The Epson 1280 Printer is Here and Going Strong!

by Larry Cohn, Fun Faces Foto Gifts, May 1, 2002

The Epson 1280 printer (along with it's close cousins the 1270 and the 1290) is becoming one of the more compelling options for use with ink jet sublimation ink, for many reasons. First, at around $420-440 (from discount stores) for the printer, it is roughly half the price of an Epson 3000, with a smaller footprint, and offers 6 colors rather than 4. It is faster, and has a more advanced print head/printing technology allowing for higher resolution printing and variable dot sizes. This should result in more accurate imaging. At 13" wide printing, it offers a wider format than the 980, although not as wide as the 17" wide possible with the 3000. And since it is a newer model it is likely going to have a longer support life than the 3000's which are rumored to be on the verge of being discontinued soon, within maybe 6 months.

There are some potential disadvantages, however, to this printer. Because of it's smaller cartridge sizes, the fact that all five colors (not the black) are housed in one 5-color cart, and Epson's decision to incorporate chip technology into the cartridges on this printer, which are difficult and expensive to find suitable clones for, the cost for a set of ink jet dye sub ink cartridges will be more expensive on a "cost per mil" basis than that of a set of carts by the same ink vendor for, say, a 900/980 cartridge set. Because of the chips incorporated in the cartridges, any bulk setup will necessarily be a little more expensive and/or a little more cumbersome due to the needed "chip resetting" technique in order to reset the ink level indicator in the printer's memory.

So, with the Epson 1280 printer, the average effective cost per mil of your ink will roughly be double in price if you use carts only, compared to an Epson 980. Part of the reason for this is that more expensive "chipped" cartridges need to be used. Another, more important reason for this is that the cartridges only hold a small amount of ink, (especially the black!), and the average waste factor of the 5 color cartridge will be much higher than the average waste factor of the 3-color, higher capacity color cartridge of the 980.... (probably 50-60% waste factor, compared to maybe 25-30% for the tri-color 980 color cart.) The way to get around this problem is to set up the 1280 with a bulk setup. Doing this will reduce your average cost per mil of your ink to almost the same low cost as that for the 980.

When shopping around, obviously the biggest considerations are going to be to use the brand of ink that you are most comfortable with in terms of color quality and consistency, and to buy it from a vendor that gives you good support and technical backup. All that being said, it's always a good idea to keep the "ink cost per mil" in mind. One other important issue to consider is the quality of the color correction offered for this printer, especially since this is the first 6 color printer being widely offered for sublimation ink. Another issue is the method of doing a "chip reset" in the case of a bulk setup.

You have 5 vendors to choose from, and in all but one case, each vendor gives you the choice of going with cartridges or bulk. The exception is Sawgrass, who offers only a bulk setup at this time for the 1280.

Laser Reproductions 

Laser Reproductions offers their "Color Rite" cartridge set for $140 ($75 for 75 mils of color, and $65 for 25 mils of black).

They offer their version of a TAL (Tanks Alot) type of system, which they are calling the ColorRite Continuous Flow Ink System, for $100 over the price of the individual carts. An advantage of this type of system is that it should potentially save you time in your initial setup, as well as potentially minimize the risk of error, (compared to setting up a traditional bulk system), because it comes shipped to you with the lines already pre-filled and "vaccumized". There is also a bonus amount of ink in the lines which have been prefilled. (The advantages of this type of bulk system pertain to both Laser Reproduction's system and to the Color Factory's TAL version of this system).

In the case of the 3000 sized cart-based setup, the 3000 carts are $70 each x 6 carts = $420, the internal 1280 carts are $140 for the set, and the apparatus is $100, for a total system price of $660.

The bigger setup using the 9000 sized carts adds $55 per bigger cart x 6 carts = $330, so that system price is $990.

Then you need to order a cartridge reset CD directly from M.I.S. Associates, called the "Equalizer", for $20.

New color correction ICC's are now available for the use of their ink with the 1280 printer, and cost $35. These profiles have been designed by Bill Leek using the ColorVision Pro software and appropriate professional-grade color calibration tools.

The Color Factory 

The Color Factory is offering their "Sublibrite II" cartridge set for $150 ($90 for 75 mils of color and $60 for 18 mils of black). They are offering their "Tanks-Alot" bulk system for $30 over the price of the individual carts.

In the case of the 3000 sized cart-based setup, the 3000 carts are $70 each x 6 carts = $420, the internal 1280 carts are $150 for the set, and the apparatus is $30, for a total system of $600 for the initial setup cost.

The bigger setup using the 9000 sized carts adds $55 per bigger cart x 6 carts = $330, so that system is $930 initial setup cost.

