Epson Stylus Photo review: Epson Stylus Photo

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The Good High maximum resolution; prints from multiple sources, including digital cameras and removable media; supports roll paper; easy setup; comprehensive documentation.

The Bad Disappointing all-around image quality, including text output; slow as molasses in January; slightly high ink consumption.

The Bottom Line This printer's attractive photos and myriad printing options can't offset its weak overall output quality and print speeds.

5.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Support 7

Back in the spring, CNET reviewed the Epson Stylus Photo 925 and was surprised by its mediocre-looking output--as were a number of our readers. Despite this consumer-priced printer's good photo-print quality, its uneven text and slow speeds left us cold. So we took a second pass at this elegant-looking, feature-packed inkjet. We retested our original unit, then performed the same tests on a brand-new 925. Unfortunately, this printer yielded the same poor text and graphics quality as before. Thus, our conclusion remains the same: If you intend to use this printer for photos only, you won't be disappointed. But if you expect your photo printer to produce professional-level output in all formats, spend a few extra bucks on the Canon S900.

USB ports only.
Like the Epson Stylus Photo 960, the 925 looks like a shiny, plastic carrying case with a black-and-silvery gray finish that gives it a polished appearance. The hefty fold-down output tray telescopes out to two different sizes, so you can adjust it to fit several paper sizes.

The Stylus Photo 925 sets up in minutes, thanks to a wealth of documentation. The colorful "getting started" poster walks you through unpacking, connecting, and installing the printer. Or you can refer to one of the two included manuals. To install the ink, open the output tray, then fold up the semitranslucent black cover. The two ink cartridges (one black, and one for cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta) snap snuggly into the ink tanks.

Before you begin to print, make sure the lever on its right side as you face the printer is set to the correct thickness type (regular paper or envelope), as this might affect print quality. To print from your PC, simply install the driver software, and hook up the USB cable. The CD-ROM contains an electronic version of the user manual, easy-to-use software for editing and organizing images, and access to Epson's free photo-sharing Web site.

Select appropriate paper thickness.

Accepts all major media cards.

The printer itself is extremely versatile. It's Mac and PC compatible via the USB port (no cable included), and you can print through a computer, as well as directly from a digital camera or removable media, such as CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards, IBM Microdrives, or Memory Sticks.

Roll paper for outsized prints.
The Stylus Photo 925 is loaded with extras and goodies you won't find on many other printers, including the Epson Stylus Photo 960. For example, the LCD panel, for printing directly from digital cameras sans computer, is about as comprehensive in its controls as the printer driver. It lets you tweak everything from basics such as paper type and layout to complex functions such as brightness, saturation, and cropping. The LCD also has ink-level indicators, displays detailed error messages such as "paper is not set correctly," and offers instructions for how to fix any problems it detects.

This printer ships with a roll-paper holder and one spool of 4-inch roll paper. This way, you can print pages of any size (such as panoramas), then manually or automatically crop the pages to fit.

The LCD makes it possible to print from a camera.

Plenty of photo software options.

Like many photo printers, the Stylus Photo 925 ships with a CD full of photo manipulation software. The Epson Software Film Factory is a photo organization and management program. The PIM plug-in for Adobe Photoshop enables the printer to retain and process PIM image quality in JPEG files from digital cameras. ArcSoft PhotoImpression, an easy yet versatile photo editor, lets you edit and add effects to your images. And the Epson Photocenter Link takes you to Epson's free photo-sharing Web site.

Ink costs are a bit on the high side.
All of the Epson 925's useful features simply can't make up for the printer's lackluster performance. Our jury awarded the printer's version of our 8x10 test photo a good rating--but barely. Skin tones had a dark, pinkish hue to them, as did all the red elements in the test image. Close inspection of the photo revealed blurriness and an inability to reproduce finer details, such as the tortoiseshell pattern of the subject's eyeglasses. Epson representatives suggested using a different type of Epson Premium Glossy photo paper (rather than its regular glossy), and the photograph did seem a bit better.

