The Epson Expression Photo XP-970 is a smart choice if you need large-format prints up to 11x17 inches/A3 in size, without spending over the odds on a more specialist 13x19-inch/A3+ pro-grade photo printer.
Indeed, based on six dye-based inks that add light cyan and light magenta to the basic CMYK mix, it’s more geared towards photo printing and lacks a pigment-based black ink favored for document printing. Even so, it makes a good stab at both mono and color documents as well as photo output, its versatility earning it a place in our best all-in-one printers buying guide.
Type: All-in-one, photo printer
Other functions: Scanner, copy
Max print size: 11 x 17 in
Display screen: 4.3-inch touchscreen
Connection type: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Ethernet
LCD preview screen: 4.3-inch touchscreen
Dimensions: 18.9 x 14 x 5.8 in
Weight: 19.4 lbs
Warranty: 1 year
All the latest Wi-Fi features are onboard with mobile printing from tablets and smartphones. It also supports for all sorts of specialty paper and can print directly on white-faced CDs and DVDs.
For all its benefits, the XP-970 is decidedly not portable. Weighing 19.4 lbs and measuring 18.9 x 14 x 5.8 inches in its standby configuration, it’s a stationary printer, and the lack of any battery option means you’re tied to wall power. That said, it’s not much larger than a standard 8.5-inch/A4 home inkjet printer and has a much smaller footprint than most other large-format photo printers. It is also easier to move, since other large-format printers tip the scales at closer to 30 or 40 lbs.
Matthew has been testing and reviewing printers for computing and photography magazines and websites for more than 30 years. A qualified electronics engineer, he previously worked as a studio and broadcast engineer for the BBC, bringing a solid technical background to the subject. He has also worked as the head of the technical publications department for a company making world-leading studio recording consoles, which included in-house printing of technical and user manuals.
For this review, Matthew spent an extensive amount of time testing the printer, creating test prints for all the different modes and using his own test chart to reveal its accuracy.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Design
Smartly turned out with a good-quality black plastic casing, the XP-970 packs a lot in to its relatively compact construction for an 11x17-inch/A3 printer. There’s a regular document scanner built into the lid, while a 4.3-inch color touchscreen has center stage on the hinged front panel, which slants up for easy viewing and standalone control. The paper output tray is motorized, extending automatically for printing.
Down below, there are two paper input cassettes. One is for regular document sizes of paper, the other is for smaller sizes of photo paper. For A3 printing, there’s a separate vertical paper input tray at the rear. The design also incorporates a memory card slot for standalone printing from memory cards, complete with a full-color preview on the touchscreen. Connectivity options include USB 2.0, Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Features
- 4.3-inch color touchscreen
- 8.5 x 11.7-inch color scanner
- 6-ink cartridge system
With six ink cartridges – black, cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan and light magenta – the Epson XP-970 is better equipped to produce true-to-life color than the average four-color inkjet printer. The flipside is that, without a pigment-based black ink, it’s less well suited to document printing. Even so, mono text look reasonably rich and crisp, compared with the relatively gray and feint output that you often get with exclusively dye-based printers.
A key feature of the XP-970 is that it can output 11x17-inch/A3 photos and documents. That should prove more than large enough for all of your snapshots and scrapbook photos and even full-page portraits, but if you plan to make larger prints for framing, it is a tad limited compared to other large-format printers out there. A range of popular borderless photo print sizes is available, from 3.5x5-inch up to and including the largest 11x17-inch format, as well as wide aspect ratio 16:9 sizes.
With support for photo paper of every kind – gloss, semi-gloss and matte – as well as brochure paper, scrapbook paper, iron-on transfer, self-adhesive sheets and plain old printer paper, it’s pretty versatile. There’s also a dedicated tray for printing directly onto white-faced CD and DVD discs.
The XP-970 has the added distinction of offering scan and copy capabilities, thanks to a built-in flatbed scanner. That’s pretty unusual for a large-format printer. The photo-friendly design has a two-piece hinged lid that lets you position a photo on the scanner, close the lid halfway and reposition the photo as necessary without opening it all the way. Direct scanning and copying is made simple by an intuitive onboard interface, utilizing the 4.3-inch color touchscreen. The only real catch is that you can’t scan or copy A3/11x17-inch photo and documents, as the scanner has a more regular format with a maximum scanning area of 8x5x11.7 inches.
The printer can be used to print from a computer or standalone, printing from PictBridge-enabled cameras and directly from a variety of media card formats, including SD, SDHC and SDXC; MemoryStick Duo; and CompactFlash.
