A sophisticated and well-built inkjet printer that delivers excellent print quality for photo enthusiasts and professional photographers.Epson's Stylus Photo R2880, the long-awaited replacement for the popular R2400 model, boasts a new ink set and some technological advances that should please its target market. But, although it provides some welcome advances over its predecessor, the main flaw that frustrated owners of the R2400 has not been corrected. You still have to change black ink cartridges when you swap from printing on glossy media to matte papers. . . [more]
Epson's Stylus Photo R2880, the long-awaited replacement for the popular R2400 model, boasts a new ink set and some technological advances that should please its target market. But, although it provides some welcome advances over its predecessor, the main flaw that frustrated owners of the R2400 has not been corrected. You still have to change black ink cartridges when you swap from printing on glossy media to matte papers.
The most frustrating aspect of having to swap cartridges is that the printer driver initially fails to recognise a swap has been made. You have to switch the printer off and re-set the printing parameters - often several times - before the 'message' gets through to the driver. It's often necessary to even re-boot the computer and by the time this happens you may have spent as much as 30 minutes trying to 'persuade' the printer a different black ink has been loaded so you can select the correct paper type. This isn't a new problem; it occurred with the R2400. It's a pity Epson didn't fix it this time around.
Another frustrating feature that could have been - but wasn't - corrected is the capacity of the R2880's ink cartridges. Each one contains approximately 11 ml of ink, which is the same as the R2400's. This volume may be acceptable for an A4 printer - but it short-changes higher-volume users and the constant reminder of an ever-growing stack of spent cartridges only reinforces how much ink has been used. Admittedly, the R2880 didn't appear to chew through ink quite as quickly as our R2400; but we'd still like higher-capacity cartridges in printers at this level.
So, given these deficiencies, are there any reasons to upgrade from the R2400 to its successor?
The new Epson UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta pigment ink set could be worthy of consideration. Like the R2400's ink set it consists of nine cartridges: cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, photo black, matte black, light black and light light black. However, both magentas are the new 'vivid' magenta inks, which cover a wider colour gamut, particularly for blues and purples.
The inks are loaded in a similar way to the R2400.
The new model also includes some of the features that were introduced with the R1900 model, including the proprietary Look Up Table (LUT) technology. This works with the print head to determine how much of each colour is used to translate an RGB source file into a print. The technology was co-developed by Epson and the Rochester Institute of Technology's Munsell Color Science Lab with the aim of delivering a wider colour gamut with higher ink efficiency, reduced grain and reduced metamerism.
The default printing gamma has been changed from 1.8 (on the R2400) to 2.2 to provide a closer match to sRGB and Adobe 1998 (which are based on 2.2). The change is supposed to produce more accurate colour and smoother tonal gradations. We found our initial test prints were slightly darker than those from the R2400 but contrast wasn't noticeably increased. It was easy to make the minor corrections based on results from our test strips.
The MicroPiezo AMC (Advanced Meniscus Control) print head in the R2880 is also new. This print head is 25mm wide and has a similar ink-repelling coating to the print head in the R1900 - and Epson's latest large-format printers - and should never need replacing. In addition to ensuring highly accurate droplet placement, Automatic Nozzle Check technology uses a sensor to regularly check the nozzles and maintain proper head alignment.
Both functions combine to ensure consistent print quality. The R2880 is shipped with PreciseColor colorimetric calibration already applied to the print head at the factory, through a new manufacturing process. This eliminates the need for internal calibration devices or constant re-calibration. There's also a collection system for the tiny droplets of inks that get dispersed by the print head, which helps to keep the print heads clean, significantly reducing the need for cleaning cycles.
Like its predecessor, the R2880 can print on a wide range of paper sizes from 10 x 15 cm snapshot paper to A3+ size. Its top-loading paper tray can hold up to 30 sheets of photo or matte paper at a time. The rear slot is designed for loading single sheets of thick media or roll papers (which are fed in via a supplied holder) and can accept canvas or 1.3 mm thick art board in widths up to 329 mm.
Unlike the R2400, the R2880 comes with a CD/DVD printing tray, which fits into the front media feeder and takes advantage of the raised print head. Slots are provided for fitting the tray that carries the disk. Only specially-treated printable disks should be used (they have a matte white surface). Pigment inks will not dry on non-coated disks.
The Advanced Black & White driver on the new model has also been improved, with a re-designed user interface. The actual functionality of the GUI hasn't really changed but the new design provides better feedback when you adjust colour tones and tweak brightness and contrast.
