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Accessories Reviews

EPSON Stylus Photo R2880 Review

Thomas Berg (twberg)


Keywords: epson, stylus, photo, r2880, printer, paper, non_nikon

Show pages (9 Pages)

Index

 
1. Introduction
2. The hardware arrives
2.1. Contents of box and selection of paper media
2.2. Hardware preparation and installation
2.3. Printer driver basic set-up
2.4. Starting up the printer and initial test prints
3. EPSON software
3.1. Printer driver options
3.1.1. Important remark for users of Windows XP:
3.2. Print Plug-In accessory software
3.3. Other EPSON software
4. The printer at work
4.1. Interface with Photoshop CS4
4.1.1. Excursion: align image colours with printable gamut
4.2. Interface with Photoshop Elements
4.3. Interface with Nikon Capture NX2
4.4. Interface with Nikon ViewNX
4.5. Interface with Fujifilm Hyper-Utility Software HS-V3
4.6. Feeding paper media
4.7. Printer Noise and storing prints
 
 
5. Print quality
5.1. Available EPSON paper media
5.2. Media handling
5.2.1. before the print
5.2.2. after the print
5.3. Glossy vs. Matte and the exchange of inks
5.4. What kind of test images were used
5.5. Tonal richness and smoothness B&W
5.6. Colour richness and colour transitions
5.7. Comments on selected papers
5.7.1. Premium Glossy Photo Paper
5.7.2. Premium Luster Photo Paper,
5.7.3. Archival Matte Pape
5.7.4. Premium Semi Gloss Photo Paper
5.7.5. Traditional Photo Paper
5.7.6. Water Colour Paper Radiant White
5.7.7. Enhanced Matte Paper
5.7.8. Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper
5.7.9. Velvet Fine Art Paper
6. My conclusions
6.1. Subjective print quality impressions in relation to expectations
6.1.1. Undeniable Gloss Differential
6.1.2. Undeniable precision in resolving power
6.1.3. Undeniable advantage in Black&White printing
6.1.4. Bronzing (or the lack of, to be precise)
6.1.5. Colour Inconstancy – what a phrase!
6.2. Consumption of paper and ink
6.3. Would I buy one?
7. Famous and infamous last words

If you like photographs on paper and you like to hold newspaper-sized prints of your images, the EPSON R2880 and Pro3800 photo printers could be right for you.

These printers are even more suited to your needs if you answer "yes" to these questions:
1. Do you like to have control over your photography by making all image processing steps yourself?
2. Do you dislike waiting for the postman to deliver mail ordered prints a week later than anticipated?
3. Do you want prints to last without colours fading (just like good old days of chemical photo paper printing) and you are aware that pigmented ink has the edge over dye ink in several respects?
4. Do you know the basics of colour management, perhaps with experience working in front of a calibrated screen?
5. Are you not afraid of modifying colour management settings in your operating system, image processing applications and (ultimately) the printer driver?

(You haven't got the slightest idea why one would want to print at all and read this review? Skip to paragraph 7 please!)

By way of introduction, I'm Thomas Berg, fellow Nikonian and I consider myself a serious amateur photographer. Recently I was given the opportunity by EPSON Europe and Nikonians to exercise with and review the EPSON Stylus Photo R2880 desktop printer. In this review, I will not mimic the style and contents of technical reviews which you can easily find using search machines. I will concentrate on aspects that concern ease or complexity of use, how streamlined the workflow is and how well or bad it interacts with selected image processing software. I will try to give answers to questions that I often find unanswered when I read reviews rather than present small bits of random observations. So here we go. Please have a comfortable seat and hope you won't fall asleep!

 

 

First of all, I apologize to the MAC user's community for this review being based on Windows operating system, as I still live in a world full of Windows. I feel the urge to apologize right now as the normal third step after opening the box and preparing the printer hardware would be to install the printer drivers onto the host computers. Alternatively, this can be Step #1 since EPSON makes the drivers available for download without limitation.
In my case, these will be a desktop PC running under XP and a laptop PC which runs either under VISTA or Windows 7.

The printer drivers can be downloaded beforehand, which I did. Installing the driver prior to having the printer hardware available proved to be a less than ideal step, just like queue jumping. The reason is: during driver installation a scan of the available ports is performed, seeking a connected R2880 printer. Obviously this quest must fail in absence of the printer and then the driver makes an assumption by selecting one of the available computer ports. In the case of my desktop computer, LPT1 was selected despite the fact that this was physically a parallel port with a vintage HP LaserJet 4P being assigned to it. It was not too much trouble to rectify this undesired change, however I did not rave about the drivers behaviour of allocating an already allocated (and technically useless) port and therefore, dear readers, be advised better not to invoke the driver installation if the printer is not in your possession and ready to connect.

All right, since we possibly don't have that printer at hand right now, let me spend some thoughts on which printer could be appropriate for which character of photographer.

I spent a day at the EPSON Europe subsidiary in Meerbusch, Germany, where I was briefed on the R2880 model and the differences in comparison to the Pro3800 model.
Frankly, the major differences from the standpoint of an end user are the maximum paper sheet size and the volume of investment, which of course also holds true for consumables.
From the marketing point of view, both devices target at the "advanced amateurs" and "small business professionals"; potential customers with relatively low printing volume might consider the R2880 and potential customers with medium printing volume should rather consider the Pro3800.
The R2880 prints 11*17 inch / DIN A3 / A3+ (13*19")
The Pro3800 prints 17*22 inch / DIN A2

Let's do a little math: the Pro3800 can roughly print twice the paper area. The cartridges for the R2880 feature 11.4 ml and for the Pro3800 they are 80 ml. 23ml would obviously be the minimum cartridge volume for a Pro3800 to deliver the same productivity as the R2880. Consequently, with 80ml the Pro3800 can work longer and harder without cartridge replacement. And from that it is easy to conclude, the Pro3800 target audience is expected to print higher volumes and have deeper pockets than clients of the R2880.
I was told that both devices are optimized for print quality and also for work-idle-tolerance. That means, these two models feature (by design)a better tolerance to infrequent utilization and random peak print jobs. Compare it to printing a batch of photo calendars one day before Christmas, since Christmas always comes suddenly and hits the unprepared.

In preparation of this review I happened to read more than once that the upper class PRO4880 was recommended over both the R2880 and the PRO3800 for two reasons: a cartridge volume of 220ml, driving down the ink-per-volume cost, and "large sheets printing addiction". I will let you know later, if I feel at risk of any kind of "printing addiction".
For the moment the conclusion can only be: the PRO4880 is designed for frequent printing and is not designed for idle periods counting in weeks. Doing so will increase the risk of dried ink nozzle blockage and ink cluster formation, causing even more nozzle blockage.

Talking about nozzle blockage, this is a kind of complaint that can easily be read about throughout internet communities. The internet has a long lasting memory and any joker can write and publish any garbage just as I can. The problem lies in separating truth from fiction (and in some rare cases even stupidity).

EPSON now provides the fourth generation of pigmented inks and I trust the statements of EPSON concerning the improvements achieved in relation to reduced pigment cluster formation and subsequent nozzle blockage. I also trust many of the reports about nozzle blockage and failed nozzle cleaning, but how can I know for sure that each author handled everything properly, no third-party-ink was mixed with genuine ink (which can trigger undesired chemical or physical reactions) and the report is not based on experience with a now obsolete generation of ink and/or printer?
In most cases I can't, as much as you dear readers cannot know if I am not presenting a biased review because some interested party has offered to sponsor my next holidays at the South Pole. You will be surprised, this is not the case.
I will solely publish my personal findings, unbiased, as I would expect any other fellow Nikonians reviewer to do; however you can only rely on my word. With that much said, I personally own a Canon iP6700D printer (dye ink system) for several years and I am happy with it.

p>If you like photographs on paper and you like to hold newspaper-sized prints of your images, the EPSON R2880 and Pro3800 photo printers could be right for you.
These printers are even more suited to your needs if you answer "yes" to these questions:
1. Do you like to have control over your photography by making all image processing steps yourself??
2. Do you dislike waiting for the postman to deliver mail ordered prints a week later than anticipated?
3. Do you want prints to last without colours fading (just like good old days of chemical photo paper printing) and you are aware that pigmented ink has the edge over dye ink in several respects?
4. Do you know the basics of colour management, perhaps with experience working in front of a calibrated screen?
5. Are you not afraid of modifying colour management settings in your operating system, image processing applications and (ultimately) the printer driver?

