When a device tries to be all things to all people, it usually winds up satisfying no one. Most all-in-one printers, for example, are good for lightweight office tasks, but they make lousy photo printers. Epson’s Artisan 800 is much better than that: It’s a fabulous photo printer and a pretty good light-duty office machine.
We expect a multi-function printer with a $300 price tag to include a long list of features and deliver impeccable performance, and the Artisan 800 doesn’t disappoint on either count. Let’s take a look at features, first, available by clicking to go to the next page.
Features and Design
The printer has a built-in 7.8-inch touch panel with a 3.5-inch LCD, both Wi-Fi and Fast Ethernet (10/100 megabits per second) network adapters (Bluetooth support is optional); an integrated media-card reader that supports SD/SDHC, xD-Picture Card, MemoryStick, CompactFlash, and MultiMediaCard; a PictBridge interface; a 48-bit color scanner with up to 4,800 dpi of optical resolution; a 33.6Kb/sec fax machine; a 30-page document feeder; color and black-and-white copier functionality; a CD-printing feature; and a double-decker paper tray that eliminates the need to switch between plain and photo paper.
The Artisan 800 supports both PCs and Macs, but you can print photos (and CDs) without even using your computer if you’re in a hurry. Simply plug your camera into the PictBridge interface or plug a memory card or USB device into the appropriate socket and the printer will display a preview of each photo on the 3.5-inch LCD. Leaving the display flush to the printer makes it easy to use while seated, but it will also tilt up so that it’s easy to use while standing. The printer’s “Fix Photo” feature will automatically adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation and includes face-recognition technology to optimize skin tones in photos of people. You can also manually perform other sorts of rudimentary photo editing here, including red-eye correction and cropping, using the touch screen and previewing your photo on the LCD before committing it to print.
The Artisan 800 has curvaceous lines and an attractive matte and gloss black finish, but its ability to handle legal size paper contributes to a large footprint of 18.4 inches wide by 15.2 inches deep. And despite its 23.8 pound heft, certain aspects—such as the sliding guides in the paper tray—feel flimsy. Epson’s designers did a good job, however, of shielding important features such as the document feeder and the paper tray to prevent dust from accumulating or being dragged onto the scanner glass and into the paper carriage.
Epson touts the fact that its double-decker paper tray allows you to keep both photo and plain paper in the printer at the same time, but they neglect to mention that you’re limited to either 4×6 or 5×7 photo paper in the upper tray, and larger sheets of either plain or photo paper in the bottom tray. This is great if you typically print photos only in the smaller formats, but we found ourselves changing paper just as much as we have with other photo printers.
Printing With and Without a Computer
As handy as it sounds to be able to print right from a camera or a memory card, we can’t imagine anyone being in such a rush that they wouldn’t want to spend a least a few minutes using a computer and a full-size display to perfect a photo before printing. And when we cropped a photo using the printer’s small display, the colors in the 4×6 print that the device produced looked great, but the print didn’t exactly match the image on the screen: The top of one of our subjects’ heads was trimmed just a wee bit more than the display had indicated.
The Artisan 800 is plenty fast, but Epson’s claim that it’s capable of printing an 8×10-inch photo in 50 seconds is way over the top—assuming you want a high-quality image. In our tests, printing even a 4×6-inch photo in the printer’s best quality mode required one minute and 24 seconds; printing an 8×10 consumed two minutes and 48 seconds. Still, that’s considerably faster than the Epson Stylus Photo R260 that we used for comparison. That printer took almost as long to print a 4×6—two minutes and 12 seconds—as the Artisan 800 needed to print an 8×10.
Prints are flat-out gorgeous, and Epson claims they will resist fading for 95 years (Epson bases its claim on accelerated testing of unframed prints conducted by Wilhelm Imaging Research. The prints aren’t cheap, however, considering that standard colored-ink cartridges are street-priced at $11 each, and high-capacity cartridges go for about $7 more. Black cartridges are priced even a little higher than color cartridges.
The Artisan 800’s printing prowess isn’t limited to photos, either; we used the bundled ArcSoft Print Creations software to produce several spectacular photo greeting cards using heavy matte paper. The print quality rivaled any store-bought card, and it boasted the added appeal of being custom made. We also printed labels on blank CDs using both TDK’s PrintOn media and Imation’s far-superior AquaGuard discs (ink smears right off a moistened TDK disc). The printer’s text print quality, however, was slightly inferior to that of the HP Officejet J5750 we used for comparison.
Using the Scanner and Copier
The scanner element of the Artisan 800 boasts an impressive set of features, including 48-bit color depth and optical resolution of up to 4,800 dpi, but it’s not equipped to scan film negatives or slides. You’ll need to be patient when scanning photos, but the results are worth it. At its highest resolution, the device took an average of 15 minutes to scan 4×6 photos; but the resulting files were very faithful to the originals and the scanner is capable of restoring faded photos even without the use of a PC. [Editor's Note: Most consumers will scan their photos using a lower resolution, e.g., 300 dpi, which yields significantly faster results.]
We were also impressed with the optical character recognition software that Epson bundled with the printer. ABBYY FineReader 6.0 Sprint not only did an excellent job of converting page scans into editable text, it also retained documents’ formatting and recognized standard fonts. The Artisan 800 makes quick work of copying documents, requiring just two minutes and 15 seconds to copy a 10-page document in color and one minute and 15 seconds to reproduce the same pages in black and white. The HP Officejet J5750 required six minutes and 10 seconds to make color copies and five minutes, 44 seconds for black and white. But you wouldn’t want to use either all-in-one device for regular copying duties, because the copies come out in the reverse order and must be re-collated by hand.
Epson’s Artisan 800 is loaded with features and it’s competitively priced. It’s a much better photo printer than it is an office machine, but if you really need to make dozens of copies, print reams of documents, and print high-quality photos on a daily basis, you should buy devices dedicated to each task.
We also want to comment on Epson’s claim of wireless connectivity, which the company describes as “wireless 802.11b/g, compatible with 802.11n.” We could not connect the device to our 802.11n access point until we configured the AP to operate in mixed 802.11g/n mode; the printer simply would not connect to a pure 802.11n network. That’s stretching the definition of “802.11n compatible” to the breaking point, in our book. Aside from that and the surprisingly lightweight plastic Epson deployed in a few key areas, such as the paper tray, we find few faults with this all-in-one.
• Exceptional photo prints up to 8×10 in size
• USB and wired or wireless network connectivity
• Attractive industrial design
• Replacement ink is expensive
• Won’t connect to an 802.11n-only Wi-Fi network
• Must purchase an upgrade to access some of the cooler features of the bundled ArcSoft Print Creations software