Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer - Review

Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer - Review

Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer - ReviewIt's been a long six years since Epson last updated the 13-inch dye-based model in its popular Stylus Photo line of photo printers. While the Stylus Photo 1280 remains a very popular printer, some of its specs feel a bit outdated. For example, the new Epson Stylus Photo 1390 can spray out ink drops as small as 1.5 picoliters, compared to the 1280's minimum 4-picoliter drop size. Plus, the 1390 uses six separate ink cartridges, while the 1280 bunched all but its black ink into one cartridge. That means the 1390 won't make you waste the rest of your unused color ink just because the light magenta ran out again.

Speaking of ink, most of the 13-inch Stylus Photo line uses pigment-based inks, which typically last longer than dye-based inks. However, Epson says that the dye-based Claria Hi-Definition inks used by the 1390 are rated to last as long as 98 years behind glass and even longer in dark storage. According to Wilhem Imaging Research, the 1280 can only claim a print permanence of as long as 26 years when displayed behind glass. Not only that, if you've used the 1280 in the past, you should notice that the Stylus Photo 1390 prints faster, thanks to its newer DX5 MicroPiezo print head.

Scrapbookers, who often use 12 x 12-inch paper, will probably welcome the Stylus Photo 1390, since it lists for less than the Stylus Photo R1800, which is the next step up in Epson's 13-inch line. However, photographers looking for more neutral black-and-white prints should take a look at Epson's Stylus Photo R2400, which earned high scores for its mastery of monochromatic printing.

Design of the Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer

When we were in grade school, printers were massive, ugly, heavy behemoths clad in industrial-looking tan plastic. Color wasn't an option, and the dot-matrix print engine sounded as if it was etching your words into a wood plaque instead of churning out a book report. Thankfully, that has changed. Sleek silver-and-black styling keeps the Stylus Photo 1390 from becoming an eyesore in your home office. Despite that, it's still a bit large, measuring 615 x 314 x 223-inches.

Fans of PictBridge printing, which lets you print directly from your camera by connecting it to the printer via USB, will appreciate the convenience of the 1390's front-panel USB jack. But, unlike some of its competitors, this Epson doesn't include a card reader, so you can't print directly from a memory card. Epson probably thinks that the market for this printer is too advanced for that feature, but it does come in handy from time to time. Epson does include the ability to print onto CDs and DVDs, both full size and their smaller 8cm cousins used in camcorders. Just be sure you get the ones with the special white surface on top.

As usual with the Stylus Photo line, the inks load from the top. In this case, that means six ink cartridges: Cyan, magenta, yellow, black, light cyan, and light magenta. Like most home printers, paper loads from the top of the back and emerges, after printing, onto the tray that extends from the front of the unit. The input tray can hold as many as 120 sheets of plain paper or up to 20 sheets of Epson photo paper, depending on paper size and type. Epson says the printer can accept media up to 0.11mm thick in sizes ranging from 4 x 6-inches to 13 x 44-inches. There's no roll feed option though, so you'll have to find fulfillment with cut-sheet media.

The driver is the same one Epson includes on its other Stylus Photo printers, though it doesn't include the fancy black-and-white driver that comes with the R2400. Our only beef with the driver is that it's slightly counterintuitive to disable the printer's color management, which should be done if you want to let Photoshop, or another color-managed program, handle color conversion. First you have to proceed past the default view to the advanced view, then you have to click the ICM radio button before you even see the option of turning the printer's color management off. To its credit, the printer generally does a nice job of color conversion, but if you plan on using third-party paper with custom ICC profiles, the process isn't as easy as it could be. At least Epson makes it easy to set the advanced view as your own default if you prefer.

Features of the Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer

Up from its predecessor's print resolution of 5,760 x 720-dpi, the Epson Stylus Photo 1390 offers 5,760 x 1,440-dpi, with a minimum ink droplet size of 1.5 picoliters. As usual, Epson offers a wide array of photo papers for use with the 1390, and even has some strange options, such as its Iron-on Cool Peel Transfer paper and Photo Quality Self Adhesive Sheets.

Some Apple users may be disappointed to see that the 1390 doesn't include a FireWire connection. Of course, since it includes a high-speed USB 2.0 jack, there should be no real loss of speed as long as you have a compatible port on your computer.

Performance of the Epson Stylus Photo 1390 Photo Printer

We were impressed with the prints we got from the Epson Stylus Photo 1390. Colors were generally accurate, and the printer did a fine job of preserving detail in both very bright and very dark areas of our images. Of course, the brightness of the whites and the depth of black will vary based on the paper you choose.

Epson seems to be paying quite a bit of attention lately to how it lays its ink down on paper. We recently saw evidence of this in the super smooth prints we got from the Stylus Pro 3800. The Stylus Photo 1390 can't quite keep up with its cousin, but it did yield impressively smooth transitions through all but the most difficult color transitions offered up by the out-of-focus areas of some of our test photos.

Also, since these Claria inks don't offer the same level of metameric regularity as Epson's UltraChromeK3 inks, we weren't surprised to see a mild amount of color shift when viewing the photos under different light sources. However, the shifts were very minor, and if you plan to display your images in a space that's illuminated by a single light source, this shouldn't pose a problem.

Our biggest issue with the Stylus Photo 1390 its its black-and-white performance. Since it doesn't include the light-black and light-light-black cartridges that the R2400 and some other Epson printers do, the 1390 creates some shades of grey by creating composites of the five other colors. As a result, it can be difficult to achieve a true neutral black-and-white print. We typically saw a slight cyan cast when we printed black-and-white images we knew were neutral to begin with.

Since it's not meant to be an office printer, it should come as no surprise that it doesn't hold a candle to the print speeds you'd get from a laser printer and can't match the crispness of fonts that you'd get from such a document printer. In its photo-printing speed, it ranks squarely average. We were able to print a bordered 8x10 inch photo on letter-size (8.5x11) paper in about 1 minute, 55 seconds.