With this setup as well, you need to order a cartridge reset "Equalizer" CD directly from M.I.S. Associates for $20.According to Judy at the Color Factory, M.I.S. Associates will be soon (6 weeks from now) coming out with a better, easier to use, reset tool, as an alternative, that will cost $35.

The Color Factory is not offering any new ICC's or color corrections for use with the 1280, since they stated to me that their existing profiles and color corrections for the 980 and the 3000 work just fine for the 1280 (?!) Anyway, their existing color corrections are free with ink purchase.

Tropical Graphics 

Tropical Graphics sells their "ArTainium" carts for the 1280, but they only sell the bulk ink, not the bulk apparatus.

While I'm a bit less enthusiastic about buying the ink from one place and the bulk setup from another, in terms of support down the road, I am confident that Tropical will provide proper support for this setup, since this is the setup that they recommend.

The cartridge sets are $140 for the set ($75 for 75 mils of color, $65 for 20 mils of black).

If you want a bulk setup for use with their ink, they refer you to "No More Carts". This company no longer sells directly to customers, so I looked up their dealers, one of which is Media Street. Media Street calls the (No More Carts 1280 bulk system) the "Niagara" model N-1270, which sells for $235. The nice feature of this setup is that you do not need to buy or use any separate reset software. The system continuously sends a "full ink" signal to the printer.

So the bulk setup is going to cost $235 plus the price of the bulk ArTainium ink. If we include the cost of 125 mils of each color for $58 each, the ink cost would be $58 x 6 = $348, plus the $239 for the bulk setup = $587 for 750 mils of ink, for the initial setup cost.

They do have new ICC profiles written for the 1280 printer, for $35.

U.S. Sublimation 

U.S.Sublimation is offering their Rotech ink cartridge sets for the 1280 printer for $138 per set ($74 for 75 mils of color and $64 for 18 mils of black).

I talked to Jim at Ink Soup and was told that he is going to be stocking a bulk system similar to the "Niagara" system described above, for $269, which will have a continuous reset feature built in. So the bulk setup in this case will cost $269 plus the cost of the bulk ink. If we include the cost of 125 mils of each color for $58 each, the ink cost would be $58 x 6 = $348, plus the $269 for the bulk setup = $617 for 750 mils of ink, for the initial setup cost.

He is offering what sounds like an advancement to an ICC for the 1280, which he calls the "Colortec Color Management System Plus". He sells it for $25, or free with the first ink order. This correction software offers a choice of 14 different embedded ICC profiles for use with different substrates. He said he's selling it, it works, but he's also still in the process of "tweaking" it.


Sawgrass Systems is offering their Sublijet XL ink for the 1280 , but only in a bulk setup. They are offering the same kind of bulk setup, called the "Quick Connect" system, as they do for the Epson 980, with one major difference.

They are not feeding the ink lines to dampers installed in the printer (where the cartridges normally go) like they do in the 980 Quick Connect system, but instead, are feeding the lines to an internal set of empty cartridges, which makes their 1280 bulk setup similar in operation to the other bulk setups offered; for example, the Niagara system mentioned above. According to Sawgrass, the reason they are using a chipped cartridge set inside the printer, as opposed to dampers, is to get around the "ink reset" problem. The nice thing about the 980 damper-based system is that there is lots of room for error; if you get air in the lines, it will be dissipated through the damper on that line. The 1280 setup with the internal carts is going to require a more critical installation in order to get the proper vacuum with no air bubbles. Sawgrass told me that they expect customers to call them so that they can help their customers walk through the installation process properly.

When you need to reset the ink levels with this system you simply turn off the printer for 30 seconds and then turn it back on. No special software or resetting device is needed, since the chips in the internal carts are programmed to do this for you.

The ink bags are the same as those in the 980 Quick Connect system, except for the 2 additional colors. Therefore, the bags each hold 85 mils of ink.

Make your own bulk setup?

One note: using the above mentioned Niagara bulk setup from Media Street, with the Epson 1280 printer, you could theoretically use the bulk sublimation ink of your choice, assuming that you have a 1280 color correction for that ink.

Larry Cohn

Copyright © 2002 Larry Cohn. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author.  All trademarks mentioned above are owned by their respective companies. 

Note: For individual cost per mil of each ink choice for the Epson 1280, please see the "Dye Sublimation Ink Cost Comparison Chart" on DyeSub.org) .   We suggest that if you are interested in purchasing either the Epson 3000 or the Epson 1280 for dye sublimation transfer printing that you also read the article "Interview with MegaSubMan - Epson 1280 vs Epson 3000".

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