A sturdy A3+ printer that will suit photographers who want long-lasting colour prints and are happy to use standard papers.Released almost three years after the Stylus Photo R1800 (which it replaces), Epson's new Stylus Photo R1900 introduces a new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 ink set in which an orange ink replaces the blue ink. Epson claims this substitution results in better skin tones. The new model is slightly larger and marginally heavier than its predecessor and carries an Energy Star logo. . . [more]
Released almost three years after the Stylus Photo R1800 (which it replaces), Epson's new Stylus Photo R1900 introduces a new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 ink set in which an orange ink replaces the blue ink. Epson claims this substitution results in better skin tones. The new model is slightly larger and marginally heavier than its predecessor and carries an Energy Star logo.
Physically the R1900's styling is a cross between its predecessor, the Stylus Photo R1800 and the professional Stylus Pro 3800 (which prints up to A2 size). It's more solidly built than the R1800 (and also the pricier R2400 'pro-sumer' model), particularly with respect to the output support tray, which folds up into the front panel. A solid plastic flap, which doubles as a paper feed support and has extending panels, folds down over the paper feed slot when the printer is not in use, preventing dust from entering.
The R1900 comes with a sturdy plastic guide for the rear sheet feeder, which should be used when you print on 'specialty media' like Velvet Fine Art Paper and Watercolor Paper-Radiant White and accepts one sheet at a time. The same slots are used for attaching the supplied roll paper holders. A tray for printing on specially-coated CDs and DVDs fits into a slot on the front of the printer. It accepts 12 cm disks - or 8cm disks via an adapter. Power and USB cables are included in the package, along with a software CD and printed set-up guide.
No card reading slots are provided but there's a PictBridge connection on the front panel for direct printing from digital cameras and two USB 2.0 Hi-Speed ports on the rear of the printer allow it to be connected to two computers. However, there's no built-in Ethernet connection.
Like its predecessor, the R1900 has a maximum print resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi, 'optimised' through Epson's Resolution Performance Management (RPM) technology. The Micro Piezo print head has 180 nozzles per colour and covers an inch-wide strip of paper with each pass, improving print speed by up to 35% (compared with the R1800). Epson's Variable Sized Droplet Technology (VSDT) produces up to three different sizes of ink droplets, with a minimum droplet size of 1.5 picolitres.
The R1900 is can print on a wide variety of media types (including canvas) and accepts cut sheets up to A3+ size as well as 210 mm and 329 mm wide roll paper. Initial testing by Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com) shows it to be capable of producing prints with lightfastness ratings of 200 years on Epson Watercolor Paper Radiant White or more than 100 years on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper. These figures relate to prints framed under glass. Unframed prints have lightfastness ratings of between 52 and 80 years.
The R1900's seven-colour, UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 ink set has two blacks: matte black and photo black - but no intermediate greys. Like the R1800, the R1900 uses only seven coloured inks. The eighth cartridge is a Gloss Optimiser cartridge, the same as those used with the R800 and R1800 models. Like the R1800 (but unlike the R2400 where cartridges must be removed for swapping), switching between matte black and photo black inks is automatic and based on the paper selected in the printer driver.
Two Gloss Optimiser cartridges are provided with the printer, presumably in the expectation that users will prefer glossy prints over matte ones (where the Gloss Optimiser is not used). As the entire printed surface is covered with the Gloss Optimiser, usage is relatively heavy when glossy prints are made.
Epson claims the new ink set can create a staggering 18,446,774 trillion colour combinations - although whether you would ever need than many is debatable. To handle all this colour information, the company has developed new Look Up Table (LUT) technology in partnership with one of the world's leading centres of colour science, the Munsell Color Science Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Also known as 'Radiance Technology', the system takes advantage of the wider colour range of the ink set. The LUT technology works with the printer's Micro Piezo print head to determine how much of each colour is used to translate an RGB source file into a print with the aim of improving output colour gamut and tonal transitions. The technology also reduces the incidence of metamerism (where colours look different under different types of lighting), which used to be a problem with pigment ink sets.
