Epson 1270 /870
This subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.
March, 2001: The Epson 1270 has been replaced by the Epson 1280 / 1290 models. An updated review is now available here.
In early April 2000, Epson Canada released the 870 and 1270 printers in this country. What follows are my initial impressions of this latest generation photo printer from Epson. These printers were first available in Asia in January, then in Europe during early February, and finally the U.S. in mid-March. Because of the staggered release and the ubiquity of information on the Net there has been a lot of frustrated waiting among photographers in the U.S. and Canada. The wait is now over.
This is Epson's fourth generation photo printer. Every spring Epson releases a new model. First there was the Stylus Photo, then the EX, then the 1200 and now the 1270. (The 870 is essentially the same printer, but limited to 8X10" prints. Just about everything I say about the 1270 applies equally to the 870.)
I have purchased and used each one of these (as well as the odd HP, Canon and Alps photo printer) and can state authoritatively that the 1270 is the finest photo printer to date. You're not surprised are you?
What I can also say, after some 35 years as a photographer, printer and teacher, is that the Epson 1270 along with its new inks and papers is the first inkjet printer that can claim to supplant traditional wet process photographic printing! Let's see why.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
If you already have an earlier generation Epson Photo printer superficially there isn't much different about the 1270. USB, serial and parallel connections are standard, and the printer works equally well with either PC or Mac platforms. What is new and of greatest significance are the inks and papers. As most everyone knows these are the first OEM inks and papers that are archival, approaching and even exceeding the longevity of traditional wet-process colour media. (Heavyweight Matt Paper on an 870/1270 is rated by Wilhelm Research as having a 25 year life span, while the gold standard for more than a quarter century, Cibachrome / Ilfochrome is rated at 27 years â�¹ essentially identical).
My first impression though was one of frustration. I was one of a thousand or so people that received a 1270 with an 870 CD ROM installation disk in error. Thinking that this was a generic install disk designed for both printers I proceeded to waste a great deal of time and effort. After an hour on the phone with a knowledgeable and helpful customer support technician at Epson Canada I was able to download the proper drivers (9MB) and get the printer up and running successfully. If you're buying a 1270 in the U.S. or Canada during the spring of 2000 check the box before you leave the store. It'll save you a lot of grief.
Since these printers all came in a single batch from one factory Epson clearly has to know their serial numbers. Why they can't do a recall or notify dealers is beyond me. I wasted hours on this and did considerable damage to my printer driver directory because of this problem. Mistakes happen, but Epson could and should do better in remedying this one.
Also, on the topic of Epson, I'm informed by my dealer in Toronto that it will be up to 2 months (June?) until the new papers are available in Canada in large sizes. Unbelievable. What's up Epson?
Update: April, 2000
To Epson's credit they sent the correct 1270 CD by courier and it arrived the next day.
Silence. The 1270 compared to the 1200 and previous Stylus Photo printers is much â�¹ much quieter. Cosmetically the printer is more rounded than the 1200 and features a clear gray-smoked plastic cover. These changes are small and incremental, but show that Epson is focusing primarily on image quality rather than cosmetic changes just for the sake of change.
What ultimately counts is, what do prints look like? I decided to compare output with my 1200 printer, which remained attached to my computer. Since Pictorico Hi-Gloss White Film has been my paper of choice during 1999 I first made a print using this paper and compared it to a print on the same paper from the 1200.
Astonishingly, the 1270 was better. Why do I say "astonishingly"? Because my system is completely calibrated, from monitor to scanner to printer to paper. What I see on my screen is essentially what I get on paper. To my amazement the first 1270 print on Pictorico paper was essentially perfect â�¹ in fact the colour balance was slightly more neutral than with my fully calibrated 1200! Given that the 1200 / Pictorico combination uses a custom profile and the 1270 was done simply using its generic settings for "Glossy Film", needless to say I was very pleased with this initial test.
The biggest news about the 870/1270 printers is that not only do they offer the highest image quality yet, but there are now inks and papers with archival characteristics comparable to traditional wet-process photographic media. In particular, Epson's Heavyweight Matt Paper is rated as having a 25 year rating for fade resistance by Wilhelm Research â�¹ the highest rating for any OEM ink and paper combination, and almost the equal of traditional processes such as Ilfochrome / Cibachrome. This means that for the first time ink jet output can be sold as fine art prints, with the confidence that under normal display conditions there is no compromise over traditional media.
The printer ships with samples of both the new matt paper and also Epson's new Premium Glossy Photo Paper. I had heard very good things about this paper and was eager to compare it to Pictorico Hi-Gloss, my previous gold standard for image quality.
