|EPSON STYLUS PRO 3880|
When I first heard that Epson was about to introduce a desktop printer in the 17 inch-wide category and after reviewing the specifications I was a little puzzled. At the time I owned Epson’s other 17 inch printer, the 4000 Stylus Pro. What made me skeptical was that the 4000 was the first and only (at the time) pro-line printer in the Epson line that allowed for both matte black and photo black inks to be installed simultaneously. With the subsequent release of the 4800 a couple of years later Epson went back to an ink configuration where the photo and matte blacks required swapping out. This was necessary in order to give one of the cartridge slots to a new light, light black in the new UltraChrome K3 inks.
Now here came along the 3800 which once again had all the inks on-board simultaneously. This printer featured automatic black ink switching which involved flushing and priming a single black ink line shared between the photo and matte black cartridges triggered by the user’s selection of paper in the printer driver. This was all good and well even in the midst of knowing that some amount of black ink would be wasted in the flushing/priming process, but there was something else that did not sit well with me. There was no support for the use of roll paper. How could Epson build a Stylus Pro printer that did not support the use of roll stock? That made no sense to me initially. Even with my limited experience with the pro line at the time I had already gained a big appreciation for the convenience of roll paper.
The 3800 was also different in its design. This printer definitely had the pedigree of a Stylus Pro but you could immediately tell this one had somewhat of an independent streak. This printer played by a different set of rules. For one it was small and compact for a 17 inch printer. When I took delivery of my 4000 it arrived by truck on a wooden shipping palette. It takes two people to move it and unless you have a very sturdy and large counter or desk you would be wise to purchase the optional rolling stand. The 3800, on the other hand, could fit on an average sized desk or table and with the top load and catch trays for the paper retracted it is not much bigger than a typical 13-inch wide printer.
It is actually these design characteristics that really make the 3800 line of printers so attractive to such a large audience. It is almost the perfect combination of professional performance and compactness. It takes a lot less commitment on the part of the photographer to own this printer than with the other pro line models, and let me tell you the print quality is just as good. The upside is you don’t have to rearrange the furniture to get this printer into your digital darkroom. So you lose a little utility (no roll paper support) but for many who are not printing large volumes of prints this is not going to be missed. And for those with the big printers in their studios it is very convenient to run smaller prints or proofs on a smaller printer that is up and running in seconds. Now that I have had a chance to review the latest 3880 Stylus Pro my skepticism has been totally eliminated.
|Epson Ultra chrome K3ink|
With the introduction of the 3880 Stylus Pro Epson has updated the original 3800 to operate with the newer Ultrachrome K3 with Vivid Magenta inks. This new ink set improves on the reproduction of blues and violets by updating the Magenta and Light Magenta inks which increases the color gamut of the printer significantly. In addition, the 3880 has improved screening technology through the partnering of Epson engineers and RIT Munsell Color Science Laboratory. This partnership produced the technology for more precise placement of each ink droplet for smooth grain-free images. This technology called AccuPhoto HD2 can also reduce the metamerism effect when prints are viewed under different lighting conditions. Lastly, these new advances have greatly improved the color gamut of the printer and ensure smooth color transitions.
|The ink set|
With the 3880 owners can now switch between fine art matte papers and coated photo papers without having to swap out the black inks. In this printer the Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges sit side-by-side each in their own cartridge slot. The printer has the built-in intelligence to automatically make the switch when you select the type of paper you are using in the Epson printer driver. Epson has also made a great decision to make the cartridges of the 3880 much larger than their standard desktop printers but smaller and more compact than the larger Stylus Pro printers. While the 4880, 7880 and 9980 use 110 or 220 milliliter capacity cartridges the 3880 uses a more compact 80 milliliter cartridge.
|A single ink cartridge|
The print head of the 3880 has also been updated. Resolution of the professional print head is 2880x1440 dpi producing highly accurate dot shapes and more precise placement which Epson says is key to making highly detailed prints with accurate color. The print head is also coated with an ink-repelling coating to reduce nozzle clogging. Additionally, the 3880 utilizes auto nozzle checking and maintenance to decrease user maintenance intervention and increase printer reliability.
|Advanced Black and White Photo Mode|
Finally, the 3880 features the Advanced Black and White Photo Mode introduced by Epson with the 2400 model printer. This interface included in the printer driver works with a three-level black technology to deliver richer blacks, outstanding tonal range, and a new level of gray balance. Couple this with better screening and the ability to choose from a variety of toning options and you have truly stunning black and white prints.
