always taken any opportunity available in my photography
work to detour to make photographs of flowers. The collection
has been invaluable to evaluate the color reproduction
capabilities of digital darkroom equipment, and seldom
with as vivid a result as the Epson Stylus Photo 960 has
© 2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved
Following the excellent performance
of the Epson Stylus Photo 890/1280 ink jet printers I honestly did not
expect that further improvements in dye ink jet photo printers could
result in significantly better print quality. That of course does not
preclude improvements in printer performance and capabilities, as well
as convenience, all of which the new Epson Stylus Photo 960 have that
more than justify a new model. This new model is sleeker, quieter, faster,
and does more than the previous 890.
It begins with improved roll paper handling, now included with a built-in
automatic cutter, combined with edge-to-edge 4x6, as well as 5x7 as
part of the printing package. In addition, paralleling the recently
released Epson 2200, there is a third paper path for heavy stock like
poster material providing a manual straight through paper feed. And,
also like the 2200, this new 960 has separate cartridges for each ink
color, of which there are six, but the printer takes seven because it
uses two blacks. The two blacks for the 960 however, are identical with
the same ink, the purpose being the doubling of the printer's
black text printing speed.
while ago I asked a model to participate in a test of
a new super saturated film. Besides having some tongue-in-cheek
fun with the project the images that resulted have now
proven a good illustration of the Epson Stylus Photo
960's ability to reproduce intense colors.
But, the most important question is whether the 960 makes better prints,
and if so, how is that possible? Obviously, with seven separate ink
cartridges, the 960 has a new print head design, and Epson now specifies
that the ink droplet size is a microscopic 2 picoliters. Other than
96 nozzles per color with 192 for black, Epson specifies no further
particulars of print performance other than the maximum resolution remains
2880x1440dpi. This newest model Epson Photo printer is also supported
by Epson's Print Image Matching II technology, now supported by
an even greater roster of digital cameras and compatible with the latest
Version 2.2 EXIF digital camera JPEG file header information standard.
This means automatically improved print performance that matches the
characteristics of a particular digital camera, which can be accomplished
with the Epson supplied Film Factory print application as well as with
an Adobe Photoshop plug-in that is on the Epson software installation
CD. For me the final arbiter of whether Epson's self-described
"ultimate" print quality of the 960 was an issue I could
only resolve through testing the printer in a wide range of applications
over several weeks.
an old-timer photographically of course much of my library
is black and white photographs. This has until recently
been a frustration to print digitally. The Epson Stylus
Photo 960 however, does a superb job using Epson Photo
Paper and setting the printer to black ink only at 2880dpi
resolution using the Automatic Adjustment setting.
Using The Epson Stylus
I received the 960 from Epson as I was finishing up a number of projects.
I usually make a lot of letter-size prints, proofs, thumbnail pages,
and copies of illustrations for articles in my daily work, so I just
put the 960 to the task of doing this after installing its drivers on
three machines: a Mac G4 running OS 10.2, another G4 running Classic
OS 9.1, and a just received Sony Vaio PCV-RX752 Digital Studio desktop
computer running Windows XP. Epson claims the 960 is as much as three
times faster than its predecessor--the 890. This was immediately
evident. And, after printing a few contact sheets with Adobe Photoshop
7.0 generated at 300dpi, the resulting prints with 12 thumbnails provided
a strong indication of truly superior print performance. Looking at
the printed contact sheets as close as my eyes will focus revealed these
small images were exceptionally detailed and sharp compared to what
I had become accustomed to seeing.
a studio film test my model happened to have a DayGlow
pink robe with her, which I asked her to wear for some
shots. The color in the slide has been too intense to
reproduce faithfully in a print until the Epson 960
2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved
As I used the Epson Stylus
Photo 960 more for my daily printing, particularly proofing new scans
and re-edited and manipulated images, I became aware the prints that
resulted contained more of what I was seeing in the image on screen.
This was not so much a matter of color matching, which is a function
of color management that I maintain with precise calibration and profiling,
but that the depth of color and the nuances of tone were more fully
reproduced. All of this printing over a little more than a week was
using the standard Epson Photo Paper, which I find can be purchased
in quantity quite economically.
Wide Ranging Subject Tests
I next chose test prints from a wide range of challenging subjects that
had not yielded satisfying prints in the past. I also worked with different
print surfaces. A few of these were from images I had made using very
fast 35mm color films for stylized portraits. They were photographed
with soft light and often a soft-focus lens, further enhancing the apparent
effect of the grain. Even on Heavyweight Matte, which because of its
diffuse surface and a fiber base is more prone to allow the ink dots
to merge, the detail in the prints crisply defined by the grain and
the color intensity was superior to anything I'd experienced before.
