The Epson Stylus Photo R1800 A3+ and R800 A4 printers are an attempt to cure an inkjet photo printing problem and then deal with it’s main side effect, and in much the same way that this often happens with modern medicines that isn’t an ideal solution. We’d all like our inkjet photos to last as long as possible so manufacturers are increasingly using pigment rather than dye inks in photo printers. Pigments are much more stable and will withstand fading for much longer, unfortunately they have several major disadvantages.
The first is that pigments don’t have the colour gamut, or colour range, of dye inks - images can look very flat. Pigmented inks also have much bigger particles than dye inks so with glossy papers dark areas have a curious, and unattractive, metallic appearance called chroming or bronzing, which means pigment inks are best on matt or satin papers. Lastly existing pigmented inks are badly effected by metamerism which means that the colour of the ink changes depending on the type of light it’s viewed under. You may make the perfect print one evening under daylight corrected flourescent tubes only to find that viewed in real daylight the next day your print has a horrible cyan colour cast. Take it back under the flourescents and it’ll look great again. Print using daylight, and then deliver the results to a fluorescent lit customer office and prints will appear to have a strong magenta cast. Epson have worked hard at reducing this problem since the 2000P but it’s still there.
The side effect of pigment inks that the R800 and R1800 do try to address is chroming on glossy papers. Both printers use an extra Gloss Optimizer cartridge to give prints on glossy paper an even sheen - even in the darker areas. It works up to a point. Prints look OK but not really like Canon glossy prints or conventional glossy photographs from an online lab. The R1800 prints look more semi-gloss, even with the gloss optimizer coating, but it does hide the chroming effect.
Overall the Epson R1800 is a good, rather than great, printer. Output on matt paper is very similar to prints from the Epson Stylus Photo 2100, including the metamerism problems, and glossy prints just aren’t as good as those from the Canon printers I own, so it’s a move in the right direction, but not quite there yet. The Epson Stylus Photo R1800 also shares the Epson stylus Photo 2100’s high running costs, although, like the 2100, cartridges can be reset to get about 20% more out of them.
Interestingly, Jettec make compatible pigment ink cartridges, which I tried with some success, although my 2006 fade test once again showed that cheaper inks fade more quickly, and the Jettec Gloss Optimiser cartridge produced even less gloss than the Epson version, and blocked the gloss optimiser part of the print head. So once again, it’s best to stick with the manufacturer’s inks, even if they’re somewhat overpriced.
Since this review was written, Epson have launched the Epson Stylus Photo R1900 which uses UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 inks which should be much better at resisting metamerism.