(You haven't got the slightest idea why one would want to print at all and read this review? Skip to paragraph 7 please!)

By way of introduction, I'm Thomas Berg, fellow Nikonian and I consider myself a serious amateur photographer. Recently I was given the opportunity by EPSON Europe and Nikonians to exercise with and review the EPSON Stylus Photo R2880 desktop printer. In this review, I will not mimic the style and contents of technical reviews which you can easily find using search machines. I will concentrate on aspects that concern ease or complexity of use, how streamlined the workflow is and how well or bad it interacts with selected image processing software. I will try to give answers to questions that I often find unanswered when I read reviews rather than present small bits of random observations. So here we go. Please have a comfortable seat and hope you won't fall asleep!

First of all, I apologize to the MAC user's community for this review being based on Windows operating system, as I still live in a world full of Windows. I feel the urge to apologize right now as the normal third step after opening the box and preparing the printer hardware would be to install the printer drivers onto the host computers. Alternatively, this can be Step #1 since EPSON makes the drivers available for download without limitation.
In my case, these will be a desktop PC running under XP and a laptop PC which runs either under VISTA or Windows 7.

The printer drivers can be downloaded beforehand, which I did. Installing the driver prior to having the printer hardware available proved to be a less than ideal step, just like queue jumping. The reason is: during driver installation a scan of the available ports is performed, seeking a connected R2880 printer. Obviously this quest must fail in absence of the printer and then the driver makes an assumption by selecting one of the available computer ports. In the case of my desktop computer, LPT1 was selected despite the fact that this was physically a parallel port with a vintage HP LaserJet 4P being assigned to it. It was not too much trouble to rectify this undesired change, however I did not rave about the drivers behaviour of allocating an already allocated (and technically useless) port and therefore, dear readers, be advised better not to invoke the driver installation if the printer is not in your possession and ready to connect.

All right, since we possibly don't have that printer at hand right now, let me spend some thoughts on which printer could be appropriate for which character of photographer.

 

 

I spent a day at the EPSON Europe subsidiary in Meerbusch, Germany, where I was briefed on the R2880 model and the differences in comparison to the Pro3800 model.
Frankly, the major differences from the standpoint of an end user are the maximum paper sheet size and the volume of investment, which of course also holds true for consumables.
From the marketing point of view, both devices target at the "advanced amateurs" and "small business professionals"; potential customers with relatively low printing volume might consider the R2880 and potential customers with medium printing volume should rather consider the Pro3800.
The R2880 prints 11*17 inch / DIN A3 / A3+ (13*19")
The Pro3800 prints 17*22 inch / DIN A2

Let's do a little math: the Pro3800 can roughly print twice the paper area. The cartridges for the R2880 feature 1 1.4 ml and for the Pro3800 they are 80 ml. 23ml would obviously be the minimum cartridge volume for a Pro3800 to deliver the same productivity as the R2880. Consequently, with 80ml the Pro3800 can work longer and harder without cartridge replacement. And from that it is easy to conclude, the Pro3800 target audience is expected to print higher volumes and have deeper pockets than clients of the R2880.
I was told that both devices are optimized for print quality and also for work-idle-tolerance. That means, these two models feature (by design)a better tolerance to infrequent utilization and random peak print jobs. Compare it to printing a batch of photo calendars one day before Christmas, since Christmas always comes suddenly and hits the unprepared.

In preparation of this review I happened to read more than once that the upper class PRO4880 was recommended over both the R2880 and the PRO3800 for two reasons: a cartridge volume of 220ml, driving down the ink-per-volume cost, and "large sheets printing addiction". I will let you know later, if I feel at risk of any kind of "printing addiction".
For the moment the conclusion can only be: the PRO4880 is designed for frequent printing and is not designed for idle periods counting in weeks. Doing so will increase the risk of dried ink nozzle blockage and ink cluster formation, causing even more nozzle blockage.

Talking about nozzle blockage, this is a kind of complaint that can easily be read about throughout internet communities. The internet has a long lasting memory and any joker can write and publish any garbage just as I can. The problem lies in separating truth from fiction (and in some rare cases even stupidity).

EPSON now provides the fourth generation of pigmented inks and I trust the statements of EPSON concerning the improvements achieved in relation to reduced pigment cluster formation and subsequent nozzle blockage. I also trust many of the reports about nozzle blockage and failed nozzle cleaning, but how can I know for sure that each author handled everything properly, no third-party-ink was mixed with genuine ink (which can trigger undesired chemical or physical reactions) and the report is not based on experience with a now obsolete generation of ink and/or printer?
In most cases I can't, as much as you dear readers cannot know if I am not presenting a biased review because some interested party has offered to sponsor my next holidays at the South Pole. You will be surprised, this is not the case.
I will solely publish my personal findings, unbiased, as I would expect any other fellow Nikonians reviewer to do; however you can only rely on my word. With that much said, I personally own a Canon iP6700D printer (dye ink system) for several years and I am happy with it.


EPSON Europe sent me one of their devices out of the company's pool of printers, so it was not exactly in the same condition as a brand new sample from the local dealer. Namely, one partly used set of print cartridges was already installed.
One particularly interesting feature of this printer is the use of two different grey inks in addition to black. These Light Key (LK) and LightLight Key (LLK) named non-colour inks reflect the K in CMYK in more than a symbolic manner; they enable composing black-and-white prints almost without the addition of colour ink. Therefore, colour inks need to be added to B&W prints only for correction of colour cast and only in homoeopathic quantity.
This gives enough reason to expect an outstanding ability to produce black-and-white prints.

2.1. Contents of box and selection of paper media

The supplied box contained merely the printer along with a complete set of spare ink cartridges in addition to the already installed ink. Besides the extra ink, Epson generously supplied a large variety of paper media, some in A4 size and others in A3 size for this review. The exact paper types were:

Size DIN A4 (11.7 * 8.25 inch):
• Premium Glossy Photo Paper, wide colour gamut
• Premium Luster Photo Paper, medium semi-gloss with apparently highly isotropic texture, reflection and texture grain don't exhibit any preference versus viewing direction
• Archival Matte Paper, absolutely white and "dead matte" characteristic, no glance from any viewing angle, media is not acid-free
• Premium Semi-gloss Photo Paper, EPSON label imprinted on back side, fine grain texture, relatively matte compared to Luster or Traditional, most silky-smooth appearance
• Traditional Photo Paper, most glossy of the semi-gloss Epson papers, surface texture appears somewhat "brushed" in portrait direction (longitudinal structured), hence possibly less well suited for mixed presentations of both portrait and landscape format prints

Size DIN A3+ (19 * 13 inch):
• Premium Luster Photo Paper, see above comment
• Traditional Photo Paper, see above comment
• Water Colour Paper Radiant White, a paper with slightly yellowish tint and a texture that reminds me of the thick paper for watercolour paintings during school time. Not acid-free and not counting as "Fine Art" although you should feed it like Fine Art media
• Enhanced Matte Paper, same "dead matte" appeal as Archival Matte; actually at a very late stage of this review I learned there are two names for one product
• Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper, the name indicates it already, this got to be the smoothest of all Epson Fine Art matte papers. No visible texture or preference for reflection, "dead matte"
• Velvet Fine Art Paper, a paper with a relatively strong texture which reminds me more of hand-made paper than anything velvet. Probably great for B/W portraits.

I also received Premium Glossy Photo Paper in 16:9 aspect ratio, sized like a panoramic postcard (181 * 102 mm).

 

 

2.2. Hardware preparation and installation
There is not much to say about hardware preparation other than you will need to clear lot of space on your desk. Actually, when in operation the printer consumes about half of my desk or the equivalent of more than two sheets of A3+ paper. Fortunately, the power supply input is done by a socket which helps handling a lot. No hassle with firmly attached cables. As for the data link, a standard USB cable with type B plug for the printer is required. In order to maintain space on the desk it might be a good idea to locate the printer on a separate shelf and connect via long USB cable or wireless print server.
Since my review sample arrived with pre-installed ink cartridges, only the mains and data connections were necessary to come to a working state. Not even a five-minute exercise until operational readiness was achieved.