When I tested the 3880 Stylus Pro I was eager to try this Advanced Black and White Photo Mode. I looked through a number of test images in my library when I came across a shot of the beautiful and imposing Guadalupe Peak in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. While as a color image this photograph is not exactly a compelling study in light when transformed to a black and white image it really comes into its own. I decided to take this one step further and add a subtle Platinum tone to the image. I selected the Warm preset in the Color Toning drop down list of the Advanced Black and White Photo Mode controls and then played with the sliders until I felt I got the look I wanted – something close to the old platinum toned prints of the past. I then printed the image on a sheet of Epson Velvet Fine Art matte paper.
|Guadalupe Peak by Ernesto Santos|
Next I took the original color image and converted it to black and white in Photoshop CS5 using B/W Styler plug-in from The Plug-In Site. I have used this black and white converter for a number of years and have been very happy with the results. After I converted the image to black and white I toned it as close as I could visually to the print I had just made using the Advanced Black and White Photo Mode. I did this by viewing the print next to my monitor under a 5000°K lamp and soft proofing in Photoshop using the Epson ICC paper profile for Velvet Fine Art. The results were quite interesting. While I was not able to get an exact match between the two prints the overall tone the prints were almost identical and the print quality and range of black and white tones were excellent. The details were well preserved in both and if you put aside the slight differences in color tone and overall exposure level (variances attributed to human eye perception and differences between reflective and emissive sources) you could not tell which print was done using the Advanced Black and White Photo Mode or the traditional black and white conversion/color managed print workflow method.
The Advanced Black and White Photo Mode solution is not without its limitations. For one, you have to gain some level of feel for what this method will give you as you adjust the sliders. The preview image is helpful, but in other prints I made I had to make a few proof prints and subsequent adjustments until I got what I really wanted. Hopefully, in later iterations of the Advanced Black and White Photo Mode Epson will provide a more sophisticated way of previewing the settings on the actual image you are printing. This would make the Advanced Mode almost perfect. Whatever method you choose to make your fine art black and white prints you will not be disappointed with the black and white output capabilities of the 3880 Stylus Pro. In every case my test prints were rich in detail and gray tonality. Oh, and before I forget, the three black technology gives you true neutral black and white prints. True neutral black and white prints with past inkjet printers has always been elusive. Now, with the addition of a Light, Light Black ink Epson screening does not rely so heavily on mixing colors to achieve all levels of gray. With the three levels of black it would be a rare occasion if a color cast were to impose itself on your beautiful print.
While testing the 3880 Stylus Pro I ran many color prints as well using various papers such as Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster, Velvet Fine Art, and Premium Glossy Photo Paper. I could not find any fault with the quality of these prints. Each was rich in color, held the finest details, and showed no perceivable metamerism or gloss differential. I cannot emphasize enough that at this point in the development of Epson’s inkjet technology excellent print quality is a guarantee. While they continue to improve on this print quality Epson has also spent a lot of effort into improving their printers with more efficient and reliable operation, convenience, advances in the printer driver (black and white photo mode), accuracy of their ICC paper profiles, and the quality of their inks and media. Take all these together and you have quite the complete package. All the user needs to focus on to achieve true gallery quality prints is a good color managed workflow and the Epson recommended print procedures.
|Big Tooth Maples by Ernesto Santos|
One color test print that stood out in my eyes was this close up image of some Texas Big Tooth Maple leaves I took on a trip to the Guadalupe Mountains a few years ago. I printed this on a 17x22 inch sheet of Velvet Fine Art paper. As the print emerged from the printer I was immediately impressed by the rich color and outstanding detail. Even the smallest cellular structure of the fading leaves was present in the print. I knew that this was a significant improvement from what older Epson printers could produce. I had printed this same image using my old Epson Stylus Pro 4000 on Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art roll paper. The print was of similar size at 16x24 inches. I decided to pull out that older print and compare the two. Pixel peeping is not necessarily my style but in this comparison I could not resist. The improved screening technology of the 3880 was readily apparent while the color was significantly more vibrant. The orange glow of the leaves stood out with the 3880 print while the print from the 4000 was still saturated and beautiful but in a side-by-side comparison the orange was a little muted in comparison. I also noticed that the blurred background was much smoother in color transition areas and had little to no “grain” compared to the print from the 4000.
While my initial impressions of Epson introducing a desktop model Stylus Pro contained a healthy dose of skepticism I have to now admit that I was totally wrong. The great success of the 3800 and 3880 models bears taking notice. In over twenty years of dominance in the photo inkjet industry Epson has developed an uncanny ability to tap into the needs, wants, and desires of photographers. And as any great company does they also are very good at creating a lot of interest in products that initially might not look so appealing on paper. Epson accomplishes this through a commitment to excellent design, extensive research and development, innovation, and most importantly quality.
If you are looking for a top of the line inkjet desktop printer that is truly of professional caliber there is hardly any reason to look any further than the Epson 3880 Stylus Pro. In many weeks of testing I could not find fault with this printer. The output is outstanding and the performance and reliability are flawless. The ink cartridges are the perfect size for the person who does not require high volume printing capabilities but does enough printing where the smaller cartridges of the 13 inch desktops would not be practical. Print quality is on par with the larger stand alone Stylus Pros. The one feature that you must give up is the option to print on roll paper, but Epson has yet again broadened my horizons on this issue. It is a small price to pay in exchange for a neat and compact package that packs a heavy punch.
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