At the time of writing this review the Epson
Stylus Photo 2100 has in theory been available for "approximately"
7 months. However, with this particular printer reality differs from
theory by anywhere between 5 and 6 months. OK there were some (not many)
who managed to obtain a printer in July, August, September or October, but
for most the printer was just a "backorder dream". That was until November
2002 when finally Epson managed to begin shipping in quantity.
I had ordered my unit in early June (actually from 3 different
outlets). At that time there were no reviews to whip up the
"must-have" frenzy we later witnessed, so expectations were high that
a printer would shortly arrive - I was to be disappointed for as long
as most and longer than a few. Throughout this extended period of wait
Epson UK/Europe used excuses such as unprecedented demand, etc but
this is only half true - the whole truth will likely never be told.
Was the Photo 2100 worth the wait?
Before I begin pontificating about the good/bad/ugly it's worth
mentioning that I use both Mac and PC platforms (all versions of
Windows, Mac OS 9 and OS X). What follows are my thoughts having used the Photo 2100
on a daily basis for the best part of two months and means that my
comments are based on a broad range of workflows and image types. This
first page deals with the feature list and page 2 with my thoughts and
experiences on matters such as Print Quality & Color
Accuracy, GreyBalancer, Ease of Use, Alternative drivers
(i.e. ColorByte Software ImagePrint 5
visual RIP) and my
Photo 2100 Features & Highlights
Photo print quality up to 2880 x 1440 dpi.
Long lasting lightfast prints suitable for professional
re-sale or gallery display.
7-color printing with new Light Black as standard.
Optional Matte Black for improved print density on
Individual ink cartridges for maximum ink efficiency.
Grey Balancer software for improved Black & White prints
Borderless printing on roll or sheet fed media.
Flexible media handling; paper roll holder, auto cutter
Direct CD/CD-R/DVD face and card printing (up to 1.3mm
thick) enabled by unimpeded direct media path.
USB 2.0 High speed, Parallel and FireWire (IEEE1394)
Note: many of the graphics used
on this page have been downloaded from various Epson web sites
Top left to Bottom right
Connectivity, Thick Paper Manual Feed, CD
Printing & Separate Ink Cartridges
The screenshot above illustrates four of the features that Epson
believe will help the Photo 2100 meet the needs of professional
users. "Fire Wire" is a useful addition to the conventional parallel port and "USB 2" should eventually help speed communication up as more computers are
fitted with the appropriate interface. That said I think the only
advantage of the faster ports is quicker "spooling" rather than quicker
printing. From my own experience I haven't found any great speed difference between Fire
Wire and USB and so my unit remains firmly connected to a self-powered USB
hub. The manual feed for thick paper is useful, but still doesn't work with
Mac OS X. The same can be said of direct CDR printing. As a Mac OS
X user I'm beginning to think Epson engineers managed a minor miracle when
they figured a way of making the ink
flow through to the paper - OK enough of my sarcasm and on with the
serious part of the review.
The Photo 2100
uses a new quick drying 7-color
UltraChrome ink set; Cyan, Light Cyan, Magenta, Light Magenta,
Yellow, Light Black and Photo Black. There is also an option to swap
out the Photo Black cartridge and replace it with Matte Black. Epson
claim that the two types of black have been developed to satisfy the
needs of the photographic and fine-art markets. The Photo Black should
provide optimum results on Epson's Gloss, Semi Gloss, and Lustre
media, whilst the Matte Black will give best results on matte and fine
art media such Watercolor - Radiant White and Epson Velvet.
The screenshot shown below illustrates how the Roll Paper Holder
and Automatic-Cutter are fitted. Within the Utility section of the driver
the user can decide upon Single Cut or Double Cut action
for roll paper. Like the direct CDR feature Auto-Cutter is not yet
supported by Mac OS X (more sarcasm). When used with Windows or Mac OS
9 they both appear to function as described in the manual. I'm
sure those who chose purchase their media in rolls will find both
The Auto Paper Cutter and Paper Trough
The more observant readers will have noticed by now that I have not
yet mentioned the Epson Stylus PHOTO 2200. Well that would
because Photo 2200 is not sold anywhere except North America
and as such I don't have access to said model. Nevertheless, the main
differences (at least those I know about) between the Photo 2100 and 2200 can be
summarised as follows:
The Photo 2200 does NOT support direct printing on CD's.
