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Epson Stylus Pro 3800
A Killer Printer at a Killer Price

By Allan Weitz

Printer-Friendly Version

Leave it to Epson to take a terrific pro-series inkjet printer, improve upon it, and send it off to the marketplace for about two-thirds the price of the price of the machine it replaces. The Epson Stylus Pro (SP) 3800 is the heir apparent to the Epson SP 4800, an extremely capable 17x22" desktop printer that helped to further raise the bar on fine-art digital image quality.

The price tag isn't the only thing that was pared down in size. The printer itself is about a third smaller (27W x 15D x 10H") and half the weight (43.2lb) of the Epson SP 4800. For those living and/or working in tight quarters this could eliminate the problem of having to choose between a new printer and a spouse. Don't laugh. I know a few city dwellers who actually contemplated this scenario when agonizing over the purchase of an SP 4000-series printer. I also know someone who weighed his options and actually ditched the spouse. If you can find your way past the piles of Chinese take-out containers, he has some really gorgeous prints hanging on his walls these days.

Domestic bliss aside, the Epson SP 3800 incorporates many improvements over its predecessors. The big question is how they managed to slash the price of the printer (rather dramatically) without compromising the integrity of the printer and/or the print quality.

According to Epson, the costs of producing the new printer were greatly reduced by eliminating the option of printing from roll paper (According to surveys most SP 4000/4800 owners prefer printing to sheet paper over rolls) and employing a single print head for both Matte Black and Photo Black ink. Eliminating the roll-holder also enabled the engineers to significantly reduce the overall physical size of the printer, which in turn should contribute to the continuity of domestic bliss in many households.

Technically speaking, the SP 3800 improves upon the print technologies found in the SP 4800. Epsonís UltraChrome K3 inkset continues to be the top-dog of Epson's inkset line-up, consisting of 4-monochrome inks (Photo or Matte Black, Light Black, & Light Light Black) and 5-color inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Lt. Cyan, & Lt. Magenta). All nine colors are delivered to the print surface via eight individual print heads, with Photo and Matte Black sharing a common head.

Swapping between Photo Black and Matte Black has been reduced to a rather painless and cost-efficient procedure. What took up to 20 minutes on earlier Epsons now takes less than 2 to 3 minutes (PK to MK 1-min,55-sec, MK to PK 2-min, 55sec). Ink loss during the swap-out process has also been dramatically reduced. Earlier Epson large-format printers blew out the equivalent of a full 110ml cartridge of ink during the swap process, while the SP 3800 only loses about 1.5 to 4.5 ml, depending on whether you are going Matte to Photo, or visa-versa. In case you're curious, this is far less ink than you currently lose running a routine head-cleaning cycle. When you choose your print surface in the print driver menu, the SP 3800 automatically swaps out the blacks.

The AMC (Active Meniscus Control) Variable-Droplet Piezo print heads found in the SP 3800 are a carryover from the SP 4800. Each of the heads is an inch wide, contains 180 nozzles, and can accurately plant ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters onto the print surface. What is different are new dot placement and screening algorithms that result in smoother overall tonal transitions and sharper detailing as compared to earlier printers, which were quite admirable to begin with. Color-wise Epson's UltraChrome K3 inks deliver one of the widest color gamuts currently available in pigment-based inksets.

Epson's UltraChrome K3 inks are also blessed with a decent level of scratch-resistance, and, depending on the media choice, produce a D-max of up to 2.3 with an 'L' value of 4.1. The color you see as the print exits the printer is quite stable and should remain that way for up to 300-plus years, again depending on media surface and display conditions.

For black & white aficionados the SP 3800 carries over the SP 4800's awesome monochrome printing abilities. Using all three blacks and traces of the color pigments to fill in the gaps, Epson's K3 inks are rich in tone and exhibit stunning transitions between highlights and shadows. Metamarism, gloss deferentiation and bronzing, long a family embarrassment with pigment-based inkjet prints, are all but absent in the UltraChrome K3 family. The prints look dead-on no matter what light source you view finished prints under.

Print-times on the SP 3800 have also been improved over previous models. At SuperFine/1440 dpi an 8x10" takes a hair over 4 minutes to complete and a 16x20" takes just under 11 minutes. If you plan on hanging a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can pull all the stops and print at SuperPhoto/2880 dpi, which delivers 8x10 prints in about 7-3/4 minutes and 16x20 prints in just under 20 minutes per print. If you want to personally print the announcements for your show the SP 3800 can handle paper sizes down to 4x6" (Previous SP 4000-series printers only went down to 8x10").

Even if you seldom have a need to print 16x20s, the SP 3800 can easily prove to be far more cost efficient over the long run as compared to the cost of 'inking up' smaller 13x19" and 8-1/2 x11" desktop printers. From a price-per-milliliter point-of-view, Epson's large-format printers are no-brainers as compared to the 'less expensive' desktops.

If you're looking for a museum-quality printer capable of producing images up to 16x20" at a price that can best be described as 'laughably low', stop in and check out the Epson Stylus Pro 3800.

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