2.3. Printer driver basic set-up
If one connects a new device to a Windows machine, the driver wizard pops up. Upon recommendation by my EPSON representative, I did not insert a driver CD but downloaded the latest drivers from the EPSON website support section.
The minimum required part to be downloaded is the printer driver itself; select your operating system from the drop-down list and fetch the driver version with the highest version ID.
While you are there, also fetch the Print Plug-In for Photoshop (assuming you work with Photoshop or PS Elements, otherwise it is pointless).
And while you are still there, check if there are updated ICC paper profiles which may be of interest for you.
Unzip the driver and invoke the installation (locate and click Setup). Then follow the messages from the driver installation routine and the Windows wizard, which will probably pop up again once you printer is powered up again, as requested during the scan for attached printers phase.
At the end of the short lasting installation, the R2880 is set as default printer and ready for use. There is no need to reboot the computer. The majority of EPSON paper profiles are automatically installed during the printer driver setup. Updated or new profiles may be installed (or manually copied, to be precise) separately from downloadable ZIP files.

Windows7 (RC Build 7100) detects the attached printer and immediately performs a driver installation, leaving the user the impression that the downloadable EPSON driver is not required. Wrong. Win7 treats the printer like a vintage ESC/P print language device, which does by far not unleash the power of that printer. Just install the downloaded driver package; it works almost as fine as with XP and VISTA with the exception that the USB port scan of the installation routine did not detect the printer so I had to define the port manually. Slightly annoying, it was necessary to switch to the Windows control panel and remove the "EPSON ESC/P" printer from the list in order to make the R2880 appear properly. Hopefully this nuisance disappears from Win7 before the final version starts to sell.

For users of Photoshop, the free Print Plug-In is a very nice tool, a must-have in my opinion.
On my machines, I installed it for both CS4 and Elements 6. In case of doubt, the software should be installed in the "Automation" folder of Photoshop and will be accessible under "File - Automation - Epson Print Plug-In".
It runs as a stand-alone application, fetches the selected pictures into its browser panel (the leftmost window) and that's it for the moment. I must admit, the appearance of the Print Plug-In is, at first sight, just as puzzling as the first launch of Photoshop. Lots of switches, checkboxes, dropdown lists and no clue what to do next.
Well, I will have to find my way through it by means of the help file, I suppose. Thanks to EPSON, the brand new Whitepaper provides all instructions needed to get going and I will add some in paragraph 3.2...

2.4. Starting up the printer and initial test prints
Basic printing should not be a problem for anybody. It starts to get challenging when a particular image needs to be transferred onto paper while retaining the same striking appeal and emotion as when you see it on the monitor. It takes quite a lot of steps to perform that task satisfactorily, where colour management and colour gamut of the involved devices are of key importance.
This review is not meant to provide a turn-key solution to setting up colour management and enable printing all sort of pictures flawless, however it is my goal to provide some recipes for success.
Please have a look at the recent EPSON Whitepaper on Printers of the UltraChrome K3 ink family, which guides you through the cliffs and shoals of colour management settings in the bespoke software.
It is quite essential to work with proper colour management settings throughout the entire chain of image capture and processing. The main reason is the mismatches in colour gamut between most monitors (sRGB colour space) and ink printer capabilities. Relative to sRGB and AdobeRGB gamut, ink printers fall short in reproducing saturated cyan/blue and magenta colours; this is why blue skies often appear much paler on the print than on the monitor. There are ways to bypass that problem, which I will discuss later. Also relative to sRGB colour gamut, ink printers exhibit extended green-yellow colours, covering about the same range as the AdobeRGB gamut. Basically, it makes sense to work in AdobeRGB colour space rather than sRGB colour space in order to exploit the full gamut provided by the printer.

Here you see a colour gamut visualization of sRGB and two R2880 paper profiles: 

2_4starting

Before wasting the first sheet of paper, I ran a nozzle check on the printer. It turned out that numerous nozzles of the cyan (C) and Light Key (LK) ink were in bad state. In total, the printer reported three ink cartridges as almost empty: LLK, LK and C. The driver utility refused to perform a nozzle cleaning session, so I had no alternative other than exchanging the empty cartridges.
Cartridge exchange is quite easy, just follow the EPSON instructions. Press the middle button with the droplet symbol, open the top lid and wait for the carrier to reach parking position. Unlatch the lid and extract the cartridge which is indicated by the flashing LED. Fetch the replacement cartridge and shake it well while the vacuum bag is still unopened. Shaking mixes pigments and solvent nicely and ensures that potential pigment cluster formation due to storage is dissolved. Then, rip the vacuum bag, remove the yellow tape flag and insert the cartridge. This is a clean exercise since the ink outlet of the cartridge is still covered by a transparent foil. Don't remove that one, it gets automatically perforated when the cartridge is inserted.

After ink replacement, I repeated the nozzle test twice, hoping that I might get away with that but there were still missing lines in the test print. So I invoked the nozzle cleaning, knowing that this spills ink which is wasted forever. That helped, the final nozzle test confirmed all nozzles to be working as expected. Of course, for nozzle maintenance, regular copy paper is the best choice.

All together, it took me six nozzle test cycles and one cleaning cycle to be confidently prepared for the first real image printout. Since such nozzle problem never re appeared during the evaluation period, I assume this was triggered by the transportation with empty cartridges, possibly allowing air to penetrate the print head.


3.1. Printer driver options
The default settings of the printer driver are, in my humble opinion, slightly off the scope of use for such a device: I would prefer to see "Quality" as default for the print processing rather than "Speed" and I think that AdobeRGB makes more sense for the default colour space setting than sRGB. Again, this is just my opinion. If I was to procure such a printer it would be because of its promised print quality and colour gamut advantages. So, why not start with quality-oriented driver settings right from scratch?
Admittedly, this is a minor issue. It just makes me wonder what EPSON considers the target audience for this product. The driver gives enough options to modify the settings according to personal preference and save different settings with labels of your choice.
The options for individual adjustments are plenty, albeit not confusing. EPSON does not provide consumer-oriented features like automatic image enhancements, saturation boosting and similar. Obviously, EPSON expects the customers of such printers to be skilled enough to process their photographs to a level where the driver should not apply any kind of automatic "enhancement."
With the exception of the mentioned settings for print quality and colour space, I found all driver defaults very reasonable, allowing me to perform straight printouts right out of the box and a bare minimum of nasty surprises. There is no need to walk through a jungle of driver features, however this is always a wise way to get acquainted with something new.

 

 

For my assessments, I utilized the Adobe CMM in conjunction with Photoshop CS4 and Elements 6 and stayed with the driver default CMM settings for Nikon and Fujifilm software.

3.1.1. Important remark for users of Windows XP:
Whenever you invoke a print from your picture editor (normally "File" -> "Print" or Ctrl-P shortcut), make sure the printer driver settings match the pending job, which needs to be done through the page layout (Ctrl-Shift-P shortcut) and subsequently manoeuvre right down to "Printer" –> "Printer settings". This opens the printer driver window. Check the settings each time before you print! It is of no help accessing the printer driver from the Windows level; you must access the driver through the application and set the paper characteristics correctly using the page presets.
The a.m. technique works with Photoshop, PS Elements, ViewNX, Capture NX2 and probably other software which utilizes the page layout functionality of Windows XP.
Users of Windows Vista and Win7 may relax. This trap does not exist any more.

3.2. Print Plug-In accessory software
The installation process under WinXP is straightforward and bears no surprises. After invoking setup, a read-me text window opens, which basically informs about version incompatibilities.
The installation process under Vista behaves slightly different by giving the option to specify the installation folder for the main part of the application. However, the Plug-In part of the software is installed in the standard plug-in folder of Photoshop.
To my surprise, the installation under Windows7 (Build 7100) behaves exactly as with WinXP; no puzzling pop-up window concerning target installation directory.

It is no problem to install the Print Plug-In for several versions of Photoshop, in my case CS4 and Elements 6, just invoke the setup routine once again and select for which version the installation shall take place. Unfortunately, under Windows7 the plug-in does not appear in the "Automation" menu of Elements 6 despite it installs seemingly correct. There is no such issue with CS4, fortunately.

To eliminate any confusion: everything worked properly under Windows versions XP and VISTA. Windows7 RC Build 7100 is a pre-release version under evaluation and the observed malfunctions just prove that yet not everything works flawless. The exception to the rule is commented here.

I do not intend to blow this review up with an in-depth presentation of the Print Plug-In for Photoshop. EPSON provides an excellent introduction to this truly helpful tool in their Whitepaper.
I just want to show you how easy it is to create personal layouts, save them and utilize them just like the layouts predefined by EPSON.
An easy way to create a user-defined print template is to select one image with the intended aspect ratio and invoke the Print Plug-In.