Connecting the printer via Ethernet, USB or Wi-Fi is all relatively simple, and you can print from mobile devices using Epson’s iPrint app. Cloud-based printing and scanning is also supported, with the likes of Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print and Android-based Mopria Print Services.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Setup and usability
The downsized design of the printer, at least for a large-format model, extends to the packaging. The main cardboard box is recyclable and expanded polystyrene packing pieces are kept to a minimum. The printer comes complete with an installation CD-ROM with an intuitive setup procedure, although that’ll naturally be of no use if you have a recent computer with no CD-ROM/DVD drive. It’s not really a drawback, as drivers and supporting software for the printer are easily downloadable from Epson’s website.
The overall setup procedure is pretty quick and easy, including slotting the six individual ink cartridges into their holders. The same goes for hooking up the printer to your Wi-Fi network, if you’re not using a USB or wired Ethernet connection.
Typical of inkjet printers, the XP-970 is supplied with ‘setup cartridges’. These have a similar capacity to regular rather than ‘XL’ high-yield cartridges but given that transit fluid needs to be flushed from the print heads during installation, you don’t get much ink left over for actual printing after completing the setup procedure. Suffice it to say that you’ll need to buy replacement standard or high-yield cartridges sooner rather than later.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Print quality
Photo print quality is rich and vibrant for color photos on glossy, semi-gloss and luster photo papers. Thanks to the smaller molecules of dye-based inks compared with pigment inks, the ink sinks through the protective top layers of these photo papers completely, and prints are pretty much touch-dry even as they exit the printer.
The smoothness of graduations in blue skies and skin tones is excellent, color accuracy is very good, and there’s impressive tonal range. As with any dye-based printer, output on matte media is less impressive than with a pigment-based printer, but it still looks pretty passable.
Automatic enhancement is available via the printer driver and onboard touchscreen interface for ‘improving’ the quality of photo prints. This can work well for poorly exposed photo images but can also tend to make the output look a little overly saturated and vivid. If you’re editing your photos on a reasonably accurate screen, you’re best off disabling the auto enhancement option.
Black & white photo output is fairly free of unwanted color casts but rather lacking in richness and drama. That’s only to be expected as the XP-970 lacks additional grey cartridges, as featured in top-end large-format photo printers like Canon’s PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAF PRO-300, and the Epson SureColor P700 and larger P900 printers, the latter with a 17-inch/A2 paper width. The XP-970 also lacks an additional matte photo black cartridge, more ideal for giving really deep blacks on matte photo paper and fine art media.
Print speeds aren’t exactly quick for a dye-based printer but the XP-970 certainly isn’t sluggish. In our tests, print times in standard and high quality photo modes for 6x4-inch borderless prints worked out to 15 seconds and 58 seconds respectively, and either 1 minute 2 seconds or 2 minutes 40 seconds for A4. Full A3 borderless photos took 1 minute 55 seconds in standard quality mode and 4 minutes 35 seconds at the high quality setting.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Care and maintenance
The XP-970 isn’t built to be a mobile printer and, as with any similar inkjet, it’s best to install it and keep it in one fixed place as far as possible, rather than often moving it around. Bear in mind that you’ll need extra space around the printer when it’s in use, with the front cover hinged up and the paper trays extended. The overall size stretches from 18.9 x 14 x 5.8 inches to 18.9 x 26.3 x 11.6 inches so, while the width stays the same, the depth and height increase significantly.
There’s not much in the way of maintenance chores. To avoid ink drying in the print heads and causing blockages, it’s best to switch on the printer and create a color print every few days, even if it’s just a document on plain paper that uses different colors in small amounts. A more thorough approach is to run the nozzle check routine via the printer driver or touchscreen interface. If you notice any imperfections in the test print, run a cleaning cycle and repeat the nozzle check.
To optimize accuracy, it’s also a good idea to run the print head alignment routine every few months, even if the printer is permanently situated in one place. If you transport the printer, then run the print head alignment routine after setting it up in its new location.
Like most inkjet printers, the XP-970 is supplied with a ‘maintenance box’. This is basically an empty tank that’s used to hold any excess ink. It’s more than capable of holding all the flushed transit fluid and ink from the initial setup procedure and should only need replacing if you print a high volume of borderless photo prints, which causes small amounts of ink to extend beyond the edges of the paper, which is then deposited in the tank.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: Price and availability
- $330 / £230
The purchase price is very competitive, at least compared with slightly larger format 13x19-inch/A3+ specialist photo printers. However, more up-market printers like Canon’s PIXMA PRO-200 and imagePROGRAF PRO-300, and the Epson SureColor P700 are more sophisticated with a larger number of inks for enhanced color photo printing and significantly better black & white photo printing.
