Last updated on May 19th, 1998


Introduction

This web page is dedicated to using the Epson Color Stylus printers with the Linux operating system -- some of the finest things in life. I'm a little rusty in my C++, so I figure I'll give back to the Linux community using my stronger points. I hope to make this a truly useful resource. Who knows, it may turn into a FAQ or HOWTO.

Down below, I'll get into various driver settings for quality levels, the media that should be used, performance, etc. What I have done is printed out a benchmark image with various driver settings, scan in the resulting print and make a comparison table. This way, you can see quickly and easily how to "tune" your printer to your needs.

If you'd like, I have a small picture of my original Epson Stylus Color at home (part of my Snappy gallery) online. In the picture, you'll see one of the images in my 3D Gallery that's just finished printing. Further proof of the quality that these little gems can produce!

As of April 4th, I've updated this page quite a bit, and added some new information. See below for more. I'll be trying to add more stuff in the near future as well.

The Hardware

The Epson Color Stylus printers offer IMHO, the best quality color printing at the most affordable prices. Other printers, such as the HP DeskJet's simply can't touch the Stylus when it comes to color images. They print awesome in black and white, but the color images seem to have that dithered, presentation-graphic look. The Canon BubbleJet's look pretty good -- better than the HP, but still lack a nice quality to them. Of these two, neither has the resolution the Epson has, which is 720x720dpi as well as a lower 360x360dpi mode. However, the trade-off seems to be in printing black and white text -- it's not quite as dark and rich as the HP. So, to sum it up, if you're printing b&w, get an HP. If you're printing primarily color images, get a Color Stylus. Of course, you'd want to do plain text printing on a laser, and images on a color inkjet anyway...

To get the utmost quality from the images, you need the "good paper" from Epson, the stuff rated for 720dpi mode. It's a little pricey, about $20US for 200 sheets, but not all that bad, really. Look at dye-sublimation printers (even the Fargo Primera, which I almost bought) and consider the cost-per-page for output -- we're talking about two to four dollars a page! The Epson Stylus cartridges are cheaper in the long run, and honestly, the only time you use the "good stuff" is when you're printing nice color images instead of your RFC's anyway.

In any case, these methods apply to all versions of the Epson Color Stylus printers. Personally, I have the original model which is actually the best one to have. Unfortunately, it's no longer available -- it was discontinued rather quickly to be superseded by the "II" series. As such, the original was more expensive than the current crop, and in my opinion was laid out nicer and looked like a "more professional unit." The technical reason this earlier model was better was because of the print head setup. It uses two cartridges; a tri-color one, and a black one. The black ink was "mixable" and can function in conjunction with the seperate color cartridge, which had it's own print head. Together, they produce better output, with better blacks. The relevant text comes from the file in the Ghostscript package called "devices.txt" (find it in /usr/doc/ghostscript-4.03/):

To: Klaus-Gunther Hess
Subject: Help: Need Programming Info for Stylus-(Color)-Printers

The differentiation is necessary, as the printers produce the graphics
differently.  To wit:

  CMY Class - ( Stylus Color IIs ) The Stylus Color IIs prints color
  graphics with the three different color inks (cyan, magenta, and yellow).
  Also, black is printed using composit black (mixture of CMY).  For high
  quality laser like black,  a separate black ink cartridge should be used.

  CMY + K Class - ( Stylus Color II )  This printer has both a CMY and a
  black ink (K)  cartridge installed at the same time.  However, due to the
  nature of the black ink it can not be mixed or overlaid with the color
  inks.  Therefore, when black is needed, composite black is used.
  If the image calls for pure black (e.g., text), the black cartridge is used.

  CMYK Class - ( Stylus Color, Stylus Pro and Pro XL )  These printers
  have a mixable black (K) ink.  This ink is compatible with the CMY inks
  and will not bleed when combined or printed next to the CMY inks.

Bruce U.
The Epson Connection 

If you want to see the whole section on the Epson Color Stylus from that file, I've made a seperate file for you to look at (it's a little long).

This comes into play when choosing your "-sDithering=" option, which I will get into further later on. For those of you owning the original Stylus, and wanting the best quality should use the option "-sDithering-fscmyk" when printing.

Refills and Problems NEW!

I have also added a page that describes various issues, problems and praises about using aftermarket inkjet refills, notably those by NU-Jet. The page also discusses problems with some colors not printing, etc. and how to fix same.

The Software

Most of the stuff you see on this page is based upon my home system, but should be easily applicable to any setup, as most, if not all Linux distributions have the Ghostscript interpreter. For reference, I am using the RedHat 4.0 distribution. The version of Ghostscript that I am using is v4.03, and the printing "system" is LPRng, which is standard on RedHat systems. You can use the information that follows, and print directly to the device "/dev/lp_" or "/dev/printer" rather than use the spooler as well, if it's not working or not installed.

