The Epson Stylus Photo 1280 Printer

Epson Premium Glossy paper and the new 2880dpi print resolution combine to reproduce the sharp detail and color rendition of Kodachrome with almost perfect fidelity. This soft-focus shot of Japanese maple leaves and an out of focus background of flower beds, is richly portrayed true to the original image in this Photo paper print with the 1280.
Photos © 2001, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Over the last few years the technology performance advances Epson has brought to ink jet photo printing has moved at an amazing pace. I've not just wondered how they have been able to improve photo-realistic printing so dramatically, but now, with little competitive pressure behind them, why they continue to bring photographers new levels of performance at such a rapid and remarkable pace? Maybe because they can?

However, this latest 1280 model Epson Stylus Photo and the smaller 890, were spurred on, I am sure, by the dye stability problems they had for a time with the Premium Glossy paper with the 1270/870 models. That has been corrected and is well behind us. This newest Epson Photo printer offers a significantly better quality and a greater range of print performance. They also have brought out new photographer-friendly paper sizes like 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14, in addition to two new paper surfaces introduced with the Stylus Photo 2000P, Premium Semi-Gloss and Luster, now for the 1280/890. And for the budget minded, entry-level digital photographer, there is a new low-cost member of the Stylus Photo family, the letter-size 780.

The rich reds, subtle earth tones, and delicate textures in this Italian mountain village street scene are reproduced with exceptional accuracy in rich, glossy tones on Premium paper.

Model Improvements
Both the 1280 and 890 models show slight cosmetic changes from the previous models. The improvements are largely hardware and software advances, chiefly doubling the maximum resolution to 2880x720dpi and reducing the ink jet droplet size to 4 picoliters, variable to 1/4 density or a 1 picoliter equivalent. In practical terms, these performance specifications mean the individual ink droplet is smaller than can be perceived normally with human vision. The number of droplets that make up a printed image produces the perception of true continuous tones, as well as ultimately crisp photographic image detail.

In addition to reformulating the Premium Glossy paper to resolve the light fastness and gas fastness (susceptibility to environment air contaminants), Epson learned from users that the proper care of prints is an issue if the maximum potential of print life is to be obtained. The projected potential print life ratings of 25 years with Epson Heavyweight Matte paper, 10 years with Premium Glossy, and 6-7 years with Epson Photo paper demands that an exhibited print be framed behind glass and subject only to standard indoor lighting, not sunlight.

This farmer's museum of old water pumps relives in its multicolored salute against a black background of deep shade faithfully reproduced in a Premium Glossy print from a Kodachrome original.

As I mentioned, a greater selection of paper is now available, including Semi-Gloss and Luster. These come in photographer-friendly sizes that are supported in the Epson print driver software. The printers and software also includes borderless printing in many of these standard sizes as well as support for continuous paper roll printing of borderless 4x6 print sizes.

The Epson Stylus Photo 1280 printer also comes with an impressive list of accessories and software, including a Roll Paper Holder and Roll sample, Adobe Photoshop LE with a $299 upgrade price to Version 6.0, Epson Film Factory TE, QBeo PhotoGenetics TE, and a special offer price of $199 on Monaco EZ Color 2.0 color management software. The price of the 13" wide Photo 1280 printer is $499, while its letter-size equivalent model 890 is $299. The new entry-level photo printer, the 780, is $149.

Epson's venerable Photo paper takes on new life when used in the Stylus Photo 1280 printer, revealing not at all that it's an economy paper of choice. This striking portrait done in the soft illumination of a daylight studio captures both rich complexion tones and delicate shades of a pastel print gown with unusual brilliance, more than doing justice to the Kodachrome original.

Printing With Epson's Stylus Photo 1280
Overall, this newest Epson wide format printer is quiet, smooth running, and fast (although using the 2880dpi maximum resolution setting slows the printer down significantly). With all media and all settings and print sizes, the general performance improvements in operation and performance are modest, but color richness and fidelity are noticeably better. Because I am very aware and sensitive to color matching, I found that this newest model's standard printer profiles are significantly more accurate.

