By Ellis Vener
Are you in the market for a versatile high-quality pigment printer but your budget is a factor? The Epson Stylus Photo R2000 might be just what you are looking for. It isn’t a workhorse like the big Epsons and Canons, it isn’t even a quarter horse like the R3000, which uses Epson’s K3 Ultrachrome pigment inks, but the R2000 handles everything from printing on a DVD to 13-inch wide rolls, handles individual sheets of thick media, can print fast, can be connected to your computer a couple of different ways including wirelessly, costs less than $500, and most importantly, makes really good looking prints.
The heart of any printer is the inkset and the print head. The R2000 uses Epson’s UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment inks. Eight inks total are installed, although only six colors of ink will be used whether you print on a matte or gloss type surface paper. The inks are Photo Black, Matte Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Red and Orange. The eighth ink is a clear protective “Gloss Optimizer” for use on Luster, Semi-gloss and gloss surface papers. Both the Photo Black and Matte Black inks have their own dedicated channels to and nozzles in the print head and that saves you both time and money when switching media types. With the R3000, for example, Epson estimates that switching from Photo to Matte Black consumes 1ml of ink and takes approximately two minutes while going from Matte to Photo Black drains 3ml and three and a half minutes. With dedicated channels and nozzles for both blacks this removes those considerations as operational cost factors. On the other hand, the lack of gray inks makes the R2000 a less than optimal choice for printing black and white images, as the grays are created by blending dots from all six inks.
Inside the Advanced Micro Piezo AMC print head, each ink is distributed to each of 180 dedicated nozzles. By varying the electric charge (the micro piezo technology at work) on the nozzle as the ink reaches it, the droplets jet out in three different sizes ranging down to 1.5 picoliters. Ink droplets are measured by volume, and the smaller the amount of ink used to form a printed dot the smaller the dot on paper will be. This influences color balance and print resolution. Inkjet printers are very highly engineered machines designed to work at incredibly fine tolerances. Consider that even the mass-produced R2000 delivers droplets as small as 1/1,500,000,000,000th of a liter and it has to consistently deliver these tiny amounts of each ink on top of each other to form the image while the head is moving across and down the length of the page. If you are printing at 360 dpi, an 8x10 print will be made up of 201,600 precisely sized and placed individual droplets of ink while a 12x18 inch print will use up to 544,320 droplets, for even finer print resolution double that when printing at 720 dpi. By varying individual ink droplet size Epson’s Advanced Micro Piezo print heads printers create a continuity of tonal and color transitions and detail resolution that even the pickiest of magnifying-glass-carrying pixel peepers will appreciate.
Setting up the Epson Stylus Photo R2000 was dead easy — Epson really has this down to a science — but as part of the setup, make sure you first download and install the latest driver, firmware and software updates at the beginning of the installation process. Given the intertwined relationship of hardware, firmware and software and how fast these interrelated systems evolve, it is likely that the software on the disks shipped with your new machine are obsolete by the time the printer reaches you. Once everything has been updated and the ink lines charged it is time to make your first print.
If the R2000 is your first foray into making your own prints, start with Epson papers and inks and use Epson’s supplied profiles for your printer model, inks and paper. These can be downloaded from http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Pro/ICCProfilesAll.do. Start by making prints of a few of your favorite images, ones you know well. If you primarily shoot portraits, pay careful attention to skin tones but also to neutral (not pure) whites, grays and blacks. Make sure your monitor or display is well calibrated and profiled. Holding a print is obviously a different experience from merely looking at your work on a computer display, but a common complaint is that prints often look too dark compared to what you see on screen. If you run into this a good place to begin is to set the display's calibration luminance levels lower than what is generally recommended for by many popular display profiling programs. With my studio’s 27-inch iMac and Eizo monitors what works best is setting their luminance to 85 cf/m2. Also see how the print looks under the lights it will most likely be viewed in. Remember that a print can never be any whiter or brighter than the paper you have chosen to print on, so try different papers.
If you are not satisfied with the overall results from Epson’s profiles and papers you should consider using a custom profile created for your individual printer, ink and paper combination as well as other papers. Just as with a car, no two printing setups perform exactly identically and making profiles for your way of printing is akin to tuning a car but simpler. Creating your own profiles is easier than ever with even relatively low cost tools like the X-Rite ColorMunki Photo and the Datacolor SpyderSTUDIO kit. But if the process or price intimidates you, there are web and mail-based profiling services where you download a target, print it according to the instructions, mail it to the service who reads the target patches, creates a profile and then e-mails it to you. A caveat with this approach is that this can sometimes take a couple of iterations and not all services are equal. Additionally, some online media and ink sellers (like http://www.booksmartstudios.com) maintain libraries of profiles for the products they sell or can make profiles for you.
While a really good custom profile will get the ultimate quality out of any printer, ink and paper combination, in our tests Epson’s profiles produce a good match to a well calibrated and profiled modern monitor. If you want to dive deeper into the color management process, color expert Andrew Rodney has written a tutorial called “Why Are My prints Too Dark?” If you want to go really deep into color management Rodney’s book “Color Management for Photographers” is an excellent primer.
The R2000 can be connected via USB 2.0, 110 base-T Ethernet, or as a high-speed 802.11n WiFi device as part of a wireless network. It also has a PictBridge connection for printing directly from a camera, but we did not test this feature. We chose the wireless option as there are already too many cables snaking out of the back of our studio’s main computer and also because wireless networking makes it easy to use with other computers in the studio. While the wireless connection slows down the print process, it's a small price to pay for the increased versatility.
The Epson manual is helpful, although in some places it is less than clear. For instance, I got a warning that print quality may degrade in the top and bottom areas when printing a 12 x 18 inch print on 13 x 19 inch Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster.
I went to the online manual but after much searching could not find a specific reference to a list of which media where quality might decline or smear at the top and bottom of the print. I decided to press on and make a print anyway and saw no problems. But the gloss optimizer coating was extending across the entire page instead of just the “live” print area. After some communication with Epson it turned out that I had inadvertently chosen the 13x19 inch borderless printing option. Switching to the non-borderless option solved the problem.
There are multiple Output Resolution options. In our test prints we saw very little difference between “Best Photo” and "Photo RPM” and the same with the high-speed option turned on and off. There are differences, but they are small.
Except for the problem with black and white printing, The Epson Photo Stylus R2000 handled a wide range of photos — portraits, landscapes, and still lifes — quite nicely. There are better printers on the market, ones that have larger gamut ink sets or that handle wider media, but those come with a bigger price tag. If you are looking for a small, really versatile pigment printer with a relatively low operating cost at a rational price the R2000 is definitely the one to consider first.
MSRP: $499.99 (street price $399.99 or with $100 rebate currently available)