well as the gloss optimizer reducing bronzing. The printer driver provides a choice of laying down light-light black ink to keep ink coverage even or of letting ink coverage vary. Enabling this option may dull your images slightly by substituting light-light gray for normal paper white so it is recommended to only use it when printing on glossy papers where the naturally wider gamut (compared to matte papers) can tolerate such strategies. The extra cartridge also lets the 2400 create exceptional black and white prints. The driver gives the user the ability to adjust the tone and hue of the prints to create selenium, platinum and other effects.
The 2400 prints up to 13 by 19 inch (Super A3/B) paper or roll paper. It does not come with an adapter for printing on CD's and DVD's.
If you have a 2200, the 2400 may be enough to tempt you into upgrading. The 2200 forced you into manually swapping photo black and matte black as needed while the 2400 lets you have both installed at the same time, along with the new light-light black. Bronzing and metamerism (changes in perceived color under varying lighting conditions) were definite problems back with the old Stylus Photo 2000P, the first pigment Epson. The new K3 encapsulation should mean that both are even less of a problem than with the improved 2200.
Since the R1800 and 2400 both print with pigment inks up to 13 inches wide, you may be wondering which to choose if you are in the market for a new printer. If you want to print exclusively on gloss or semi-gloss papers, the ink configuration in the R1800 should meet your needs better than that of the 2400. If you print mainly on matte papers, or on a variety of surfaces both matte and glossy, the 2400 will likely be your better bet.
The Stylus Photo 4800 is an updated version of the wide-format Epson 4000 and features the new Ultrachrome K3 system that the 2400 does. As with the 4000, the 4800 prints up to 17 inches wide, and like the 4000, it is a monster, weighing in at over 80 pounds. Right now, Epson still sells both the 4000 and 4800, so you can choose if you'd prefer the light-light black or the ability to keep both photo black and matte black installed at the same time. I have an Epson 4000 and currently don't plan to upgrade. This may change of course once more hands on reviews are available for the 4800. It is only just now starting to actually ship.
There is also a new 7800 and 9800 Ultrachrome K3 upgrade for the ultra-wide format 7600 and 9600. These are beyond the needs of most photographers, but if you need one, they are quite nice. Be prepared to have enough space for it though.
Canon and HP continue to release new printers too of course, and offerings such as the Canon i9900 or the HP DesignJet 130 are starting to look promising. Epson still rules when it comes to support for photographers though. There are so many installed Epson printers in digital darkrooms around the world that most people will be better off staying clear of the alternatives. There are plenty of good sources (including yours truly of course) for information about printing with Epson, but if you have a Canon or HP printer, you'll have to figure more out on your own, at least for the time being. Competition between all three companies benefits us through the introduction of continually improving products, even if it does mean we are occasionally faced with the dilemma of whether to upgrade printers once again.