The most noticeable advance is the quality of output from the Epson Stylus Photo 1280 when applied to specific print media as well as the benefits of the new 2880dpi maximum resolution. The most dramatic advance in print quality is noticed making letter-size and smaller prints on the new premium Glossy paper printed at 2880dpi. But printing on the new Semi-Gloss and Luster papers with the 1440dpi setting also produces print qualities that are outstanding. These qualities, to me, resemble a cross between a good professional lab color negative print and a Cibachrome/Ilfochrome print, combining smooth continuous tones of exceptional richness of color and incredible image detail sharpness. An additional advantage accrued to the higher maximum 2880dpi resolution and the new premium Glossy paper is that black and white gray scale image files can now be printed just using the black ink to obtain a really full-scale print image, comparable to wet darkroom glossy black and white prints.

Richly liquid color, deep blacks, and brilliant highlights are easy to achieve with Epson's new Semi-Gloss and Luster finish papers printed with the Stylus Photo 1280 at either 2880 or 1440dpi resolution. The skunk cabbage name belies the brilliance of its greens along with the finely patterned detail of its leaves to make it a study in beauty of the high mountain meadow, perfectly printed on Epson's new papers with the 1280.

My test printing involved a wide variety of photographic images covering the gamut of subjects and image properties, and then applied to all of the photo printing options and all of the established and new Epson media. The resulting samples exhibited uniformly excellent print results as well as distinct print style, due to the different characteristics of the printing papers. However, the reproduced examples in the magazine may reflect only a part of these qualities because of the limitations of magazine printing and the fact that it is a very distinctly different reproduction media.

Conclusions And Recommendations
If you're one of those photographers still sitting on the fence waiting for digital to get good enough, at least as far as printing is concerned, this Epson Stylus Photo 1280 just knocked you off your perch. In the past you could find some dimension of printing that maybe qualified the ability of a printer, but this latest Epson Photo printer meets every demand without any excuses. Although I've never had all that much liking for high gloss color prints, the Epson 1280 made me appreciate this style of printing. From all the test images I printed I finalized on four made with premium glossy from Kodachrome originals. These are the first prints I've seen that really capture the essence of that long-time film image favorite. This new Epson printer will, I am sure, do justice to any image style you might want to reproduce.

Epson's Heavyweight Matte paper is the medium of choice for exhibition and large size prints. The green section of the spectrum was in the past the most challenging to reproduce with an ink jet, but no longer is it any weakness with the Stylus Photo 1280 and Epson's Heavyweight Matte paper.

At the same $499 price as the previous model, and now with extended capabilities and hard to imagine color quality, the Stylus Photo 1280 is either the best way to start a digital darkroom or an essential upgrade. Epson however, has added more reasons to use their printer with a photographer-friendly selection of paper sizes as well as new, elegant paper styles. For more information call (800) 463-7766 or visit their web site at

A lot of light and middle soft tones in a portrait often resulted in a photographic print that was dull. This simple and subtle portrait printed from a gray scale file converted to RGB was reproduced richly using all six ink colors with the Epson Stylus Photo 1280 on Heavyweight Matte paper. Adding Pantone Warm Gray to the RGB image open in Photoshop prevented any unwanted color shift and assured a slightly warm neutral black image in the print.

Technical Specifications

Printing Method: Advanced Micro Piezo ink jet technology

Maximum Resolution: 2880x720dpi

Border-Free Photos: Patented borderless photo prints in 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, 8.5x11, 11x17, and 13x19 sizes

Edge-To-Edge Printing: Continuous roll and panorama printing in 4x6", 8.5" to 44", and 13" wide to 44" print sizes

Papers: Water and smudge-resistant Epson Photo papers

Lightfastness: Up to 25 year print life with Epson Heavyweight Matte paper
Color: Six color (CMYKcm)

Dot Size: 4 picoliter with variable dot size in eight modes

Compatibility: Windows, Macintosh

Printing with just the black ink with an ink jet printer in the past assured the reproduction of a black and white photograph would be flat and dull looking. But now with 2880dpi printer resolution available with the Stylus Photo 1280 a black and white image made with just black ink on Epson Premium Glossy paper will reproduce a very full range of tones in a brilliant print.

Interfaces: USB and bi-directional parallel

Maximum Printable Area: 13x19" full bleed, 13x44" panorama

Price: $499