Fine-tune its settings and Stylus Photo will print with photo-quality perfection

The Stylus Photo can do all the things other high-resolution color ink-jet printers
can, but it's designed to make high-fidelity reproductions of digital photographs on plain
and ink-jet papers, glossy stock and transparencies.


It prints at 720 by 720 dots per inch, not at 1,440 by 720 dpi like some of Epson's
other high-res printers. It uses six colored inks instead of the standard four. Besides
cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the Stylus Photo also has light cyan and light magenta
inks.


The printer installed flawlessly under Microsoft Windows 95, but I couldn't try it with
Windows NT 4.0, as drivers were not yet available.


That's a strike against this printer, because many PC users have found NT a superior
imaging platform. The Stylus Photo also works with the Apple Macintosh.


My test documents included real-world digital photos as well as custom-designed
documents with embedded graphics and abstract images. The test images measured how well
the printer handled color gradations and continuous tones, and how good the print head
alignment was.


No matter what I threw at it, the printer came through with flying colors on plain
paper and Epson's special photo ink-jet and glossy papers.


When I set the options for highest-quality output but disabled the color correction,
blues and greens predominated. The shades of gray in the GCN Lab's calibration images
always turned into blue-greens.


This is probably because the printer uses black ink only for pure blacks; it makes gray
by combining colored inks. I considered the gray discrepancy unacceptable only when a
photo had many shades of gray.


When I used the color adjustment tools in the Print menu, the discrepancy went away
inconsistently. The automatic settings tended to heighten greens and reds, which sometimes
made overly vivid images. Manual correction diminished the blues where they weren't
supposed to be, but they also vanished elsewhere in the image.


What all this means is that you should plan on manually adjusting the settings. It
takes time and effort to get the colors you want from any color printer, of course, and
the Stylus Photo printer driver furnishes all the tools to do the job. Once you have the
results you want, save your settings for future use.


Plain paper prints had no excessive ink bleeding, but the colors looked washed-out. I
got the best initial results on the coated ink-jet paper. Although the glossy stock at
first made images too dark, they looked good enough for framing after I had adjusted
driver settings.


The printer driver has different settings for different media, which means you can't
test-print an image on plain paper and expect it to look the same on glossy paper. This is
a disadvantage, considering the extra cost of coated stocks.


Some users might wonder why they can't do 1,440-dpi printing. The two additional inks
force the printer to process more information per page. If resolution were increased from
720 dpi to 1,440 dpi, print time would be excessive. Keeping resolution at 720 dpi gives
good-looking output at acceptable speed.


Our lab tests confirmed Epson's print speed claims. A 3- by 5-inch image at 720 dpi
printed in about 90 seconds. An 8- by 10-inch image took six minutes. Not bad, considering
the resolution and the number of inks.


The proprietary print head design gives good control over the size and consistency of
ink dot size and shape for clean, crisp images. Inks dry quickly enough to minimize
smudging or bleeding of output.


If you do a lot of work with digital photos and need quality hard copy, the Epson
Stylus Photo prints the best photorealistic output we've seen. It will be a must for any
office that embeds photos in documents. Even the text characters could pass for laser
printer output.


At $499, this printer costs only a few bucks more than Epson's Stylus 800 and produces
superior photographic images. Drivers for Windows NT 4.0 will likely be available on
Epson's World Wide Web site soon.


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