Isn't it great when a company puts out a product that's not only better than the one it replaces, but superior in some ways to higher-end models? Take Epson's new Stylus Photo R1900 ($530, street). Not only does it replace the popular, and aging, Stylus Photo R1800, but it may eat into sales of the Stylus Photo R2400 ($700, street).
We say that based on the print and performance results we got in the Pop Photo Lab, where the R1900 set a new record for color accuracy and wide color gamut. It also popped out 13x19-inch borderless prints on Premium Glossy photo paper in only 4 minutes, 20 seconds -- much faster than the R1800 (6 min, 48 sec), though still not as fast as Canon's Pixma Pro9000 (2 min, 27 sec).
While the Canon may make prints faster, the R1900, like its predecessor, makes longer-lasting ones. According to Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com), color and black-and-white prints on Epson's Watercolor Radiant White paper will resist fading for up to 200 years on display under glass, about twice as long as what Canon claims for the dye-based Pro9000.
Like its predecessor, the R1900 makes borderless prints up to 13x44 inches using roll media, handles cut-sheet and thick fine-art papers up to 13x19 inches using two paper paths, and prints on coated CDs and DVDs.
Then there are the improvements: The R1900's permanent MicroPiezo AMC print head now has the same ink-repelling coating the more-expensive Stylus Pro 3800 has. Epson says this prolongs the head's lifespan and shortens cleaning cycles, saving a bit on ink costs over time (though we didn't test this). A colorimetric calibration of the print head at the factory helps the accuracy of color profiles supplied with the R1900 or downloaded from the Epson website. In addition, it has a built-in sensor for automatic print-head alignment and nozzle checking.
One reason for the increased speed may be Epson's new, faster-drying UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment inks. The R1900 is loaded with eight cartridges-cyan, magenta, yellow, matte-black, photo-black, plus an enhanced gloss optimizer and new red and orange inks that replace the R1800's red and blue inks.
Epson claims the new inks improve skin tones and expand the color gamut. We agree. In a variety of print samples, skin tones were incredibly accurate, making this an ideal portrait printer (and it's light enough to tote to a wedding reception). The new ink cartridges also contain small glass beads, designed to increase shelf life.