Mar 162008
 

© Paul Mozell 2008

With the release of the Stylus Photo R1900 printer, Epson has pushed traditional photographic prints one step closer to obsolescence. This new 13 inch printer which replaces the R1800 in the product line, raises the bar for dynamic range, permanence, speed, and smooth color transitions. With a broad target audience ranging from advanced amateur to professional photographers, the R1900 may resemble its predecessor, but the ink formulation is all new.

I’ve been riding the digital printing wave since the first black-ink-only printers hit the streets 15 or 20 years ago. The first decent color ink jet prints I made were on an Iris Graphics printer, a $120,000 machine designed for making color proofs for commercial printers. I soon got my hands on the first desktop Epson Stylus Photo and pushed the limits of its ability to make acceptable prints using only 4 colors. I hardly questioned the fact that it was nearly impossible to have both accurate reds and blues in the same print. After all, how was the a CMYK printer going to faithfully reproduce my RGB files? Prints from this first generation printer faded noticeably after about a year. I shudder at the thought that I actually sold and gifted some of these prints as “fine art.”r1900-ho_noin.jpg

I put the R1900 through its paces, printing many color and greyscale files from Nikon DSLRs, a Canon Powershot point-and-shoot, and scans of 4×5 and 35mm film. My digital darkroom includes an Apple PowerMac G5 Dual 2 gig, Adobe Photoshop CS3, and Adobe Lightroom. The media I used included Epson Premium Photo Paper Glossy, Epson Premium Presentation Matte, and Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster. (Media named by the division of tongue twister marketing.) As a firm believer in color managed workflow, I made my prints with ICC profiles included on the installer disk, plus a few profiles downloaded from the Epson web site. Patrick Chen, Epson USA’s product manager for color printers, told me that the files on the website have been authored and fine tuned by engineers in the States, and may surpass the quality of the factory-supplied profiles.

The R1900 is 37% faster than the R1800—a significant upgrade. Epson is calling its new printing features “Radiance Technology”, a term that encompasses expanded color gamut, reduced metamerism, improved spot color rendition, more efficient use of ink, and color transitions rivaling those on traditional darkroom prints. “But wait”, you say, “you’re losing me quickly with all the techno-speak.” Ok, I’ll slow down! Color gamut refers to the range of colors reproduced by a given device. Spot color is an exact color, required in the rendition of a things like corporate logos and packaging. Metamerism is the tendency of some colors in ink jet prints to look different when viewed under different light sources; such as daylight and fluorescent. Problems with color banding that were once a fact of life in ink jet prints, have been overcome. I used a quality Schneider loupe to study the 13×19 prints I made from 10.2 megapixel files and had to squint to see the dots.

Another improvement cited by Epson is the reduced “gloss differential.” With the new Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss® 2 pigment ink, the eighth “color” in the set of inks applies a layer of gloss coating to glossy and lustre surface prints. To my eye, this layer makes transitions appear smoother with some optical trickery; blending the space between dots. The additional layer also adds protection, while making the print feel even more like a resin coated traditional photographic print.

The optimum file resolution to output on the R1900 is 360ppi. Chen pointed out that many photographers waste a lot of time and pixels when they insist on printing at much higher resolutions. In my experience, very acceptable ink jet prints for photographic use can be made from files as low as 200 ppi—and sometimes lower. This varies with the quality of the file and the image content. The printer driver offers three different photo quality printing modes. I was pleased to learn that the highest quality mode does not use more ink, although printing time is increased.

The paper transport mechanism has been upgraded as well, and with two available paper paths you can print on a wide variety of fine art media. One of the paper slots is built to minimize the roller pressure on cut sheets of soft fine art papers. Have you found that peel-and-stick printed CD labels and causing your disks to jam in narrow slot optical disk players? This printer does a great job of printing text and images directly onto CDs and DVDs that have a special coating for receiving ink. The software installer disk includes a very capable utility for designing and printing sharp-looking CD art. Archival prints? Absolutely! An independent testing laboratory that does accelerated fade testing, verifies that prints made with Epson brand ink and media will last as long as 200 years without significant degradation of the image. Want to print continuously? The roll feeder is easy to use.

I was impressed with the quality of the color prints I made on all types of media supplied to me by the factory. My sense is that the colors on this printer are generally brighter than those rendered by any of the Epson printers using the original Ultrachrome K3 inks. (I have not evaluated the Epson UltraChromeâ„¢ K3 with Vivid Magenta Ink). But, this does not mean that they are over-saturated. Accustomed to boosting the saturation on some files before printing to other devices, I was pleased with the files as they were, and prints closely matched the images on my color-managed monitor. And by the way, if you are curious about the presence of Red and Orange inks in the cartridge set, forget about it. The engineers at Epson do have color pigment printing all figured out, with the help of scientists at R.I.T. – the Rochester Institute of Technology. The image quality gap between dye inks and pigment inks has been erased.

