This is a big, conventional-looking ink-jet printer designed primarily to print photo images, but capable of printing black text and other graphics as well, although comparatively slowly. Four buttons on the front face of the big, silver case control power, paper feed, ink tank maintenance and roll paper cut off.
The Stylus Photo 900 can handle both cut sheet and roll paper and will print a dotted serration line at the end of each print from a roll, using this fourth button. Working with roll paper means you can print panoramic photo images or continuous prints without having to frequently load paper.
This Epson can also print on suitably coated CDs, using a plastic carrier for the CD included in the box. Instructions for using the bundled Print CD software are full of provisos not to touch the printed surface of the disc for 24 hours after printing and to use spare CDs to check print quality and positioning. Even so, this extra facility would be useful for anybody wanting to prepare professional-looking CDs or DVDs.
The paper path in this printer is conventional, with paper feeding from an angled tray at the rear to another, nearly horizontal, at the front. The twin ink cartridges, one black and the other five-colour, clip into the head carrier once you lift the printerâ€™s smoked plastic cover and press the ink maintenance button. At the rear are sockets for a mains kettle lead and both USB and parallel data connections.
Setting up this printer is pretty easy; install the software, which consists of the printer driver and Epson's own applets, and plug-in the printer when requested. The driver offers watermarks, enlargement and reduction, manual duplexing and multi-page printing. This last option enables you to print reduced images of several pages on a single sheet of paper. As with the Stylus Photo 830U, when you change paper type, the driver doesn't automatically select the appropriate print quality.
Also supplied with the printer are Photo Quicker, Print Image Framer and Print CD. Photo Quicker offers a four-step printing process for photos, enabling you to select specific images, print quantities of each and a layout for prints on the page. Print Image Framer does what it says in the title and provides a series of pre-defined frames for you to use with your photographs. An editor is also supplied, so you can adjust frames or create them from scratch.
The main disadvantage of a photo printer that employs six colours rather than a general-purpose machine using four, is the speed at which it produces black text. There's no theoretical reason why printing black should be slower on such a machine, but in this case the differences are very noticeable. Even slower than the cheaper Stylus Photo 830U, the Stylus Photo 900 took over three minutes to print five text pages.
The mixed text and graphics print was a little faster at just 47 seconds, but the photo print was slower than all but the Lexmark printer, taking nearly two and a half minutes.
Print quality is generally high, with black text looking sharp, though with some noticeable jaggies on rounded letters and diagonals. This is quite surprising, considering the high resolution Epson quotes for the printer.
The text and graphics prints are the best in the group with clean, dense areas of colour and no noticeable dither patterns. Colour changes in the title banner were less smooth than we would have liked in places though.
The photographic print was good in places. The smooth gradation in the sky is one of the highlights of the print and a lot of detail in shadowed areas also added to the realism of the output. Detail of the trees in the foreground is not so good, coincidentally the same fault we noted from Epson's cheaper printer. The Stylus Photo 900 can print borderless A4 and the results we got from this test were clean, but darker than the originals from which it was taken.
An unusual aspect of this printer was that we discovered during usage testing is that it occasionally mis-feeds, by knocking one sheet off the end of the output tray with the sheet being printed. This happened several times during tests.
As with the Canon i850, the high capacity of the ink tanks in this Epson printer means you can keep going for a good while before needing to renew consumables. We managed 429 pages of 5% black text and 343 pages of 20% colour, both of which are decent print runs.
Again, Epson prices its ink tanks well and a black print page comes out at just 3.9p. Colour prints, including the comparatively high cost of Epson's glossy paper, still results in just over 50p per page.