Epson Stylus Pro 3800

Product Name: Epson Stylus Pro 3800
Product Type: A2+ (17 inches wide) Printer format photo for eight colour pigmented inks.
Price: $2195 (inc. GST). Ink cartridges are 99 (inc. GST) each
Reviewed By:
Magazine: ProPhoto June 2007
Distributor: Epson Australia - 1300 131 928 - www.epson.com.au
Who Sells What/Website: Epson Stylus Pro 3800

Provided very high volume printing at A3 or A2 isn’t planned, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 printer has the capacity to lure prospective buyers of the substantially larger and more expensive Stylus Pro 4800. It also will cause those thinking about buying the Stylus Photo R2400 (an A3+ model with 17 ml capacity ink cartridges) or the HP B9180 (also A3+ format, but with 27 ml cartridges) to evaluate the benefits of adopting the larger format machine. It doesn’t take much in terms of printing volumes before running the R2400 or the B9180 starts to become an expensive exercise, such is the limited capacity of the ink cartridges.

The amount of ink that’s initially supplied with the Stylus Pro 3800 (nine 80 ml cartridges, or 720 ml in total) can readily take up the difference in the initial outlay. And while the cost of a full set of replacement inks for the Stylus Pro 3800 may be daunting, the ink economy compared to the smaller format printers remains a definite advantage.

Similarities And Differences

Firstly, it must be emphasised that the Stylus Pro 3800 is not a replacement for the 4800. However, it employs the same engine, the same UltraChrome K3 pigment EPSON Stylus Pro 3800 If the 2400 is proving too costly to run and the 4800 is just too much printer for your needs, then Epson’s desktop-sized A2+ machine may just be the perfect fit. Trevern Dawes predicts the 3800’s balance of pricing and capabilities will appeal to many professional photographers. No Fuss Printing inkset (which comprises cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, light black, light light black, matte black and photo black) and the same automatic head alignment and cleaning facilities. Overall though, it’s a far cheaper alternative with some distinct differences — smaller and much lighter, a 20 percent increase in print speed and borderless printing, hardly any ink wastage when swapping from the gloss to matte black inks and better ink economy. However, it lacks a roll-paper feed, a vacuum paper seal to force the paper flat against the platen or a front-loading tray ink, and the ink cartridge capacity is 80 ml (instead of either 110 or 220 ml). These differences are probably enough to steer the ‘power user’ in the 4800’s direction, but still make the 3800 pretty attractive to everybody else.

The inch-wide Advanced MicroPiezo AMC (‘Active Meniscus Control’) print head has eight channels with 180 nozzles for each. A revised new half-toning technology reputedly enhances ink drop placement to render smoother tonal transitions and better shadow and highlight detail. Maximum resolution is 2880x1400 dpi, using variable droplets down to 3.5 picolitres.

New nozzle and head designs — in conjunction with software improvements (notably the algorithms to handle dot placement and screening) — ensure prints are finer and have a more ‘photographic’ output, even at the lower printer resolutions.

Small Epson 3800

Epson’s Stylus Pro 3800 offers A2 format printing with the same level of convenience as a smaller format printer. It’s also very affordably priced and reasonably economical to run, provided you aren’t planning high volume production… which is the key difference between it and the 4800.

 

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Setting Up

It takes about ten minutes to load the nine ink cartridges, initially prime the lines and heads, attach the USB 2.0 or Ethernet cables and install the software. The “Start Here” sheet guides you through every step. There are no complications whatsoever, and the type of introduction that makes life easy and builds confidence in the printer. There isn’t a hard-copy instruction manual or computer connection cables supplied with the 3800, but Epson has an environmental policy regarding paper and so supplies instructions on CD, while leaving the choice of cable and its length to individual requirements.

In the process of initially priming up the printer, some ink is allocated to the pipelines, but there is no further loss when replacement cartridges are fitted. The 80 ml cartridges supplied with the printer at purchase are the same as the replacements and aren’t the smaller ‘start-up’ types.

Although the same Stylus Pro 4800 engine has been retained, the bulk and weight of the 3800 are both much reduced. The box-like appearance is stylish enough yet it is functional and cleverly incorporates fold in panels for the auto sheet feeder at the rear and the paper receiving platform in the front. The only extra piece to attach is the rear feeder for heavier, single-sheet feed papers.

The reduced overall size, compared to the 4800 is welcome, however extra desk space is required at the rear to accommodate the paper holder and large sheets being transported from the front manual feed. The extended height of the auto paper feeder would negate any prospects of convenient storage under low shelving.