According to Epson, the algorithms controlling this process 'optimise colour matching to ensure the printed image is consistent with the original photograph' and produce 'prints with smooth gradations, reduced graininess, wide colour gamut and low colour inconstancy'. In line with common parlance, Epson uses the term "Hi-Definition" to describe the quality of such prints (although we can't see how you can equate hard-copy output to the screen-based TV displays normally accorded this epithet).
During manufacture, Epson includes proprietary PreciseColor colorimetric calibration in the MicroPiezo print head, eliminating the need for repeated re-calibration of the printer. An ink-repelling coating has also been applied to the Micro Piezo print head to prolong its lifespan and reduce maintenance. These changes also help to maintain dot placement accuracy over the life of the printer. A built-in sensor controls automatic print head alignment and nozzle checking.
Setting up the R1900 involves a similar process to most A3+ inkjets and you need ample desk space to accommodate it. Although its footprint is 616 x 322 mm, you must allow at least 100mm behind the printer if you wish to use the roll paper holder or attach the rear sheet feeder. Lowering the front tray and pulling out its extensions adds a further 335 mm to overall depth.
Once you connect the printer to main power, the next step is to install the software from the supplied disk. Two options are provided: Easy and Custom install. Clicking the Easy button installs the complete software suite, while the Custom button lets you choose which applications to install. The printer driver is installed by default. If you already have an Epson printer, this is the preferred option because some applications must be uninstalled if a more recent version comes on the disk - and you may wish to avoid this as it can prolong the set-up process.
The Easy Install option provides totally automated installation of the software and driver.
The Custom Install setting lets you choose which applications to install.
Installing the software and printer driver for the review unit took just over 14 minutes with the Easy interface - and part of this time involved uninstalling earlier versions of three applications. Epson cautions against running other applications while the installation is in progress. Unlike other Epson printers we've reviewed, the review unit came with a set of inks pre-installed. When you first connect the printer to your computer an on-screen message warns you not to expect these inks to have the same capacity as regular cartridges as part of the ink is used to prime the print heads - a process that took approximately four minutes.
Each ink cartridge holds 11.4 ml, which is typical of printers in this category (i.e. pitched at photo enthusiasts, rather than professional, high-volume users). In our opinion, the ink volume per cartridge (although similar to the R2400) is too low for serious enthusiasts. Unfortunately, it's largely dictated by the size of the print head (which carries the cartridges) and the solidity of the mounting system that holds and drives the print head across the paper. Larger, more robust drive mechanisms add to the printer's size and cost.
The ink cartridges sit on top of the print head and are easily removed and replaced.
Each cartridge must be shaken before it is installed in the printer to ensure the pigment particles don't settle at the base of the reservoir and block the nozzles. Installing cartridges is quick and straightforward and easily-understood instructions are provided.
The software disk contains a suite of Epson-developed applications, including File Manager, Scan Assist, Attach to Email, Easy Photo Print, Print CD and Web-To-Page as well as ICC Profiles and an online Reference Guide. A four-page printed instruction sheet is packed with the printer to guide users through basic set-up and installation processes.
In our tests we made prints through two different interfaces: Epson's Easy Photo Print and Adobe's Photoshop CS3. Easy Photo Print has a simple interface that will suit novice users and delivers acceptable (but not great) prints from most image files. However, it has some limitations that will drive serious enthusiasts to use more flexible applications like Photoshop and Photoshop Elements (or other similar programs).
For starters, Easy Photo Print doesn't support ICC profiles. Furthermore, few adjustments can be made in the printer's driver and you can't preview prints. A slider in the right hand dialog box lets you adjust the size of the image in the frame. Clicking on the 'Image Correct' button allows you to choose between PhotoEnhance or No Adjustments, select from four Scene Correction modes and adjust the correction level. You can also click on Monochrome or Vivid & Clear buttons (the latter boosting saturation) and adjust brightness levels.
Easy Photo Print lets you select the size and type of paper.
