Epson Stylus Pro 3880

Epson outdoes itself with this outstanding new 17-inch pigment photo printer.

Oct 9, 2009
By Dan Havlik

Though it can make beautiful prints of up to 17 x 22 inches, the Epson 3880 is compact enough to fit on a desktop.

Though it can make beautiful prints of up to 17 x 22 inches, the Epson 3880 is compact enough to fit on a desktop.
Let me cut right to the chase. If you're in the market for a 17-inch inkjet professional photo printer and don't need a roll feed option, the one you want is the new Epson Stylus Pro 3880. This pigment-based printer, which I've had the pleasure of testing for the last several weeks before writing this review, is that good.

In terms of color reproduction, black-and-white capabilities, and sheer usability, I've been blown away by the 3880's performance. If it doesn't have as many bells and whistles as its competitors—the 3880 has fewer inks and lacks a built-in color calibration device—it beats its rivals in terms of its superior out-of-box experience. Get the 3880 going and you'll probably want to print until all the inks run dry.

Yes, I know I typically begin the featured review in this section with a lengthy discourse on where a particular product fits in its category; the context its used in; and a history of similar products that have preceded it; before I give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This time I thought I'd skip all that blather and tell you straight away that the Epson 3880 just may be the best 17-inch printer out there right now. If you're still printing photos in the studio—and, truth be told, there are many photographers out there who aren't—and don't do the heavy volume that makes a roll feed a necessity, the 3880 is for you. Here's why.


Back in the March 2008 issue of PDN, I reviewed Epson's other 17-inch printer, the Stylus Pro 4880. Though I thought it was a wonderful output device in terms of image quality, it suffered from one big glitch—if you wanted to use one of Epson's fine art papers you had to manually swap out the printer's Photo Black inkjet cartridge for a Matte Black cartridge.

The process was not only slow—it took about 15 to 20 minutes—it gobbled up $40 to $50 worth of ink along the way. And as much as I liked the 4880's print quality overall, it's a bit of a beast, weighing in at 90 pounds and taking at least two people to set up.

You could, of course, always go with the 3800, Epson's "desktop" style 17-inch printer which does auto black switching, but that model is a couple of years old now. New features lacking on the 3800—but available on the 4880—include Epson's Vivid Magenta inkset (Magenta and Light Magenta inks) which boosts blues, violets and purples; and an ink repellent print head that prevents clogging and helps improve drop placement.

With the new 3880, Epson's brought this smaller 17-inch printer in line with its other "80" series, adding the UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta ink technology; its Advanced MicroPiezo AMC Print Head with ink repellent coating; and keeping the Advanced Black and White Mode; while maintaining its slim profile.

Though it's sometimes hard to find out what's new on a product amidst all the marketing jargon—UltraChrome K3; Advanced MicroPiezo, etc.—Epson has added an interesting new technology to the 3880 that, at least in my testing, seems to improve print quality.

Epson has dubbed it AccuPhoto HD2 Image Technology—talk about marketing jargon! It is a mathematical ink placement algorithm developed in conjunction with the RIT Munsell Color Science Laboratory and is designed to do three things:

• Improve drop placement for smoother, less grainy images

• Reduce the incidence of metamerism in inks to maintain consistent color so prints look the same under different light sources, including florescent, tungsten, and daylight.

• Maximize the color gamut in prints to produce smoother color transitions.

Though it would be hard for me to test specifically whether the technology is doing exactly what Epson claims, I do know that I printed out several different color images with difficult exposures using the 3880 and saw a noticeable improvement in print quality over the 4880. Color quality was also fairly consistent when viewing the prints in a variety of lighting conditions.

In one image featuring a musician and a dancer performing in a tunnel under Central Park, the 3880 nailed the color despite a tough exposure. The space between the dancer—who had a pale complexion and light colored clothes—and the musician who was darker skinned and dressed in bright red—was full of muddy browns and blacks.

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