The Advanced Black & White driver interface has been redesigned to provide better feedback for adjustments.
Build and Functionality
Epson has taken the popular Stylus Pro 3800 as the model for the R2880 and the build quality of the new machine is a significant improvement on the R2400. Both the drop-down front panel and the flip-up paper support are wider and the former feels much more substantial than the rather flimsy support provided on the R2400. Both the front tray and the rear feed have three-piece pull-out extension panels.
Control buttons have been moved from the right side of the front panel to the centre of the top panel, where they are fixed to the printer's chassis. The rest of the panel lifts up to allow the ink cartridges to be inserted. Installing the cartridges involves the same procedure as for the R2400. Each cartridge must be shaken vigorously before it is installed to ensure the pigments are suspended in the ink media instead of stuck along one side of the cartridge.
Cartridges fit into their specially-marked sockets with a positive click. Only eight cartridges are loaded at a time and you must decide whether you wish to print on glossy or matte media. The Photo Black cartridge is used for the former and the Matte Black for the latter. Epson claims the R2880 has more efficient ink management than its predecessor when you swap the black cartridges. However, inevitably some ink is wasted because the printer has to purge the old ink from the print head.
The printer has two USB 2.0 ports to support two simultaneous computer connections. However, you can only print from one computer at a time. If you try sending print jobs simultaneously from both computers, only one will be printed; the other will be ignored. No Firewire port is provided and Ethernet support is not included. Nor are there any memory card slots but the R2880 is PictBridge enabled for direct printing from a digital camera (although we can't think of anyone who would want to use it as most potential users would make test prints before committing to an A3+ enlargement).
The R2880 has the same paper feed options as its predecessor, with a main chute opening towards the rear of the top panel, a rear manual feed chute halfway down the rear panel for Fine Art and other specialty media (including roll paper) and a front 'straight path' feeder for heavyweight media up to 1.3 mm thick. Selecting the front feeder moves the print head up a little to allow for the thicker media.
Supplied with the R2880 are a pair of roll-paper holders that slot into guides on the rear feed chute. They're similar to those provided with the R2400 and can be tricky to use, especially with wider paper rolls. There's no built-in trimmer to cut the paper at the end of a print and you tend to waste about 6 cm moving the paper out far enough to cut it - and it's difficult to cut straight and perpendicular to the edge so you have a straight edge for the next time you want to print a panorama. (However, you can print several in sequence and leave the cutting until the end of the session.)
The user manual is only supplied on the software CD, although a printed sheet is provided with instructions for setting up the R2880. Both sets of instructions are easy to follow, although you must use the digital document to find out about the various printing options, which include printing on cut sheets (standard and thick paper), roll paper, optical disks and direct printing from a digital camera.
There is also information on B&W photo printing (using the Advanced B&W interface), double-sided printing (Windows only) and enlarged or reduced-size printing. You can also print multiple pages (or pictures) on a sheet using the Page Layout tab in the Printing Preferences GUI.
The software bundle contains the same applications as Epson's other photo printers and includes the printer driver plus the latest versions of Epson's Creativity Suite applications. Consequently, you get Easy Photo Print, Attach to Email, Web to Page, Epson File Manager, Epson Darkroom Print, Camera RAW Plug-in, Epson Print CD and Scan Assistant.
You can choose which applications you wish to install from the bundled software.
Epson Print CD is provided for printing on coated optical disks.
The R2880 driver has also been re-vamped (see below) but it only supports Windows Vista, XP and 2000 operating systems or Mac OS-X 10.3.9 or later.
Epson has given the driver on the new printer a fresh new look, providing an ink levels indicator graph and wider range of settings on the Main page. It's no longer necessary to select the Advanced mode to change colour controls and you get a wider range of print quality settings and media selections. Current settings are now displayed in an adjacent window, allowing you to check key printing parameters.
The Main page in the R2880's driver.
A special sub-menu is provided for adjusting quality settings.
The Page Layout page is also more comprehensive and carries more orientation settings (including 180 degree rotation and Mirror Image). It's also easier to collate multiple-page print jobs and engage duplexing.
Page Layout controls.
A Utility page replaces the Maintenance page and carries settings for nozzle checking, head cleaning and print head alignment plus a range of buttons that allow you to monitor the progress of individual print jobs or open the status monitor. You can also print out settings for each print job on the top or bottom of the page, a convenient facility for proofing.