You can also add borders or frames to pictures.
But other adjustments are fairly limited.
When working with JPEG files, the effects of any changes can be seen on the preview image, although we found the display to be fairly crude - and not particularly reliable. Digital Camera Correction and Red-Eye Fix are also available, along with Portrait Enhance. (We couldn't see much difference in the preview window when either button was checked.)
Printing raw files through Epson's Easy Photo Print is more chancy. Although you can make some adjustments to the files before printing them, the corrections you have made are not reflected in the preview image in the Layout and Print window - only in the final print-out. If your monitor isn't calibrated to match the printer, the results can be disappointing. On the whole, we found it easier to print through an image editor that provided far greater flexibility - and included the ability to print with ICC profiles.
When printing raw files, any adjustments you have made in Easy PhotoPrint can only be seen when the image is printed. No changes are visible in the preview window.
One feature we missed in the printer driver was the R2400's Advanced B&W interface, which lets you fine-tune the colour biases of monochrome prints and is wonderfully flexible. The R1900's driver has an Advanced mode - but if you want to make B&W prints there's only one setting: Grayscale, which sets the Colour Management to Colour Controls and provides only brightness and contrast adjustments.
The Advanced driver mode, showing the settings we used for printing on semigloss paper.
We also found a couple of interesting anomalies in the driver when changing papers. Three Quality settings are provided: Photo, Best Photo and Photo RPM (resolution performance management), which uses medium dots in areas of solid colour and smaller dots in areas of gradation and blending. All three are available for glossy and semigloss papers but only Best Photo and Photo RPM are available for semi-matte and matte papers. When you select any of the 'Fine Art' papers, the only Quality setting is Photo RPM. (Why this should be so eludes us.)
Clicking on the Color Controls button lets you choose from three Color Modes: Epson Standard, Epson Vivid (the default) and Adobe RGB. Brightness, contrast and saturation adjustments and adjustments for the cyan, magenta and yellow levels are available via sliders in this mode. Choosing PhotoEnhance opens a dialog box with a Scene Correction selection containing Auto Correct, People. Landscape, Night Scene, Sepia and Gray. You can also check boxes for Digital Camera Correction and Smooth Skin.
The ICM setting allows you to choose from three driver modes, three input profiles (sRGB, Adobe RGB and ColorMatch RGB) and three rendering intents and set the printer profile (which defaults to the selected paper profile). We obtained the best results when printing from Photoshop when we allowed Photoshop to determine the colour balance. This meant checking the ICM Off box under Colour Management and selecting No Color Adjustment.
When you print through Photoshop (or a similar advanced editor) you can take advantage of ICC profiles.
For a high-quality A3+ printer, the R1900 is reasonably fast. We measured the following average printing times:
A4 print - 1 minute and 21 second (checking High Speed reduced the time to 1 minute and 3 seconds with a slight deterioration in print quality).
A3 print - 2 minutes and 40 seconds through Photoshop and 4 minutes 59 seconds through Easy Photo Print.
A3+ print - 5 minutes and 50 seconds through Photoshop.
Spooling time was approximately 27 seconds for all output sizes.
Paper Handling & Ink Management
Epson provided four different papers for our tests: Premium Glossy and Premium Semigloss Photo papers from the standard range and Velvet Fine Art paper and UltraSmooth Fine Art paper from the professional range. We also received a roll of 329 mm wide Premium Semigloss Photo paper for printing panoramas.
We had no problems loading the glossy and semigloss papers via the standard feed chute. However, loading the slightly heavier 'fine art' papers by the rear sheet feeder was frustrating. The feeder frequently failed to 'grab' the paper and we had to turn the sheet through 180 degrees and re-feed it and/or switch the printer off and then on again) before a print could be made.
When, in total frustration at the review printer's failure to load the paper via the rear feeder, we tried using the sheet feeder for the 'fine art' papers, we found it was possible to use the standard feed chute for both of the samples Epson supplied. Simply select 'Ignore' when the pop-up screen shown below appears. (We don't recommend using the standard chute for heavier papers.)