Paper Handling

There are three paper feed systems. The standard topload feeder has a capacity for up 120 sheets of plain paper or 60 sheets of Epson paper. There’s a single-sheet rear feeder for art papers and a manual front feeder for heavier papers up to 1.5 mm in thickness. The two rear feeders accommodate paper widths up to 432 mm. The top-load feeder has a warning to indicate Epson Ultra Smooth, Velvet and Watercolor Radiant White papers should not be used. These heavier Epson papers — and others of a similar type — will benefit from the slightly straighter path of the rear single sheet feeder.

The front manual paper load works well, but it’s important to have plenty of space behind the printer because A2 sheets are drawn almost completely through before printing commences. If you’re unsure about which manual paper feed to use when using thicker papers, be assured the rear selection will reject anything it determines cannot be transported.

A built-in sensor automatically reads printed data for highly precise alignment of all color channels. This analyses a printed nozzle check pattern and automatically cleans the print head if any problems are found, including partially clogged nozzles. Manual cleaning facilities are available if required.

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Profiles And Inks

There are 13 ICC profiles ‘built into’ the 3800 which cover all the popular Epson papers, plus there’s a provision to add the profiles supplied by other paper manufacturers. Manual overrides can be applied to individual colours, contrast and brightness; and any revised setting saved for future work. Profiles for other types of paper are now available for the 3800.

A small LCD panel on the printer shows the approximate ink levels in graph form and also the type of black ink in use. Ink cartridge levels are also displayed on the monitor via the final print dialogue box. By working through the menu, the ink levels can be viewed in a far more accurate percentage form. The menu system operates via up, down, left and right arrows, and takes you through a wide range of printer controls and monitoring facilities.

The characteristics of the UltraChrome K3 inks, in conjunction with Epson branded papers, are well known in terms of longevity, consistency print to print, lack of metamerism and gloss differential (via Epson’s Microcrystal Encapsulation technology).

The inks used in the 3800 are exactly the same as those used in the entire Epson pigment printer range from the R2400 right through to the large format 9800. The colour gamut of these inks is extensive and the blacks pronounced. Although the pigment blacks don’t have the DMax of dye-based inks, the colour gamut is just about identical.

Ink Economy

Before the arrival of the Stylus Pro 3800, a major disadvantage of with the K3 inks was the significant ink loss via the purging of the ink lines in each changeover between gloss and matte black. It was an obvious problem that required urgent attention. This has been rectified (almost) in the 3800 with only a 1.5 ml loss from photo black (i.e. gloss) to matte black, and 4.5 ml when going back. The purge time is about three minutes. The gloss and matte inks continue to use the same channel, but the plumbing has at least been re-organised to eliminate the previously heavy wastage. If wasted ink and change-over time are issues then it becomes a matter of keeping the loss, however small, to a minimum by planning out print runs with the gloss or matte black inks.

The ink consumption costs of the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 are reasonable, but do not compare with the advantages of the 110 ml or 220 ml cartridges in the 4800 or the frugal Canon iPF5000.

The Stylus Pro 3800 inks work out at $1.23 per millilitre compared to $0.85 per millilitre for the Canon machine. Considering the iPF5000 puts down less ink per print, the Stylus Pro 3800 is more expensive to run, but it still remains a far better proposition as far as ink consumption is concerned compared to any of the A3+ format printers.

Some photographers like to see exactly how much ink is being used per print. The printer menu has a ‘Job History’ that shows the amount of ink used to the nearest millilitre per print. For accuracy to 0.1 ml. it is necessary to refer to ‘Usage Count’. This is a continuous tally arrangement requiring the user to maintain on-going records per print or, alternatively, the tally can be re-zeroed after each print. The figures should be adopted as guidelines because the amount of ink laid down will vary from print to print according to the picture content (i.e. high key pictures use far less ink than a dark scene).

If an ink cartridge expires and the printer stops during the middle of a print the ‘on-the-fly’ changeover to a replacement cartridge will allow printing to continue. This is handy to know, especially with larger prints.

The user replaceable maintenance cartridge collects inks discharged in cleaning and purging activities. The status is continually monitored to give adequate notification of impending replacement.

Epson 3800

The 3800’s ink cartridge bay showing the nine separate slots. Unlike the Stylus Photo R2400, switching between photo (gloss) black and matte black is performed automatically.

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Performance

The Stylus Pro 3800 is very much a ‘no nonsense’ printer in that the set-up and basic printing procedures are both simple and straightforward. The set-up procedure, menu system on the printer, dialogue boxes on the monitor, instruction CD and start-up sheet are well-presented and easy to follow.

