Epson 2100 user report

This isn't intended to be a full review of the Epson 2100, just a few observations on how the 2100 performs in real world use. To read a "proper" review of the 2100 the best I've read is Vincent Oliver's excellent "interactive" review of June 2002 The table of links at the bottom of the page has some more links to relevant sites as well.
I've previously used an Epson Stylus Photo EX photo printer for colour work and an Epson 1160 fitted with Lyson small gamut inks for black and white prints. With the EX I never gave too much concern to absolute accuracy in colour reproduction, if it looked OK that was fine for me. More recently this attitude was starting to give me problems as I aimed for a higher standard of print outs. With the 1160 I started to use proper ink/paper ICC colour profiles to match my prints to my screen with a good degree of success.
With the purchase of the 2100 I intended to move across to a proper workflow of colour management for all my colour and black and white work. This has proved more complex than I had anticipated, but ultimately has delivered the quality of output I had hoped for.
Just like the photos in the reviews, the 2100 is a big bit of kit for the desktop. It's best left with the front hanging over a desktop or shelf to allow the print catching bag to be fitted if you need that provision. You'll also need some spare room to keep the automatic print cutting unit that fits across the front of the printer for dealing with roll paper and the CD printing tray.
Then you find the first annoyance with the printer. Epson haven't supplied any printed manuals for it, there's just a sheet of paper giving the very basics of installation. This might not matter too much for most printers, but the 2100 has a lot of options and the grey balancer software is quite complex. Wading through HTML help files and PDF files is no substitute for proper printed manuals.
However the printer is easy enough to get started with once you've got all the packing off, ink carts are easy to install, connection via Firewire and USB worked fine (with no apparent differences in printing speeds). The next hurdle is the initial set up. This takes some time needing several passes of paper through the machine at different settings. Epson fail to mention that it's actually important to use decent photo quality paper for the alignment checks as the test patches are so subtly different the differences won't be seen on ordinary office printing paper.
Print settings and profiles
Once the initial installation is completed the next hurdle to cross is what settings to use. The basics like paper type and size are pretty obvious and almost identical to any other Epson printer driver, but the settings for things like the automatic paper cutter aren't so obvious and it's back to the wretched help files for clarification.
Again the documentation supplied isn't as good as it should be for a printer of this class. There really needs to be a good explanation of how to set up colour management, but those details are left to be discovered scattered about Epson's various global web sites. Maybe that's a deliberate policy though as no decent profiles were installed by the installation anyway.
Once the correct profiles are found, downloaded and installed the next problem for the CM beginner is making sure the printing software (in my case Photoshop 7) and the driver are set correctly to make best use of them. It's embarrassingly easy to make the mistake of setting a printer profile in Photoshop and then failing to ensure the driver is set to "No colour adjustment" in the advanced driver setting options. This has the result of applying the profile correction twice and giving dreadful results. However once CM is understood and used correctly the printer will deliver really good accurate results.
The supplied profiles form Epson Europe's site work excellently for their intended papers. Various people have made their own profiles available for the printer since it was first released, some of these were(are?) very good and provided a useful alternative to those Epson supply. Sadly in 2003 most of these profiles have had to be withdrawn from free distribution due to the licensing restrictions within the profile creation software.
Which is best may depend on what subject matter you print, so some experimentation may be worthwhile. I'm happy with the default Epson profiles myself and will stick with those for now.
It's worth mentioning that there is a "standard" profile, not specific to a particular paper type, supplied with the default installation that seems pretty dire. AVOID.
A few other third party paper suppliers also now offer custom profiles for their paper like Konica, Ilford and Tetenal, hopefully more makers will follow suit in time.
Ilford have even gone as far as offering a complete replacement printer driver for their papers they claim are suitable for the 2100. It works pretty well, but their claim that bronzing(an issue referred to later) isn't an issue with this driver doesn't hold up in my opinion. Not really worth bothering with I'm afraid.
An extra point worth noting is that profiles need to match not only paper type, but also ink type. The 2100 is unique amongst desktop printers in having more than one choice of ink type available for the "black" position. Photo Black which works for all paper surfaces and Matte black which is designed to give extra performance on Matte papers.
So what's it like ?

Whilst difficult to photograph, I hope this picture gives some idea of how the bronzing issue looks in practice. Print made on Epson Premium gloss paper.