Selecting 'Ignore' allows you to print on heavier papers using the standard sheet feeder.
Printing on roll paper was doubly frustrating because, even though we loaded the paper in accordance with the instructions in the online manual, the printer repeatedly indicated a mis-loading. When we attempted to back up the paper so we could re-load it, instead of feeding in reverse when we held down the roll paper button for three seconds (as outlined in the manual), the paper was fed forwards for just over a metre. Then the printer paused and fed another metre out!
Having no way to disengage the paper, we were left with one option: to repeat this process until the entire 10 metres on the roll had passed through the printer onto our office floor. Then we had to rewind the paper on the roll and start again. When the same process was repeated, we gave up trying to print from the roll holder and investigated other alternatives.
After some experimentation, we found the best option with the review printer was to cut the correct length of paper off the roll (using the dimensions of the original photo we wanted to print) and feed it in via the rear sheet feeder, leaving the end of the paper loosely curled at the back of the printer. The printer driver allows you to select a 'user defined' paper size (see below) so all you need do is re-size the image so it fits onto the width of the paper (329mm in our tests) and add roughly 20 cm to its overall length to determine how long the paper should be cut.
The 'User Defined' interface allows you to set the width and height of the paper in 0.1mm increments.
Interestingly, the review printer had few problems accepting our 'cut sheets' via the rear feed chute. The only issue to contend with is that the 'user defined' measurements are in tenths of a millimeter (or inch if you prefer using Imperial measurements) so it's easy to be out by a factor 10 when setting the paper size. We managed to print several panoramas measuring between 85 cm and 1.2 metres long in this way. However, on returning to print on cut sheet paper, the printer driver was unable to revert to standard loading - even though we selected 'Sheet' feed in the printer driver.
Switching the printer off and then on again allowed us to resolve this problem. However, sometimes the paper size defaulted back to A4 and paper type to 'plain papers' so we had to re-set the driver parameters repeatedly. Fortunately, you can save a collection of driver settings to make this process more straightforward.
Printing on CDs and DVDs was much simpler and the supplied tray worked without any apparent problems. The results were acceptable - but not earth-shattering.
In general, the review printer produced impressive results and reproduced even traditionally 'difficult' colours like blues and purples with a high degree of accuracy. Skin tones were accurately rendered and subtle tonal nuances were handled extremely well. Reproduction of detail was also very good.
As with other printers we've reviewed, a great deal of the 'success' of a print depends on matching the image to the appropriate paper. Paper choice is a highly subjective matter. Some images look best on a very white paper, while others are better on a creamier base. Some images are better on glossy paper, while others look better on semigloss or matte papers.
Test prints on glossy and semi-gloss papers showed minimal bronzing - as long as the Gloss box in the driver was checked. Un-checking the Gloss box de-coupled the Gloss Optimiser, leaving the print uncoated. Without the Gloss coating, prints on glossy paper was severely affected by bronzing; semigloss prints were also affected, but to a lesser degree. (Gloss Optimiser is not used for matte or semi-matte prints.)
We found no evidence of unevenness in ink deposition but prints on glossy paper showed minor gloss differential (variations in surface reflectivity), under highly directional lighting. Interestingly, there was no evidence of the slightly 'chalky' look produced by some pigment printers on glossy media. However, very contrasty images were somewhat difficult to print on Epson's Premium Glossy paper due to its high inherent contrast.
The Velvet Fine Art paper and UltraSmooth Fine Art paper produced the deepest, richest blacks. Not unexpectedly, for portrait prints and some landscapes, we also found the smoothest tonal transitions and richest tones were produced on these papers. However, bright landscapes (e.g. beach scenes) with sunny skies and white clouds appeared to contain more detail when printed on glossy paper and seas, in particular, looked more natural with a high-gloss finish.
