Farba Research Product Review

Copyright 2001 Farba Research All Rights Reserved

Rebuttals may be sent to Rebuttals@FarbaResearch.com
This product review is strictly the opinion of the reviewer, who is not necessarily a Farba Research employee.

Product: Epson Stylus Photo 870
Category: inkjet color printer
Manufacturer: Seiko Epson Corporation
Vendor Website: http://www.epson.com/
Rating: superb quality prints; fast
Reviewer: E. Nicholas Cupery
Review Date: 05 July 2001


If you want to print photographs, this is the printer for you. Read on.





This is a really great printer for photographs! I use it to print photos of industrial equipment, where fine detail is very important, and this printer satisfies all my requirements and then some. This printer also outputs great looking text, but I rarely use it for that because I also have a very fine laser printer. Thus, everything I discuss in this product review pertains only to the printing of high quality (color) photographs on high quality papers.

Let me get the negative comments out of the way first. Yes, I was a little bit disappointed to note that the printer did not come with any cable. However, after I thought about it a bit, I realized that this is reasonable given that the printer supports either parallel or USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection. Thus, if it came with any cable at all, it would have to come with both cables, which would waste one of them and therefore add unnecessarily to the cost. As for the six-color ink cartridge, it seems perfectly obvious to me that the ideal situation of having six individual color cartridges would have to make the printer a lot more expensive. I am, however, just slightly peeved that I cannot tell which colors have been used the most. If I could, I'd expect to get at least one more 8.5 x 11 print out of each cartridge, given that I often have digital pictures that are predominently one color or another.

Let's talk a little bit more about this business of not knowing which colors have been used the most. This printer uses a new type of ink cartridge that contains several microchips that supposedly know -- and remember -- how much ink has been used. The printer's software driver includes a graphic that shows how much ink has been used, but it always shows the same level for each color -- the level of the color that has been used the most. I cannot tell if the microchips don't know the level of each color, or if the graphic simply fails to display the individual levels. Epson says these microchips in the ink cartridge allow the removal and reinsertion of the cartridge (although some ink will get wasted recharging the nozzles afterwards). However, I have no idea in the world why one would want to do this, given that there are no other cartridges that could be used temporarily by this printer, and given that the nozzles would clog with dried ink after a short period of being left with no cartridge in place. This is a mystery to me. However, this is a brand new printer (and ink) design as I write this, so we should consider the possibility that Epson is planning some other ink cartridges for this printer. Perhaps metallic inks?

In any case, you can completely forget about ever finding out how much of each color was left at the end of the cartridge's life. When it became time to replace my first color cartridge, I had visions of holding it up to a strong light to see through it, but the cartridge (unlike earlier Epson cartridges) is absolutely completely opaque. I then briefly considered the idea of prying the top off the thing, but a little bit of judicious poking around with a small screwdriver quickly convinced me that these cartridges are designed to strongly resist disassembly (I suspect this is to discourage refilling them). I'd say there is no way to open these cartridges without creating a monumental mess. Better to just buy 'em on sale and not think about it too hard.

As for the caveats, I listed them for the benefit of those who are -- like I was -- buying an inkjet printer for the first time. These caveats now seem quite reasonable to me; it's just that I never considered them before. Given that this inkjet printing involves such extremely small drops of something that has to dry so quickly, it's actually amazing to me that this works at all -- let alone works so well! The reason that the printer must be turned off only via its own power switch, is so that it can have a final chance to clear its nozzles. Yes, honestly, I would consider this a (small) problem if this were my only printer. However, it's not a problem for me in particular, given that I treat this as a "special occasion" printer, using my trusty laser printer (which gets switched on and off via my one large power strip) as my default printer. You, however, may need to give this some thought.

The caveat about printing a small text file in black ink is something I have learned the hard way (although it now seems reasonable to me). It appears that printing color photographs does not use enough black ink to keep the black ink nozzles clear, even if you print color photographs at least once per month. I noticed this after about eight months of ownership, when printing the test pattern after a color cartridge change. The black ink pattern had some missing segments, and still does, but it is not noticeable on either color or all-black output. I now print a small (one page) text file on this printer about once per month (from my word processor program), to keep the problem from getting any worse.

Okay, enough with the slight negatives and caveats. This is a superb device that anyone should be proud to own! It prints super quality photos quickly, quietly, and inexpensively. How fast? About 2 minutes for an 8.5 by 11 inch (with a 1/2 inch border all around) full color print. How quiet? I would call it "whisper quiet". How inexpensive? Less than $250 for the printer itself, and less than $2 for each 8.5 by 11 inch full-color print on either of two very high quality papers: "Premium Glossy Photo Paper" or "Matte Paper -- Heavyweight". The Premium Glossy is an extraordinarily heavy (68 lb) paper that is very shiny. The Matte is not quite so heavy (44 lb), and has no shine at all. Both papers produce equal (superb) quality output. (I prefer the matte finish, myself, particularly for mounting under framed glass.) This printer can also use less expensive inkjet papers, as well as iron-on transfers for making custom T-shirts. Note that all of these materials, including the ink cartridges, are readily available in computer stores, as well as from Epson's website (which features free shipping for supplies and accessories).

This model 870 is the first in a new line of printers from Epson that uses a new line of inks (and matching papers) that supposedly produce prints that greatly outlast those from all other inkjets, and that last as long as conventional silver halide prints. I have no way to prove these claims, but they do seem rather comforting to me. {grin} Note that the Epson website shows the results of a study of print longevity by an independent outfit named Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. Short version: Epson 870 prints on premium glossy paper last almost as long (10 years) as conventional silver halide photos (14 years), and Epson 870 prints on the heavyweight matte paper last much longer (24 years) than conventional photos. Note that these figures are the number of years before the print starts to fade perceptably.

One final note to cheer up the owners of previous models: The prints from my new Epson Stylus Photo 870 do not look any better than those from the Epson Stylus Photo 750 that I tried first. Even though the 870 claims a minimum ink droplet size of 4 picolitres, as opposed to 6 picolitres for the 750. The 750 printed just as well, just as fast, and almost as quietly. (It also looked a lot more stylish -- the 750 is a nifty dark charcoal gray, and the 870 is the usual nasty computer off-white.) The only real reason to buy the 870 instead of the 750 is the print longevity claims. (I have asked Epson if they will be selling the new inks for the older printers, and they said "no plans to do so". Myself, I see no reason -- other than marketing -- why they shouldn't, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen.)


This is a superb device. It prints downright glorious photographs, and it does it quickly, quietly, and inexpensively.

Copyright 2000 Farba Research All Rights Reserved

Rebuttals may be sent to Rebuttals@FarbaResearch.com