Epson Stylus Photo 810 (820)
Nearly all my photos are taken with a digital camera now. It is possible to have digital photos printed commercially — my local Camera House offers this service, and there are both Australian and overseas online photofinishers. The drawbacks with commercial photofinishers are:
- cost: a commercially-printed A4 photo costs around $15-$20
- turnaround time: local shops require at least a day or two to print digital photos, and online ones have delivery delays of a week or more
- lack of control: colour calibration is a pain, and you can't make colour/brightness/contrast adjustments after seeing the finished print without incurring more cost and turnaround time
Buying my own photo printer made sense for me.
The main uses I wanted it for were:
- making medium-sized (up to A4) prints for camera club competitions
- printing snapshots for our own albums
- printing snapshots for friends and family
- printing occasional letters and other documents
After evaluating my options, I purchased an Epson Stylus Photo 810 (known as the 820 in the US) colour inkjet printer in March 2002. Estore sells them for around $340 (plus delivery charges), or you can buy it from a retailer for around $399.
US costs for various Epson models and their consumables are available on my Recommended Printers page.
If you come from a background of using cheap colour inkjet printers, the 810 (820) seems expensive to run. If you just want to print colour graphs and web pages, you'd be better off with something else. However, the 810's photo output quality rivals that of digital prints made using a commercial process (e.g. Fuji Frontier), and to my eye it's the best inkjet photo printer for under $400.
Getting an A4-sized digital photo printed at Camera House or a similar photofinisher costs about $15-$20. A 6"x4" print is not cheap either, costing $3.95 at Camera House or as low as $0.99 online (but with a several-day delay for delivery). Even using the most expensive Epson paper and genuine Epson inks, I've worked out that the 810 (820) costs about $3.23 for a colour A4 page and $2.46 for a black-and-white A4 page, which is still cheaper.
I've only used genuine Epson ink cartridges with the 810 so far — the third-party suppliers don't seem to have developed their own cartridges yet, but I'll try them when they do.
- Black: The cheapest I've been able to find the black cartridge is $42.40 at OfficeWorks. I estimate that I'd get around 40 full A4 pages of high-quality blank-and-white photos out of one cartridge, which equates to about $1.06 per page.
- Colour: The best price I've found for these is $38.00 from Estore (although delivery is $12.95), and $39.88 at Dick Smith Electronics. My local Dick Smith won't order them in, but Officeworks will match their price if you print out the Dick Smith web page. I got 17 full A4 pages of photos out of my first colour cartridge, and 23.5 out of my second, which equates to $1.83 per page (factoring in black ink consumption as well).
- When the printer driver first tells you that the ink is low, there is still actually enough ink left for 3 or 4 more pages. Keep printing until the printer refuses to print any more. Make sure you use up all the leftover ink in one print session, without turning the printer off — if it is powered off, it will detect the low ink level on startup and refuse to print. Various people claim to get up to 25% more prints out of their cartridges by doing this.
- If the ink runs out in the middle of a print, the 810 will allow you to put in a new cartridge and continue printing. People I know who've done this reckon you can't even spot the point in the print where the cartridge was changed. I haven't tried it myself.
- Make sure you always have a new ink cartridge ready when one of yours is getting low, so you can swap it as soon as the old one is fully used up.
- Always turn the printer off using the button on top of it, so that the print heads are cleaned and parked properly. If you just turn it off at the wall, you may get ink drying in the print head and clogging up nozzles.
- Your first set of inks will run out a lot more quickly than subsequent sets. This is because the print head and ink lines are empty when you buy the printer, so the first set needs to fill everything with ink before printing can start. Some people also speculate that the cartridges that come with the printer are not as full as replacement cartridges so they can sell you the next set sooner, but I'm not so sure of that.
According to one Epson user group web site, the ranking of the amount of ink used by the various paper settings is (most ink to least ink):
- Photo paper
- Backlight Film
- Glossy film
- Premium Quality Inkjet Paper
- Premium glossy Photo Paper
- Plain paper
- Matte Heavy Weight Paper
- Premium Glossy Photo Paper gives the best results, but it's also the most expensive at around $1.40 per sheet.
- Photo Paper is excellent for prints to go in albums or to give away to friends and relatives. It is not as heavy as Premium Glossy Photo Paper, but is a lot cheaper at $0.98 per sheet.
- Heavyweight Matte Paper gives very nice results if you like matte prints. It's about the same weight as Photo Paper (maybe a tad heavier), and quite cheap at $0.54 per sheet if bought in bulk.
- Photo Quality Inkjet Paper prints surprising well for a lightweight paper. It is about the same weight as normal photocopier paper, and is excellent for printing single-sided newsletters or reports. This is the cheapest paper, at $0.30 per sheet when bought in packs of 100.