There are a lot of variables to compare. The first thing to note is that inks and papers are now almost inseparably linked. One just can't talk about image quality and archival permanence without noting both the paper and the ink used. It's also important to note that the ink cartridges for the 870/1270 printers from Epson (and likely all future Epson printers) now have micro-chips incorporated. No cartridge without such a chip can be used in these printers, and so it appears that third-party ink carts are probably a thing of the past.
Having said all this, I made the following prints, using an image that has clean whites and neutral tones, as well as a lot of fine detail.
The Reference Print:
Epson 1200 with Pictorico Hi-Gloss White Film and Epson ink
Sharp, glossy, pure whites, clean colours â�¹ my standard to date
The Comparison Prints:
Epson 1270 with Pictorico Hi-Gloss White Film and Epson ink
Excellent. Very similar to the 1200 print, but with slightly more neutral colour balance (!)
Epson 1270 with Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper and Epson Ink
Similar to Pictorico Hi-Gloss or Glossy Film on the 1270. Not quite as white or bright as Pictorico. Almost certainly better archival characteristics than Pictorico paper with Epson ink, but otherwise not preferable visually. Because if its archival characteristics though I'll likely switch from Pictorico to Epson Premium. Pictorico has the look and feel of a Cibachrome print, Epson Premium Glossy of a very good Type C print.
Epson 1270 with Epson Heavyweight Matt Paper and Epson Ink
This was a shocker since I normally prefer glossy paper.
I've been a Cibachrome printer for more than 25 years and always was partial to their glossy paper.
For the first time I've found a matt paper that I like; that I really like.
This paper losses nothing in terms of colour saturation or detail, and because
of its matt finish is ideal for display prints.
Though I still have more tests to do, my initial opinion is that I will switch to Heavyweight Matt Paper for display prints and keep using Pictorico Hi-Gloss for portfolio prints. In fact, once I have done some fade tests of my own I'm likely to stop having LightJet 5000 prints made for display and will switch completely to inkjet prints on this paper for all applications. The combination of the 1270 printer and Heavyweight Matt paper is that impressive.
A Note Regarding Colour Shift
Prints on matt paper come out of the printer essentially with their final colours. But, on Pictorico Hi-Gloss and on Epson Premium Glossy the image is about 10-15cc too magenta when it first comes out of the printer. Full stabilization seems to take about 10 minutes. Curiously, this is the same effect that one used to get when developing Cibachrome material. It may have something to do with initial oxidation of the dyes. Consequently, don't judge fine colour balance until the print has had time to assume its final colours.
For the past year (prior to the 1270) I have used the the older Photo EX with MIS inks for monochrome printing. My article entitled Digital B&W Printing discusses this in detail. I have now switched to using the 1270 printer with colour inks and Heavyweight Matt Paper for monochrome work. These prints are excellent, offering archival permanence and excellent monochrome characteristics. It should be said of course that archivally processed silver prints on non-RC paper have the greatest archival permanence.
I've found that the 1270 printer produces monochrome prints with essentially no colour cast. On Heavyweight Matt Paper, through a 4X loupe, they are virtually indistinguishable from a traditional silver print on matt paper. To the naked eye, completely so.
The method of printing is simplicity itself. Simply convert the image from RGB colour to Grayscale, if it isn't so already. Then go to Page Setup / Properties / Advanced, select Color Controls and set Gamma to 2.2. Be sure that you print with the color inks, not in B&W mode. You may also want to increase contrast by 5-10%, but you'll want to experiment with different brightness and contrast settings for each image in any event.
A commentary by Alain Briot â�¹ a photographer who makes his living from selling fine-art photographic prints â�¹ is reproduced here, and you can also read a commentary on using the 1270 in a Mac environment by photographer and Mac expert, Kip Peterson.
As mentioned above, and elsewhere, the new inks and papers work as a combination to achieve their archival characteristics. You can use the new papers with earlier Epson printers, but you can not use the new inks in any other printer. This means that the new papers when used with older printers will not give archival permanence. You'll need to explore some of the third-party pigment-based inks for this.
Also, Epson has made it clear that they will not be releasing the new inks for use with older printers. This requires the new heads and electronics of the 870/1270 and later models. If you want the archival permanence of Epson's latest papers and inks you need the new printers, and remember â�¹ the Heavyweight Matt Paper is considerably longer lasting (3X) than Premium Glossy.
NB: The photographs on this page are not related to the printer test and are here strictly for graphic display purposes.
Ok. The Epson 1270 and it's semi-archival inks and papers are great. So what's next? Have a look at this page for a sneak preview.
As if the pace isn't fast enough, in late May, 2000 Epson announced a pigment-based photographic printer with inks and papers rated at up to 200 years. A full review is now online. It should be noted though that this printer costs double what a 1270 will cost you and produces prints that are essentially visually identical. The only thing you gain is increased print longevity â�¹ from 20-30 years to 100-200 years, depending on the paper used.