Grey Balancer software is NOT supplied with the PHOTO
2200 nor will Epson North America support it.
Epson North America claim that the Photo 2200 supports printing on Premium
Photo 2200 supports an extended color mode called
Epson Natural Color
Most of what you will find written on page 2 will apply to the
Photo 2200. It's also worth mentioning that with Mac OS 9 and OS X the Epson
2100 will not be recognised unless the appropriate 2100 drivers
are installed. Trying to trick the printer into life with the Photo
2200 driver will not work.
With the Photo 2000P we got used to the idea of 100-year
inks but now we find Epson telling us that up to 75 years is really good,
but of course there are the caveats:
Lightfastness - the lightfastness of printed images is
influenced by a range of different factors, the most important of
In order to establish an accurate measurement for lightfastness,
EPSON have established stringent test conditions which have been used
to determine an accurate figure. Given the debacle we experienced
following similar claims for the Photo 1270/870 we can only
wait and hope. That said the new UltraChrome pigment based
inks should last a lot longer than the dye based inks of the Epson
12x0/8x0 series printers.
Epson indicate direct support for the
following media types:
Archival Matt (called Enhanced Matte in North America)
Watercolor - radiant white
Premium Semi-gloss Photo Paper
Premium Glossy Photo Paper (only North America)
Glossy Paper - Photo Weight (not North America)
Lustre, Resin Coated based media (only North America)
Epson Velvet Fine Art (only North America)
The above media/paper types are available in a wide range of sizes and
have been around and in widespread use since the release of the
2000P so there is little point in further comment.
With all the Epson "techno waffle" and hardware attachments dealt
we can now progress to how the Photo 2100 actually performs
The Photo 2100 in-use
With the introduction of
the Photo 2100 Epson
appear to have been
more generous with documentation and guidance (HTML based),
which probably reflects that it's a more complex printer to get up and
going. The various leaflets and HTML based user guides should help the
user configure the hardware and software for optimum use.
Mac OS X users will also find a dedicated Supplement on the software
The actual printer driver has changed little from that used with
earlier printer models which is a great pity - many
of the silly mistakes
of the past remain and a few new ones have been added. Since the bulk of
this web sites readership uses Microsoft Windows I will use the
Windows driver in the screenshots.
Media choice is via the usual pop-down window and comprises five
choices plus CDR. These choices may differ slightly depending upon whether
the Photo Black or Matte Black cartridge is installed.
In addition to the standard media options for the Photo 2100 I
have also tried Epson Premium Glossy and it appears to produce
barely acceptable prints
and not what we would normally
call glossy.. Furthermore, I have been informed that the Photo
2100 produces good results on a range of Lyson Fine Art
papers. Outside of North America Epson have chosen not to identify
either Lustre or Epson Velvet in the menu. They also
warn against the use of non Epson media and suggest that some
older Epson media might not work well with the Photo 2100.
Epson Photo 2100 Media Options
With some media choices "Bronzing" can be a
problem - What's "Bronzing"? It's characteristic of the pigment
based ink/paper combination and usually occurs in areas of relatively
heavy black ink coverage
(something similar occurs in the highlight regions). You can see it by tilting the print at an
acute angle whereupon you'll
observe weird surface effects. It can be
reduced but not eliminated. It's a problem that Epson are still trying
to resolve. The way to reduced it is to reduce the "Color Density"
setting found in the "Paper Configuration" dialog. Values between -5
and -10 appear to produce the best results.
Use Paper Configuration to reduce Bronzing!
Out of the very large box the Photo 2100 produces very nice
color prints. That is assuming the user knows how to configure
Photoshop. BTW: comprehensive
instructions on configuring Photoshop and printing can be found
elsewhere on this web site.
Actually our perception of color accuracy really depends upon the
viewing light source, and other than the Photo 2000P
before it no other Epson Photo printer comes close to confusing (or
should that be confounding) the
uninitiated inkjet user. If we assume that the monitor is accurately
calibrated then most users can expect to obtain reasonably color
accurate prints without much effort.
