Epson Stylus Photo R300 Review
Reviewed on: 2 February 2004
Epson's Stylus Photo R300 series demonstrates the quantum leap photo printers have taken recently. The R300 offers a wealth of direct camera-to-printer options and has an optional colour monitor. Best of all, in addition to producing high-resolution photo-quality prints, the R300 prints straight on to blank CDs or DVDs -- and at a very reasonable price. Intended primarily as a photo-quality printer for the digital camera crowd, the R300 also prints text and graphics. Of course, it doesn't print text and graphics as well as an ordinary inkjet printer, and the R300M's sluggish print speeds also leave something to be desired. But to digital photo enthusiasts, the many pros with this photo printer will outweigh the cons.
The bread-box-size Epson Stylus R300M measures 500 by 264 by 218mm and looks like many other inkjets on the market today, with its input tray in the back and its output tray at the bottom. There's a smaller monochrome LCD on the control panel with a text menu that allows you to resize and crop photos before printing or to change settings such as brightness, saturation, and sharpness -- all without a computer attached. You can also attach a 64mm (2.5-inch) colour LCD for previewing your digital photos.
The setup process is seamless. The R300 uses a high-speed USB 2.0 port for its connection to a Mac or a PC (USB cable not included), and its drivers work with Windows 98 and above, as well as Mac 8.6 and above. Epson supplies ample printed documentation, such as a Start Here poster that walks you through the initial installation. There's also a quick-reference card for printing without a computer.
What sets the Epson Stylus R300 apart from other photo printers is its various built-in features. Perhaps the most compelling is the built-in CD/DVD tray, which allows you to print directly on to CD or DVD media -- one step beyond printing CD or DVD labels. Using the included Epson Print CD software, simply create a design, insert a blank CD or DVD disc, then print. Potential uses include personalising holiday or vacation photo CDs and saving thousands of dollars on the cover artwork for your garage band's latest CD or DVD release.
The R300 offers an unprecedented level of connectivity and compatibility with cameras and removable media. Below the monochrome LCD, there's a smoked-plastic lid that flips to reveal a bank of removable media cards. The R300 will print directly from Secure Digital, Memory Stick, CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Microdrive, and xD cards. There's also a USB 1.0 port for PictBridge-and USB Direct Print-compatible cameras as well as Zip, CD, and Magneto-Optical drives. The software inside the printer transfers digital photos to a media card or transfers data from a media card directly to your PC or Mac. And if you add Epson's Bluetooth Photo Print Adapter, you can send and print images to the R300 wirelessly from any Bluetooth-enabled device.
When printing from an attached computer, the R300's print drivers are easy to use and consist of three tabs: Main, Page Layout, and Maintenance. Within these tabs you select paper type, borderless printing, and the nozzle-cleaning function. The Main tab also includes an advanced screen to tweak individual colour levels, saturation, and the like.
In tests comparing the R300 against other six-ink photo inkjet printers, we found the R300 printed very slowly. Text print speeds averaged a dismal 1.8 pages per minute (ppm), significantly slower than the HP Photosmart 7960 at 4.6ppm or the Lexmark P707 at 4.2ppm. On photo images, the R300 print speeds averaged 5 minutes per page (mpp) -- much slower than the dirt-cheap Canon i560 at 1.8mpp or the more expensive Canon i960 at 2mpp.
With regard to print quality, we gave the R300 mixed reviews. When using Epson's inkjet paper, the monochrome text came out very dark to the point of looking oversaturated with ink. Tiny fonts, while legible, appeared spotty and saw-toothed. Colour graphics, on the whole, looked fair, with the printer handling colour matching quite well. The blended and shaded areas in our test document (both colour and black and white), however, were visibly pixellated and not very smooth. But on photos, the R300 really shone. Our complex, high-resolution test document looked extremely crisp -- there was only the faintest hint of dithering visible in the background, and skin tones looked smooth and balanced.