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Turn on the jets

Epson’s stylus Photo 820 is great for beginners.

The Stylus Photo 820 is Epson’s latest weapon in the battle for low-cost, high-quality photorealistic inkjet printers. It’s compact and lightweight, but can print 2,880-by-720dpi output on Epson Photo Paper and 1,440-by-720dpi on specialty papers. Yes, it’s slightly noisier than the near-silent Stylus Photo 1280, but not annoyingly so. That’s probably due to the less substantial materials used in this less expensive printer.

Setup is a snap, and newbies are helped by a poster showing how to place the paper holder, insert inkjet cartridges, and plug in the power cord. My first print looked great, but was a little dark until I remembered to change the Print Space Profile in Adobe Photoshop’s driver. Then the results were superb. Image quality is aided by a four picoliter droplet size that, combined with Epson’s variable droplet technology lays down larger droplets in solid areas and four-picoliter drops for fine details and highlights.

The Stylus Photo 820 is a true six-color printer. Some printers use pigment-based inks in their black ink cartridge and dye inks in their CMY or CMYcm color cartridges. Epson uses dye-based inks for all their photo printers, except the Stylus Photo 2000P which uses pigmented inks for archival reasons. Dye and pigmented inks can be combined on plain paper, but when printing on photo paper, these printers turn off the black ink and become three or five color models, not the four or six you might expect.

When comparing inkjet printers, some computer users seem obsessed with speed and media costs. I think image quality is most important, but in case you’re interested, Epson states that when printing in Photo Mode an 8-by-10 print takes 3:19. My real-world tests printing a 21.9MB 8-by-10 image on Epson’s Photo Quality Ink Jet Paper at 720dpi took 2:50. Printing at higher resolutions and with borderless images takes longer. A borderless 8-by-10 print on Epson’s Matte Paper Heavyweight paper at 1,440dpi took a little over nine minutes. The 820 Photo rips through black text at 12 PPM (pages per minute) and does a superb job of printing forms with color elements created with Adobe PageMaker. I was especially impressed with its rendering of small, fine black text. This kind of output seems as fast–and maybe a bit faster–than the more expensive Stylus Photo 1280.

Since everybody’s style is different, ink usage is hard to predict. But the Stylus Photo 820’s driver has a feature that not only shows how much ink is left in the cartridges, but also estimates how many prints you can make before running out of ink. A black ink cartridge costs $22.46 and color ink is $17.96 in Epson’s online store. Ink consumption will vary by user and those readers who let their kids have Internet access and the keys to the Stylus Photo 820 will find consumption higher than those using the printer for text and occasional photo printing. At $129, the Epson Stylus Photo 820 represents a best buy for photo quality desktop printers.

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