Adopting 1440 dpi printing rather than 2800 dpi is inviting in terms of the speed, and there appears to be negligible difference in quality. For example, using Epson’s archival matte paper I printed out a 300x222 mm image at all the default settings (and at 1440 dpi) and it took two minutes and 18 seconds. When I used the custom settings of 2880 dpi, but with ‘Finest Detail’, ‘Edge Smoothing’ and ‘High Speed’ all unchecked, the printing time was eight minutes and eight seconds.

In the ‘Main’ dialogue box of ‘Page Setup’, the default is ‘Epson Standard (sRGB)’ among a list that also offers ‘Epson Vivid’, ‘Charts And Graphs’ and ‘Adobe RGB’. If your print profiles have been assigned a colour space of Adobe RGB then selection of the Adobe RGB setting will ensure a more accurate screen-to-print match (assuming correct monitor calibration).

The Stylus 3800 is not the fastest in its class, doesn’t have the finest picolitre dot structure and isn’t the most economical on ink usage. However, it certainly produces excellent prints and does so with the minimum of fuss. In reality, the print speed will be quite acceptable for many users. For example, a 260x390 mm image made on A3+ paper took three minutes 15 seconds, while a 370x480 mm image made on A2 paper took five minutes. All print times were measured from the start of print head activity.

A number of prints were produced on a variety of A2 papers with ink consumption as low as 2.0 ml per print, and up to 6.0 ml.

After a few seconds of clanging about when the print file arrives at the printer everything is remarkably quiet and the sound of the print head moving back and forth is barely noticeable.

Borderless printing is a feature of this printer. The facility is based on set sizes and cannot be performed with custom settings.

Printing Panoramas

Although the printer is classified as A2 format and doesn’t come with a roll feed, the maximum print size still goes beyond 594x420 mm. The printer driver allows paper up to 432x950 mm to be fed from the rear, thus allowing panorama prints to be produced. Papers need to be cut down from rolls and must be cut perfectly square and flattened down to ensure trouble free transport through the printer. The rear manual feed is the best option because it has about 250 mm initial side support for paper. All sheets cut from rolls must be flat otherwise there may be inking or even edge banding problems.

My first test print was made on lustre paper that was 432x995 mm in size, with an image area of 860x370 mm. At 1440 dpi resolution the printing time was eight minutes and 30 seconds, and 6.0 ml of ink was consumed. Once the printing started no hand support for the paper was required and there wasn’t even need to catch the print at the end.

The 3800’s panorama printing capacity is not unduly promoted in the general specifications because Epson indicates there can be problems with paper flatness and possible sideways movement during its transit through the printer. However, after making several successful prints, I can report that creating panoramas (on a paper size of 432x995 mm) is a most welcome feature of this printer.

Epson 3800

Although the printer is classified as A2 format and doesn’t come with a roll feed, the maximum print size still goes beyond 594x420 mm.

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Monochrome Printing

The Stylus Pro 3800 has the capacity to produce a variety of black and white prints, from neutral to those designated warm, cool, sepia or any variable required. There is plenty of scope to ‘play’ here, but it may take some experimentation to achieve the optimum results, especially with print toning. Some toning applications may clog up the shadow or highlight detail and require adjustments to brightness and contrast. Any variations applied are monitored in a small ‘standard portrait’ image and not on the image to be printed. This merely acts as a rough indicator and suggests small test strips should be used for precise outcomes. Epson’s three-level black technology (black, light black and light light black) enhances neutral grey tones and virtually eliminates metamerism. As making books is an increasingly popular means of presenting photography, anyone contemplating printing on dual-sided inkjet paper wants to be assured their printer will provide accurate paper feed with precise alignment on dual-coated papers. The traction feed on the 3800 presented no problems in this area, and the back-to-back registration marks were spot on to the millimetre.

This accuracy also exists with custom paper sizes. To test this feature I centered a 220x300 mm image on paper cut to 400x300 mm. The custom paper size was established and the image was printed precisely to the centre of the sheet.

The Verdict

If Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF5000 is to be rated as the state-of-the-art in A2+ format pigment inkjet printers (give or take a few misgivings), then the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 has to be rated as one of the most affordable… and subsequently the one destined to grab a sizeable share of the market. Whatever it may lack in features compared to the iPF5000 or Epson’s 4800, the 3800 more than makes up for with its attractive pricing and ability to get the job done with a minimum of fuss. It may not be designed for ‘heavy traffic’ usage, but nonetheless it’s capable of handling reasonable work loads for both the professional and for the enthusiast amateur who is likely to concentrate on making highquality exhibition prints in the traditional 16x20-inch format.

Epson declares the Stylus Pro 3800 to be “the affordable professional desktop printer”. It’s a fair description, and the highly seductive price will be the driving force behind what’s likely to be one of Epson’s most successful inkjet photo printers.