Well if you think photographs have to be glossy with a punchy, saturated look and you always thought Cibachromes were great you're not going to like the 2100's output too much to start with.
The most contentious issue surrounding the 2100's performance is the results on gloss paper. The Ultrachrome inks really aren't too good on gloss surfaces at all. The ink appears to sit on the surface of the print and dull the paper's shine, usually referred to as bronzing. The main culprit is the photo black ink which sits on the paper very solidly. Bronzing is actually a bit of a misnomer though as the ink still looks black, not bronze, but the ink does dull the shine on all glossy papers. When solid blacks are next to paper base white it really doesn't look too good from some angles, as the picture on the left shows. This happens to a greater or lesser extent on all the shiny papers I've tried. Epson Premium glossy photo paper suffers very badly, Epson photo paper simply looks dead, Epson premium semi-gloss isn't too bad, nor is Fuji's premium glossy inkjet paper or Ilford's Gallerie smooth gloss paper. There are some reports on the web that Pictorico papers and hi-gloss film are not subject to this effect, but in my experience is untrue, the paper is little better than Epson's own offerings. The best bet for gloss output I've found so far is Konica QP(helped by their supplied custom paper profile) which isn't too bad at all and has the advantage of the brightest white paper base of any of the papers I've tried.
Whilst that might sound a pretty damning judgement on the prints, it isn't quite as bad as it sounds. Prints that don't have any significant areas of pure black or little paper base white showing don't show the effect to a noticeable degree. Most prints might look a little different if passed around and looked at from odd angles, but when mounted and framed the bronzing issue is hardly noticeable and the other good qualities of the prints shine through.
Where the 2100 really starts to deliver is on matte papers. I'll say now I was no great fan of matte papers until I tried the 2100, I needed a lot of convincing. However prints made on Epson Archival Matte paper are simply gorgeous. Good colour saturation, bitingly sharp, almost luminous highlights and are capable of a wonderfully subtle tonal range. If you use the matte black ink there is an added depth and improved shadow separation that is really excellent. One of the good features of the printer is that it is possible to change ink carts at any time and then replace them, so switching from matte to photo black isn't restricted to just when carts become empty. The printer automatically detects the different cart and discharges the head of old ink and primes with the new colour. It wastes a fair bit of ink in the process, but a useful feature never the less.
I like matte prints now, a lot.
Black and White and the Grey Balancer
One of the major attractions of the 2100 is improved black and white printing performance. This is achieved via the use of an extra light grey ink and, in Europe at least, the Grey Balancer software.
In practice the reservations about how the prints look with respect to bronzing are the same in B&W as they are for colour. There is also the added issue of metamerism though. The Ultrachrome inks still suffer metamerism (colour shifts when viewed in different light) but not as badly as Epson's dye based inks. To get round this Epson supply the Grey Balancer software. Basically this prints out test sheets of different greys which you match to a reference grey sheet supplied, pop the figures into the software and bingo you have a custom adjustment for your exact printer/paper/ink/lighting condition. Sounds easy huh ? If only.
There are three problems surrounding this, apart from the previously mentioned poor documentation of which the grey balancer's is the worst example.
Firstly, patience.
The inks shift colour slightly as they dry, so you need to leave the inks for a long while until they are stable enough to make judgement on. At least an hour at the bare minimum, overnight is better. So you can see it's not a quick process.
Secondly, colour vision.
Anyone who has attempted to do colour printing at home will know that making accurate colour assessments is quite a skill, especially when the colour differences between the grey patches is very slight. It's also vital to always do this in the same lighting condition as the prints will be viewed in too.
Once those two steps are complete it's possible to make some really good adjustment files that work really well and give good looking B&W prints, so where's the third problem ?
Thirdly, where it's set.
The Grey Balancer software is completely separate from both the image manipulation software (eg Photoshop) and the printer driver. This means it's rather too easy to forget you have an active GB adjustment and start printing in colour and find you get odd colour casts. The adjustment is active even if the GB program hasn't been run on the computer that session. It's best to think of it as making invisible changes to the printer driver every time it's run. Checking the GB software has to become routine before every printing session. There have been many people caught out with this problem.
Epson really need to integrate the GB software into the printer driver so it's less easy to overlook.
Roll paper and handling
This is only available in Epson premium semi gloss and premium gloss paper, so the previously mentioned surface issues are applicable. Other than that it's great being able to make really huge prints. I've made a couple of big 32 inch and 40 inch wide panoramas and they look superb on the wall. The automatic cutter works well and makes handling roll paper pretty straight forward, but the printer or driver has a bug that means you will need to switch off the printer and restart it if you remove the cutter and wish to continue conventional sheet printing.
The only downside is that the paper is very tightly wound and getting rid of that curl is nigh impossible, not a problem if the prints are to be mounted, but it's not as easy way of making lots of small prints as Epson might think.
CD printing
Don't bother it's pants.
Awkward to set up, poor results(very poor colour saturation) even with the correct CDRs. Try printing on CD without the correct coating and the ink never dries.
It's difficult to estimate how much the printer will cost to run. I've read various estimates of cost per page in ink from about 50p to £1.25 per A4 page. In practice, usage will depend on the image content and the paper you're printing on. The one thing that does seem consistent between users reports on various web sites and my own experience is that the light colours are used far faster than the solid colours. Light Magenta goes first, followed by Light Cyan and Magenta. You need to keep a few spare carts ready in the drawer.
One good feature is that changing carts in the middle of making a print is possible and leaves no indication that printing was interrupted. I was impressed the first time I did it.
A clogged head after trying some, rather too dusty, Hahnamuhle art finish paper cleared easily with a head cleaning cycle.
Other than that the only problem I've had in use is with the spooling performance with the printer. Occasionally if spooled, rather than printing direct, parts of the image are omitted. This may well be a problem with my operating system Windows 2000, rather than the printer software though as there are few other reports of this.
The pictures below show some of characteristics of the different print out options.

