A perfect printer for the budget-minded photo fanatic, the medium-format Epson Stylus Photo R1800 delivers long-lasting, exhibition-quality colour prints. It's virtually identical to its A4-size counterpart, the equally impressive Stylus Photo R800, but its UltraChrome Hi-Gloss ink set lacks the monochrome performance Epson put into the new UltraChrome K3 inks, which debut in the Stylus Photo R2400.
The Hi-Gloss ink set comprises six primaries: cyan, magenta, yellow, red and blue, plus a choice of photo black or matte black, which both reside in the printer full time -- no cartridge swapping required. The eighth tank holds the gloss optimiser, which is applied when printing on glossy paper stock. This coating overcomes the tendency of the black pigment inks to become perceptibly less glossy soon after drying, as well as preventing bronzing in those areas.
Wilhelm Research's initial print-life estimates for the UltraChrome Hi-Gloss ink set on various specialty papers indicate stability ranging from 64 to 200 years when properly mounted in a frame, under glass.
Like the R800, the R1800 feeds paper through an L-shaped path, loading from the top and exiting out the front. This design is easy to manage, though more prone to collecting dust than cassette or front-feed paths. It also provides a straight-through paper path for very heavy media, including CDs or DVDs.
The Stylus Photo R1800 takes sheet paper up to A3+ (329x423mm) and also offers roll-paper capability, which permits prints as large as 330x1120mm. The R1800, like the HP Photosmart 8750, handles large-size output via a series of extendable plastic trays that seem rather flimsy. To protect them, consider locating the printer in a low-traffic area. In practice, the trays do work well and have the advantage of being able to retract completely into the printer body when not in use.
In our tests, the R1800 was noticeably faster than the R800 -- conceivably the result of testing with different versions of the printer driver -- and thus far ranks as the fastest for printing text among the medium-format photo printers. It can't quite keep up with Canon for photo-printing speed, but it clearly outpaces the HP Photosmart 8750. It printed our 200x250mm test photo (on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper using the Best quality option) in two minutes flat.
In nearly 90 days of use, the printer operated flawlessly except for one incident. After several idle days, it nearly stopped printing red tones. Nozzle Check revealed that about 90 per cent of the red nozzles were blocked, but running Head Cleaning twice fixed the problem. Unfortunately, Epson's printheads have a reputation for this type of behaviour, as we noted in the review for the R800. You should make it a habit to run Nozzle Check after several days of printer inactivity.
The Stylus Photo R1800 does a reasonably good job with black-and-white output but creates composite greys, typically resulting in a slight colour cast in the print. For more neutral monochrome, you'll have to opt for the R2400. Though not quite neutral, the R1800's greys show less variability under changing light sources than those of its competitors. It also displays a very good dynamic range and colour accuracy, as well as the best flesh tones of any of the photo printers we've seen thus far. Text looks extremely sharp, though under a loupe we spotted some minor irregularities. Also, graphics had some slight printhead banding in the gradient fills, as well as some slight jaggies in the curves.
Like its little brother, the R800, the Epson Stylus Photo R1800 produces very good colour photos, and if you're willing to put up with some finicky nozzles and imperfect black-and-white prints in exchange for speed and media flexibility, you'll find it a very solid choice.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide