Silverace - dottyspotty
Issue 5: Quick Review of the Epson Stylus Photo 870

23 March 2000 (Updated 26 October 2000)

Due to the risk of experiencing significant orange-fading in the Epson 870/875/1270/780/890/1290 (and Canon S800) printers, I strongly urge that one consider whether the chance of it occuring is acceptable. This problem does not occur for the majority of users, but only a small group of users.

POV Image has full information on this.

Most users have not experienced this problem at all, but the smaller group that has has seen it occur in a matter of days and weeks time. Placing the prints in a photo album or sleeve prevents this from occuring. Of course, you can always print more.

Epson is releasing new inks and papers to counteract this problem, and hopefully it will resolve the problem for the small subset of users that have experienced this problem.

Epson 870 Quick Review

A borrowed unit..
(the free Photodisc test target used in this review can be downloaded from

1. IMO, it is the first home photo inkjet printer that can output prints that look like photos at most viewing distances (ie. 6 inches or farther).

2. Damn stunning smoothness. Yes, I can still see dots. The areas that are lacking include brown, orange, and yellow shadow areas and very light white (almost highlight) areas of coverage -- dots can be seen upon closeup examination (ie. 8 inches or closer; 12 inches or closer for the brown and orange shadow areas).

3. The printer still whines away. Quieter than all older Epsons, but you can still here the thing from 25 feet away. Certainly not HP 895 quiet due to the high-pitched whine - if they got rid of that, it would be a quiet printer. Nevertheless, better and more acceptable at 3-5 feet away.

4. Matte Heavyweight paper is good, but ripples slightly after printing unlike the still-flat Premium Glossy Photo Paper. Both are superb in use with this printer and highlight the capabilities to their fullest, esp. the glossy paper.

5. Plain paper, 360dpi mode prints exceed the quality of the older 600/800 series printers on inkjet paper at 1440x720dpi. Prints from this baby are smooth. 720dpi and 1440dpi prints on plain paper are above good, and if it weren't for the limited brightness of the duller plain papers, you could print photos to plain paper all day long instead. Quality of 720dpi almost matches 1440 dpi and to the quick glance, equivalent so there's no need to spend the extra time to print 1440dpi on plain paper for most needs.

6. Inkjet paper. W/O the glossy surface, it doesn't look like a film photo, but the quality is up there. A bit of harshness overall due to the grainier surface vs. the premium glossy paper. But at 1 foot or greater viewing distances, indistinguishable from photos with excellent contrast, brightness, color saturation.

7. 4x6" photo prints. takes ~3:30 minutes to print at 1440x720dpi best mode on a 400Mhz AMD K6-2 system with 32MB RAM and a ~32MB image file. Believe the delay is mostly due to the sluggish system trying to RIP the image at the same time it is printing because the head speeds are much faster at both the beginning and the end of the print.

8. Ink use. Doesn't use black at all, or very little, in photo mode. About ~15- 20 full page prints on half a color cartidge, but not keeping exact count.

9. Premium Glossy Paper quality. Basically, at all viewing distances, photo prints from this 870 matches those produced by and (digital online photo printers that output to regular photo paper) with the exception of grainy areas as noted above (in the brown, orange, red shadow areas, a little in the brighter highlight areas w/no texture). Because of this, smooth leather is not rendered as well on the Epson 870 (nor the bottoms of oranges and lemons). This is due to the use of lighter cyan and magenta vs. green and orange ala Hexachrome. Maybe we need a 8 color inkjet? At about 8 inches to 12 inches away, multiple prints of the same images compared with Shutterfly and Ofoto prints were identical. Forget about having to have someone else do your prints from a digital camera if you want -- this baby can match the quality of a digital film print today. At all distances, the dots are so small and the overall prints so smooth, your eyes will simply attempt to see nothing but a very good photo -- you have to lock your eyes on target and really want to notice the defects, and when you do, your brain still tells you they're so insignificant, they don't even seem annoying, harsh, or apparently obvious. At 6", you can see the dots in the areas noted if you know what to look for, but for the most part, they are about the same as film grain seen in prints from regular 400/800 speed photo film prints. (yep, that smooth)


Photos printed on the 870 (scanned in at 1200dpi from the originals) match the originals for the most part. Film naturally has higher resolution, so super fine hair strands, maps, and other fine details like fur will seem a bit 'softer' vs. the original. However, w/o the original print to compare to, all photo 870 prints appear like very good point and shoot pictures - bright, contrasty, sharply detailed, and they all look just like regular film photo prints. No identifying markings on the back at all -- thus, you really must start marking them so you won't confuse them with the original photos. Feel is like photo paper, but a little bit more sticky because the surface has been designed to absorb water (ink) quickly. Nowhere as bad as HP photo paper however.


By accident a bit of Scotch tape contacted the surface. Unlike photo film prints, pulling the tape off gently resulted in removal of the surface layer.

10. Roll paper. Does the job and great prints. Only two problems - 1. no way to feed the paper backwards so you can remove the roll w/o cutting the paper in the middle, 2. no automatic print cutter built-in (you'd think it would be so simple to mount a paper cutter roller!). Thus, for a few prints, expect to cut a bit of paper off at the end of prints to seperate it from the roll so you can use other paper sizes. Curls like regular film prints that weren't flattened after processing. You really must reverse curl these prints to get them to flatten out. Same print quality as the premium photo paper because it is the same.

11. Magnified viewing of the prints show very clearly that these are not dye-sub or film photo prints. Dots are clearly visible everywhere at 8x magnification. Thus, a dye-sub or regular photo print will still be superior. The Ofoto and Shutterfly prints have visible scan lines/dots under 8x magnification, though not as good as film/dye-sub prints, and just slightly better than the 870. However, as mentioned earlier, unmaginfied viewing of Shutterfly, Ofoto and 870 prints are for the most part identical at normal viewing distances of ~8 inches and greater.

12. Photoshop control color managment with the printer set to Custom/ICM color = excellent out-of-the-box color control. Whites are white (truer than the slightly yellowish Ofoto and Shutterfly prints), gray scales are good, and overall impression is excellent. Don't have a color spectrometer, but expect that w/o one, you'll be 90-95% as accurate as if you profiled everything with one. Matches color film prints in overall contrast, saturation, etc. upon viewing of the Photodisc test target prints.

13. Alignment. As you well know, a misaligned print head means banding. Same here and it's more difficult than you'd expect to get the alignment right. Not hellishly bad, but annoyingly so. As mentioned elsewhere, expect to use a loupe and inkjet paper to get the alignment right, otherwise, you'll be seeing white flecks of empty areas on all of your prints. You'd think they'd come up with a better alignment pattern than the rows of vertical lines...

14. Didn't try anything lower resolution than 600dpi images (~2400x3600 total size or greater) on 4x6" prints. However, all such images came out sharp with no signs of pixelation.

15. Pizza tracks. Still there, but you'd have to shine a bright light from the side and examine the print from a steep angle to see them (ie. a position nobody would ever view a print). All other normal viewing angles and lighting conditions - they're invisible.

16. Conclusion. This is the very first inkjet photo printer for <$500 that I feel is good enough for most home photo applications, and the output quality of the prints are so good, it doesn't matter whether you have this or a dye-sub printer (which is even smoother and better). At normal viewing distances of 12 inches or greater, your eyes will simply say "Photo!" and you simply won't detect harshness or dottiness (unless you're really staring at the pictures for dozens of seconds trying hard to find them, but at 12" or closer distances and if you know where to look). Given my tendency to nit-pick every print output to death, and a collection of over 250 print samples from most major inkjet and other <$500 home color printers from the past decade, I can say with confidence that this is the best that is currently out there as an inkjet printer (dye-subs are smoother, no dots). The Epson 870/875/1270 printers can produce output that match film photos for the most part, and for 95%+ of the population, and excellent print that will produce well above average photo inkjet prints. These latest Epson photo printers are the first inkjet photo printers that I can say are 'good enough' if you've been looking around and waiting like me for something that is comprable to a dye-sub (at normal viewing distances; only slightly more dottiness as noted around browns, oranges, reds, highlights at 8" or closer and with careful inspection), but has the added pluses of a wider color gamut, poster-sized print capability (1270 model), digital card slot for direct card prints (875 model), quicker print speeds (vs. a dye-sub), and true edge-to-edge prints at a good price (4" wide paper roll feeder; panoramics, too!).

17. (Added 24 March 2000) Black and White prints. Got just a few minutes extra with this printer at the end. Very interesting how different settings all result in different print qualities.

Photoshop with Black selected in Printer Panel, using 1.8 gamma under custom settings, and sending the original color target results in a grainy print (noticable even at two feet away) even on photo inkjet paper in the best mode. Good balance, but a bit washed out as if the contrast wasn't high enough - obviously the 1.8 gamma is doing something here. Clearly, only black ink must be in use here.

Photoshop with Photoenhance with B/W selected, sending the original color target on photo paper results in a far less grainy print, but still grainy like a 4pl., 4-color Epson - harsher grain that perhaps the Epson 900. Far too dark in the shadows and some midtones however.

Photoshop with Printer Panel set to ICM & color with a grayscale version of the target sent (Photoshop converted to grayscale mode) results in a warm gray version of the target on photo inkjet paper. Very good balance overall and smooth like the color prints of the color target. Still, while the other b/w prints were neutral/cold gray, I wonder how the printer got to do a warm gray version with these settings. Shadow areas under the brown baby's arm and chin are a bit clumped and harsh.

Photoshop with Photo Panel set to ICM & color with grayscale version sent to photo paper results in the best rendition of the target out of them all. Well-balanced, just like a b/w version of the color targets printed earlier. Grain is just a touch more visible than in the color print, but becomes very smooth at 12" or farther and looks Photo! like. You could almost say it looks like film grain. No harsh clumping under the brown baby's chin or arm area, unlike the photo inkjet paper print. Gray scale target bars match those in the color print of the target - obviously, all colors are being used here to create this very smooth print, but layered so that it appears like a B/W print. Looking at it under different lighting conditions, I find it to be a neutral gray with a touch of blueness to it - not warm at all, but obviously there's options for sepia tone and you can easily make your own adjustments in Photoshop (most likely, a simple desaturation of the image with a hue adjustment).

18. (Added 24 March 2000) Color matching against older Epson printers. Forget it if you haven't played with and 870 before and don't have the time to go though a few prints to understand how color adjustments in the image affects the output. Very hard because of the added two colors that throw everything off. You'll have to rebalance images to match. Couldn't get the 870 to match a 600 print after several tries (the image was corrected specifically for the 600). Mostly, the soft, faded pastels and snappy color clothes were a bit duller and more contrasty on the 870 vs. the 600 using the identical image. Guess I've learned how to adjust for the 600 and must relearn how to adjust for the 870 to get the desired results... Naturally, if you're calibrating and profiling everything with a color spectrometer and using color management, you won't need to worry about this at all.

19. (Added 28 March 2000) Not only are the Epsons good enough, the paper is dirt cheap!
eg. $10 for 50 pack of matte-heavyweight papers. (at 3x5" prints, that's 200 for $10 = $0.05 per blank page or $1.80 for 36 pages! and at 4x6", that's 150 at $10 or $0.07 per page or $2.40 for 36 pages)
Even adding ink costs, that's -FAR- cheaper than any ALPS dye-sub print and more inline with the 1 hour photo prices.

Figure 30 full pages per color cartridge (black useage is very low), or 120 3x5" or 90 4x6" pages. If $12 per color cartridge (, that's $3.60 for ink on 3x5" 36 prints, and $4.80 for 4x6 36 prints.

Total, that's about $5.40 for 36 3x5" prints and $7.20 for 36 4x6" prints.
(well, also add your time to cut them to 3x5 or 4x6 prints - a quicky with any paper cutter)

And we haven't even started with the cheaper (hopefully) 4" wide roll paper...

20. (Added 30 March 2000) DPI & quality of prints on 4x6" premium photo paper.

600dpi - my reference 4x6" premium photo print. Letters and numbers on color test targets are sharp, hairs on babies are crisp and distinct, etc.

300dpi - numbers around color targets start to go soft, some remain crisp. Hair around brown baby's head starts to go soft as well.

200dpi - Numbers around are all soft, as if out of focus. Hair around all babies are very soft and non-distinct.

21. (Added 30 March 2000) This is such a high-resolution, high-quality printer that you'll notice defects easily if you're not sending to the printer a high-resolution image. 2400x3600 (8 megapixels) images are ideal. 1024x768 (0.8Mpxl) images show visible signs of stairstepping and pixelation, as do 1800x1200 (2.2Mpxl) images, to a lesser degree. In fact, you won't find any <$1000 digital camera that can output enough pixels to push this printer to the maximum resolving capabilties it can do, and you'll often need to do some retouching in Photoshop or other photo manipulation programs to eliminate signs of stairstepping and pixelization.

