The One with the Thoughts of Frans

Epson Does Not Know How to Write Printer Drivers With Sane Defaults—Or Why Color "Enhancements" As An Opt-Out Are Bad

A couple of days ago, I wanted to print some photos on my Epson printer. I don’t do this often because I usually merely print text, but it is capable of it. I had always thought that the discrepancy between what was on my screen and what came out on paper was a matter of RGB to CYMK (or whatever my printer uses internally) conversion, but today I found out that it is merely a stupid driver. I am embarrassed that I only discovered this after utilizing the printer for several years, but in my defense, I have barely used it for printing pictures.

I’ll start off by showing the culprit. If you select some combination of a type of photo paper with one of the photo quality settings, PhotoEnhance is automatically checked. Despite being somewhat of a control freak in regard to my software and hardware, I wrongfully assumed that this meant some other kind of optimization in ink usage for photo paper as compared to normal paper. Hovering it quickly revealed my mistake: Enhances photos by optimizing color levels. Useful for low resolution images. EXCUSE ME!? I am not printing any low resolution images, and if I were, I would most certainly fix any potential color level issues myself prior to printing, if only because I could try various algorithms for blowing the picture up to a resolution more suitable for printing. Now it’s fine that this switch is there to save me such trouble if I happen to be printing low resolution imagery, but I am not doing any such thing. Tampering with it unasked could potentially have somewhat favorable results, somewhat detrimental results, or results that are so bad that they cause me to write this post.

Let’s start with exhibit one. A picture of us on the beach. Perhaps it could be made a little better by playing a bit with some color or brightness levels prior to printing, but I deemed it sufficiently decent.
Here is the first print-out I made of this picture. As you can see, the colors were made a little brighter, and the results of the PhotoEnhance feature were actually not too bad. It’s not the picture I wanted to be printed, but it’s close enough that I wasn’t suspecting anything to be fundamentally wrong. In this sense it’s comparable to the few pictures I printed previously.
This is the picture I printed later, without PhotoEnhance. Scanning it introduced some color distortions compared to the original picture, but it should nevertheless be clear that it’s closer to the original, i.e. what I wanted to be printed.
Here is the picture that sparked all of this. It’s a perfectly innocent picture of us standing at some random bridge in Amsterdam.
The monstrosity my printer made of this actually seems a touch less bad in the scanned version, but it should still be clear how horrible it is.
And finally, the same picture without PhotoEnhance. As before with the beach, most of the color differences with the original were actually introduced by scanning, and not by printing.

In conclusion, my printer is perfectly capable of producing very nice, approaching color perfect reproductions of photographs, but by default it creates something that made me think its photo printing capabilities were highly exaggerated for years. Since I didn’t buy it to print photos this was not an issue, but it’s certainly yet another example of a hardware manufacturer messing up their otherwise perfectly fine products with bad software.

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