SCOUG OS/2 For You - August 1998
Well, here's the second installment of our INK column. I'll concentrate this issue on color printing - what you can realistically expect to do, and what you'll pay for the privilege. As a reference, I'm using the German Epson drivers with an Epson Stylus Color 600 and an Epson Photo 700.
When I talk to most users about color printing, the first thing they want to know is how close to a photograph or camera ready copy they can really get on their $200 or $300 printer. And our standards are tough these days. Just like you want your friend's home movies to look as good as your TV set picture, so with home printers we really want the image to look as good as the photos in the glossy magazines. All the other stuff is secondary, except we want to be able to do this for cheap, (ahem, I mean inexpensively).
As we speak today, clearly the answer for OS/2 is simple -- the Epson series of Inkjets are in a league of their own when balancing cost and performance. And I say this even though Epson has seemingly abandoned driver development for OS/2. (I'm hoping that Epson Germany, or one of their cool programmers, will finish the Photo drivers to allow the new 700 to print at 1440 dpi.) In the meantime, the Version 1.02c beta drivers will run the ESC 600/800 series of printers at 1440x720 dpi, while they will run the Photo and Photo 700 at 720 dpi (the max resolution of the original Photo). The trade off here is that these drivers are slow, particularly on the 600. The choices are to either have another printer like your trusty laser or an old dot matrix for normal text printing, or to install the Omni drivers as a separate printer to get some speed increase.
Anyhow, the short truth of color printing and image quality has to do with 1) printer drivers, 2) paper, and 3) technology like colors of ink, method of laying the ink out on the paper and such. And, a fourth variable no one seems to want to talk about, the sheer cost per page of doing this kind of printing at home.
In these areas, Epsons shine, partly because they have captured such a huge section of the low-medium end of the color inkjet market. You can buy color ink cartridges for the Photo 700 for less than $10 each via the Internet (more like $18.95 at Fry's), for example. Similar discounts exist for other Epson consumables. Simple math tells me that if I can get an Epson cartridge for about $10 while the competitor's stuff costs between $20 - $30 (usually on the higher end), then these savings will add up in a hurry. Particularly when you figure on approximately just 20 8" x 10" photo quality images out of a Photo color ink cartridge. Truth is, inkjets aren't that cheap on a cost per page basis compared to lasers.
Also, there is a very broad range of papers available that work well with the Epson's, while the choices seem more limited (and less discounted) with HP and Lexmark. I'm currently working with the following papers (these prices are mostly on the lower end of mail order prices):
Epson Photo Quality InkJet paper (S041062), $10/100 sheets ($14.49 list);
CompuJet Glossy Ink Jet paper (from Staples) $12.95/15 sheets;
Epson Photo Quality Glossy Paper (S041124), $12.95/20 sheets (list)
Konica Photo Medium Weight Semi - Glossy (Matte) Paper, ca. $9.00/15 sheets;
Konica Photo Medium Weight Glossy Paper, ca. $9.00/15 sheets;
Konica QP Heavy weight glossy paper, ca. $8/15 sheets ($9.95 list). **my pick for best value**
Epson HQ Glossy Film (S041072), $31.99/15 sheets (list).
This is a broad range of papers, and these prices are discounted quite a bit (except I've not yet seen a decent price on Epson's highest quality paper). To cut to the chase, the best deal is the Konica QP heavy photo paper at about $8.00/pack of 15 sheets. Also, be aware these prices are direct from Changs in Los Angeles (213-251-9580), and are walk in wholesaler prices.
If you are gasping at all this price information, trust me, you need to know this stuff up front if you want to make neat photo quality images or anything like camera ready copy. It ain't cheap. And just think about the poor person who innocently goes to Fry's or Comp USA, shucks out $250 for the latest/greatest printer, and then discovers that for each 20 full page images, it'll cost about $30 for a pack of Epson Photo Glossy Paper, and about $20 each for color and black ink cartridges!
OK. Assuming you are with me so far and havn't slit your wrists or decided to go back to your trusty old laser, let's look at the pluses of our madness.
First, and under OS/2 by golly, you can really produce an image that is quite close to what you would get with an 8x10 commercially produced blow up of a photo. That is in and of itself fairly awesome to me. You literally couldn't do this a couple of years ago for less than $10,000 to $20,000 of digital gear. So costs are relative. The printers are relatively cheap, but the consumables are not and add up. On the other hand, the cost per print isn't that awful if you are not running a pro photo shop.
To get this quality, of course, is not quite simple and easy. For a really good scan, you'll want to go in to the scanner settings, and adjust both the brightness and contrast in addition to setting the resolution. I find that on my Epson Applause 636 and STI Twain drivers, somewhere in the range of +1 on brightness, and -1 on contrast seem to come out about like the scans under Windows. If you have both Windows and OS/2, you can run a simple test by scanning under both and comparing them. The real point is, feel free to exper-iment with the settings and don't assume the defaults are optimized.
Same kind of thing applies to actual printing. You will most likely want to tweak the default settings in your image editing program. For example, in ColorWorks, pushing the gamma setting up a few 10ths can make a big difference (say gamma = 1.2 instead of 1.0 default). And in PMView, may want to adjust the RGB balance using the "Color" settings before adjusting the gamma and printing. All of this takes trial and error, and you can't assume that the settings for one picture or scan will be the best for another picture. Using these techniques, you can produce a quality photo image.
My own way of working is to use the Epson 720 dpi photo paper (the 12.95/100 sheets stuff) to print out relatively small images (say 4x6 or 3x5) to test for color balance and such, and to then use the expensive photo papers for the final product. You should also not assume that what you see on the screen is going to be what you see on print. To get this level of color matching you would need one of those monster programs like PhotoShop, and frankly for $500-600, I'd rather fiddle around a little.
Next month we'll answer some of the questions readers have sent in. And with some luck, maybe we'll find out if those new neat Lexmark Optra 40 and 45's are shipping. Send questions, comments, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By day, Tony Butka is a bureaucrat for Los Angeles County. In his other life he lives in a loft surrounded by computers, printers, and a host of vinyl records.
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