First Look: Epson's Big, Beautiful Photo Printer

Epson Stylus Photo R1800
Just as digital cameras have become viable alternatives to film cameras, home-printed digital photos now rival the quality of the traditional silver-halide prints that commercial photo labs offer--that is, if you're using a top-quality printer such as the new Epson Stylus Photo R1800.

The $549 large-format inkjet model offers several outstanding features, including very high resolution and enhanced fade resistance, which make it a good choice for photography buffs or anyone who wants to produce high-quality archival prints. I tested a shipping version of the R1800 and found it capable of producing beautiful color prints from a variety of images.

Like its smaller cousin, the Epson Stylus Photo R800 ($399 street), the R1800 uses the Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss pigment ink set, which includes eight individual cartridges: In addition to the traditional cyan, magenta and yellow inks, the set uses red and blue inks, Photo Black and Matte Black inks, and a Gloss Optimizer that applies extra gloss and produces prints that look as if they were developed in a standard photo lab.

Both printers can issue tiny 1.5-picoliter ink droplets--for smoother, continuous-tone prints with crisp details--and both can print at a high resolution of up to 5760 by 1440 dpi (as well as lower-resolution modes).

But what separates the R1800 from the smaller R800 (and many other regular photo printers) is its media-handling flexibility. In addition to small (4-by-6-inch and 5-by-7-inch) prints and standard-size paper, the R1800 supports larger paper sizes up to 13 inches wide. It can also use wide panoramic roll paper (a roll-holder accessory is provided) with a maximum 13-by-44-inch printable area. You can even print directly onto inkjet-printable CDs and DVDs using a special tray (also included).

Ponderosa-Size Prints

Many of the images I used to produce test prints with the R1800 were created with a high-quality Epson Perfection 4990 Photo scanner ($449 street). I used the 4990 to make high-resolution (4800-dpi) scans from small 35mm film frames and then employed the R1800 to print the enlargements on 11-by-14-inch and 13-by-19-inch glossy paper.

I'm happy to report that the final prints that dropped onto the output tray didn't disappoint. The superb image quality--featuring accurate colors and saturation, realistic skin tones, and crisp details--in these huge prints, from tiny 35mm film, was very impressive. The R1800 also did a fine job of accurately reproducing the contrast, brightness, and shades of gray in black-and-white test photos.

Although the R1800 is designed primarily for glossy and matte photo prints (including borderless printing), it can also handle everyday printing tasks. However, I found it a bit slower than standard-size inkjets in some informal print tests. For instance, the R1800 clocked about 3 pages per minute for text (monochrome) documents, compared with 4 ppm (or more) for most inkjet models on our Top 10 Inkjet Printers chart.

But in printing large-format glossy color prints, the R1800's speed was quite decent: It took less than 2.5 minutes to knock out an 11-by-14-inch print and only a minute more to churn out a sizable 13-by-19-incher. Even small 4-by-6-inch prints took the R1800 only about 50 seconds to produce.

The gray-and-black, 28.5-pound R1800 has a spacious footprint, taking more than 12 by 24 inches of desk space, and its output tray adds another foot to its depth when extended (for handling large prints). The unit features both USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, and it comes with a few print software utilities, such as a labeling application (for printing on CD/DVD media) and color profiles.

Installing the printer and software was relatively simple, but I did have to use the printer's Auto Nozzle Check and Cleaning utility (an easy one-click job) to get one of the cartridges (cyan) printing perfectly at the start. Epson is not sure what caused the problem; it may have been just a faulty cartridge.

That minor issue aside, if you want to produce your own high-quality photo prints--especially on large-format paper--the R1800 is worth its premium price.

Epson Stylus Photo R1800


Large-format printer excels at high-quality photo prints, but it comes at a steep price.
Street: $549
Current prices (if available)
www.epson.com

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