From time to time I use the front page space on this site to create a review or comparison of some of the equipment I use. Because there are many excellent reviews already out there, I try, as much as possible, not to reproduce a test I can find somewhere else.
Recently I purchased an Epson 1400 printer to get back in the inkjet game at some level and to be able to print enlargements up to 13 inches wide. My local Staples was carrying them on a sale and with an Epson rebate. So I picked up the printer and some paper from Staples and I was in inkjet-printing-business.
A couple of years ago I bought an Epson RX500 so I already had a basic familiarity with Epson's print drivers etc. The 1400 was very similar--in fact, the color management profile that worked for me with the RX500 is the same one what works with the 1400. In the advanced setting I chose the "Standard" rather than the "Vivid" settings and disabled the high-speed printing and the edge smoothing; then set for the paper size and finish. This combination delivers very consistent results and produces an image that is a very close match to what is on my screen, although with a wider color gamut. The prints were very pleasing on all different kinds of paper. The 1400 will also print on printable CDs and the results there were also very nice.
In fact, the quality of the prints surprised me. When I compared the photos side by side with those printed by a reputable photo-lab chain, I, and everyone I asked, chose the photo from the 1400.
Here's a side by side comparison of the photos I was showing people. The difference was even more dramatic in person.
Here's another photo to give you an idea of how it showed up in other photos as well. The difference were not as dramatic in every example, but the Epson prints consistently exhibited a broader dynamic range with brighter colors, deeper blacks, and better transitions. The detail in dark areas of the photos was also dramatically improved over the lab prints.
Initially I was thinking I would get a CIS (Continuous Ink System) for the 1400 to reduce print cost and just do lots of cool enlargements on the cheap. However, after looking at the print quality and realizing that these were not just prints I could do at home that would be close to lab prints--rather they were going to be better and preferable to lab prints, I realized that I needed to look for quality ink to put in a CIS, if I was going that route. I did find a number of 3rd party manufacturers who sold compatible ink, but in each case they were careful to clarify that their inks were not rated to perform like Epson's "Claria" inks (which the 1400 uses) when it comes to print durability and lightfastness. I even talked to a representative of one of the more reputable third party ink companies and he said he had tested Claria ink and his hat was off to Epson for the good job they did with this new ink. The bottom line: there are no third party inks out there that will produce durable longlasting prints--Epson's dye based Claria inks are in their own league.
So, as you may have guessed, I'm sticking with the Epson Ink for now. But what about that lightfastness and durability? Claria Ink is tested and rated to last between 50-100 years on display and up to 200 years in an album without significant fading. It's water, smudge, and smear resistant and, as I already mentioned, looks great. The downside? You guessed it, it's very expensive. $19.95 x 6 (for each color) from my Staples. And so, of course, you want to know how long these cartridges will last. Epson doesn't supply any kind of estimate, that I've been able to find, and neither do any other reviews that I've seen. Here's my best estimate of what I printed before all the print cartridges had to be replaced.
[Clarifying comment: All the prints below (not just one line) are included in one whole set of ink cartriges]
80+ borderless 4x6
30+ borderless 5x7
15+/- 8x10 or 8.5x11 borderless
3 exactly 11x14
2 exactly 13x19 borderless prints.
All prints were made at the highest quality setting with the the high speed printing and edge smoothing off. Prints were made on matte, gloss, and semigloss photo paper. I only had to clean the nozzles once. I think the cost of printing almost keeps up with taking your prints to a lab when you are doing the smaller sizes, and enlargements should be a better deal than at the lab.
So Epson has served us up another new printer with new technology and so far we might just say, "so what else is new?" The big news here, for me, is the clear performance advantage that this printer offers even over a photo-lab. And because it is a dye ink that has been specially engineered to last, we can have every expectation that the Claria prints will not only look better today, but should continue to look better for many years to come. The only problem is, this means I have to make my own prints.... at least for customers who want premium quality and longevity.
The more I look at the example photos the more dissatisfied I am with them. I may try get some better examples here if I can get the time. PR
Review Update Posted 5/20/2008