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Epson Stylus Photo 1280

Wide-format inkjet printer By Dave Nagel
I bought my first Epson way, way back in the day. I had never purchased an inkjet before, since they were complete garbage at the time, and I had never purchased anything from Epson, since, well.... To give you an idea of where Epson stood at this time, when I told my friend I had purchased one, he replied, "Dude, you bought a dot-matrix printer?" That's how long ago it was.

Of course, the printer wasn't a dot-matrix. It was the Stylus Color 600. With the release of the Stylus Color series, Epson had taken a market full of expensive garbage and transformed it into a market of inexpensive, nearly professional-quality color printers. In one step, the company had changed everything. What the Macintosh did for computing, Epson did for printing. All of a sudden, you could scan a photograph and print it out at a reasonable facsimile of photographic quality, where before any other inkjet on the market produced blotchy, moire-infested mud. In fact, many still do.

I still have that printer out in my garage. The only reason I don't have it hooked up now is because it's serial, and all my current machines use USB.

Since the 600, I have bought two other Epson printers, most recently the Stylus Photo 1280. The Stylus Photo 1280 is one of a fairly new breed of Epson printers and is unique in its class. In short, what the Stylus Color 600 did for inkjets in general, the Stylus Photo 1280, at $499, does for wide-format inkjets.

What it does
The Stylus Photo 1280 is Epson's entry-level wide-format printer. I'll say right off the bat that it uses conventional inks, so you Photographers out there looking for more serious lightfastness will still have to turn to the higher-end models. But for less permanent applications, this printer will produce results that will astound you.

The 1280 uses a six-color process--cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow and black. The result is more vivid color, more subtle tones and, ideally, less wasted ink. It also uses 4-picoliter variable droplets and offers a resolution of 2,880 DPI. It handles media 13 inches wide and up to 45 inches long. It also includes a roll feeder and a small sample roll. For sheet feeds, it can handle 100 pieces of paper, 30 transparencies or 10 envelopes. The output paper tray can handle 50 sheets.

One thing I worried about before buying this printer was how well it would work under Mac OS X. (Support for Mac OS 9 and Windows is a given.) At the time, support for this printer was not built into OS X. But Epson had developed their own driver that worked alongside the Print Center in Mac OS X. So, even if it wasn't perfect, it would at least work. Since that time, Mac OS X 10.1.2 has been released, and support for the 1280 is built in.

So how does it perform? In the most important aspect--image quality--this thing is practically flawless. I've never seen color come out of an inkjet that so nearly resembles the colors on my screen. At first, oranges appeared a bit too dull, but a little ColorSync tweaking fixed this problem up in no time.

If you want really professional color, the 1280 also includes a $100 discount for Monaco Systems' MonacoEZcolor, a profiling tool. The offer will not last much longer though.

I've tried out the printer with a variety of media. Obviously, the better the paper, the better the results. But I also found that for daily use, Epson's Premium Bright White paper works just fine. (The benefit is that it comes in reams of 500 for about $6.)

For the more stunning (and quasi-water-resistant) prints, you'll definitely want to go with the Premium Photo Glossy papers from Epson or Olympus. For matte papers, you can buy Epson's Photo Quality Ink Jet paper up to 13" x 19" in packages of 100 for about $40. This will produce excellent results at the maximum resolution.

Of course, for a print this large at 2,880 DPI, your virtues will be tested--especially patience. How does an hour sound? It shocked the bejeepers out of me the first time I experienced it. In fact, for a while, it was difficult to tell whether the paper was moving in the feeder!

I've never begrudged a printer slow output, provided the image quality was pristine. And with the Stylus Photo 1280, it is. However, I do have two major problems with the printer, which I'll detail below.

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