The year 2000 is turning out to be a banner year for Epson photo printers. No sooner did the 870/1270 start shipping than they announced 3 new archival photo printers. Here's what known as of early June, 2000.
In June, 2000 there were extensive reports on various discussion boards about very premature fading of prints made on 870 and 1270 printers using Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper. According to Wilhelm Research this is as a results of deterioration of the cyan inks due to a particular sensitivity of this paper to ozone and other airborne contaminants. Further details can be found on the Wilhelm site.
The following is a message posted to an Epson printer mail-list on July 26, 2000. I have no additional information, but if your interested you should follow up on your own.
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 13:37:20 -0700
From: Jo Ann Snover <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Epson offered paper or printer refund for 1270
I called Epson Customer Service and they will refund my paper costs for the Premium Glossy Photo paper wasted by orange fading. They gave me their UPS account number to ship them back the boxes and any spoiled samples I have at no charge to me. They will also send me a refund for the printer if I want to return it.
I read the review of the 2000P at Luminous Landscape, and I'm not really sure that I want to make the trade. Of course what I'd really like is a 1270 that worked as advertised :-) The woman I spoke with had no information about whether or when there would be upgraded inks or paper that don't have the gas fade problems. I didn't get any grief from them - they knew all about the problem. She did suggest that I could use plastic sleeves for 4x6 prints - I said it's not a practical (or cheap) solution to sending pictures to family in plastic sleeves.
If anyone else wants to call, it was 562-276 1311 (fax # is 562 2905536).
For what it's worth I have not seen the problem of premature fading and discoloration myself. Neither has landscape photographer Alain Briot who I communicate with regularly on these topics and who also makes a large number of 1270 prints for his clients. Alain lives in hot and dry rural Arizona while I live in cool, humid urban Toronto, Ontario. Ian Lyons, author of a number of articles on the 1270, who lives in Ireland (yet another climate) has not seen this problem either. Go figure.
The controversy over the orange fading problem continues. There is now a new site devoted exclusively to this issue. It seems to be taking quite a hard-nosed position but until Epson takes a public and definitive stand on this issue I suppose this is justified.
Network World Magazine, a highly respected U.K. journal has just published an online column by Mark Gibbs which roundly chastises Epson for their position on the orange fade problem. He specifically is critical that while they have done the right thing by offering dissatisfied customers a refund, they are allowing other customers who may be unaware of the refund to remain in the dark.
In a recent conversation with an informed Epson representative I've been told that in North America they have now proactively contacted every person they could who has complained about the orange fade problem, either on-line or directly to Epson. All of these folks have been offered refunds, but interestingly, as of mid-August no one has taken them up on their offer!
As we know, the problem is centered around Premium Glossy Photo Paper and is caused by high ozone levels, and therefore is only seen in some locations. I've never seen it, and neither have any of the many photographers that I'm in frequent contact with. It exists, but it's rare.
In any event, there have been rumours that this paper is going to be reformulated to reduce if not eliminate the problem. I'd guess that these rumours have merit. In the meantime try some of the other great papers that are on the market such as Matt Heavyweight, and my favourite, the new Archival Matt introduced for the 2000P but which works wonderfully on the 1270 as well.
Update: September 9, 2000
Bruce Frazer, a journalist, book author and one of the industry's leading experts on colour calibration has published an open letter to Epson in MacWEEK.com regarding the orange fade problem with the 1270 printer.
With the introduction of the Epson 2000P printer and its archival inks came several new papers. Two of these, Archival Matt and Premium Semigloss, will be of particular interest to 870 and 1270 owners.
The Archival Matt is almost identical to Heavyweight Matt except that it is on slightly heavier stock. Otherwise it prints identically. If you've been annoyed by some waviness when printing images with large dark areas on the Heavyweight Matt then the new Archival Matt will be appreciated.
The Premium Semigloss is a very appealing new paper and if you haven't already done so you should read about it in my 2000P review. It has a weight and texture that's very appealing. It prints very nicely on the 1270 with the paper setting adjusted to Glossy Film. It's worth noting that since the green cast problem of the 2000P is associated with the inks, not the papers, it is not an issue on Premium Semigloss for 1270 owners.
Update: September 29, 2000
Byte.com has an article by David Em on the latest regarding the orange fade problem. You can read it here.
Update: November 7, 2000
Byte.com has another excellent article by David Em on Epson's latest generation of printers, papers and inks, and the problems that they're having. You can read it here.
Update: March 12, 2001
The Epson 1270 has been replaced by the Epson 1280 / 1290 models. An updated review is now available here.
This subject will be featured in a forthcoming issue of The Luminous Landscape Video Journal.