However, to expect perfection is asking too much. Your first prints
might appear mildly magenta or green
and to assume that they actually are would be a mistake - give them 30
minutes and then view the prints under a range of lighting types - e.g.
tungsten, fluorescent daylight, etc - ideally you should include
something close to 5000K. Only then should you decide if the color
is off - all things being equal the odds are in favour of the
being pretty close to what you want under one of these lighting
scenarios. What you are seeing is a
characteristic of the pigment based inks and is usually referred to as
"metamerism". It isn't anywhere near as bad as the case with the
Photo 2000P but it is an issue, albeit minor.
Also, if the user compares the above prints
with similar examples obtained from say a Photo 1270/1290 they
will likely be disappointed (some have expressed
their disappointment in stronger terms). Like all previous pigment based ink-sets
the prints will tend to appear low in contrast (lack punch). However,
this apparent shortcoming of the Photo 2100 is its secret
weapon - the prints contain more detail and are far smoother than
previous models. The color gamut of
the Photo 2100 far exceeds that of printers folk think look
better. The use of the 7th ink - Light Black
- ensures that shadows extend further than ever before and
explains the almost endless range of shadow
detail that we can now print. Shadows "blocking" or
"sooting up" is not an issue with the Photo 2100.
Color Management Options
Photo-realistic mode rather than the Automatic (not
available with Mac OS X) is the default color mode.
Photo-realistic works in the same way as it did with all previous Photo series printers and has been optimised for photographic
images. Vivid is the last option and is best suited to graphic
images. The default gamma setting is 1.8 and remains the most
appropriate. If you find yourself having to adjust any of the sliders
by much more than few units then I really would question the accuracy
of your monitor calibration. Personally I don't use the sliders, but
for many there may be no other option. PhotoEnhance4 mode is
also missing from the Mac OS X driver and
14 February 03
No Color Adjustment mode was broken in the
OS 9 Photo 2100 driver.
For OS 9 users this meant that any attempt to use media profiles with
the Photo 2100 would result in a horrid fluorescent magenta cast
over the image - it couldn't be dialed
out and any custom created
profiles would also
produce pretty ropey prints. This problem
only effected the printer when Photo Black ink was being used
and so those using Matte Black may not even be aware of a
potential headache lurking in the background. Thankfully Epson have
woken up from their slumber and a
new fully functional Mac OS 9 driver dated 10 February 2003 can be downloaded
from Epson Australia.
It only took them 6 months to find the problem!
Epson have also kept faith with another previous and
idiotic decision - the
driver defaults to "bi-directional" printing (also known as "High
Speed") when the user changes the media type. It's fairly easily fixed
but why they can't just configure the defaults for quality rather than
speed beats me.
One pleasant surprise is the apparent increase in image
sharpness that can obtained when using 2880dpi mode rather than the more
usual 1440dppi. More dots certainly appears to pay dividends, but not
in the way folk would expect. I think Epson have spent a fair amount
of time refining the dither patterns used by the Photo 2100 and
the improvements are plain to see.
Printing Black & White
When first announced Epson made a
about how well the new Photo 2100 reproduced Black
& White prints. The older Photo 2000P
was absolutely useless for B&W
due to the problem of "metamerism". Although I know
photographers who produce drop-dead-gorgeous B&W prints from it using
only black ink. The caveat being that we don't get too
close or the dots will jump out and bite. Another drawback being that these prints only appear
neutral in tungsten lighting. BTW: using only black
ink with the Photo 2100 will produce awful results. It
was claimed by Epson that the GreyBalancer software would
solve the "metamerism" problem, but in reality
it's only a "band-aid".
As I indicated above "metamerism" is
dead and is still going to cause some headaches for
B& W workers! So
what is GreyBalancer?
GreyBalancer is a
combination of software, a pre-printed series of paper greyscale
targets and a 122 page Adobe Acrobat instruction manual. The greyscale targets
are supplied as a single flimsy glossy paper sheet.