9_screen

1) Now we have this image present in the browser. In the Layout, select the Free-form tab and tick the "by File Information" button. Drag the sample image onto the template and rotate it if necessary. Eventually, it should look like what you see on the screen capture. Note that the generation of my layout template is subject to the overall page size selection, which is here set to DIN A4 size. Also note that the sample image has been aligned to centered by activating the "Center" button in the "position" row!

10_screen

2) Now that the sample is centered and correctly oriented, its size shall be adjusted. Deactivate the "by File Information" button in favour of "by Size", select "User defined" and - important - activate the aspect ratio lock button. Next, enter the desired true print size for either Height or Width in the appropriate input field. This results in the scaled preview of the sample image. 

11_screen

3) Next, de select the "Center" button and modify the X- or Y-Shift as desired. In the example, I shifted the left edge of the portrait format print by 22mm, counting from the left edge of the A4 sheet to the edge of the actual picture. The aim was to mimic a layout that my Canon printer driver holds available and which I use quite often in order to create albums. Admittedly, this EPSON tool enables you to create much more sophisticated layouts; however I had to start with something and even without consulting the help function it worked out quite intuitively. 

12_1_screen

4) When you are happy with the creation of your self-made layout, it is time to save the work before the computer crashes ... or whatever. Just click on Layout -> Save in order to open the dialogue box where you can specify the filename (which follows the vintage 8+3 convention of the DOS era) and supply both a descriptive name and a short layout description.

5) In this screenshot, we see the real magic of well-thought programming: with the next

12_2_screen

invocation of the Print Plug-In, the self-made layout template appears amongst the pre-defined layouts under the Template tab as if it had always been there - how cute is that?
No tricky search for my lovely self-made layouts, which I will most likely use most often (why the heck would I create them at all, if not for frequent use?).
Veerrry pleasing!

 

3.3. Other EPSON software
Well, EPSON provides image processing software for download like competitive printer manufacturers do. I have neither downloaded nor tested their offerings of that kind.
More of interest for quality-oriented users is probably the EPSON ColorBase software, which is designed to enable printer profiling with a spectrophotometer (e.g. X-RITE i1iO). Since I don't own a calibration device suited for printers, I cannot comment further.
A definite plus for the owners of EPSON printers is the update policy on ICC profiles. It is no problem to keep up-to-date with the developments and improvements concerning print media.


4.1. Interface with Photoshop CS4

The printer interfaces with Photoshop either via the conventional print dialogue or the EPSON Print Plug-In for Photoshop. The latter is the much smarter choice. It allows defining all relevant characteristics of the print with immediate graphical representation. The risk of double colour management, both within Photoshop and the printer driver, is absent as long as you keep the direct colour management option enabled; in this case the plug-in adjusts the behaviour of the driver accordingly. But beware: the plug-in does not modify the driver settings permanently. You can access and configure the driver via the operating system and define e.g. glossy paper borderless printing as default, while in the plug-in your default might be a layout with 5mm border and Premium Luster media. Yet another important characteristic: if the image aspect ratio is not fully compatible with the defined border size, the Print Plug-In software masks such that the border definition gains priority and acts similar to a passepartout frame, effectively hiding a little bit of the picture in favour of streamlined appearance.

4.1.1. Excursion: align image colours with printable gamut

Prerequisite: work in a dimly lit room with a calibrated monitor set to a luminance in the order of 100 cd/m² for best results! One of the outstanding features of Photoshop is the ability to provide decent softproofing. It is quite easy to define proof conditions for various media along with rendering intents and paper simulation, store that under meaningful names and activate the proof preview whenever desired. If you switch proof preview on and off, you see immediately how the capabilities of ink and paper will affect the resulting print. Generally, colours will appear washed out and contrast turns dull. Since image editing is feasible under proof preview, we can employ careful curve manipulations until the proof preview lines up with our expectation for image contrast.

Colour adjustments are more difficult. Before we tweak colours, it is wise to check where the limitations in colour gamut show up. Therefore, we need to activate the gamut warning (View -> Gamut Warning). Colours that cannot be printed are replaced by grey patches. Since these colours simply fall out of the colour space that the printer/ink can represent, colour mismatches must occur in the print unless we modify the affected colours such that these colours become replaced by something printable. If we leave this replacement job to the rendering intent, the “impossible” colours will be replaced by the next feasible match, but this is not accurately displayed in the proof preview. If we want to be on the safe side and maintain control of the rendering, Photoshop CS4 provides a neat way to achieve that through the Hue/Saturation palette. Activate the finger tool, the cursor should switch to the eyedropper tool. Pick one of the grey patches that indicate an out-of-gamut colour. This selects a range of neighbouring colours - which is exactly what we want - so the slider modifications affects more the appearance of a subject in the image rather than just an individual colour. Repeat the select-and-modify exercise for each concerned colour range until you are satisfied with the result.

Try for yourself with my Cornpoppy test picture. You will find that gamut warnings mainly appear in the magenta-red of the cornpoppy blossom as well as in the saturated blue of the cornflower. Not to a magnitude that calls for corrective action, but the gamut mismatch is there and knowing avoids unpleasant surprise. Now you know ;-)

 

 

4.2. Interface with Photoshop Elements 6

The printer interfaces with Photoshop Elements either via the conventional print dialogue or the EPSON Print Plug-In for Photoshop. Exception: it does not work for PS Elements 6 under Windows7 RC Build 7100 at the time being. The plug-in allows defining all relevant characteristics of the print with immediate graphical representation. The risk of double colour management, both within Photoshop Elements and the printer driver, is gone since the plug-in adjusts the behaviour of the driver accordingly when you keep the default direct colour management option enabled.

The plug-in temporarily supersedes the driver settings. You can access and configure the driver via the operating system and define e.g. glossy paper borderless printing as default, while in the plug-in you always use a layout with 5mm border and Premium Luster media. PS Elements lacks all features of softproofing, hence prints may finally exhibit mismatches in colour rendition due to gamut limitations. Same as with Photoshop: if the image aspect ratio is not compatible with the defined border size, the Print Plug-In software masks parts of the picture such that the borders gain priority, in favour of overall appearance.

4.3. Interface with Nikon Capture NX2

Printing from Nikon Capture NX2 software appears, at first, a little bit confusing since not all relevant settings are concentrated under one menu item. In particular, I am not 100% sure whether or not ticking the “Use this profile for printing”-box under Edit->Presets->Colour Management is subordinated when it comes to launching print jobs. Normally one should expect that a preset is not more than a default characteristic that can be overridden by settings in other menus. In the case of Capture NX2, I feel not so confident and propose to leave the “Use this profile...”-box unchecked.

Nice but slightly worrying is the Digital Proof feature (lower left corner of the image frame). Here one can enable softproofing according to the selected paper profile, the rendering intent and whether or not Black point Compensation shall be used. According to my tests a few months ago, Capture NX2 does not perform proper paper white simulation. This option is nowhere offered. Therefore, the Digital Proof feature is inconsequential. When it comes to tweaking an image for best appearance on the print media, the simulation of media white is of interest. In other words, Capture NX2 does not allow tweaking an image to the same level of satisfaction as Photoshop CS4 does. This is particularly pitiful since CNX2 comes with the implementation of Nik “Viveza” software, here called Colour Control Points, which forms an excellent tool for colour range adjustments. Fortunately, Nikon managed to apply consistency between the colour management settings such that the proof setting for an image is adopted as default into the Colour Management tab of the print dialogue.

This print dialogue of Capture NX2 shows a number of annoying limitations. One cannot select the printer freely; CNX2 picks only the printer that is set as default device in the operating system. The layout options as well as definition of borders utilize the cumbersome vintage Windows default interface. One may rotate the image but not define which way round. The layout preview does not reflect all settings correctly in a WYSIWYG manner...need I say more? After all, CNX2 gives me the strong impression that it was not designed for easy and flexible printing. Eventually I asked Capture NX2 to execute a print of a portrait image with precise 210*297 aspect ratio and 10mm borders all the way round, knowing that this was in conflict with the image aspect ratio. The layout preview showed symmetric white bars at each edge of the virtual sheet but no overall borders. What I got was a print with 10mm borders along the long edges and almost 14mm border along the short edge, effectively 10mm plus the white bars displayed in the preview. This proves that the print engine behind Capture NX2 performs neither modifications to the aspect ratio (which is good) nor masking (which is not so clever), it just scales the image smaller in order to stay within the defined borders.

