INKJETS ARE DEAD
I covered that here. I only use mine for printing emails and send my photos out. They went obsolete in 2004, replaced by the ubiquitous labs which today make better prints faster for less money on real photo paper.
That said, here goes. Some of this is historic information.
Epson printers of 5 years ago were better than today. In the old days the Epson 1200 and 1270 made nice, brilliant glossy prints on glossy paper. They faded if left in daylight, but looked great otherwise. I have dark-stored prints from my 1200 over five years old and they are perfect.
Today Epson's pigment ink printers popular with many photo hobbyists and reviewed glowingly in magazines that take money from Epson for advertising look bad to me because their pigments are dull, not glossy. Just as bad, the colors are less brilliant because these pigments, chosen for permanence, simply aren't as vibrant. Therefore prints made on things like the Epson 2200 and etc. look weird to me because the light areas are glossy, and the darker areas are dull. Engineered call this "differential gloss" and I call it a sucky print.
Pigment inks clog. I had to throw my newer Epson C84 away when it clogged and didn't respond to cleaning. My six year old 1200 still worked great.
Of course this is art and others may have different opinions on what makes a good print. I love gloss and vibrancy.
Worse, the colors look awful to me. I can spot one of these recent Epson prints a mile away since the reds are all a weird orangish and the blue skies are likewise just a weird color. I suspect this is why people write me with color matching problems: if the printer's inks tend to make sucky colors then of course it won't match your camera or screen. I see the dull gamut of these prints at every amateur photo exhibit.
I still have my Epson 1200, and I suggest if you want to make prints at home you try to find an Epson 1280 or the latest HPs. The HPs seem to make nice prints that really are glossy.
I'd skip the newer Epsons like the 2200: I have never liked it's prints due to differential gloss (the dark and light areas don't have the same gloss) and also the colors are dull.
Personally I use the now obsolete Epson Stylus Photo 1200 , and only a couple of times in the past two years have I ever put paper bigger than 8.5 x 11" in it. I won my trip to Hawaii with a print spat out of it, so don't get too hung up on all this.
To be honest, I've seen prints made on photo paper with even the cheapest 4-color Epson printers and they looked great. Just stick to EPSON and make sure you use EPSON PHOTO paper and you should be all set.
DO NOT use regular copy paper if you want good photos. The paper is more important than the printer. Try it and see, printing photos on copy machine paper looks horrible compared to printing on photo paper.
I buy my EPSON 8.5 x 11" photo paper at a warehouse store for $20 for 100 sheets. Again, I printed my Hawaii-winning image on a 20 cent piece of paper. Note that it was EPSON brand. I'd never use the generic or other branded paper unless I had all day to fiddle with this stuff. I'd rather be out shooting.
In 2004 Hewlett-Packard and Canon have caught up. I'd look at real prints from them and make up your own mind. I've been really impressed with what I saw at PMA in 2004. Either makes glossy prints better than what I've seen from the Epson 2200.
Paper and Ink
Unless you have a very good reason, use the paper and ink sold by the maker of your printer. Why?
1.) The paper and ink are very important to image quality. If you try to buy "exact replacement" ink your colors probably will no longer match. Each type of printer uses very proprietary ink and the papers are designed especially for this. Unless you really know what you are doing, don't try to outsmart the people who spend all day designing these things for a living. Even Consumer Reports reported in 2004 that the discount inks don't cost any less and give much poorer results than printer brand ink.
Watch it; the game has changed. Kodak and Olympus and Ilford don't make inkjet printers, so their inkjet papers are effectively no-name brands. I'd avoid any of their paper unless you have a very specific reason to use it. Kodak does make dye-sublimation printers, but from what few examples I've seen they have differential gloss problems and aren't very glossy so I prefer the regular HP, EPSON and Canon printers.
2.) You will have to create your own custom color profiles if you ever hope to have your screen and prints match with off-brand inks and paper. When you use Epson's paper and ink the profiles are already in your system, use others and you will either need to create your own profiles or take your chances.
HA! Don't count on anything from any inkjet printer. Stick with real prints made on Fuji Crystal Archive at labs.
The good news is that printers, ink and paper get better and better every year. There is a lot of development money spent on this. I see the new cheap EPSON inkjet office printers claim to have the pigmented ink now unique to the 2000P printer, so I hope that this more stable ink may make its way into all the photo printers.
The bad news is that even if a manufacturer genuinely believes that they have long-lasting images, no one knows until we wait. Sometimes a bad batch makes it out the door and prints fade within days if left indoors out of direct sunlight!
Honest, a friend had prints made on EPSON premium paper with the archival inks, and they faded so fast he had to reprint and remount them all because they faded before a gallery show started! EPSON admitted to making a bad batch, but in any case don't believe anything you read until you try it.
I have not seen any fading using the genuine EPSON photo paper I buy at the warehouse store and my 1200 printer.
I use a Macintosh and the colors just match my screen. I have no idea what happens if you are on a PC; mine worked pretty well.
Make sure you tell the printer what sort of paper you are feeding it every time you hit "print." The printer has no way of guessing this. The results will be awful if you tell the printer a different paper than you really are using. You have to check this every time you print.
Don't try to get smart. Use the manufacturer's brand paper and ink, set the print menus for the paper you're using and everything ought to be fine. The only people who seem to have problems with colors matching are my friends who try to get fancy and screw with the settings and make custom profiles.
Honest, the people who design these things are smarter than all of us put together and have very fancy machines to calibrate all this. Just leave your monitor and etc. at the defaults and you ought to be OK.
Print Speed and Ink Cartridge Life
These specifications are usually carefully crafted lies. They are usually measured in very deceptive ways not representing the way we really use the products.
My now obsolete Epson Stylus Photo 1200 takes 15 minutes to make a great photo print, as opposed to the about 2 minutes as I recall the ads claimed. That's because I print at the highest 1440 DPI resolution, the ads typically talk about the quality at the highest settings and rate the speed at the fastest (lowest quality) settings.
I don't clock my ink use. Just remember the Japanese spec this at something like "pages at 10% coverage," meaning you'll get only one-tenth what they spec when printing photos. I don't worry about it. If you do, you can buy continuous inking systems that refill from jars that run forever if you are making industrial quantities of prints.
Inkjet Print Quality Suggestions
Use the best good paper, and only the paper sold with the printer maker's name on it. 1970s photo paper makers like Ilford and Kodak sell paper with their names on it. Skip them. Use HP paper in HP printers, Canon paper in Canon and etc.
I go into the advanced pages and set the quality up from the default photo setting of 720 DPI and set it instead to 1,440 DPI. (This is as high as my printer goes, the new ones I presume go to 2,880 DPI) This makes the printer take longer, and the advantage is that the colors are smoother if you look closely. The differences are subtle, and it does take significantly longer. If you are printing business cards on photo paper and look at it under a loupe you also will see slightly sharper text.
If printing images with sharp diagonal lines, upsize the image in Photoshop to exactly 720 or 360 DPI. If you don't do this, the printer software does it for you since it has to match the pixels up to the ink nozzles, and Photoshop does a better job of this. The downfall is that if you don't do this your diagonal lines may look ever so slightly jaggy in some rare cases. If you already have more than 720 DPI then it's OK to downsize.