I then chose some of the flower images I have been spending more time
with lately, and the saturated colors of these images held true in the
prints with more what I would hope for based on the image's on-screen
appearance. Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, subtle flesh tones
in a portrait of a blonde, for instance, were reproduced with appropriate
delicacy even on Premium Glossy photo paper.
One of the perks of a digital darkroom
is the fun you can have making a dull photo of a seagull
on the beach on a gray day into an attractive image.
When reproduced with the Epson 960 the print makes a
colorful result even more so.
2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved
Epson offers two papers that
assure the longest potential life of 25 years--Heavyweight Matte
and ColorLife. Unfortunately, I did not have samples of ColorLife stock,
but from previous experience would assume it would print much like Premium
Luster, which I did test, as well as Premium Semigloss. To my eye, and
this may just be personal taste and the viewing light conditions I have,
the Premium Glossy and Heavyweight Mattes favor this printer's
performance more than Luster or Semigloss. Good old standard Epson Photo
Paper seemed to produce the best appearing prints overall. As for the
black and white enthusiast, and there are more of these than Epson seems
to want to acknowledge, I found the only fully acceptable prints were
made setting the driver to black ink only and printing at 2880dpi using
the Automatic Adjustment setting. This functions best again on Epson
Photo Paper, Heavyweight Matte, and Premium Glossy, with my personal
preference remaining the standard Epson Photo Paper.
was quite surprised by how precisely and clearly the
Epson 960 printer reproduced the grain in one of my
stylized portraits. Usually these images on 1000 speed
35mm films don't reveal the grains sharply and
clearly until blown up to at least 11x14, but the
960 does as well printing an image almost half that
2002, Cris Daniels, All Rights Reserved
Evaluation And Recommendation
Ultimate is, now that I've lived with the Stylus Photo 960 for
a number of weeks, a fair description to use to describe this new
Epson letter-size printer. The quality difference advantage of this
new printer is particularly evident in smaller print sizes because
the small ink droplet size reproduces sharp and small, fine detail
with crisp differentiation of tones, and colors like no other printer
I have seen. Of course this also translates into smooth areas of color
that can appear almost liquid when reproduced from a fine-grained
photo image. The Epson 960 also produces prints with greater fidelity
to the richness of color in originals, and does so with considerable
economy in regard to the amount of ink that is used. I found that
with the colors I tend to have more of in my photographs the light
magenta is used quickest, and then yellow and light cyan. At a list
price of $11.95 per color ink cartridge, considering how many cartridges
I'd replace with an 890/1280 doing the same number of prints,
I'd estimate the new 960 would reduce the ink cost per print.
But don't hold me to reducing your print budget, as the much
faster printing speed and fine image quality may encourage greater
For any photographer who limits their prints to letter-size and smaller,
this new Epson Stylus Photo 960 offers a distinct quality and print
speed advantage, as well as several new features like the roll 4"
printing with an automatic cutter. At $349 it is at a premium price,
but it's one that I believe is warranted by its obvious solid
quality and smooth, quiet operation, in addition to its speed and
excellent print performance.
For more information, call Epson at (800) 463-7766 or visit their
web site at www.epson.com.
The new Epson Stylus Photo 960 letter-size dye ink
jet photo printer.
Printing Method: Six-color (CcMmYK) Micro Piezo ink jet technology,
individual ink cartridges
Resolution: Up to 2880x1440dpi
Ink Droplet Size: 2 picoliters
Print Speed: 4x6" Photo: 53 sec (720dpi), 8x10"
Photo: 1 min, 49 sec (720dpi). Black text memo: 8 ppm (360dpi).
Ink Technology: Epson Photo Ink (Lightfast Inks)
Software Driver: Windows USB--Windows 98, 2000, Me, or
later; Windows Parallel--Windows 98, 2000, Me, or later; Macintosh
USB--Macintosh System 8.6, 9.x, and OS X 10.1
Interface: USB, Parallel (IEEE-1284)
Paper Handling--Single Sheets: Letter, legal, A4, 4x6",
5x7", 4" and 8.3" wide roll paper, and user definable
(up to 8.5x44")
Paper Thickness: Up to 1.3mm via straight through paper path
Paper Types: Plain and bond, Epson Glossy, ColorLife, Premium
Glossy, Semigloss, and Luster Photo Papers, Matte Paper-Heavyweight,
Photo Quality Ink Jet Paper, and Premium Bright White Paper.
Physical Dimensions: 20.27x26.10x11.77" (printing); 20.27x13.10x8.22"
(storage); 16.2 lbs
Software: Epson Software Film Factory, P.I.M. plug-in for Adobe
Photoshop 6.0, 7.0, and Elements