The Epson Stylus support is built-in, so if you've got a setup like I just mentioned, it's plug and play (almost) from here. The heart of the whole operation is the Ghostscript interpreter, which converts documents such as a Netscape page with text and graphics into a PostScript file which is interpreted into binary data that the Stylus can understand. Essentially, this setup turns your Stylus into an Adobe PostScript Level 2 compatible printer!

Now, you may ask "how do I set this up already?!" So, for those not into reading, here is the command I use to print the highest quality image that I can using the older versions of Ghostscript (around v3.33 to v4.03):

      gs -sDEVICE=stcolor -dNOPAUSE -sDithering=fscmyk -r720x720 -sOutputFile="|lpr" yourfile.ps

Or, if you have a new setup (Ghostscript v5.x or higher) try:

      gs @stc.upp -sOutputFile="|lpr" yourfile.ps -c quit

These command lines works as a drop-in answer for Netscape and gv. You'll need to setup lpr to your particular system and then you can just use the default printer settings of these programs, which usually just output to "lpr".

Now, if you want to understand the "behind the scenes" stuff, then read on...

Options and Results

The results page shows the varios parameters and the resulting output. What I've done is taken a benchmark image and printed it with various options. I then scanned the resulting output into images so that you can see, literally, what the finished product looks like. This makes it easy to compare options for your needs. As common sense would seem to dictate, you'd use the 360DPI "quick-n-dirty" mode for most daily printouts. For those special occasions, printing out the nice pictures, you go for the 720DPI mode with the special paper, etc.

I created this page because it contains a lot of images forming comparisons between the tests I performed. The entire page with images is less than 420Kb however, so it isn't all that bad... ;> At least you can see what the real, unaltered output looks like without actually being there.

Newer Red Hat and/or Epson Stylus

First off, to find out what version of Ghostscript you're running, use the following command:

gs --version

Red Hat distributions ship with Ghostscript v3.33 due to licensing restrictions on the Ghostscript engine (the Aladdin one, AFAIK). In order to really take advantage of your Epson Stylus, I highly recommend you upgrade to the latest version of Ghostscript, v5.10 as of this writing. For Red Hat, there are convenient RPMs for this in the "/contrib" directory of your favorite FTP site. Just be sure to grab the ones for your distribution libc (upto RH5) or glibc (RH5+). For other Linux distributions, check your own FTP site or grab the source from the Ghostscript home page and compile it yourself.

To print with this newest version of Ghostscript, you now use the "Uniprint Driver" to print to the Epson. This is shown in the second commandline up above. No longer do you use "-sDEVICE=stcolor" but rather "@stc.upp" instead.

Of course, printing with these commandlines is a pain in the butt. You certainly don't want to have to do this all the time. This is Linux! There's got to be a better way. I highly recommend you hit Zack's Uniprint Page which shows you how to really tweak your Red Hat setup to make this a completely clean, sano installation. It works with magic filters already setup, fully hooks up your queue, etc. Once this is setup, your printer will work just like a normal Red Hat installed printer and applications for the most part, will print out of the box without any modification unless your printer is setup as "lp1" or whatever (that is, not the default printer of "lp" - see /etc/printcap for more).

Conclusion

So, there it is. This is the current amount of information that I've got on the Stylus. I've found that the Linux setup prints better quality images than the current "official" Windoze driver. Maybe this is in part due to the Linuxer's passion for twiddling and hacking to make current hardware usable (usually to it's utmost capabilities) as opposed to the "wrap it up, ship it to the slew of Windoze users" mentality. Not that I'm accusing Epson of this, far from it -- but I think it's a fairly accurate statement regarding the industry in general. The beauty with Linux is that many people, having a wide variety of hardware, want to use what they've got, as opposed to "giving in" and running Windoze with it's take-it-or-leave-it mentality. As such, people developing the software for the hardware often have to reverse engineer stuff, and in many ways, the resulting product despite it's "backwards hacking" is better than your usual consumer end-product. It's been proven time and time again that manufacturers are conservative in the use of their product, when in reality there is great potential for better quality!

I will be adding details on third party refills, and more soon. Currently there is no direct support for the Epson Sylus PHOTO. You can use it, but probably not be able to take advantage of it's special modes. I don't have one, so I can't test it - and the driver is not listed in the latest devices.txt provided with Ghostscript.

Some Links

EPSON FAQ'S This is the official EPSON page for Color Stylus FAQ's.
EPSON Info This is the official EPSON page for [Stylus] product information.
Ghostscript Home The home page for Ghostscript, Ghostview and GSView.
Uniprint Page Hacking your Red Hat system to transparently use your Stylus!


All images are (C) 1994-2005 by Michael Holve