This is the full frame the examples below were selected from.

1440dpi 1:1 scan

2880dpi 1:1 scan
The above two pictures show the how little difference there is between printing at 1440dpi and 2880 dpi. There is a slight reduction of banding and a very slight consequential improvement in sharpness. There are little other visual differences and none that can be seen at normal viewing distances. Printing takes a little longer though.
The pictures are from unretouched 1600 dpi scans of the prints made with an Epson 1640SU flatbed scanner.

Printed with photo black ink on Archival Matte paper with Epson's dedicated ICC profile.

Printed with matte black ink on Archival Matte paper with Epson's dedicated ICC profile.
These two pictures show the improvement in shadow tonality by using the matte black ink in preference to photo black ink when printing on Archival matte paper. The unretouched scans don't really show how great the improvement is.
It's not love at first print with the 2100, but once you've got to grips with colour management(although that may not be a problem to everyone) the excellent image quality that the printer is capable of really starts to grow on you. I've come to really like the subtle tonality and luminosity of the matte prints and am in little hurry to make glossy prints now.
A year on
January 2004
I wrote the above review over a year ago now and it's maybe now time to add a little more to the above experience.
After about six months of just using the 2100, the lack of a high gloss output option proved too limiting for me and I supplemented the 2100 with an Epson 1290(1280 in the US). The 1290 provides excellent prints, but their susceptibility to fading is such that all my commercial work is still printed on the 2100. Two test print outs from each printer for a "torture fading" test have confirmed that the Ultrachrome inks do really last better, I'll detail this test in greater detail in the future when the results are even more conclusive. With the 1290 dedicated for gloss output, my 2100 almost always uses matte black ink now and, after much experimentation, I have just settled on using two paper stocks whenever possible in the 2100, Epson Archival matte and Hahnamuhle Photo Rag.
The Grey balancer software really hasn't proved of great use, despite taking a lot of care in setting it up, black and white prints have rarely been outstanding. Mostly suffering odd subtle colour shifts in certain tones. The final and best solution to B&W printing has proved to be paying for a custom profile from which gives stunningly neutral prints on Hahnamuhle Photo Rag. There remains a very slight colour shift when viewed in tungsten light, but given that the image is created with multi coloured dots I'm afraid this effect will always be present to some extent. I think that anyone looking to print black and white work only will be better served by using a set of Piezography inks in a suitable printer.
Would I buy it again ? Right now ? yes, but if Epson release an A3 version of the, very well reviewed, R800 printer I would opt for that instead. Even wider gamut Ultrachrome inks and no bronzing would be very welcome. The 1290 could then be devoted to Piezography use.
  • Epson's own site
  • Epson's driver download page
    For getting the latest European profiles
  • Epson's colour management page
    Explains how set up Epson printers with Photoshop
  • Vincent Oliver's definitive review of the 2100
  • Michael Reichmann's Luminous Landscape 2200 review page
  • Paper and Inks.
    Supplier of custom profile for Konica QP gloss paper
  • Digital First.
    A good place to buy a 2100 and consumables
    A new business just starting out supplying excellent high quality custom printer profiles at very affordable prices. Recommended.
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