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Epson Stylus Photo R320

Excellent image quality at insane price point By John Virata

With the massive popularity of digital cameras, printing your digital images often involved downloading the images to a computer, opening the images up with the software that came with the digital camera, editing them, and then printing them out, hoping that they would print straight and even on the print paper that you chose. In the last year, inkjet printer manufacturers have become attuned to customer requests for printers that are capable of printing images without the use of a computer. Several models were released. Several have since been updated. Epson was one of the first printer manufacturers to include memory card support built onto the printer, obviating the need for a host PC. The company's latest offering, the Epson Stylus Photo R320 is one such printer that Epson has outfitted for those who wish to bypass the computer. The Stylus Photo R320, at $199 has all the features one would expect from a printer that does not need a computer to print images. But it includes a few other features that would benefit from being attached to a computer. The printer is both Macintosh and Windows compatible and offer USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connectivity when using a computer with the printer and a separate USB 1.1 host connection for use with CD-R drives, Zip drives and PictBridge-enabled digital cameras. I've had an R320 in for review for the last few weeks, and have been vigorously printing all manner of images and documents with it. In the scope of this review, let's take a look at some of the core features to this printer, and how well it outputs images.   

Memory Card Support
The Epson Stylus Photo R320 features support for CompactFlash Type I and II, MultiMediaCard, IBM Microdrive, xD-Picture Card, Sony Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo, MagicGate Memory Stick, SmartMedia, xD-Picture Card, and Secure Digital memory formats. In addition, there is a USB slot on the front panel for those who have images on USB drives or other removable media devices, that enable you to access these images as well.


The printer also supports the PictBridge open standard for connecting a digital camera that supports PictBridge directly to the printer. At its most basic implementation, PictBridge enables you to connect the digital camera to the printer and print one image at a time. According to Epson, as the standard matures, more features will be added, such as the capability to print an index print of all images, print two or more images from the camera display, and print a date stamp on an image. Also built into the printer, but not tested, is the capability to print from a Bluetooth enabled device such as a camera phone or PDA with Epson's optional ($69) Bluetooth Photo Print Adapter.

A built in, pop up color monitor for viewing your images on your memory card is standard. You can toggle between images on your memory card and select which images you want to print. The adjacent control panel enables you to select paper size and type, of which you can choose nine, and the number of prints. Also built in are seven different photo layouts, manual adjustments, filters and frames. You can also save your most used print setting with a one touch button, so the next time you go to print, you can just hit the button and the printer will print at the settings you previously saved.

Print on CD/DVDs
Epson introduced the concept of printing directly on CD/DVD media last year with the release of the R300 printer. The R320 continues this feature, enabling you to add text, backgrounds, and images with the software that ships with the printer. Although the cost of inkjet printable CD/DVD media is still high relative to their non-printable counterparts, the hassle of making labels that oftentimes can interfere with the optical drive's capability to read the discs is eliminated, further enhancing the user experience of the discs. Not to mention that printing directly on a CD/DVD disc is cool. The printer has a front loading tray where you place the CD/DVD, and the Epson Print CD software that came with the printer enables you to choose images or backgrounds. No sticking or stomping or peeling required. 

The Epson Print CD application enables you to add images and text for printing on your CDs/DVDs. The application enables you to import your own pictures and text or you can choose from backgrounds supplied with the program. There are many backgrounds that ship with Print CD. When you choose a background, the application provides tools to adjust the contrast, blur, and brightness of the background image. There are also tools to add inner and outer edge blurs, as well as gamma correction, mosaic, and rotation angle. You can also add sepia or color spot colors, which can be selected via the color picker.

Once you have imported your images, the application enables you to size the image to fit on the inkjet media. The built in template in Print CD includes an outline image of a CD, including the center hole, giving you a good general guideline on how to layout your picture to fit on the CD. The application includes distortion tools to tweak any text that you may add to the CD image as well. Once you have your CD image laid out, you can place the blank inkjet CD on a removable CD tray, align it with the provided arrows, and print out the CD. The whole process takes just a few minutes and the output quality of the finished CD is really excellent. It is truly that easy.

The R320 is a six color (CcMmYK) printer that outputs a maximum 5760 x 1440 dpi and supports all print sizes ranging from 4x6 up to 8x10. It uses six individual ink cartridges for more accurate color reproduction. It is a more economical solution as well because if you run out of one color, you only need to replace the cartridge for that particular color, rather than replace the entire cartridge like some previous generation Epson printers. Pricing for the individual cartridges are $17.09 for the black cartridge and $12.34 each for the individual cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, and light magenta ink cartridges. One nice feature about the inks are they are quick to dry. As soon as the printer is finished printing the picture, the ink is dry.

Epson's Print Image Matching is also supported in the R320. Print Image Matching was developed by Epson several years ago in an effort to get better quality prints from digital cameras. In its basic definition, PIM-enabled devices let your printer "talk" to your PIM-enabled digital camera to automatically enhance images from the digital camera so they print out equally well in the printer. Not all camera manufacturers support PIM, however, and I wasn't able to test this because my digital camera is made by Epson rival Canon, which has its own line of inkjet photo printers.

Is Faster Better?
Is a speedy printer necessary, especially a speedy photographic inkjet printer? The whole speed factor with regard to printers of any kind probably harkens back to the day when laser printer manufacturers touted how many pages per minute their devices could spit out. This could be an important feature in a corporate setting where obviously time is money. But is it really that important how fast your photographs print? Personally, and especially with regard to photographic printers, I'd take image quality over speed every time. Epson touts in its literature that the R320 can print a 4 x 6-inch photograph in approximately 39 seconds. Although unscientific in my testing, I was able to print a 4 x 6-inch photograph in approximately 2 minutes and 8 seconds on a 2GHz Power Mac G5 with 2GB RAM.  The test commenced as soon as the printer picked up the paper. The image was printed on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper, set at 720 pixels, and the image quality was set at Best Photo (The choices are economy, normal, fine, photo, best photo, and photo rpm). An 8 x 10-inch image printed at the same image quality and settings took 4 minutes 19 seconds. So for those who care about speed in a photographic printer, those are my unscientific results, and results obviously will vary depending on the print quality, resolution, computer,and other factors.

Final Impressions
In the Virata household, we have three printers, all Epsons. Why so many printers? Well, because the cost of ink is so high, two printers are dedicated to printing text documents and other items that don't need the quality of a photo inkjet printer. We reserve our photo printer for printing photos. How does the R320 perform? For a street price of $199, the Epson R320 does not disappoint. It outputs very vivid and lively colors and lays down the ink very crisply and cleanly. It produces very high quality prints. A nice touch to the printer is the slot for loading 4 x 6 and 3 x 5-inch photographic paper. No guesswork needed as to what side of the printer you need to place your smaller photo paper. It comes with a one year warranty and offers a variety of ways to get your digital camera images into the printer for printing. And, you can print on CD/DVD media, which is absolutely the most fun I've had with an inkjet printer, that is, if you can have fun with one. For more information, visit www.epson.com


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
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