Review: Epson Stylus Photo R1900

Rating: 
Body: 

Pros: Excellent output quality on glossy; very good output on matte; nicely designed.

Cons: Weaker on black and white output; Epson’s driver could use some updating.

Score: 90

I don’t like glossy prints.

It’s mostly because of the shiny stuff that makes it look like I’m seeing the print through a window. It gives me a strange feeling of distance from the print, and it can reduce the contrast in the print. While darks look nice and dark, lighter shades and whites are always a little dull.

But there’s no doubt that glossy prints have a richness and luster to them that's appealingly saturated. And I know I'm in the minority: Most people produce more glossy output than matte.

The Epson Stylus Photo R1900 is a $500 inkjet photo printer that's optimized for glossy printing on paper sizes up to 13" x 19" (even longer if you use rolls). It’s a testament to how good a job Epson has done that I -- an admitted glossy disliker -- can wholeheartedly recommend this excellent printer to any studio or hobbyist who needs excellent photo quality and expects to print primarily on glossy.

The Specs
The R1900 offers a 13"-wide platen that can go edge to edge for borderless printing, and Epson has wrapped the entire package into a compact, attractive case. Any model that can print this wide will always be larger than a typical letter-sized inkjet, but the R1900 is a very shallow printer, making it much easier to squeeze onto a small desk.

Like its predecessor, the hugely successful R1800, the R1900 is a top-loading printer, which helps keep its footprint down. Included in the box is a roll feeder, which increases the depth of the printer somewhat. There are two rear-mounted USB-2 ports, but no Ethernet. Obviously, for workgroups or anyone with multiple computers, this can be a bit of a hassle. However, since both the Mac and Windows operating systems have built-in printer sharing, lack of Ethernet is not a huge inconvenience as long as there’s a networked computer somewhere near the printer.

A third USB-2 port is on the front of the printer. You can attach any PictBridge-compatible digital camera to this port and print directly from the camera.

A door on the front of the R1900 folds open, and this is where your prints emerge. Since you can fold shut both the front door and the paper feed door, the printer easily closes down into a completely sealed unit, protecting it from dust and further reducing its profile. (And also providing another flat surface to heap papers and junk, until you need to print -- or maybe that’s just me.)

Printer setup is very simple. After removing all of the pieces of tape inside the printer -- and there are a lot of them, so look carefully -- you install the included ink cartridges, then connect the power and USB cable. (Note that, like most printers, the 1900 does not include a cable, so you’ll need to buy one.) The printer has four front-panel buttons: power, paper feed, ink, and roll.

The Inks
Like most of the photo printers in its category, the R1900 is a 6-color printer. It uses Epson’s new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 inkset. This is an update of the ink set used on the R1800, but it's different from the inkset used on Epson’s higher-end printers, such as the R2400. UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 is a pigment inkset, meaning your prints will last longer than dye-based prints before shifting color or fading.

While the R1900 is a 6-color printer, you actually install eight cartridges. In addition to the color cartridges -- cyan, magenta, yellow, orange, and red -- you install two black cartridges, one for glossy paper and one for matte, and a Gloss Optimizer cartridge.

Does that color selection sound a little strange? Epson made one change from the R1800's color selection, replacing the blue ink with orange. The company claims that this expands the printer’s color gamut and helps to produce much better skin tones.

The Gloss Optimizer is a clear overcoat applied after the color inks are printed. It helps to reduce gloss differential, which you may notice on glossy prints when large areas of paper white show through. The printed areas have a different level of gloss than the white areas. With the Gloss Optimizer, your print has equal gloss across its entire surface.

Software and Speed
If you’ve used an Epson photo printer before, the R1900’s driver interface will feel familiar. All of the usual controls are here for managing paper type, quality level, and color handling.

As with Epson's previous printers, the R1900 provides built-in profiles for all of the company's papers. However, the driver doesn’t provide any way for installing new profiles, which can be frustrating if there’s a third-party paper that you really want to print on. Also annoying: The driver doesn’t automatically deactivate its own color engine if you choose to have your host application manage color. This is just one more setting you can forget to change that would then ruin a piece of potentially expensive paper.

While the gloss optimizer makes for great-looking glossy prints, you can go through it very quickly, and it doesn't improve every image. For example, images that have fairly even ink density usually don’t need it. Fortunately, you can easily deactivate the gloss optimizer from a single pop-up within the driver. The driver automatically deactivates it for you if you choose a matte paper.

Because the R1900 can also print on CDs and DVDs, Epson included an application for designing and printing on optical disks. It’s adequate for simple disk-printing jobs, but if you do a lot of disk making, you might want to opt for a more capable shareware CD printing application.

The R1900 is the fastest photo printer in its class. Speed is not usually a huge issue for photo printing because most photo printing users are more concerned about image quality, and tend to produce low-volume. However, the R1900’s speed makes it an ideal printer for outputting such projects as press kits, portfolios, and other low-volume print jobs.

I output a 4" x 6" print in a little over 30 seconds. An 8" x 10" took about 75 seconds, and a 13" x 19" printed in less than three minutes.

Inefficient ink use has been a problem with other Epson photo printers. Fortunately, with the R1900, you shouldn’t find yourself running to the ink store too often. However, the 1900’s cartridges are on the small size, which increases the price per print. But this does allow Epson to keep the size of the printer down, which is welcome if you’re hurting for office space.

Image Quality
For photo printing, of course, your primary concern is image quality. With a few caveats, the R1900 delivers very strong results.

Traditionally, pigment inks have fared poorly on glossy paper, exhibiting duller colors with a much smaller gamut than their dye-based competition. But traditionally, dyes have also been very fragile in terms of light and waterfastness, which has resulted in prints that don’t last very long. While Epson has made great strides in the longevity of their dye inks, they still don’t come close to the sturdiness of pigment. That's meant a trade-off between longevity and image quality.

Epson has been trying to engineer a pigment printer optimized for producing the best glossy output possible, and with the R1900, they’ve succeeded. You won’t find another printer that produces glossy output this good for under $2,000.

Color saturation and hue were excellent across the printer’s gamut, with no visible artifacts and smooth gradients. Epson’s decision to switch to an orange ink for improved skin tones seems to have been the right one, as the printer does a great job on all types of skin.

However, just because the printer is so successful with glossy output, don’t think this means you won't get good matte output. The R1900 does a surprisingly good job on all types of matte and fine art papers, maintaining color accuracy and saturation throughout its color range.

Just remember that this is only a 6-color printer. You won't see as broad a range of colors as you will with a more-expensive printer packed with more colors. Gradients will be a little less subtle, though you won’t see banding. Unless you have a highly trained eye or are comparing R1900 output directly with output from a higher-end printer, your main impression of the unit’s prints will be that they are very, very good.

Black and white printing is not bad, despite its single black cartridge. The R1900 delivers good black and white prints with a nice range of tones, as long as you don’t expect an Ansel Adams-like variation in black to white or a print that’s completely neutral.

In all of my tests, black and white prints exhibited a little bit of warmth or a green tinge that prevented them from looking like a true grayscale print. However, this lack of neutrality is very subtle. It’s easy to see when compared with output from a very good black and white printer, such as the HP B9180, but unless you know to look for it, you may not see it.

Excellent Printer for the Price
If you want to print glossy prints, this is the printer to buy. It’s really that simple. If you want to print glossy prints, and you occasionally do some matte printing, the R1900 is still a great candidate. If you want a more general-purpose photo printer that can handle gloss, matte, black and white output, I suggest going up a notch to something like the HP B9180 (which will also yield slightly better image quality in some cases).

For most serious amateurs, though, the R1900 is the right choice.

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