As noted earlier, even going from a 600 dpi image to a 300 dpi image results in noticable loss of image quality in the final output (600 dpi or 2400x3600 8Mpxl image; 300 dpi or 1200x1800 2.2Mpxl image; almost a 4Mpxl difference in the amount of data being captured in each image). But without close inspection, a 1200x1800 300dpi image will look very good when printed and good enough such that most people will not notice any problems resulting from the lower resolution image (ie. stairstepping and soft hair details are still sharp enough so that they look good rather than bad).

However, if you want pin-sharp across the entire 4x6" page, you'll need a 600dpi image. The only cheap way to get high-resolution images into your computer is to buy a slide scanner (eg. Minolta Scan Dual at ~$350) for 2336x3504 size images.

22. (Added 3 April 2000) Wow! This printer inspires me to use it as often as I can, and I've already used up all my favors with a friend that works at a local shop that carries the Epson 870 to print more samples and pictures.
At last, for me, this printer allows me to print and print without having to worry about adjusting my image to compensate for fat inkjet dots or other gross defect issues of older inkjets. Coupled with the Epson Photo, Matte, or Premium Photo paper, this printer can and will turn your home into a photo print shop that will do justice to your photos. Your prints will come out looking great and the only minor defects of note are minor dots still visible at 8 inches or closer examination distances, however, they feel like film grain more than anything else. These dots are so insignificant, heads of groups shots of 30-40 people across a print will remain detailed and clean.

Whatever you decide to print, you'll more likely focus on adjusting the other technical parameters of the print, like color, contrast, etc., rather than every worrying about the barely visible dots. Lovely printer that matches the quality of online digital print shop prints, like Ofoto, Shutterfly, and Photoaccess (see my article on them in the Photography section), and you get the added benefit of controlling the final color balance and other image details as exacting as you want or need.

23. (Added 3 April 2000) About 3:30 to print the 4x6" ~30 MB Photodisc target on a 400Mhz AMD K6-2 machine with 32MB RAM, 8GB HD, and connect over a ECP/EPP set parallel port to Epson Premium Photo Paper from Photoshop 5.5. About 12:00 to print a 7x10.5" ~40MB group of people picture to Epson Photo Paper. Print times are about the same for other detailed images. Image with large areas of flat color print slightly faster due to better compression of data sent to the printer. 24. (Added 3 April 2000) The new Intelliedge cartridge has a microchip on a PCB board on the front of the cartridge. It is easily removable and is not connected in any way electronically to the cartridge. The cartridge itself is of similar design to older Epson cartridge - sponge filled ink compartments with a hole that leads to a spring loaded plug that seals close against the rubber exit gasket if the cartridge is removed from the printer.

While the printer may indicate the cartridge is out of ink, disassembling a used 870 color cartridge reveals ample ink to soak several paper towels, and the sponges drip ink when squeezed lightly. Clearly, Epson is trying to prevent complete nozzle dry-out vs. using the last drop.

For refillers, there is the issue of figuring out how to bypass the out-of-ink condition stored on the chip after a certain amount of ink has been used. Some ideas come up as to the line of attack, depending on what actually controls the printer and can take the printer out of the out-of-ink condition where it stops printing back to the full-cartridge condition:
a. Reset the chip in some manner. It may or may not be possible depending on the chip design.
b. Replace the chip with a dummy chip that always reports full condition.
c. Rewire the contacts inside the printer to report full condition. d. Modify the BIOS/internal electronics to fool the printer ala Sony Mod Chip. e. Disable the out-of-ink stop mechanism in the printer and/or printer software.

Hopefully, some enterprising engineer with a logic analyzer will crack this problem soon. It is far cheaper to refill cartridges if you print dozens of pages a day, and many find the savings very substantial. See for prior Usenet postings on this topic and/or subscribe to comp.periphs.printers in your Usenet newsreader to follow the current topics. After all, with an estimated life of 30-50 pages per color cartridge @ $20-30 each, prints are much more expensive than the cost of ink actually is (~$5 or less per cartridge). (See my Dotty Spotty issue #1 for a brief overview on how printer manufacturers make lots of money selling inkjet cartridges -- consumables are their cash cow, but you don't need to be the one to pay.)

Places that sell inkjet refills are numerous. is one place that sells archival inks and papers for the line of Epson printers. Other inkjet refill sites include and A quick search of on 'inkjet refill' will bring up hundreds more.