Epson Stylus C88

What kind of printer do you want for $80? If you said a high-quality color ink-jet that does a respectable job on everything from text to photos, then the Epson Stylus Color C88 should fit the bill. Using four smudge- and water-resistant inks in individual ink tanks, the C88 may be short on added extras, like PictBridge ports, card slots, and CD printing, but it has the color ink-jet basics down pat.

The C88 is easy to set up. It connects to your Mac via a USB 2.0 port on the back of the printer ( it can also use the parallel port for attaching an optional Ethernet print server) and it uses four individual ink tanks filled with a new version of Epson’s pigment inks - DuraBrite Ultra. Like the previous generation of Epson’s DuraBrite inks, these pigmented inks offer both water resistance and smudge resistance. The new Ultra inks are also supposed to eliminate the quality issues the previous inks had when printing on Epson’s Premium Glossy Photo paper. With DuraBrite Ultra, Epson claims there is no need to use the special DuraBrite glossy papers that the company sells to address the earlier problems.

The good news is that the C88’s prints still look great on plain paper. Our text test page showed the printer was capable of producing very clean and sharp text, even at small point sizes. Our graphics test page showed smooth color gradients with little or no banding, as well as clean curved lines.

Using the DuraBrite paper, prints of our Macworld standard test photo were colorful, vibrant and pleasing. They were a little too red though, with the red-checkered tablecloth looking more raspberry-colored and the wood in the cutting board and picture frames looking a little pink.

The bad news really isn’t bad. Compared to prints on the special DuraBrite paper, prints on Epson’s Premium Glossy paper were a bit darker and blacks looked flat and blocked up. Also, these “Premium” prints still had a problem with metamerism, where colors look different depending on how light hits the paper. The solution is simply to use the DuraBrite paper.

In terms of performance, the C88 was never in danger of breaking any speed records. It was a little slower than the average ink-jet printer on all but one test. When printing our 8-by-10-inch test photo at the printer’s highest resolution, the C88 took a leisurely 26 minutes to print. The next-highest resolution setting brought the print speed down to a more reasonable 7 minutes and 18 seconds. There was a subtle difference in print quality, with the higher-resolution print looking a little clearer, sharper and showing more depth, but I doubt many people would find it worth the wait.

timed trials

10-page Word test 1:59
22MB Photoshop image 2:15
4-page PDF 12:25

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

jury tests

Text quality Very Good
Photo quality Good
Graphics quality Very Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

How We Tested : We test each printer via USB 2.0 connected to a dual-1GHz Power Mac G4 running OS X 10.3.9. We record the amount of time it takes each printer to print a 10-page Microsoft Word document at Normal or Good mode and an 8-by-10-inch photo print of a 22MB file from Adobe Photoshop CS2 at Best mode. We look at many types of documents and rate the quality of each printer’s text, photo and graphic prints as either Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, or Unacceptable.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Jerry Jung

SPECIFICATIONS

Number of ink cartridges Four colors/four cartridges
Cost to replace ink/toner cartridges $56 ($19 for black, $12 each for cyan, magenta and yellow)
Connections USB 2.0
Printer resolution 5760x1440 dpi optimized
Special features Individual ink tanks; inks are water and smudge resistant.

Macworld’s buying advice

The Epson Stylus Color C88 is a good choice for those looking for an inexpensive general purpose ink-jet printer with water- and smudge-resistant prints. It does a very good job of printing text and graphics on plain paper. And though it’s fine for the occasional photo print, the C88’s photos came out a little red and still look best on Epson’s DuraBrite papers.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld ’s lab director. ]

Epson Stylus C88
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