I print on all these papers at 1440 dpi for colour, and 2880 dpi (or the highest available) for black-only. It's a little slower than lower settings, but the quality is better. I leave the gamma set to 1.8, and haven't found the need to adjust the brightness, colour or contrast settings for any of these papers. The one exception to that is Photo Paper — it prints black-only too dark, so I change the gamma to 1.5.
- Ilford Gallerie Smooth Gloss Paper has a full gloss finish, very much like the Epson Premium Glossy. Colour balance and resolution are both excellent without requiring any tweaking of settings. It costs around $1.00 per sheet when bought in packs of 100 (I get mine from Madsens in Wollongong).
- Ilford Gallerie Classic Pearl Paper has a nice finish (sort of glossy, but with some texture) and is cheaper than Epson Premium Glossy at around $1.00 per sheet when bought in packs of 100. If anything, it's slightly heavier than Epson Premium Glossy. I had trouble getting good results with this paper at first, and have settled for now on the following settings:
- colour: gamma 1.5, paper type set to Epson Photo Quality Glossy Film, sometimes with up to -7 Magenta (depending upon the picture).
- black and white: gamma 1.5, paper type set to Epson Heavyweight Matte. I think this is still possibly a little dark, and might need an extra 10% brightness.
- Kodak Premium Glossy Photo Paper is the worst paper I've ever tried. Don't even bother with it — I returned it for a refund. Problems include:
- Heavy magenta cast (can be corrected for during printing, but that would require several prints be made for profiling).
- Tacky surface, even after sitting to dry for a week. It was so bad that my photos stuck together when I put them in an envelope, and I couldn't separate them without damaging the photos.
- Bronzing in shadow/black areas. This is really ugly — shadows that reflect more light than the photo's highlights just look wrong.
- Paper curl. After leaving the A6 photos to dry for a week, they curled into half-cylinders. I couldn't find a way to get them to stay flat.
The only time I've had a problem with ink clogs is when I leave my printer sitting for a month or more without using it. This has only happened twice, and both times the problem was fixed by running a couple of head cleans and nozzle check patterns.
Of course, I live on the coast and we have consistently high humidity. Reports from owners in arid or very cold areas, and people that keep their printers in an air-conditioned environment, suggest that low humidity is a significant factor in frequent ink clogs. In fact, the printer manual specifies the operating range for humidity and temperature.
If your printer is installed in a dry environment, it would pay to use a humidifier in the room to keep the humidity within the printer's operating range. If you choose not to do this, you'll just have to put up with the frequent ink clogs!
Epson 810 (820) vs. Epson 890
At the time I purchased my 810 (March 2002), there was a $160 price difference between it and the 890. From the specs, there didn't appear to be much difference, so I searched around on the web and wrote to Epson to find out what the difference really was. This is what I have figured out:
- the 890 is the 'pro' version of the 810
- the 890 has a continuous roll paper feeder
- the 890 prints slightly faster than the 810
- the 890 is 5 dB quieter than the 810
- the 890 has 8 times the input buffer memory of the 810, which means the computer is freed up sooner after sending a print job
- the 890 has a metal frame and has more heavy-duty components (print heads, paper feeder, etc) than the 810, and so is rated as being able to print significantly more pages over its lifetime
- the ink cartridges for the 890 are slightly cheaper than the 810's
- prints from the 890 are rated as having a 20-year lifespan, while those from the 810 are rated at 10 years (although they seem to have identical colour characteristics)
- the 890's paper tray holds more paper than the 810's, and has a more reliable feed mechanism
- you can purchase an after-market Continuous Inking System (CIS) for the 890, but I haven't been able to find any for the 810
In summary, the 890 is designed for everyday heavy use by businesses and serious photographers, while the 810 is designed for more occasional home use. The 890 is the A4 version of the 1290 A3 printer, which is the most popular current model inkjet printer for serious photographers.
I bought the 810. My reasons were:
- I didn't want the roll feeder, since roll paper is more expensive than cut paper and I don't do huge panoramas.
- I only expected to be printing a few A4 pages per week, so the heavy-duty components in the 890 won't be much extra benefit to me.
- Print life is not much of an issue, since I'm mostly printing for camera club competitions, not for commercial sale or archives. I figure that if a print fades in 10 years' time, I can just print another one. If I really want a long-lasting print, I can get it done on the local photo shop's Fuji Frontier anyway.
- The extra cost of the 890 (half the cost again of the 810) would be better spent on my next printer (maybe an A3 one?) or on consumables.
So far I haven't regretted my decision.