If you've desired owning an inkjet printer or are looking to upgrade and fancy moving up to A3 here's a model worth a look (known as the Stylus Photo 1280 in the US. It's a huge beast - it has to be big to cope with A3 paper, and although reasonably compact when in its out-of-the-box state, once the paper tray's added and the front support extended it needs a load of room on your desktop.
It may take up a load of room, but it has many advantages for the photographer. For one, the price - this is a 2880dpi printer capable of producing stunning photo quality output for a mere 350. Second the quality; 2880dpi is the highest resolution currently available for a printer. It overlays a collection of dots for each pixel, giving accurate colours and superb tonal gradation. Thirdly printing capability - photos can be printed without borders, printing an A3 is fantastic...you can produce your own artworks to put up on walls around the house. Fourth is speed; an A3 print can be output in less than 13 minutes.
You are not just restricted to printing A3, the tray support has an adjuster that goes down to 4x6in or postcards. There's also a roll paper adaptor provided so you can print borderless enprints...just like those you get back from the lab. You can also use this to produce panoramic style photos making it suitable for the APS P format.
Installing the printer is very easy. Epson have become masters at this and the plug and play USB takes away the hassle that we used to have with serial and parallel ports. If you have an old computer they haven't excluded you though. There is the standard parallel connection, but you would have to buy a printer cable.
The Stylus Photo 1290 comes with an Epson utility called PhotoQuicker, which definitely lives up to its name. This is so easy that a monkey could use it. Open the program select a folder that your images are stored in and thumbnails appear on screen. Click the ones you want to print and then either go to print or modify. Modify allows you to add filter effects with dozens to choose from including some lovely soft focus effects and some hideous 'artistic' filters. Then when you're happy with the effect select print and you have two more stages.
First you choose the paper size and layout then the paper type. The layout is great. You can print out pictures as thumbnails with 10 across and 7 deep on A4, or go for a more reserved 5 across 4 down. It prints the time the picture was taken/modified and a number for the file. You can also select two on a sheet four on a sheet with and without borders. It's an excellent printing package and thoroughly enjoyable to use. Then go and select the type of paper and the quality (speed or quality slider) and print. Data is sent to the print spooler and of it goes.
The printer is relatively quite in operation, but not as silent as some of the HP models and, as mentioned at the beginning, prints appear quickly.
Results are outstanding. Colours are bright, sharpness is excellent and clarity is first rate.
Epson's Stylus Photo printers use Photo Reproduction Quality (PRQ) to accurately reproduce areas of strong colour and areas of pale or light colours such as skin tones.
A high density of dots is usually laid down to reproduce dark colours while light areas use few dots. The problem here is that you start to see the dot pattern in light areas so you have a grainy effect and poor gradation.
Epson get round this by using two additional ink colours, light cyan and light magenta in combination with the standard 4 colour cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink.
The new PRQ driver ensure that each individual ink droplet is placed accurately and enhanced Error Diffusion provides an advanced halftoning system, leading to smooth tones and gradations.
The ink dots that print are called Ultra MicroDots and are between 3 and 6 picolitres in size. The dot's diameter is up to four times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and close to the limit of resolution for the human eye. This results in much finer detail with less graininess and smoother gradation of tones. This would normally slow the printer down dramatically, but decent speeds are maintained because of the Variable-sized Droplet function that produces different droplet sizes depending on the area of the image being printed.
You can choose speed or quality when printing. Speed reduces the dpi to 1440 and I managed to produce a full colour print on photo quality paper in just 2mins 30 secs minutes. Quality increases the resolution to 2880dpi, but slows the printer down to 5min 15secs. That's still a decent time, but it's difficult to see a difference in quality with the naked eye, so you may as well use the quicker setting, saving on ink and time. Unless you view the print using a magnifying loupe, but that's highly unlikely.
This shows the difference in resolution from 1440dpi to 2880dpi. Both pictures are A4 and it's virtually impossible to see any difference when viewed from arm's length. View through a loupe though and the dots of ink become noticeable.
Because Epson have the best selling printers in the enthusiast photographic arena it also means you have access to special inks such as Lyson for printing high quality black & white without colour casts.
This printer replaces the 1270, which was also a stunning model, but received loads of bad press across the Internet news groups from users because of its colour fading leaving an orange cast. Epson have since change the manufacturers of dye components used in the colour ink in cartridges T008401 and T009401, which they say gives a slight change in output from the Stylus Photo 870, 890, 875, 1270 and 1290 printers.
