Epson Stylus Photo R1900 review: Epson Stylus Photo R1900
Epson Stylus Photo R1900 printer brings new life to the faces on your prints. The UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 ink set improves skin tones and also does an excellent job on a wide range of colours. With its Radiance Technology, you'll get smooth prints that will also last a long time
Advances in printer technology don't come along very frequently and tend to be less than earth-shattering. Almost three years after Epson introduced the widely popular Stylus Photo R1800, the company has released the Stylus Photo R1900, which brings along with it a new version of the company's pigment-based UltraChrome Hi-Gloss ink set called UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2. The new inks include an orange cartridge, instead of the blue cartridge used with the R1800, which allows for slightly better skin tones.
The R1900 is available for around £375.
The printer's design looks much like the Stylus Pro 3800. Though both use pigment inks, the pricier Pro 3800 uses Epson's K3 inkset and doesn't support roll-feed media. It does have larger ink cartridges than the R1900, which should give you many more prints between cartridges and a slightly better pound-to-ink-millilitre value, but the Pro 3800 doesn't include the new orange ink found in the R1900. Of course, the Pro 3800 is really designed for people who print a whole lot, plus it costs more than twice as much as the R1900.
Setup was fairly simple, though given the printer's size, you'll want to set aside ample desk space. With its trays extended, the printer is 24 by 16 by 31 inches, and Epson suggests that you place it at least 100mm from the wall, since some papers will extend out the back during the printing process. Closed, the printer is almost 13 inches deep, so if you plan to let the front tray extend off the desk, you should plan for about 19 inches of desk depth, just to be safe.
Most of the rest of the R1900's specs are similar to the printer it replaces. It has a maximum print resolution of 5,760x1,440 dpi, a minimum ink droplet size of 1.5 picolitres, and can print on CDs or DVDs. Of course, you need to use special discs with a white coating on top if you want to do that.
More important than the disc printing is that the printer holds both Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges and switches between them automatically based on the paper you choose in the driver. Some printers, including Epson's own R2400, make you switch them manually, which gets old really fast.
The company has also revamped the way it translates colours from the images shot by your digital camera into those that the printer can reproduce. Epson is calling this new system Radiance Technology, but while Epson also claims some grain reduction and smoother colour transitions with the system, at its heart it's mostly a new set of look-up tables that the company says can better maximise the number of colours available with this printer.
Epson updated the MicroPiezo AMC print head in this new model with a coating that repels ink and is intended to better maintain dot placement accuracy over the life of the printer. It has also added a mist collection system that absorbs the overspray of ink when printing borderless. Over long periods of time, that mist can collect on the bottom tray and other points inside the printer and can cause errant marks on the tops and bottoms of prints.
Though there is no built-in Ethernet connection, Epson includes two Hi-Speed USB 2.0 jacks on the back of the printer, so you can connect more than one computer, and using special software you can network the printer through a computer. If you like to print via PictBridge, there is a separate USB jack on the front of the printer for that purpose.
The printer driver included with the R1900 is essentially the same as the one they use for all their Stylus Photo printers. It is easy to navigate, with four tabs at the top to move between different types of adjustments, and an otherwise intuitive layout with all the different options exactly where you'd expect them to be. There are even explanations of the various features that pop up when you mouse over them, and as a nod toward advanced photographers, you can set the Advanced tab (where you set colour management options) as the default.
Since we're dealing with a new ink set, it's hard to compare the difference that Radiance Technology makes, but we can say that the Stylus Photo R1900 has a very wide colour gamut and did a great job of printing colours that can often give inkjets trouble, such as deep purples and some shades of blue. Plus, as you might expect, the orange ink can help with oranges and some darker shades of yellow.
We did notice that transitions from one colour to the next were very smooth for an inkjet printer. This is especially noteworthy in out-of-focus areas, which can often result in stair-step bands rather than smooth transitions. However, we saw the same thing in the Pro 3800, which didn't include Radiance Technology, so it seems like Epson is lumping a number of different things under the same moniker. When Epson introduced the Pro 3800, it said that its smoother transitions were the result of better screening algorithms. Either way, the prints are quite nice.
While Wilhelm Imaging Research hasn't yet tested the R1900 to see how long its prints will last, Epson's pigment-based printers usually score quite well on his tests. The R1800's prints had a permanence rating of 104 years on Epson's Premium Glossy Photo paper when displayed framed under glass (and not even UV-coated glass at that). Suffice it to say, you should be able to expect prints that will last you a long, long time, especially if you store them in a dark place, such as a photo album.
While not particularly fast as a document printer, the R1900 prints at a decent speed for photos. We were able to print a bordered 254x203mm (10x8-inch) photo on A4 paper in about 3 minutes 28 seconds with the printer -- instead of Photoshop -- determining colours, quality set to Best -- the top setting, high speed turned off, and the printer's Auto Photo Enhance feature turned on.
That might not seem very fast, but everything is stacked against the printer in that situation. We must say, though, that the driver did a very nice job of removing the rather yellow cast of the photo we threw its way. With high speed turned on, Photo Enhance off, and quality notched down to Photo, we were able to print the same photo in 1 minute 29 seconds. Letting Photoshop determine colours, using the excellent printer profiles that Epson provides, brought that time down to 1 minute 21 seconds, though if you have an extremely fast computer, you may get even better results.
Epson's Stylus Photo R1900 is definitely a worthy follow-up to the R1800, though it's hard to say if it warrants a step up for R1800 owners. If you print a lot of portraits, you may appreciate the subtle skin-tone enhancements that the orange ink provides. While it's hard to notice at a glance, it becomes noticeable in side-by-side comparisons. If you regularly notice banding in your prints, the R1900's smoother transitions could seal the deal for you -- we know they would for us.
However, if cost is a big issue and you don't mind dye inks, or giving up the roll-feed option, Epson's Stylus Photo 1400 makes very nice prints, though it doesn't have quite as silky-smooth colour transitions as the R1900.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday