Desktop Fotomat: Epson Stylus Photo 2200
Though it's easy to rave about the advances in digital camera technology that have occurred over the last few years, those cameras wouldn't be nearly as useful without the advances in inkjet photo printing technology that have also taken place. Epson has been leading the pack in terms of photo printing quality, and its new Stylus Photo 2200 raises the bar even further.
A replacement for Epson's 2000P, the 2200 offers improved pigment inks, a variety of paper handling options, support for paper sizes up to 13 x 19 inches and the addition of a seventh ink color. As with Epson's current dye-based printers, the 2200 offers two resolutions: 1440 dots per inch and 2880 dots per inch. All of this adds up to amazing output with better detail and color reproduction than the 2000P and better archival quality than Epson's dye-based printers.
Setting Up the Printer
The 2200 is about the same size as its predecessor -- measuring roughly 25 x 12.5 x 8 inches -- but with a slightly sleeker design. The 2200 sports a FireWire port and a USB port as well as a parallel port, and ships with a roll feeder, cutter, and basket.
Ink and media versatility is a strong suit of this printer. Paper handling on the 2200 is very good. In addition to a top-loading sheet feeder and separate roll-feeder, the unit also has a straight-through paper path that can feed media up to .05 inches thick. The 2200 uses seven different color inks. In addition to the normal photo-printer colors -- cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, and black (called Photo Black) -- the 2200 adds a light black ink for improved gray-scale printing.
Many users complained about the weak blacks on the 2000P. Epson has addressed this problem with a swappable black cartridge. In addition to the Photo Black cartridge, which can be used for printing on all media types, a Matte Black cartridge is also available, which provides improved blacks when printing on matte papers. These "self-sealing" cartridges can be freely swapped as you change media. Separate cartridges are provided for each color for improved ink economy.
Better, Stronger, Faster
The advantage of the pigmented inks used in the 2000 series is longevity. Epson claims a print life of up to 80 years – four times longer than the best dye-based printer, and equivalent to most photographic processes. The downside to the pigmented inks on the Stylus Photo 2000P were that in addition to the weak blacks, colors had a tendency toward green-shift when viewed in direct sunlight.
But the 2200's new Ultrachrome inks have fixed both of these problems. The color shift is gone, and the choice of several black inks allows you to get dark blacks on any kind of paper. However, when printing on glossy stock, the 2200 still suffers from "bronzing," which makes blacks appear to have a matte-like varnish applied to them. The effect is not noticeable when viewed head-on, only when viewing at an extreme angle.
Bronzing can be reduced by lightening the very dark blacks in your image, or by selecting a different paper. The problem disappeared completely when we switched from PhotoGloss to Epson's Premium Semigloss (a paper we prefer in general, anyway).
Except for the bronzing issue, image quality from the 2200 is excellent. The printer uses a smaller dot size than its predecessor, and this combined with the extra light-black ink definitely provides smoother gradations and contours and improved detail. You'll be hard-pressed to find evidence that the 2200's prints are not continuous tone.
Using the Matte Black ink and Epson's new Enhanced Matte paper, the 2200 does a better job at black-and-white printing than any inkjet we've seen. We saw no color-casts or changes in overall tone within any of the grayscale images that we printed.
The 2200 is a very speedy printer, able to crank out a full-bleed 4-x-6 print in about a minute. We were also impressed with how quiet the unit is.
On Epson's dye-based printers, switching from 1,440 to 2,880 resolution usually has no discernible effect (other than to drain your ink cartridges more quickly). On the 2200, though, fine detail on glossy paper is sometimes sharper at the higher resolution. Results will vary depending on your image, but it's definitely worth trying some high-res prints with the 2200. You might find there is a difference.
Because of its pigment-based ink sets, you need to use special media with the 2200. The papers that Epson sells for its dye-based printers will yield weird results when used in the 2200.
Epson has created some beautiful media for the 2000 series. Though we prefer the Premium Semigloss for glossy printing, and Enhanced Matte for matte printing (it sells under the name Archival matte, but is listed in the driver as Enhanced Matte), there are some other nice papers to choose from, including Radiant White Watercolor paper, and Premium Luster photo paper.
It's difficult to gauge per-print cost against Epson's dye-based printers. Though the ink sets are more expensive than Epson's dye-based photo inks, the 2200's separate ink cartridges mean you'll get more efficient ink usage and, perhaps, not have to replace cartridges as often.
Because the market for these papers is smaller than the dye-based papers, you may not be able to find this media at the typical office supply store. You might fare better at a photo supply store, or directly from Epson's Web site, where you can find more info on all the papers mentioned here. Amazon.com also carries Epson papers and inks. Prices for the new media are pretty much the same as what you'd expect to pay for equivalent dye-based papers.
Bit of OS X Trouble
Though the 2200 ships with a Mac OS X driver (in addition to Windows drivers and an OS 9 driver), it leaves something to be desired. Because of current limitations in the OS X print architecture, the driver offers no support for roll feed, and sketchy support for the printer's swappable black ink cartridges.
Though it is supposedly possible to get the swappable black inks to work under OS X (by deleting the printer from the Print Center and then re-adding it) we never could get this feature to work under OS X. Printing under OS 9 provided access to all of the printer's features.
The 2200 fulfills the promise of the earlier 2000P, offering exceptional print quality, full archival longevity, and a multitude of paper handling options. If longevity is not a concern, then you might be fine with one of Epson's dye-based printers, but when it comes to feature set, flexibility, and price/performance, it's hard to beat the 2200.
Read more by Ben Long.
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