The user then is meant to
cut it into the appropriate strips and punch
four holes in one strip. GreyBalancer is
supplied on the driver CD package provided with every Photo 2100
printer - yet it
is not compatible with Mac OS X and likely never
Pre-printed Greyscale Target
My first experience of
GreyBalancer was in late June 2002 using a Windows based computer - I
was not impressed (with Grey Balancer)!
Time and use haven't caused me to change my mind. Within
certain limits the software works well and certainly achieves the
objective of neutralising color casts resulting from viewing
B&W (and color)
prints under non 5000K lighting. However, the methodology used to
achieve this objective is clumsy. The paper greyscale
targets mentioned above are a disgrace and clearly demonstrate that
Epson have made only a half hearted attempt at addressing what many
believe is still a serious shortcoming in pigment based inks -
"metamerism" (I'm starting to sound like a broken record).
The problem with GreyBalancer, as I see it, is the fact that
it fixes one problem only to create a bigger problem further down the
line. By this I mean that a print corrected for neutral greys when
viewed under say tungsten lighting will appear green when viewed in
daylight. Quite frankly I can think of much better ways to obtain
neutral B&W prints. Unfortunately they don't come cheap and are
therefore beyond the means of
Photo 2100 users. That said I think Epson could have
spent a few more "jelly beans" on the flimsy greyscale target and at
least gave the impression that they saw GreyBalancer as being
more than just a "stocking filler". If you're going to use GreyBalancer, and many will, then I recommend that you throw the Epson
greyscale target in the trash and get yourself the Kodak Grey
Scale; then follow the instructions provided by Vincent Oliver at
Also be warned that with GreyBalancer
active and an adjustment in place all images (color or B&W) will have
that adjustment applied. If the adjustment is for matte paper and you
begin using semi-gloss then the adjustment will not be correct and the
final prints will likely not meet expectations. Of course the same
problems exist when using media profiles - but you
can usually see that they have been selected. If ever
there was a case of having to read the manual then GreyBalancer
is it - ideally with a full glass of your favourite tipple :-)
Note: Are you
getting fluorescent magenta prints when using media profiles with an
Epson Photo 2100/22200? If so then it is VERY likely
that a GreyBalancer adjustment is active. To TOTALLY
disable ALL GreyBalancer adjustments and thus completely avoid
ANY possibility of you unwittingly applying an adjustment when
you don't want to then make sure the main GreyBalancer is
configured as shown below. Both pop-ups/drop-down windows MUST
be set for ***No Adjustment***
To obtain the best B&W prints I recommend one of
the matte surfaced papers and for deep blacks it is necessary
to install the optional Matte Black ink cartridge. This ink
cartridge is designed to improve the density of blacks when using
matte media and there is no doubt that it is needed - it also works
very well, but at the cost of the extended shadow
detail I mentioned earlier.
For their own reasons
Epson North America chose not to ship GreyBalancer with
the Photo 2200. Personally I think they made the wrong
decision, but they made it for the right reason, and that is the only
comment I'm going to make regarding its absence.
Making it Better!
Using custom created media profiles for my
printer (GretagMacbeth ProfileMaker Pro 4.1 and the Eye-One
Spectrophotometer) I can achieve quite lovely color prints that match
anything produced in the conventional wet darkroom. Near perfect
neutral B&W prints can be obtained without resorting to GreyBalancer. More importantly the neutrality remains
across a broader range of lighting
environments than is the case for a GreyBalancer
corrected image. However, there is still scope for
improvement as some cross-over is still evident in the 3/4 tones.
ImagePrint is an
even better and a lot more flexible alternative to
the Epson driver.
This application is actually
a RIP (Raster Image Processor)
that completely replaces
all aspects of the Epson driver,
but unlike most RIP's ImagePrint is designed to work
with RGB images. CMYK is fully supported but this is not a workflow
with which I have any experience and so my observations are limited to
RGB images. ImagePrint is available for both PC and Mac platforms
although it was only in late 2002 that an OS X version became
available. More details of ImagePrint and why it performs so much
better than the Epson driver can be found in my
The Photo 2100 is the BEST desktop inkjet printer
ever produced by Epson. Overall the print quality is "light years" better
than the Photo 2000P ever achieved and in my opinion much
better than models such as the cheaper Photo 1280/90.
