Epson’s A2 pro printer is a knock-out with few flaws, if any.
Following up a commercial and critical success story with a sock-it-to-‘em sequel is a hard task, but that’s exactly what Epson has done following the retirement of the acclaimed Stylus Pro 3800 A2 photographic printer.
Outwardly there isn’t much to differentiate the old with the new, but this monster of the semi-pro printer market has undergone some significant changes under the bonnet.
Firstly, the excellent Ultrachrome K3 pigment inkset as used in the earlier model has evolved further – Epson has equipped the 3880 with a Vivid Magenta ink tank for an even wider colour gamut and a further improvement in terms of D-max. This is good news, especially for those wishing to output gallery-standard black and white prints. Epson has championed their piezo printhead technology since time began (well, a wee while back at least), and the 3880 utilises the latest MicroPiezo AMC print head – it uses variable dot technology to avoid moirés and banding, and to increase detail throughout each print.
The new printhead also incorporates an ink-repellant coating for more precise placement of ink droplets, while the improved software includes an overhauled LUT (look-up-table) for more accurate colour information. I know, I sound like an ad but I can’t help it.
The thing is, I was bloody excited about this printer! I have only recently taken up photography as a hobby, but have been around aqueous inkjet printers for years in the pre-press industry, and nothing compares with the results of your own handiwork.
Befitting a quasi-production inkjet printer, the 3880 uses 80ml ink cartridges – not only better in terms of dollars per ml compared with the pitiful cartridges supplied with lesser devices, it also means more prints before the ink runs out. Media handling is simple: heavyweight Fine Art media (up to 1.5mm thick) must be loaded either through the front of the machine, while photographic papers can use the rear tray. There is no provision for roll media with the 3880.
As with the previous model, it automatically changes between Matt and Photo black inks depending on the choice of paper stock – a major improvement from the wasteful manual cartridge changes of early designs: this practice used to dump around 80mls of ink into the maintenance tank. And ink as we all know, isn’t exactly cheap. [Editor laughs hysterically before collapsing in a fit of tears].
Once the comprehensive software suite was installed on my Mac, I was ready to go crazy with the printer – luckily the fine people at Epson obliged with a swag of their heavyweight photo and fine art media. I was particularly pleased with the results when printed on Epson’s own Velvet Fine Art and Premium Semigloss photo papers; the images just had that continuous tone look about them.
Epson have included a raft of paper profiles accessible from the printer driver, and those looking for even more accurate colour performance should take a look at a multitude of RIP software packages that support the 3880. Unsurprisingly, the spunky Epson can also be linearised, using devices such as Gretag Macbeth’s Eye-One or EFI’s ES-1000 colour spectrophotometers for those looking for an affordable A2 contract proofing or light production solution.
To cut a long story short, this printer produces simply stunning prints in terms of detail and colour accuracy, while the sheer scale of the output made each print come alive.
Images ranged from 110mb TIFF files right down to seemingly lo-res 150ppi JPGs, and in each case the 3880 did a fantastic job. One image is of the Skytower taken at daybreak. It isn’t a huge file but the big 3880 reproduced the photo superbly on Epson Velvet – the muted orange/beige tones were rendered beautifully as was the tower and accompanying buildings, which were draped in a heavy fog that morning.
Getting back to the operational aspects of the 3880 (once I managed to catch my breath), the printer will process a full A2 in around 6 minutes at 1440 x 720 DPI. I chose this resolution for its clarity as once viewed with my printers loupe, the higher 1440 x 1440 resolution didn’t appear to offer much extra in terms of increased detail with the files I was printing.
The next step up the Epson food chain from the 3880 are either the Stylus Pro 4880 or the all-new 4900, but for the serious amateurs or even semi-professional photographers amongst us the baby of the bunch will be more than good enough when it comes to image quality – only the roll media handling is missing from the 3880’s quite excellent functionality.
Epson have a staggeringly good printer in the shape of the Stylus Pro 3880, and those looking for a reasonably priced A2 format machine with superlative print quality should look no further. GARY PEARCE