Please note that Capture NX2 does not provide direct access to the EPSON printer driver settings through the “Print” command. Users of Windows XP may (and should) access the relevant settings in the EPSON driver through Ctrl-Shift-P (page presets) and manoeuvre right down to “Printer” –> “Printer settings”. Check these settings each time before you print and adjust accordingly! Users of Windows Vista and Win7 may just check the current printer driver settings from the operating system level. The integration of colour management is much more streamlined in Vista and Win7, albeit not as straight as in the MAC world. Once all that was checked and done, my sample prints came out great.

4.4. Interface with Nikon ViewNX

When you invoke the print option of ViewNX you see that this software was not designed for sophisticated printing. Very fair, I did not expect that. However, the print dialogue of ViewNX allows you to access the EPSON printer driver at the second level of sub-menus, opening the door to all utilities, layouts and settings. We can select the printer to use on the fly, something that Capture NX2 does not allow me to do and I can invoke a nozzle test quite easily, again something that CNX2 does not allow me to do.In fact, the supposedly inferior print capabilities of ViewNX turn out to be more powerful that the mighty Capture NX2! The one thing that ViewNX really misses against CNX2 is a decent implementation of colour management such that I receive a colour?managed preview of the print. What we see is nothing more than a view of the positioning on the sheet. I am not even sure whether ViewNX interprets embedded profiles correctly all the time. Anyway since this is Nikon software as well as CNX2, you better check the actual printer driver settings ;~)

4.5. Interface with Fujifilm Hyper-Utility Software HS-V3

Hyper-Utility3 provides two options for printing. Number One, Preview and Print, could be characterized as “fast lane” since it is tailored to a single image per page, where image size and position can be individually adjusted. Unfortunately (and rather exemplary for the many brake-pads within this software), the layout settings cannot be saved. Printing two images with identical layouts means defining the layout twice.

Option #2, Print/Contact Sheet, takes you through a guided tour of selections that looks very much like pasted from the FinePix Viewer software package. It provides a lot of predefined layouts, many of them are combinations of miniature prints and selected EXIF data. Not bad for filing and record keeping, I suppose. Like Capture NX2, the Fujifilm software does not give access to the EPSON driver, so using any of the EPSON driver utilities is not easily possible.Colour management is implemented in such an awkward manner that I don't understand what this software will finally take into account and what not. It just gives lots of room for guesswork and headache. Hyper-Utility3 is top notch as far as converting Fujifilm raw data format files is concerned, but when it comes to printing, its lack of user-friendliness even undercuts CNX2.

 

 

4.6. Feeding paper media

High quality prints are susceptible to unwanted objects like dust and pet hair, of which even the slightest fragment can ruin the entire print. My cat loves to stay next to the keyboard while I am typing and clutter keyboard, printer and everything on the desk with hairs... therefore I gratefully appreciate EPSON designed the R2880 such that the device can rest completely closed, drastically reducing the chance for ingress of undesired objects. The R2880 features no paper tray like office printers normally do. Open the lids and feed paper when a print job is pending. Close them when done. Put a blanket over the printer if you live in a desert. I find it easy to keep the device sufficiently clean and tidy; it is well designed.

Along with the selected media goes the feeder path to be used. As for paper media, three options exist, discerned by media thickness and abrasion probability. The R2880 can deal with cardboard-backed paper up to about 1,2mm thick (1/20 inch). This is fed from the front, drawn in completely prior to printing and then printed in forward direction just like any other paper. Cardboard media were not amongst the sample papers so I cannot comment further. The R2880 can deal with a variety of Fine Art media (all are matte papers) and provides a special paper path for some of them which supposedly minimizes the contamination risk for the regular feeder. The regular paper path is meant for media that are not likely to release fibrous particles into the internals of the printer. I tried the Fine Art media feeder and mostly the regular feeder. The regular feeder is virtually fool-proof, just mind to align the vertical guide not too tight to the sheet and happy printing is guaranteed. The Fine Art media path demands a little more concentration form the user. See paragraph 5.2.

4.7. Printer Noise and storing prints

With respect to the bulk of the printer, the noise level is rather unobtrusive while printing and non-existent while switched on and idle. Just the paper feeding activity creates a fair amount of noise at the beginning, therefore I would not recommend invoking a print at night-time while a light sleeper shares the same room, but normally the R2880 will not raise annoyance due to printing noise.

Storing prints is something to think about before purchasing a printer. Letter sized prints are fairly easy to file and maintain organized, but the double sized A3 prints are playing in a different league. You will need space. Space for allowing prints to dry, space to store portfolios, space on the wall to mount the framed images. Consider your space requirements and options before purchasing the printer and definitely before you run your first batch of large prints.

Needless to say, storage in the draughty attic or the clammy cellar may be adequate for old suitcases and stuff, but not for Fine Art media prints. Fine Art media are mostly composed from natural fibres that are subject to environmental conditions, mainly humidity, temperature and illumination. Visit any museum and see how serious the exhibited images are protected from detrimental environmental influence. I would not go as far as to say that we all need to take similar measures. I just want to raise your awareness that serious printing calls for serious post-treatment as well.


All my conclusions on print quality are purely subjective; I do not own print inspection devices that enable to determine deviations in colour or gamma. I compared the prints against two calibrated monitors, both set to a sufficiently low luminance (~100 cd/m²); I compared print against print under varying light conditions and I inspected some prints under a high performance Rodenstock 6x loupe.

5.1. Available EPSON paper media

EPSON provides a large selection of media, more than what I received and mentioned in paragraph 2.1. I did ask for recommendations concerning which paper suits which kind of image but EPSON was wisely close-mouthed. It is all a matter of taste and freedom of art. There is no point in listing the variety of available media here and now, please feel free to look that up on EPSON's web sites.

5.2. Media handling

EPSON recommends wearing gloves when handling the paper. This is particularly important for fine art media when they shall be printed borderless. In this case, no white frame remains which otherwise might forgive the one or other sweaty trace of fingerprint. The situation is somewhat relaxed for Premium Luster paper, not only do I like the appeal of this paper very much, it also seems a little more forgiving due to its textured surface. Should you intend to use the Fine Art / Roll Media path, do yourself the favour of reading the manual and adhere to the instructions. It saves frustration.

By the way, I experienced a potential bug with the version 1.05U of Photoshop Print Plug?In running under all versions of Windows. Despite all Fine Art media settings being correct in the driver, invoking a print job through the Plug?In constantly led to error messages indicating wrong settings of the paper path. I just could not get it going, wasted a lot of time and finally discovered that everything worked fine when bypassing the Plug?In, sending the print directly to the driver. Initially observed under Windows XP, the same problem appeared under VISTA and Win7. I just couldn’t make use of the Fine Art / Roll Media path with plug-in version 1.05U.

Of course I informed EPSON about this observation and I expect them to trace and rectify this issue. While this issue persists, one may bypass all hassle by just feeding all kinds of paper down the regular feeder path, defeating the objective of the fine art media path.

5.2.1. before the print

Paper can have dust on the surface and cotton gloves can release cotton fibres and may be contaminated with sweat. To be on the safe side, I used surgical latex gloves. I strongly recommend wearing such gloves at least for the handling of fine art media because they feed different than the other media. We shall utilize the fine art media feeder path instead of the regular paper feed in order to minimize the depletion of fibres and particles in the regular paper path, designated to glossy and semi-gloss media.

As mentioned above, fine art media are not fabricated and compressed to a similar dense and smooth surface as the mainstream media and chances are good that small particles and fibres separate from the paper while it passes through the printer. Feeding paper to the fine art media path handles noticeable different from the regular feeder, where you just open the lid and deposit the sheets. The printer mechanism catches the topmost sheet automatically.The Fine Art feeder behaves differently. You need to guide and push a single sheet into the feeder, about two inches further than the first noticeable mechanical resistance that you feel. Continue feeding until a hard stop can be felt. Then you still need to apply some gentle push force, only then the feeding may be successful and the printer mechanism can catch the sheet. Please read the manual carefully, this paper feed procedure is not intuitive at all.

