1290S Printers


By Ian Lyons

A Computer Darkroom Review

The Epson Stylus Photo 1290S was first introduced into the UK during the late summer of 2002. At the time Epson were struggling to meet orders for the Photo 2100 and many were of the belief that they were simply trying divert customers into purchasing what appeared to be a completely new Photo printer. Do I share this belief?


Good and bad News!

The bad news first. Epson have retained the InteliEdge ink cartridge technology (the chip from hell). They are also using the same ink cartridges as are already used by the earlier Photo 1270 and 1290. So what about the good news?

Specifications and Features:

Epson provide the following "at a glance" list of features on their UK page:

  • Borderless prints on 100mm, A4, A3 & A3+ media without the need for over sizing or the use of a guillotine

  • 2880 x 720 dpi Perfect Picture Printing

  • Advanced 6 colour printing for true photo reproduction

  • Print speeds of up to 9.4ppm black text and 9.0ppm colour

  •  EPSON Ultra Micro Dot™ 4pl with Variable Sized Droplet Technology

  •  USB and Parallel connectivity for Windows® and Macintosh®

Provided free of charge with the Stylus Photo 1290S is EPSON's PhotoQuicker 3.2 software, which enables edge to edge printing. Also provided is a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements.

The price of the new printer is comparable to the Epson 1290, as are the costs for consumables. In fact the consumables are shared with the Photo Stylus 1270.

The 1290S printer is based upon the Epson 1290 with only cosmetic differences (i.e. S = Silver). More importantly there aren't any obvious changes to the hardware. The case design shows a few subtle changes, the most obvious being the darker silver finish to the base unit. There has been no reduction in "ink droplet" size nor any real jump in speed. The following diagram shows that Epson have retained the variable ink drop technology and it still remains at a minimum of 4 picolitres.


Colour Rendering

When Epson first announced the earlier Photo 1290 printer, a small splash was made of the improved colour rendering. The claim being that through enhancements within the colour engine, etc it had been possible to improve the colour space beyond that of the previous models (sRGB), especially in blues and greens. Epson call this new technology - Natural Image Color. It extends the visible color range that cannot be completely presented by colour monitors or digital cameras. The following diagrams from the Epson web site in Japan and Hong Kong show this clearer than my words.


Epson Natural Colour

According to Epson, this new colour technology enables the printer to better differentiate the different hues of greens and blues evident in images taken of the sea, sky, water, forests and general greenery.


Epson Comparison Image

So the question is: - does reality agree with Epson's claim? Well, in my view, it does! The differences are not earth shattering, but they are clearly visible, particularly in blue skies. The 1270 images showed a red bias compared to the 1290, at least in the transition from blue sky to white cloud. Using a custom printer profile with my 1270 meant that I could easily better the colour gamut achieved by the 1290's default profile. This is because all the internal colour processing that the driver does is by-passed. The 1290S doesn't offer any visible improvements over the earlier 1290.

Black and White Printing

Up until obtaining my Epson 2100 printer I had been printing all my Black and White work using an Epson 1200 and Jon Cones PiezographyBW system. I even wrote a review expressing my delight with the quality of the system. Jon needn't worry about loosing too many PiezographyBW customers. The 1290S is as poor at producing neutral B&W prints as the 1270 and 1290 before it. I found the best media to be Epson Matte Heavy Weight.

Driver Options

Selecting the "Advanced"  button in the main printer window gives us the following screen, not much different to previous models. Notice the media choices, Epson haven't added any of the specialty media to the list. Premium Semi Gloss, Archival Matt, Water Colour, etc, are all missing!


"Advanced" Settings - Notice any changes?

The few changes there are, are only available with certain media choices, of which more later. Drat! they still have "High Speed" as the default setting for Print Quality, even when you select 1440dpi. My advice, make sure you deselect High Speed. The "Smooth Edge" feature only operates on low resolution images so keeping it checked, will in most cases be of no significance.


The adjustment sliders basically operate as they do on all previous Epson models.  Photoshop users should really avoid using these controls. Tweaking  to  the "Brightness", "Contrast", etc. sliders is really quite foolish when you consider the much more effective tools provided by Adobe.. The new "default" or "canned" ICC profile appears to be very good and should be perfectly adequate for most users needs.

2880 The other small splash that Epson made with the 1290/80 was the use of 2880dpi mode. However, be warned it only works when using the Photo Paper, Premium Glossy or Glossy Film settings.


2880dpi Mode - Any Good?

As soon as you select the 2880dpi mode the following warning appears. Pay heed, Epson are not kidding!


Full Bleed Prints

What can I say? Full bleed prints are like the 2880 dpi mode above, limited to certain media sizes and types (Photo Paper, Matt, Premium Glossy and a few others). As soon as you select No Margins you loose 2880dpi print mode. So don't go thinking that everything in the print garden is as rosy as some would have you believe. 


Borderless Prints

Also selecting the No Margins checkbox causes the following warning appears. With the Sheet Feed option you can print to all four edges. With the Roll-holder only the sides are borderless.



The 1290 saw improved colour gamut and it certainly seemed to improve the rendering of blues and greens. I can't say that I've noticed any further improvements. The sharper and more detailed prints obtainable from 2880dpi mode are not so obvious, at least not to my eye. With an 8 x loupe you can see subtle differences in areas of fine detail. However, like its predecessors the 1290S is not going to break any records when it comes to B&W printing. If you needs are limited then it will get by, but serious B&W workers will be sorely disappointed.

Borderless printing will be advantageous to many and the fact that it extends right through to 19 by 13 inch prints without the need for the roll-holder is a real bonus. Using the roll-holder means only the sides are borderless, but you can make them up to 44 inches in length!

So what do I really think about the 1290S? It should be obvious from my earlier comments that little has changed in the way of print quality and speed the 1290S is as good as it forerunner. The fact that in North America Epson choose to leave the old 1280 designation and simply revised the software bundle should give some clue as to how much has really changed. To be honest I've not seen anything during my testing to suggest that the 1290S was anything other than the rouse that many thought it was. If you're already using the 1290 and feel like an upgrade then I suggest you forget the 1290S and consider the 2100. That said the the 1290S is a darned good dye based inkjet printer that really excels at producing punchy colour prints. If you don't require true archival prints then the 1290S is definitely a printer to consider.


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