|GadgetScope.com > Computer Hardware > Epson Stylus Photo R800|
|Reviewed 5-8-2004 by John Shirrell - Produced by Epson - List price: $399.99|
Closeup of print quality - Epson Stylus Photo R800
Closeup of print quality - Epson Stylus Photo 900
Closeup of print quality - HP Photosmart 7550
Epson has renewed their Photo Printer line with the R800, a letter-size model that uses their new High-gloss UltraChrome ink. This model has the same media capabilites as the Epson Stylus Photo 900 - borderfree photo paper in common sizes (confusingly, this printer does not support borderless printing on letter-size photo paper even though the market is saturated with that size), roll paper in 8 and 4 inch widths, and printable CDs or DVDs. This printer's key selling point is the ink, which is claimed to resist fading for 85 years, even longer than HP claims their prints to last. This printer also introduces the finest droplet size ever announced on a consumer inkjet - 1.5 picoliter. This printer accomplishes an extended color gamut and even gloss distribution through a whopping eight ink cartridges.
My results were varied with this machine. My first observation was that the average photo enthusiast will find this printer out of his price range. Not because of the hardware cost, but because the cartridges - worst case scenario, about 40 prints to a cartridge - run over $100 for a full set. The new red and blue cartridges seem to be consumed at about 20% of the rate of the others, so it is definitely beneficial that each color is a separate cartridge. However, the prints are exceptional. Looking at sample prints made using Epson's own glossy photo paper, I found that there was not nearly as much grain as can be found on previous generation photo printers. The smaller droplet size is likely responsible for the reduced grain. Also, the gloss optimizer cartridge provides a shocking glossy effect unrivaled by any of my other glossy prints. The prints actually appear to have a sheet of reflective glass on top of them thanks to the shimmering resin. The color is just as bright as it needs to be, and when I tested a monochrome print I found that it was clean and lacked any color speckling, banding, or color cast. Unfortunately, the prints also have some shortcomings. The edges of the shadows in my sample print (above) are too blurry and washed out. The color in general was also a bit lighter than it should be. Epson does include an assortment of color settings you can play with to improve the quality on a case-by-case basis but the all around quality suffered from these lightness problems that hurt the final quality. In addition, matte prints were a bit more grainy than the glossy prints, and this is where light magenta and light cyan inks would have helped.
Borderless printing had its ups and downs. Rumor had it that the preproduction R800's suffered from graininess and faded color toward the edge of the print. On my glossy prints I was unable to tell that the borderless prints had not been trimmed from a larger copy, however the matte prints did have a very terrible washed out look toward the bottom. Trimmed is also how I would describe the effect of the driver resizing the image to perform the full bleed print. Much of the edges of the original image are lost as the printer sprays excess onto the foamy platen. Of course another side effect is this will make the printed image appear slightly larger than expected. There is no adjustment in the driver that allows the end user to reduce this effect so it is a minor glitch you're stuck with if you use the R800. Also rumored was that there would be "pizza wheel" markings on dark prints, but I did not encounter that problem either.
Speed is also a selling point of the R800. This printer is still an Epson, so it takes about 90 seconds to two minutes to warm up and charge the print head (noisily turning all the rollers the whole time). Once the printer is warmed up, though, I found printing to be exceptionally fast. A Best Photo quality borderless print at 4x6 took as much as three minutes and occasionally went faster. A letter-size photo, not borderless, took four and a half minutes. Text printing was very crisp but not laser sharp at only 2ppm normal, and was too faint in draft mode at 4ppm. Similar to DuraBrite ink, the prints are water resistant even on plain paper. Simple color printing was 1.5ppm color at an acceptable quality setting. One issue I had was with the print head. After printing only about a dozen pages I already had an issue with almost half of the magenta nozzles that were plugged up and required not one, but two stages of cleaning. When is Epson going to design a print head that doesn't get plugged up? Considering how quickly print head cleaning consumes Epson's expensive inks, I don't expect the problem to be fixed soon.
CD/DVD printing on the R800 is a joke. My advice is not to take this printer's CD printing feature seriously, as the results are so disappointing you could not even use it for amateur family projects. To demonstrate the seriousness of the problem I printed a density confirmation pattern at three densities: light, heavy, and very light. I left the printed CD to dry for a full two weeks (Epson recommends 24-28 hours). Then I picked up the CD and, just the same as if it had just been printed, the ink smudges off onto my finger with negligible pressure! If you get the CD wet, of course, you can count on the entire printed image being destroyed. Despite the fact that the quality of the printed picture is nice, and this printer is a speed demon as it can finish printing the CD in 55 seconds (not counting the 30 seconds it takes to load the CD tray), it is all irrelevant. CD printing is about durability, and this printer fails the test so miserably you could expect a more durable label by using press-on adhesive labels. I suspect that the CD surface is not permeable by the UltraChrome resin-coated ink. I tested using both Memorex and Ridata printable media. Unless Epson intends to make UltraChrome printable CD-Rs (and you could expect that if they did they would be prohibitively expensive) this printer is not acceptable for CD printing.
The R800 is a capable, if not terribly fascinating, dedicated photo printer offering. Of course as was the case with the 900, this printer is only covered by a one year warranty and Epson technical support is only available as a long-distance toll call during business hours. As a photo printer, this machine is a tough competitor, although not considerably better than similar-priced photo printers. The print permanance ratings are impressive, so anyone who wants prints that will not fade in their lifetime this is a great choice; if that doesn't matter, there is also the fascinating glossy effect and the crisp monochrome prints. Expect to pay plenty changing ink cartridges. Most importantly, throw out the CD tray because it will do you no good. This printer is adequate but most photographers will prefer the entry-level R200 photo printer.