Since this requires holding the sheets while applying force and guidance, you better wear gloves.
The utilization of the fine art media feeder is recommended for the following paper types:
- Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper
- Velvet Fine Art Paper
- Watercolour Paper Radiant White

 

 

5.2.2. after the print

The prints do not require lengthy rest for drying in the same way as dye ink does. A session of 10 printouts will not necessarily lead to sheets distributed over desks, chairs, sideboards etc. I typically gave fresh prints a rest of 15 minutes before stacking them. I suggest putting lint-free tissue in between stacked sheets to avoid scratches from the backside on the face of the lower print. The fine art media deserve a more careful treatment than the mainstream media. In the attached instruction leaflets, EPSON recommends 24 hours of drying before further processing as well as stacking prints with sheets of normal paper in between; as a separation to ensure that the relatively rough backing of one sheet does not scratch the underlying print surface. Mind that one defect on the printed surface may ruin the appearance of the entire image and this risk grows with size.

Prints as large as 42cm * 29cm do not file as easy as letters. In my opinion, A3 is already a dimension where one should think of the final use or storage before printing. I find it unlikely to nail a nice print to the wall like a poster, without a matching frame and passepartout. If one is serious about printing large, spending some early thoughts on final presentation and storage of prints will not harm. Just my two cents.

5.3. Glossy vs. Matte and the exchange of inks

The printer utilizes two types of black ink, “Photo Black” for glossy media or “Matte Black” for matte media. This is an “either/or” choice. Here is one of my serious dislikes. I do not understand why both cartridges can not stay inserted all the time. Should the spatial restrictions really be such that this small imaginary cartridge #9 might not find a home in the carrier?

Answer EPSON: would lead to a print head redesign.My reply: it would still be beneficial for the customers.

In consequence, whenever you exchange matte versus glossy media you have to swap the black ink as well, and each exchange invokes a pipe purge and a drain of ink. This means wasted money and a presents a nuisance particularly with respect to the small volume of the ink cartridge. The type of inserted ink is, after some manual interaction, detected by the driver (and the Print Plug-In) and taken into account such that inappropriate media do not appear on the dropdown lists. I dislike the impact this has on the workflow. For instance, in the course of this review I would have loved to print glossy and matte somewhat alternating. Instead, I limited myself to do virtually all glossy print jobs first (because PhotoBlack came installed) and performed the matte jobs later.

I strongly suggest following the instructions in the manual as for the exchange of black ink (Photo Black / Matte Black). The procedure appears a bit weird, like nested workarounds. You need to open the driver options, open the utility tab and click on the “Information” icon just to verify that the newly inserted black cartridge has been recognised by the computer system. Nothing to set, just look. Eventually, you and the software do the job, but I would prefer a seamless integration working in the background which needs no further user interaction than removing one, inserting another cartridge. Just like with the colour inks!

5.4. What kind of test images were used

From my recent stable of images, I selected five real-world pictures as main specimens. Here they are:

Cornflowers_R2880_sR

Cornflowers_R2880:sR.jpg -sRGB colour space profile

Cornpoppy_R2880_AR

Cornpoppy_R2880_ARGB.jpg - AdobeRGB colour space profile

UglyBoat2_R2880_AR

UglyBoar2_R2880_ARGB.jpg - AdobeRGB colour space profile

FaceInTree_R2880

FaceInTree_R2880_sRGB.jpg -B&W with sRGB colour space profile

FaceInTree

FaceInTree_A3plus_360.jpg -upsampled to 360dpi on A3+ size

Sunset_A3plus

Sunset_A3plus_360.jpg - AdobeRGB, upsampled to 360dpi on A3+ size

I processed the smaller ones to a resolution of 2160*1527 pixels, which corresponds with the aspect ratio of all the DIN-A4 format paper I received from EPSON and yields about 200 ppi actual resolution when printed on A4 with 5mm border.

The Black-and-White “Face in the Tree” shows enormous details thanks to the resolving power of the Nikon D300 and the surprisingly good 16-85 AF-S lens. Because of that, I prepared an upscaled and carefully sharpened image file with full 360ppi resolution for a 473*319 mm sized print on A3+ paper specifically to evaluate resolution and appearance of larger format prints.

In the course of the review work I amended the sunset picture for evaluating the performance of Fine Art media for colour and deep shadows (and, honestly, I was curious to see that printed large).

You may download and use these images for personal evaluation purposes but please bear in mind that all rights are and remain with me.

The objective of the low resolution colour images (violating the general “300ppi for quality” rule-of-thumb) is to investigate gamut and tonality rather than resolution. It is possibly known that ink jet printing provides some inherent noise/grain smoothing both for technological reasons and thanks to clever print algorithms. I found it interesting to see if and when limits in tonal smoothness versus defined sharpness appeared in the prints. Colour-wise, cornflower-blue and cornpoppy-red represent nicely the range of colours where gamut and rendering problems may show up. The objectives of the B&W image are sheer resolution as well as looking for tonality and colour cast issues. The human perception is quite sensitive to colour deviations along the greyscale axis, that's why colour cast and resolution limits can be observed easier with B&W images. Of course, I like this picture very much because of its fabulous appeal and the beautiful level of details, which makes the print inspection quite joyful.

5.5. Tonal richness and smoothness B&W

I am not an expert on B&W prints, so take it with a mild grain of salt when I say that all my Black&White prints came out flawless regarding tonality, smoothness or representation of grain, not exhibiting any unwanted transitions or artefacts. They all were so well in accordance with the preview on the monitor that I would like to say, the prints are truly “what you see is what you get”.

Great result!

5.6. Colour richness and colour transitions

With respect to the selected evaluation pictures as well as other sample prints, I did not observe any noteworthy deficiencies in comparison to my 24 inch calibrated monitor. Not unexpected, the smoothness of transitions in areas where image noise or grain start to become visible on the monitor is hard to perceive in the print. This is more thanks to the dot interpolation effect inherent to all ink jet printers versus the relatively coarse pixel pitch of monitors, but anyway a very welcome contribution to the final outcome. The gamut coverage is impressive, certainly thanks to the Vivid Magenta ink. I am positively surprised how much of the difficult magenta range is covered by the EPSON inks. Very nice! From what I can see, saturated Blue-Cyan seems to be the sole domain where a little bit of intensity or punch is missing in the prints. I love saturated blue, maybe that's why I look and judge a bit critical here.


5.7.1. Premium Glossy Photo Paper

Well, in comparison to dye ink systems, the gloss level falls short in a way that makes me wonder why one should buy this paper; except for its very neutral colour rendition. Its wide gamut and neutral gradation are seemingly on par with Premium Luster.

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5.7.2. Premium Luster Photo Paper,

... However, Premium Luster features this beautiful and unproblematic fingerprint?forgiving satin shine surface... I definitely prefer Luster over Glossy for all colour prints where an optimum compromise between pictorial impression and day-to-day stamina (thinking of a family picture book) of media is desired. I like that paper very much for both colour and B&W, albeit B&W prints exhibit a slightly warm cast compared to the very neutral Premium Glossy paper. I am quite happy with that gentle warm cast, it adds a friendly and inviting touch to the B&W prints. Someone might consider this a flaw, so it is worth knowing.

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5.7.3. Archival Matte Paper

Its dead?matte characteristic not only shows before printing, it is the same after the ink deposition. I could not find any viewing angle under which a trace of ink glance was observable. Its bright white makes this paper ideally suited for images where highlights and contrast shall be transmitted. The reduced colour gamut becomes noticeable but does not seriously impact the look. Instead, the colour photographs appear very lively with a three-dimensional impression. Gradation seems to be a tad on the hard side. The bright white adds a cool touch to B&W prints, therefore I would prefer this paper for colour prints rather than B&W.

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5.7.4. Premium Semi Gloss Photo Paper

In my opinion the main difference between Premium Semi?Gloss and Premium Luster is the smoother, silkier texture. This one appears very fine and I would prefer Semi?Gloss over Luster for portraits/fashion. Just belly-feeling, you don't need to follow me.Its colour reproduction and gradation are so similar to Premium Glossy and Premium Luster, giving me the impression that surface characteristic and glance are the only relevant distinguishing marks.

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5.7.5. Traditional Photo Paper

A nicely heavyweight paper which maintains shape and flatness better than the thinner Luster and Semi-Gloss papers. Feels almost like cardboard. The surface with its brushed appeal is quite sensitive to slight scratches, so handle with care. Despite its reduced gamut, I could not spot a noticeable difference in colour rendition versus the other semi-gloss media. Also not in gradation, it is as neutral as most other EPSON media. Besides the price tag, it qualifies as great all-purpose-workhorse kind of paper with great performance, excellent feel due to its weight and stiffness and a very nice surface look (as long as it bears no scratches). If you cannot decide on what paper to use for a certain job and top quality is a must, traditional would be my tip.