Monochrome prints we made on glossy paper using the grayscale setting in the printer driver were slightly cool in hue but retained their normal contrast range. Prints made on the 'fine art' papers appeared rather flat when compared with prints on the glossy and semigloss papers. We were able to produce colour-neutral monochrome prints from monochrome originals when printing through Photoshop (or a similar application) and letting the image editor determine the colours by turning the colour management settings in in the driver off. This method also allowed us to produce colour-toned prints (e.g. 'sepia') with a full range of tonal nuances on the 'fine art' papers.
As with the R1400 model, the R1900 provides no way of monitoring ink usage with any degree of precision. The best indication you get is bar graphs indicating the ink levels in each cartridge. Unlike the R2400, which displays cartridge levels down to 5%, with the R1900, the low ink warnings are fairly uninformative and it's impossible to estimate exactly when the cartridge actually will run dry.
The ink levels display that is shown when you start printing.
The Low Ink Warning screen.
Epson bases its cartridge yield claims on ISO/IEC 24711 and 24712 test files, none of which contain a typical photographic image. Consequently, it is unrealistic to use the claims published in the specifications on the company's website for typical photo printing usage. We weren't able to estimate exactly how much ink was used for the initial priming of the print head so our estimates of running costs can only be regarded as a rough approximation for typical photo printing.
Ink cartridges for the R1900 are currently priced at $21.99 each, with the Gloss Optimiser cartridges at $15.99. Ink consumption is fairly high - particularly for the Gloss Optimiser (when you print on glossy and semigloss media) and the Cyan ink. The orange and red cartridges ran out last, with the two black inks shortly beforehand. In our tests we used eight colour ink cartridges and two Gloss Optimiser cartridges to cover an area equivalent to 146 A4 prints. This works out at approximately $1.40 in ink per print. A list of paper and inks costs can be found at www.shoponline.epson.com.au/shop/DisplayALLProductConsumables.asp.
The Stylus Photo R1900 sits between the 6-ink Stylus Photo R1410 and sophisticated 9-ink Stylus Photo R2400 models. At $400 more than the R1410, it provides the benefits of an additional ink colour (and consequent extended colour gamut), longer-lasting pigment inks, support for ICC profiles and the ability to print on roll papers and heavier media. At $400 less than the R2400, it lacks the R2400's versatile Advanced B&W interface and has only two black inks instead of four (the R2400's ink set includes both photo and matte black as well as light black and light light black for a wider range of tonal nuances in monochrome prints).
Serious photographers won't regret the lack of a memory card reader because the overwhelming majority of prints made on this printer will be via a computer - and through editing software. But they will appreciate the support for ICC profiles - and the excellent 'canned' profiles Epson includes for its own media in the R1900's driver. The ability to add ICC profiles for third-party media may also be valuable.
We don't believe those who buy this printer will necessarily experience all the paper feed problems we encountered with the review unit. Nevertheless, we feel this printer will be better suited to photographers who are happy to print on cut sheets and prefer the lighter paper grades. With that type of usage, the R1900 can be seen as a worthy successor to the R1800, providing many tangible improvements over its predecessor, particularly for photographers who produce mainly colour prints. But, for photographers who make lots of monochrome prints, prefer matte papers to glossy and want to print on heavier media or long rolls of paper, the R2400 will justify its higher price tag.
Printer type: Pigment-based Advanced Micro Piezo inkjet
Resolution: 5760 x 1440 optimised dpi
Paper sizes: 4x6-inch to A3+, roll paper compatible
Ink cartridges: T087120 (Photo Black). T087820 (Matte Black), T087220 (Cyan), T087320 (Magenta), T087420 (Yellow), T087720 (Red), T087920 (Orange), T087020 (Gloss Optimiser)
Minimum ink droplet size: 1.5 picolitres
Interfaces: Two Hi-Speed USB 2.0 ports; PictBridge and USB Direct Print Port
Power consumption: Approx. 20 W during printing; 4 W in sleep mode
Acoustic noise: 5.0 dBA (max.)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 616 x 214 x 322 mm (closed)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9
- Features: 8
- Print quality: 8.5
- Print speed: 8
- OVERALL: 8.5