As in our previous tests, the Epson 925's text and graphics output didn't pass muster. Text on both plain and Epson Photo Quality Ink Jet Paper was extremely fuzzy, and the paper looked oversaturated with ink. This was apparent in italics and in both large and small fonts, the latter looking nearly illegible and more like a series of ink droplets in the shape of letters than actual letters. Our tests and retests in Espon 925's default Normal mode yielded more of the same. We did see some improvement, however, in Fine mode. If you want to use this printer, make sure to set it to Fine mode. However, you'll run out of black ink more quickly.

Graphics output on the 925 was, as one juror put it, shockingly bad compared to that of the majority of the inkjets we see these days. Gradients appeared very grainy, the photo elements were dark and lacking in detail, dithering was highly visible throughout the test document, and the printer did a terrible job on lines and sharp edges. We saw no improvement using Epson Ink Jet Paper. Epson representatives suggested that we try printing the graphics file in PDF rather than AI (Adobe Illustrator) format. We re-created our test file as an Acrobat file, but the 925's PDF output suffered the same sorts of problems as those printed from the AI file.

Inkjet printer quality
•Poor   ••Fair   •••Good   ••••Excellent
 Printer Text Graphics Photo
Plain paper  Coated paper  Plain paper  Coated paper  Photo paper 
 Canon S520 •• ••• ••• ••• •••
 Canon S900 ••• •••• •••• •••• ••••
 Epson Stylus Photo 925 •• •• •• •• •••
 HP Photosmart 7550 ••• ••• •••• ••• ••••
The Epson also flunked our speed tests. When printing text, the Epson 925 averaged 1.5 pages per minute (ppm), and on an 8x10 photo, it averaged 7.1 minutes per page printing at the highest-quality setting. Considering that the fastest inkjets we test do about 6ppm to 7ppm on text and about 2 minutes per page on photos, these speeds are downright disgraceful. We recognize that photo printers often run more slowly than regular inkjets. But as the performance chart shows, even among other photo printers, the Epson's print speeds are subpar.

Inkjet printer text speed
Pages per minute (longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon S520
HP Photosmart 7550
Canon S900
Epson Stylus Photo 925
Inkjet printer color photo speed
Minutes to print a color photograph (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Canon S900
Canon S520
HP Photosmart 7550
Epson Stylus Photo 925
The Epson reps we spoke with stress that the Stylus Photo 925 is first and foremost a photo printer and suggested that text and graphics aren't as vital as print quality. We agree that text and graphics aren't as important as photo quality, but we believe that they're still important in any decent inkjet, particularly since many budget-limited independent photographers (such as freelancers and hobbyists) may want their consumer-priced photo printer to cover all the bases. While wealthier photographers might want both a photo and a laser printer, these photographers will probably pursue an even more expensive photo printer with more impressive photo output, such as the Epson Stylus Photo 2200.

To add insult to injury, the Epson's ink consumption was slightly high. According to our drain tests, black ink costs about 7.5 cents per page (most inkjets we've tested run about 3 cents per page), and color ink will set you back about 27 cents per page, which is slightly above average. Even though the printer's price matches that of its competitors, the amount of consumables used determines how much money you'll spend over the life of the printer. In this regard, these stats don't look too hot.

Epson backs the printer with an industry-standard, one-year warranty. You can contact automated tech support via a toll-free number for the length of the warranty. To speak with a representative, toll number available (Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT). Epson's Web site also offers driver downloads, troubleshooting FAQs, and online documentation.

One manual gives you detailed information on how to load specialty paper (the printer comes with two plastic, paper-towel-holder-like attachments for printing on rolls of photo paper) and how to print directly from removable media or a digital camera without using a computer. The second manual--really a quick-reference booklet--contains abridged printing information such as how to navigate the printer's LCD control panel.

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