Epson’s pioneering efforts in photo ink-jet printing make any new offering from the company worth a look. This time around, it has hit a home run, with the $699 Stylus Photo 2200, which replaces the Stylus Photo 2000P in Epson’s product line. Ideal for photographers at either the professional or the consumer level, the Stylus Photo 2200 offers a range of new features (including a much wider color gamut and increased resolution), as well as some features previously reserved for Epson’s Stylus Pro line — all for $200 less than its predecessor.
But there’s a catch. If Apple wants graphics pros to take OS X seriously, it needs to remove the current crippling limitations on OS X printer drivers; as it stands, Epson’s OS X driver can’t support several of the features that make the 2200 so appealing. We hope the release of OS X 10.2 will change this, but Apple has not confirmed that it will.
The Proof Is in the Pigment
The Stylus Photo 2200’s new UltraChrome pigmented inks almost eliminate the green shift that plagued the previous pigmented inks when they were viewed in daylight. The inks also have an estimated print life of 80 years — comparable with the longest-lived traditional color photographic materials.
The 2200’s UltraChrome ink set includes eight inks: cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, light black (which greatly improves gray-scale printing), and two interchangeable black inks — Photo Black and Matte Black, each in its own cartridge (so you need to replace only the ink that runs out). The Photo Black ink works well on all paper types, but it’s optimized for glossy and semigloss papers. The Matte Black ink yields a higher dynamic range on matte papers such as Epson’s Enhanced Matte, Radiant White Watercolor, and Velvet Fine Art papers, producing a noticeably denser black than the Photo Black ink. Unfortunately, the OS X driver doesn’t support swappable black cartridges and is limited to Photo Black.
The UltraChrome inks also offer a much wider color gamut than the previous pigmented inks, on any paper stock. On Epson Premium Photo Glossy Paper, the UltraChrome gamut is almost indistinguishable from Epson’s dye-based inks on the same paper, but UltraChrome has the benefit of greater longevity. On matte paper, the UltraChrome reds are slightly weaker than those of Epson’s dye-based inks, and the Matte Black ink produces a stronger black than the dye-based inks ever did.
The addition of a light-black ink also makes the 2200 a contender for black-and-white photo printing, which was problematic in previous generations of Epson ink-jets. The black inks by themselves yielded a warm black tone, but using the full-color inks generated a range of blacks from warm to cool, without any of the color crossovers — parts of the tonal range wandering from warm to cool on the same photo — that plagued previous generations of Epson inks.
Handling, Output, and Speed
Roll-paper holders, an auto-cutter, and a catch basket, features once found only in Epson’s Pro line, are included as standard equipment — this printer’s ability to spit out one borderless 4-by-6-inch print per minute is impressive. Using roll-fed paper also allows you to print panoramas as large as 13 by 44 inches. The printer also accepts single sheets as large as 13 by 19 inches, and it offers a straight-through manual-feed path for heavy stocks as thick as 1.3mm.
The Stylus Photo 2200 promises a maximum resolution of 2,880 by 1,440 dpi, double that of the 2000P. We generally take ink-jet resolution specs with a grain of salt — dot size is at least as important as resolution — but this printer’s output looked slightly sharper than its predecessor’s on matte papers when we examined it through a loupe, and it was visibly sharper on glossy papers, though we had to look carefully.
In OS 9, the Stylus Photo 2200 is an amazingly versatile printer that can function as a virtual minilab. But in OS X, roll-fed printing, custom paper sizes (and hence, panoramas), and borderless printing are unavailable from the driver (however, it still prints beautifully on single sheets).
One of the big complaints about the 2000P was its speed, or rather its lack thereof. Again, Epson has delivered: the 2200, at its highest-quality setting on Premium Glossy Photo Paper (which is the worst-case speed scenario), prints an 8-by-10-inch image in around 10 minutes. Lower resolutions or lower-quality settings can slash that time — an 8-by-10-inch, 720-dpi image prints in around two and a half minutes — and still produce acceptable results.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Even with the limitations OS X places on the print driver, the Stylus Photo 2200 is quite simply the best photo ink-jet printer Epson has produced. It’s a real breakthrough in desktop imaging, and it should interest anyone who wants the highest-quality photographic prints the digital darkroom can produce. If you’ve been frustrated by previous generations’ shortcomings and have been waiting for a stable, long-lasting, large-gamut ink set, your wait is over. l