Epson say that most users of Epson Stylus Photo printers will not notice any changes in colour performance, but photographers who are particularly discerning may notice that colours such as blue are very slightly more vivid and grey tones are very slightly cooler. I fell into the former group in this instance and wasn't aware of any colour problems.
In my initial test I managed to squeeze 3 A3 full colour prints, 17 A4 full colour and around 50 sheets of text paper printing letters, page proofs and various bits and bobs. At the cost of the ink it would be nice to get more out of a cartridge but it's still much cheaper than having the photos printed by a lab and more convenient.
If you have the space and access to high resolution digital images (either shot using one of the latest 3 million pixel cameras or scanned using a film scanner/bureaux) it's worth considering an A3 printer. As well as printing great photos for the wall you could use it to output spreads from A4 newsletters and many other project based tasks. The cost is not much more than an A4 would have been a few years ago. The Epson Stylus Photo 1290 is the best A3 model I've used and really delivers a stunning photo. The downside is running costs, but consider what a 12x16in print from your lab would cost and that's not an issue.
If you're reading this as the owner of a 1270 and wondering whether it's time to upgrade the answer is no. You have most of the benefits of this model, missing just the borderless printing and 2880dpi, which is difficult to be seen by the naked eye.
Test Peter Bargh
Full specifications (supplied by Epson)
Type: A3+ black and colour inkjet printer
Technology: Epson MicroPiezo Print Head featuring Epson 4pl Ultra MicroDot and Variable-Sized Droplet technology
Print Head: 48 nozzles black, 240 nozzles colour (48 per colour: light cyan, cyan, light magenta, magenta, yellow)
Print direction Bi-directional with logic seeking
Noise level 38 dB(A) during printing (ISO 9296) (Fine mode)
Power Consumption Approx. 18 Watts (during printing ISO/IEC 10561)
Resolution Maximum 2880 x 720 dpi in black and colour with Epson Ultra Micro Dot and Variable-Sized Droplet technology (maximum resolution depends on driver setting, operating system and media type )
- Plain paper: 1440 dpi max.
- Premium Glossy Photo Paper: 2880 dpi max.
- Photo Paper: 2880 dpi max.
- Photo Quality Inkjet Card: 1440 dpi max.
- Photo Quality Inkjet Paper: 1440 dpi max.
- Matte Paper Heavyweight: 1440 dpi max.
- Photo Quality Glossy Film: 2880 dpi max.
- 360dpi Inkjet Paper: 360 dpi
- Iron-On Transfer Media: 360 dpi
- Inkjet Transparencies: 360 dpi max.
Paper Handling: Cut sheet feeder capacity: 100 A4 sheets (65 gr/m2) Paper roll holder supplied as standard
- 65 sheets of Photo Quality inkjet paper
- 1 sheet of Premium Glossy Photo Paper
- 20 sheets of Photo Paper
- 30 sheets of Epson inkjet transparencies
- 10 envelopes
Speed: Approx. 9.4 ppm for Black Text Memo (A4 Page, Economy Mode)
Approx. 9.0 ppm for Colour Text Memo (A4 Page, Economy Mode)
(Print speeds will vary depending upon system, application, printer driver settings and page coverage)
Emulations: Epson ESC/P Raster
Driver: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Mac OS supplied as standard
Interfaces:Two interfaces as standard:
Parallel Centronics IEEE 1284 (Windows 95 compatible)
Universal Serial Bus (USB)
USB supported when:
PC with Win 98/ME/2000 pre-installed;
iMac and new G3/G4
Manufacturer guarantees USB operation;
Using one USB hub (if applicable)
Input Buffer: 256KB
Paper size: A3+, A3, A4, A5, Letter, B5, Legal, Half Letter, Executive Envelope No. 10, DL, C6, 5x8in Transparency A4, Letter, A6 Index Card A6, 5x8in, 10x8in
Self-Adhesive A4; Photo Paper A4; Letter, 4x6in, Panoramic
Paper Weight: Cut Sheet from 45 to 90 gr/m2
For genuine Epson paper and media the maximum weight is 255 g/m2
Print margin: 3mm top, left and right; 14 mm bottom. 0mm margins available through custom settings Up to 0mm for Paper roll
Dimensions: 609 x 311 x 175 mm standard, 609 x 779 x 416 mm printing
Ink cartridge: Standard Capacity Black Ink Cartridge Approx. 540 text A4 Pages (ECMA Letter) 5 Colour Ink Cartridge Approx. 330 text A4 pages at 25% (5% for each colour)
Guarantee: 1 year call-out. Optional extension to 3 years. Optional upgrade to 3 years On Site Warranty
(Specifications are subject to change.)