Likewise build quality is significantly better
than other prosumer class inkjet printers from Epson.
However, it is not without some faults and good as it is the
Photo 2100 is not necessarily the best choice for everyone.
Contrary to popular belief the individual ink
cartridges may actually make the Photo 2100 more expensive to run
than earlier models. Remember that every time you change one cartridge
the other six get purged - ink gets used and no print. Light magenta
gets used quicker than most no matter what image type you print.
The final prints can
punch (they have lower contrast) that many seem to demand/expect.
Nevertheless, shadow detail from the Photo 2100 is vastly
superior to earlier models and color gradients and greyscales are
much smoother. This smoothness appears to be as a result of the
improved dithering pattern. Even though it may not
always seem like it the Photo 2100 also reproduces
color more accurately than any other prosumer class photo inkjet. The
only real quirk in print quality is "Bronzing".
Whilst the Photo 2100 is much quicker than the Photo
2000P I don't honestly think that many professional photographers
will find it a suitable alternative to outsourcing bulk prints. If
they like producing their own prints in-house then the more expensive
Epson Stylus PRO 7600 is a much better option. Nevertheless, for small print
runs with no time limit the Photo 2100 is very hard to beat.
I can just imagine the stampede if/when Epson release a 5000 series
printer with similar properties to the Photo 2100.
Fine Art Photographers and Artists will look upon the Photo 2100
as a dream come true. The Photo 2100 excels
"limited edition" fine arts prints for sale or exhibition. I'm told
that using the Matte Black ink along with matte surfaced media
such Epson Velvet (not available in
the UK) clearly demonstrates just how good the Photo 2100 really is
as a fine-art printer.
I am also told that Lustre produces nice prints. Sadly the same
cannot be said of Premium Glossy
Photo Paper as it shows
"Bronzing" at its worst.
As for GreyBalancer; it tries to fix a problem, but if you
don't understand the problem you'll make an unholy mess of your prints
and confuse yourself into the bargain. Don't get me wrong, I'm not
saying that GreyBalancer is bad but it really should have been
better thought out. It should have been integrated into the main
driver and we should have been provided with a clear means by which we
could tell that a correction is active. As it stands there are
too many traps for unwary users; far too many opportunities for the
user to apply a correction that is inappropriate for the image type or
media because they have forgotten that it's active - be warned!
As I implied in my introduction I have
a few gripes regarding the Photo 2100. Poor availability was
one, but now appears to have been addressed. The
second was the broken driver for Mac OS9
- this has now been fixed. The third (actually a long list) is full and proper support for
Mac OS X. Epson claim that support for certain features remain
out of reach because OS X still does not include the necessary
"hooks". This may be so but the method
required to force the OS to see the Photo
2100 or even to recognise the presence of the Matte Black cartridge
doesn't always work and shouldn't be necessary. Many who purchased the
Photo 2100 will have waited long and paid good money for direct CDR printing, borderless printing, auto-cutting, thick paper feed, and some 15 or 16 other
missing features. Whilst
their absence doesn't cause me much concern it's damned annoying for
many others. Likewise I don't consider the absence of GreyBalancer,
PhotoQuicker or PIM a major loss. However, they are
components that Epson that other reviewers
chose to praise. The fact that they are absent for a
large group of users is an issue that Epson needs
to address. As for the other reviewers I've heard
rumours that Epson will issue dark rather than rose tinted spectacles
next time round :-)
In summary the Epson Stylus PHOTO 2100 is a
very fine printer that produces images
with a quality that knocks "nine-bells" out of
every other inkjet printer under $2000. If you need quality prints there is
nothing in this price bracket that
even comes close. The Epson supplied "bells and whistles" can in
my opinion be done without, but that's me - you may well have a
different view and they may well be exactly what attracts you to the
Photo 2100; if so who am I to argue? Finally and as mentioned
ImagePrint by ColorByte Software takes the Photo 2100
to an even higher quality level (Note: that ImagePrint is
available for a wide range of printers including those from vendors
other than Epson).