Running costs for ink cartridges are fairly reasonable. Adding Epson Premium Glossy photo paper into the equation, ink and paper averages out to around 45c/45p for 6x4-inch photo prints, and $1.50/£1.50 for A4. Going large, A3 glossy photo prints come out at around $4/£4 each. Even so, ink costs are a bit steep compared with most A3+ printers.
At around 4.8ml, standard ink cartridges are very low in capacity for a large-format printer. The same goes for Epson’s XL cartridges, which still only contain around 9.3ml on average. The actual amount differs from one color of ink to another. For photo printing you’ll usually find that the black cartridge lasts for ages, while the light magenta and light cyan run out very quickly. And with only 9.3ml in the tank compared with, for example, about 13ml in the cartridges of the competing Canon PIXMA PRO-200 dye-based printer, you can find yourself needing to change some cartridges very frequently. We drained a couple of the standard-capacity cartridges by creating just 12 A3 color photo prints.
Epson covers the Expression Photo XP-970 with a one-year warranty, which is standard for the category. The company offers tech support services through phone and email, as well as live chat on the Epson website. An online user manual lets you look up features and functions, while FAQs help you learn about the printer and solve common problems.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: User reviews
Most user reviews for the XP-970 are very favorable. People are generally impressed with the print quality for color photos on glossy, luster and semi-gloss paper, less so for color accuracy on plain paper and card. Most find the printer reliable but some have reported feint lines across prints caused by blocked nozzles in the ink heads, which require one or multiple cleaning cycles to be carried out. Some also complain that the printer is quite noisy in operation.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970: What the experts say
We think the Epson XP-970 is an ideal printer for people wanting to create relatively large-format color photo prints at up to 11x17 inches in size. That’s a close match for the 3:2 aspect ratio of DSLRs and most mirrorless system cameras.
Using just six dye-based inks, the XP-970 is best suited to color photo output on glossy, semi-gloss and luster photo papers. The lack of a matte photo black ink or multiple grey cartridges makes it a relatively poor choice for black & white photo printing, or for printing on matte photo paper and fine art media. Although predominantly a photo printer, the XP-970 makes a pretty good job of document printing although again, without a pigment based black ink, mono text is prone to smudging when printed onto plain paper or card.
Should you buy the Epson Expression Photo XP-970?
If you’re in the market for a large-format printer that’s relatively compact and lightweight, yet packed with additional features including a scanner and color touchscreen, the XP-970 is a good buy. The initial purchase price is competitive but even the XL, high-yield ink cartridges have a disappointingly small capacity, so running costs work out a bit on the pricey side, especially compared with Epson EcoTank or Canon MegaTank printers, in which the print heads are fed by large tanks replenished with bottled ink.
Photo print quality is very good for color images outputted on glossy, semi-gloss and luster photo paper. It’s less impressive for matte photo paper and relatively poor for retaining the drama of high-contrast black & white photo images.
How does the Epson Expression Photo XP-970 compare to competitors?
As a truly ‘all-in-one’ large-format printer for both document and photo printing, the XP-970 loses out to the Epson EcoTank ET-8550. While still a six-ink printer, the latter includes a pigment-based black ink as well as CMYK plus grey dye-based inks. The net result is more convincing and smudge-resistant mono text documents, while photo print quality is still very good. The ET-8550 is pricier to buy but running costs are much lower, based on bottled ink for replenishing the high-volume ‘EcoTanks’. The ET-8550 also delivers upsized output up to 13x19 inches/A3+ and retains a document sized scanner for direct scanning and copying.
For the ultimate in photo quality in large-format 13x19-inch/A3+ printing on glossy, semi-gloss and luster papers, the dye-based Canon PIXMA PRO-200 easily outclasses the XP-970, both for color output and even more so for black & white photos. For printing on matte photo paper and fine art media at sizes up to 13x19-inch/A3+ we’d go for the pigment ink-based Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300, which eases ahead of the competing Epson SureColor P700.
How we tested the Epson Expression Photo XP-970
Our testing process begins with unpacking and setting up the printer. We download and install the latest versions of drivers, then run nozzle check routines and, if required, print head cleaning cycles. We then carry out print head alignment procedures to ensure optimum accuracy. The printer manufacturers’ genuine, own-brand inks and photo papers are used throughout the entire testing procedure.
We create test prints from a wide range of mono and color documents, digital photos, including landscapes, portraits, and black & white images. Prints are made using standard color modes as well as optional enhancement features, offered with the printer. We also use our own specially created test chart to reveal each printer's accuracy in terms of color reproduction, tonal range, and the ability to deliver smooth graduations between subtle color variations.
For output speed, we measure the time taken to produce borderless 6x4-inch, A4, A3 and A3+ prints at various photo quality settings, where available with each printer that we test.