Epson Stylus Color ink-jets

Introduction

Not long ago, Epson released its premier photo-printers, the Stylus Photo 870 and 1270. Epson has now updated its non-photo ink-jets, but the quality is so good it’s hard to tell the difference between ranges. The cheapest model in the new range, the Stylus Color 680, offers amazing value for money. At £119, it does a great job of printing – even on rough photocopier paper. With glossy paper, it can print photographs that are indistinguishable from the real thing. In theory it outputs lower quality than the Stylus Photo 870, but the difference is negligible – and the 680 is almost half the price of the 870. Previous Epson models printed text pages in draft mode extremely quickly, but the quality was almost unusable. Epson’s competitor, Hewlett-Packard, designs its printers to print high-quality drafts – making for a better all-round printer. Epson has now realized this – as Draft mode is now almost as good as Best mode for text, but without any speed penalties. Photographic images have more noticeable quality problems in Draft mode. This is one area where you can compare the output of all three printers and see a difference. The 680 is grainy, but still good enough to get the message across. The 880 and 980 are better at low- and medium-quality photos. The 680 is quiet compared to older models, but it’s louder than the 880 and the 870. Fortunately, you don’t need to listen to it print for long – these printers are extremely quick. Even an image that takes up most of an A4 page can be printed on the 680, in Fast mode, in a little over 30 seconds. Text is even faster. I don’t know what Epson has done, but these babies fly. The resolution of ink-jet printers is an often-quoted, and increasingly irrelevant, measure of quality. The latest Hewlett-Packard printer is capable of 2,400dpi, yet with a default setting of just 600dpi – yet the difference between the output is negligible. Epson has traditionally led the way in high-resolution ink-jet technology, with most printers being capable of 1,440dpi. The new crop can print at 2,880dpi. This ultra-high resolution makes a mockery of the resolution race. If you were to print an original image that had this resolution, not only would it take forever, but the quality would be similar to a lower-res print. Consumer scanners don’t tend to go much higher than 1,200dpi, so original 2,880dpi images are rare. The model after the 680 sees a small jump in price to £159 for the 880. Epson seems to be hitting price targets rather than the needs of consumers as the difference between the 680 and the 880 is minor. Although the 880 looks different, and its mid-range print quality is better, in Best and Draft modes the differences are minimal. The 880 is quieter than the 680, but it’s not worth the extra £40. If the minor improvements of the 880 over the 680 are overpriced, then the 980 makes little sense. The 980 is touted as being the faster office printer. There are differences over the other two models, but the price is over £300 – more than twice that of the 680. The features are improved, but not by that much. The main issue is speed. Epson claims it can print as many as 13 pages per minute (ppm) in mono and 12.5 ppm colour. Our tests proved this, though the more ink coverage there is on the page, the slower it will print. Apart from the speed increase, the 980’s best-quality photo prints on glossy paper have a more natural colour than the other two models. The 680 and 880 look excellent, but the colour saturation is slightly high. The 980 was more realistic, though that made the image less punchy than the others.
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