As the surface shine of this paper is rather below the “semi-gloss” level, prints are almost free from gloss differential. Nice! This paper is not included in the defaults of the driver installation; mind to read the instructions that come with the ICC profile ZIP file!

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5.7.6. Water Colour Paper Radiant White

A slightly warm tinted paper with noticeable texture and remarkable capabilities for both B&W and Colour prints. The greatest drawback...it is too light and thin. It seems to be the only paper that the feeder mechanism transports somewhat aslant, eventually yielding prints with a lopsided orientation. I also wish it had a bit more gamut towards Blue and Magenta. This paper has a lot of similarities with Velvet Fine Art but performs visibly less problematic in colour rendition, does not boost saturation and form blotches. I think it is a beautiful and unproblematic everyday matte paper.

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5.7.7. Enhanced Matte Paper

This paper looks and feels like Archival Matte but bears a different name so there should be some difference. Well, I failed to find a name-matching profile and used the “EPSON Matte” profile. The difference seems to be the gradation.

The gradation of Enhanced Matte is slightly on the soft side. It retained detail in the deepest shadows better than the other matte media. Equally, it rendered the “Face in the Tree” a little flat, but with full detail and completely neutral. Assuming I picked the right profile, I would imagine this paper suits high contrast pictures better than the other papers. Eventually, I was corrected by EPSON in that Archival Matte and Enhanced Matte are just two names for the same product, which has historical reasons not being explained. The point is now, that correction means I actually picked the wrong profile and the observation of softer gradation is due to the profile selection!

 

 

5.7.8. Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper

The noticeably yellowish paper colour is something you better should like; in particular when printing B&W the natural paper colour throws a warm cast over the entire print, which is obviously not compensated by adding Light Cyan. This cast is less noticeable for colour pictures. I have the impression that colour prints are the strength of this paper. It exhibits very subtle details and colours in areas where Velvet Fine Art already clips to blotches. Strange enough, the yellowish paper colour does not at all dominate colour prints in a similar way B&W is affected. The sheets are heavy and strong and ultra-smooth on both sides; it is not easy to discern face and back. Actually, I happened to accidentally print on the back and, believe it or not, the picture still came out nice!

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5.7.9. Velvet Fine Art Paper

Now we are talking “Fine Art”! Heavy paper, characteristic texture. Pick a sheet and you instantly feel what you pay for. What a lovely paper for B&W, yielding beautiful neutral prints with full detail, richest tonality and 3D impression. Really great, for B&W I like it better than the similarly lovely Watercolour paper. Be careful with colour prints, the paper renders colours with more saturation and contrast than indicated by the softproof preview of Photoshop, which definitely adds punch to the image but increases the risk of colour blotches along the cyan-blue-magenta gamut edge as well as blotchy shadows. In direct comparison, I find UltraSmooth better suited for colours whereas Velvet is plain perfect for B&W.

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To start with a reminder, three wisdoms of printing need to be kept in mind all the time:
1: prints are not self-luminous, hence never reach the contrast of luminescent panels and they are subject to the quality of illumination (intensity and spectral distribution)
2: never judge a print immediately after printing, just like with wall paint the truth comes to shine after drying, which can take a day...
3: the best coincidence between monitor image and print image appears at a monitor luminance as low as 100 candela/m². 160 cd/m² can already be too much unless you observe prints under strong daylight (e.g. reading a newspaper, this is why the value of 160 cd/m² is often referred to by press professionals).

6.1. Subjective print quality impressions in relation to expectations

Given that points 1 to 3 are settled and engraved in the brain of the observer, one can now dare judging images not only for their emotional aspect, but more for their technical quality. Not limited to the five image specimens presented with this review, I can confidently say that the EPSON R2880 exhibited only one flaw (see below) that the printer's technology could be blamed for.

I consider the very rare appearance of dust on the media to be a common issue of all printers (regardless of brand) that are capable of processing Fine Art media, because this sort of media is much more likely to deposit traces of fibres and abrasion inside the printer than the mainstream media.

In my opinion, the full magic of printing with EPSON UltraChrome K3 inks starts to shine only if you work with image processing software which is capable of simulating properly the characteristics of the print media prior to printing. Fully. Gamut and paper white.
Kudos to EPSON, I consider the profile quality for softproofing and paper simulation exemplary for good implementation! Under Photoshop CS4 (older CS versions will probably perform similar) the simulations were in stunning agreement with the actual print. Kudos again!
This enables the advanced users to edit the images such that some of the gamut limitations of the selected media can be neatly masked and achieve a colour rendition that finally matches the appearance of the version created for monitor/projection display.
Although the effective print resolution of my A4 size prints was as low as 200 ppi, the tonal transitions were not affected at all and there were no undesired blur effects at all. The reproduction of the image as seen on the screen in softproof view appears perfect to me, I cannot ask for more.

Let me express it that way: you don't get the printout that you expect - the problem is most likely not on EPSON's side. Users of software that cannot fully mimic paper characteristics (gamut and paper white) are partly excused and should perhaps consider adjusting their workflow or reduce highest expectations.

Writing this review taught me several lessons. Admittedly, my self-evaluated photographic talent is a tad better than mediocre as far as capturing emotional images is concerned and probably upper midfield as far as technical skills are concerned. To a degree, I come to this conclusion from the process of image specimen selection and how they finally appear on paper. Initially, I thought the selected images would leave a "wow" impression with me after printing, instead I did not experience much more than a friendly warm "not bad" feeling.

Once more the striking simple truth is that upgrades in technology do not make images better, in contrary, better equipment just renders the photographer's limits with sharper contours.

Why I tell that? Dear reader, we both do not believe that a better printer makes any of our images better, do we? However, if you are capable of capturing/creating really good (emotional, striking, extraordinary) pictures and you want them to shine, then, this generation of EPSON printers and ink technology will hardly set unsurpassable limits to your creativity. I dare to say that because I took photographs under lighting conditions that eventually fell into the remote corners of the AdobeRBG colour space gamut and were very difficult to print properly, but I did manage to transfer colour and emotion into printed matter. That's why I consider myself qualified to make such statements and write such a review.

 

 

6.1.1. Undeniable Gloss Differential
The principle of depositing pigmented ink onto the surface of a media which, in itself, cares for the glossy appearance of the final print, bears the inherent risk for what is called "Gloss Differential". This depicts the observable differences in degree of gloss versus density of deposited ink. Obviously, this effect is most prominent for the extreme highlights, where fundamentally no ink deposition is needed at all. RGB 255/255/255 corresponds with ink 0/0/0/.../0.
The effect of gloss differential strikes the eye only when an EPSON print is viewed under a fairly flat angle of incidence. A typical viewing scenario would e.g. be a large wall-mounted print is viewed by an observer who rests rather parallel to the picture. The more the observer moves to a perpendicular viewing position, the less noticeable is gloss differential.
I would like to point out two things: firstly, as for the EPSON prints that I made, gloss differential appeared only for blown highlights and secondly, I remember gloss differential from old B&W photographs of my parents but there the matte parts were the saturated shadows...
After all, gloss differential is neither something new nor something specific to digital print technology. But it can be annoying.

In order to minimize gloss differential for B&W prints, EPSON recommends activating a special option in the printer driver: Highlight Point Shift. Effectively this sprays a very subtle layer of LLK ink (the lightest grey) over the areas that are characterized by luminosity near 255, which is the bare paper white.
Highlight Point Shift may be activated in the driver only, not within the Print Plug-In tool. In the "Main" tab, select "Media Settings – Colour" to "Advanced B&W Photo" and tick "Mode: Custom". Then select "Advanced", which opens another pop-up window where "Highlight Point Shift" can be activated to become effective for either the entire page or the image area only.

This workaround leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In practical terms, it means that all photographers who love to produce large format glossy or semi-glossy prints will either need to manipulate their images beforehand such that fully saturated highlights are avoided or accept the fact that the Highlight Point Shift trick manipulates the highlights in a way that is hard to predict. Regardless which option one selects, the perceivable dynamic range is reduced.
In my opinion, a careful balance of pro and contra should be made before spoiling the highlight tonality in the range above 245.
Without Highlight Point Shift I observed traces of gloss differential even at the luminosity level 245 on Premium Luster and Premium Glossy paper, unfortunately. I observed this first with the FaceInTree picture and you can't really blame that for excessive highlights.
With Highlight Point Shift enabled, gloss differential in a FaceInTree print diminished to an almost unperceivable level. I needed to be in quest for this issue in order to see it, however images containing much larger and homogeneous patches of highlights might again tell a different story.
EPSON needs to address this issue, I think.