I was less pleased with the black & white prints I made, some of which seemed to have a very slight reddish cast. On the other hand, some viewers might call them pleasantly “warm”. Nevertheless, the monochrome prints are pretty good, especially considering they are made with only one black ink cartridge and no greys. The R1900 also houses Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges simultaneously, and selects the correct one based on the paper type chosen in the printer driver.

Who is this printer for? Although Epson’s literature directs the R1900 to advanced photographers, professional photographers are not excluded. The image quality and lightfastness ratings are superb. This is not a high volume printer so if you need to crank out lots of prints for an event, you might want to look at the Epson 3800 or 4880 17″ printers, or a fast dye sublimation printer. The R1900 would be a terrific choice for someone moving up from a letter-size printer, or an older model 13 inch unit, or any dye ink printer—with poor fade characteristics. You’re a fine art photographer or portrait photographer? The Epson UltraChrome Hi-gloss 2 inks will give you dynamic prints suitable for sale or exhibition at any venue or marketplace. I plan to exhibit some of these fine prints this spring in a juried competition!

Street price: $529.95. As of this writing, dealers are offering a bundle of the Epson Stylus R1900 Printer with Adobe Lightroom that includes a generous $100 rebate on the software.


Key Specifications
Ink Palette

  • 8-color (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Photo Black or Matte Black, Red, Orange and Gloss Optimizer)

Ink Cartridge Configuration

  • Individual cartridges –
  • Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss® 2 Pigment Ink

Maximum Resolution (dots per inch)

  • 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi

Print Speed

5″ x 7″ Photo

  • As fast as 44 sec2

8″ x 10″ Photo

  • As fast as 58 sec2

11″ x 14″ Photo

  • As fast as 1 min 32 sec2

Paper Handling

Maximum Paper Width

  • Auto sheet feeder 13″
  • Manual � roll paper path (rear) 13″
  • Roll paper 13″

Maximum Printable Area

  • 13″ x 44″ BorderFree®

Paper Sizes

  • 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″, 8″ x 10″, A4 (8.3″ x 11.7″ ), letter (8.5″ x 11″), legal (8.5″ x 14″), 11″ x 14″, 12″ x 12″, B (11″ x 17″), A3 (11.7″ x 16.5″), Super B (13″ x 19″), user definable, plus 8.3″ and 13″ wide panoramic roll papers

Borderless Photo Sizes

  • 4″ x 6″, 5″ x 7″, 8″ x 10″, A4 (8.3″ x 11.7″), letter (8.5″ x 11″), 11″ x 14″, 12″ x 12″, B (11″ x 17″), A3 (11.7″ x 16.5″) and 13″ x 19″ sizes

Paper Types

  • Plain paper, Epson Bright White Paper, Presentation Paper Matte, Premium Presentation Paper Matte, Premium Presentation Paper Matte Double-sided, Ultra Premium Presentation Paper Matte, Photo Paper Glossy, Premium Photo Paper Glossy, Ultra Premium Photo Paper Glossy, Premium Photo Paper Semi-gloss, Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster, Watercolor Paper Radiant White, Velvet Fine Art Paper, UltraSmooth® Fine Art Paper, PremierArtâ„¢ Water Resistant Canvas for Epson, Piezo Pro® Matte Canvas for Epson, PremierArt Matte Scrapbook Photo Paper and ink jet printable CDs/DVDs.

Special Media Support

  • Roll paper 8.3″ and 13″ rolls, Fine art paper, Manual � roll paper path (rear), Direct CD/DVD printing

Direct CD / DVD Printing Support

  • Yes

Light Resistance / Print Longevity

  • Up to 105 years on Premium Photo Paper Glossy
  • Up to 150 years on Premium Presentation Paper Matte
  • Up to 200 years on Watercolor Paper Radiant White3

Paper Capacity

  • Auto sheet feeder
    120 sheets (plain paper)
    30 sheets (photo paper)
  • Manual roll
    1 sheet (fine art paper)
  • CD/DVD tray
    1 ink jet printable CD/DVD

Hardware and Software Details

Printer Dimensions & Weight

  • Printing W x D x H
    24.3″ x 31.4″ x 16.3″
  • Storage W X D x H
    24.3″ x 12.7″ x 8.4″
  • Weight
    26.9 lb

Interface and Connectivity

  • Two (2) Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports

Operating Systems

  • Windows®
    Windows Vistaâ„¢, XP Professional x64, XP, and 2000
  • Macintosh®
    Mac OS® X 10.3.9 and 10.4.x and 10.5.x
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