For the time being, the user needs to make a decision on which deserves priority: subtle highlights in large prints under normal viewing angles? Or complete lack of gloss differential under weird viewing angles?
It should be clear that the pigmented ink technology, in its present EPSON incarnation, cannot serve both masters, whereas dye ink technology can.
It should also be clear that gloss differential will hardly be perceivable once a print is presented behind glass.
Ultimately, whether or not you consider gloss differential an issue or negligible, remains up to you. It exists and I have to report it.
Advantage: dye ink.

6.1.2. Undeniable precision in resolving power
Has dye ink technology, by principle, an advantage in lack of gloss differential, the EPSON pigmented ink technology has a noticeable advantage in resolving power. I avoid with good reason the expression "resolution", since I just made straight visual comparisons of few images printed both on the EPSON R2880 and my private iP6700D printer which I cannot transpose in figures.
Each time, one neatly processed DIN-A4 image was sent to the printers. Observation: each print from the EPSON 2880 exhibited better defined details, sharper contours, more three-dimensional impression. Simply crisper, simply better. No loupe required to see that.

For curiosity, I printed both the up-sampled A3+ version and the lower resolution version of the FaceInTree picture with the R2880 on A4 sheets and examined them with my good old Rodenstock 6x-Loupe. Wow! With the bare eye the difference between both prints is hardly noticeable, but under the loupe one can easily see why 300dpi is recommended for top quality prints.
Advantage: EPSON piezo and pigmented ink technologies.

6.1.3. Undeniable advantage in Black&White printing
Not unexpectedly for a print technology that employs three different intensities of grey-scale ink, the B&W prints turn out very well defined and very neutral. It is definitely unfair to compare a technology that utilizes two different black inks plus two levels of grey plus five colours to compose an image against a technology that uses one glossy black ink plus 5 colours and targets at glossy and semi-gloss prints only. Therefore, I will not dive any deeper than saying that this conceptual advantage of the EPSON R2880 and its stablemates becomes visible in each and every B&W print. Period.
Pair that with properly processed files of 360ppi image resolution and you will be rewarded with stunning B&W prints!
Advantage: EPSON pigmented ink technology.

6.1.4. Bronzing (or the lack of, to be precise)
Bronzing is a flaw that may show up when viewing a print under slanted angles. I have seen it in sample prints provided by EPSON, so I know how it looks and what to look for. However, bronzing just did not appear at all in the prints that I made with the R2880. Flawless!
Advantage: EPSON pigmented ink technology.

6.1.5. Colour Inconstancy – what a phrase!
Someone at EPSON possibly created this phrase to condense the difficult depiction of colour shift versus illumination characteristics into something handsome for the marketing department. Admittedly, what it depicts is not 100% exactly the same as Metamerism, but it is pretty close.
From my print inspections under varying light conditions, ranging from early morning daylight over halogen spots to energy saving discharge lamps, I never had the feeling that the colour balance is distorted to an extent that attracted attention, or should I say distracted attention?
However, the same holds true for my private iP6700D prints.
Maybe I miss the related history of experience, but, really, I cannot see why EPSON stirs up this Colour Inconstancy business. UltraChrome K3 is no self-adjusting chameleon ink and reflective media are subject to the laws of physics. All of them, until someone brews chameleon ink.

 



6.2. Consumption of paper and ink
In the course of the four weeks having the R2880 at hand, I printed
• 21 sheets A4 in colour
• 7 sheets A4 in B&W
• 4 sheets "postcard"
• 12 sheets A3+ in colour
• 14 sheets A3+ in B&W

And the net ink consumption for all that was
• 10 cartridges

Statistically and simplified, that is 114 milli litres of ink distributed over some 5.8 square metres of paper. Almost exactly 20 ml per square metre.

Originally, I planned to compare and balance the R2880 printing cost against commercial print services but that is rather pointless as all required pricing data invalidate too quickly anyway. Not to mention the enormous variety of parameters involved in such undertaking...
I think you can draw better benefit from the "20 ml/m²" normalized consumption and make up your own mind on consumables cost.

6.3. Would I buy one?
In plain letters, No. Because I don't need one.
This decision is very personal and not at all reflecting any observed shortcomings of the R2880 printer. Instead, I am very grateful for the opportunity to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of both the printer and the associated selection of print media. As said earlier, it taught me the lesson that this printer deserves input data of both artistic and technical quality being as much above mainstream as the printer itself is above mainstream. With respect to my fairly low annual quote of striking images, I cannot justify the expense and running cost of such device.

So, dear reader, once again it boils down to a realistic judgement of someone's own skills and targets and, of course, business or hobby-horse, whether or not a given investment can be justified.
Clearly, the print quality leaves nothing to desire except for the lack of ultimate gloss; but this is inherent to all pigmented ink systems regardless of brand. To those in need for a high quality printer for up to A3+ size prints and the budget for this device, I recommend to throw a very friendly eye on the R2880 (and I am convinced the Pro3800 will not perform any worse).
Friends of Black&White pictures will surely love the results from this printer. The pictures I printed came out so lovely, I would not spend a thought on other brands if I had a deeper interest in printing B&W for myself.

The only two aspects that I disliked about the EPSON R2880 were the exchange of black ink between matte media and glossy/semi-gloss media and the remaining gloss differential issue for all different flavours of glossy prints. Consider me nit-picking if you wish, but I think these two flaws bear a hard-to-accept impact on both workflow and image processing. They do not fit the flawless print quality and both should be addressed by EPSON in a future model revision.
On the other hand, EPSON scores with well-programmed profiles and the Photoshop Print Plug-In application. These seemingly minor aspects make big points on my score list since their benefit avoids so much headache, in particular for infrequent users. Kudos again, just in case I didn't express that adequately before.


Those folks who plug their memory card/stick/disk at the local drug discounter's photo print terminal will hardly experience the thrill and magic of image tweaking. Period. Please consider this a statement of fact and not an offence, and it bears no devaluation. I for one was never happy with the results of print services, not even during the golden era of chemical film and paper processing. To some degree, I have always been sort of jealous for folks that dropped their negatives at the local drug store and returned a few days later with postcard (or poster) sized pictures and felt totally happy viewing them. Congratulations!
This audience won't need the likes of an EPSON R2880 printer, that is my deep belief.
I am not expressing any depreciation concerning these folks.
I am expressing a very crude distinction between spectators and creators.
The reviewed EPSON R2880 printer, with all its capabilities in terms of media variety and ink technology, reflects a tool for artists much more than a tool for viewers.
Viewers can get to their anticipated results easier and cheaper. Artists need appropriate tools, capable to ex press creative experiments and enabling to make success in creation reproducible. Artists behind the camera and artists with Photoshop (or similar), that is.
The emphasis is on creator, not consumer.

 

 

 In its present Windows incarnation 1.05U, the nice Print Plug-In tool is not as trouble free as we all would like it to be and the widespread Windows XP features by far not the same level user-friendliness concerning colour management and integrated workflow than VISTA and Win7 do. I can see the flags waving from two parties: "Printing is Trouble" and "Windows is Trouble". Right. But EPSON makes great printers, at least this one!

And I understand better now why so many creative artists prefer MAC over PC. Getting sick over double-profiled or mis-profiled prints, I'll probably join them some day.

For now I'm done and I hope you enjoyed reading,
Thomas


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Originally written on November 25, 2009

Last updated on April 24, 2016

Thomas Berg Thomas Berg (twberg)

Porz, Germany
Basic, 1 post

4 comments

Mark Walshaw (Mark out west) on May 10, 2017

I had one of these and got fed up with continually replacing ink cartridges both as emptying too fast or the printer not recognising the tank as a genuine tank for which it was. A $1000 printer was there junked prematurely. Would I recommend this printer - hell no, nor would I now recommend any Epson. Went out and purchased a Canon Pixma Pro 10 - wanted the wireless facility not in Pro 1

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on April 20, 2011

I use also an Epson printer but an older one and works perfect. Epson is for me the best manufacturer for printers.

Robert S Baldassano (robsb) on January 18, 2010

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his expertise in CNX2 and his always amicable and continuous efforts to help members Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Donor Ribbon awarded for his enthusiastic and repeated support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Thomas this was a very informative review. Thanks for the outstanding effort.

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on January 18, 2010

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

Excellent review Thomas! Now I really believe that this printer is capable of the work I wanted to push through it :-)

G