The Utility page.
The driver also comes with Epson's Colour Controls, which can be useful to photographers who don't print through an editing application. PhotoEnhance scene correction support is also provided.
Epson's Colour Controls adjustments.
PhotoEnhance scene correction is accessed through the Main page of the driver.
Like the R2400's driver, the new interface works seamlessly with Photoshop. If you select Photoshop Manages Colour in your printing set-up in Photoshop, the driver interface should automatically switch colour management to 'Off (No Colour Adjustment). This will stop you from double-profiling your prints (which can produce incorrect colours).
Users can track the progress of a print via an on-screen display.
While the redesigned driver interface is certainly prettier and slightly more informative than the R2400's driver, when it comes to functionality, improvements are slight and the main faults we have found through using the R2400 for more than a year are uncorrected - as we have outlined above.
Aside from the failure of the driver to recognise when the black ink cartridges were exchanged, we had a couple of additional issues, the main problem being its tendency to default back to Epson's pre-sets - which were often unsuitable. Thus, we sometimes found the driver had set itself to portrait orientation when we had previously been printing in landscape format.
It also kept defaulting back to medium quality with High Speed selected when we had unchecked the High Speed box and selected high quality. Checking the Print Preview box allowed us to re-set the driver without wasting paper. You can also save your own settings for future use - although this can be fiddly if you want to use a number of different types of paper.
Finally, when we set out to print a 117.2 x 31.75 cm panorama on roll paper, the only way we could fit it onto the paper was to rotate it by 90 degrees and print it in Portrait format. The driver was unable to reorientate the page to Landscape format. This can be seen on the page where you enter 'User Defined' paper sizes; the settable Paper Height parameters are much wider than the Paper Width.
Specifying a User Defined paper size. Note the limitations on the Width parameter that require panorama images to be rotated before printing.
Printing a panorama on roll paper.
None of these problems was a serious fault, although they provided a constant reminder of the need to check settings carefully each time before you press the print button.
The review printer produced impressive results and reproduced even traditionally 'difficult' colours like blues and purples with a high degree of accuracy. Skin tones were accurately rendered and subtle tonal nuances were handled extremely well. Reproduction of detail was also very good.Not surprisingly, we found little difference in prints made with the R2880 and our R2400 when we used matte papers. With both the papers we printed on - Archival Matte and Velvet Fine Art - our images printed out with full detail, rich blacks and excellent colour depth and vibrancy. Prints made on Epson's Premium Glossy Photo Paper had a bit more 'punch' when printed on the new model. Blues, in particular, appeared to have slightly more depth and vibrancy.
The 'canned' profiles provided with the R2880 were uniformly excellent for all of the papers we printed on. The new Vivid Magenta inks appear to have improved the overall richness of colour prints without adding unwanted casts. Overall, the promises of the new Look Up Table (LUT) technology appear to have been delivered in the R2880.
Epson's Advanced Black & White driver delivered excellent results when we made monochrome prints from colour originals. We tried several of the Colour Toning settings and also used the tonal circle to add subtle colour tones to our prints. However, we found we could tweak image contrast more precisely than the printer driver permits in the image editor and on-screen feedback was also more reliable.
Doing the monochrome conversion in Photoshop and then printing in RGB mode without making subsequent adjustments in the Advanced Black & White driver produced colour-neutral monochrome prints. It also but also allowed us more flexibility with image adjustments. Individual photographers will doubtless have their own preferred methods for monochrome printing. We're pretty confident the R2880 will provide excellent results, regardless of which method is used.
Epson's new Traditional Photo Paper produced both colour and monochrome prints with superb tonal subtlety, although we had to boost contrast and saturation in some images to bring out the best hue and tonal qualities. For this paper (and the Velvet Fine Art paper we tried) we found it easier to use the main sheet feed than the rear chute recommended by the printer driver.
We experienced no paper loading or transport problems in the course of our tests. None of our test prints showed any trace of surface irregularities, bronzing or metamerism and we found no incidences of banding or uneven ink distribution.
Average printing times are listed below:
A3 sheet at 1440 x 1440 dpi - 7 minutes and 4 seconds
A3 sheet at 5760 x 1440 dpi - 12 minutes and 13 seconds
A3+ sheet at Maximum quality - 14 minutes and 15 seconds
Panorama measuring 117.2 x 31.75 cm - 37 minutes and 8 seconds.
Although the bar graphs in the printer driver interface give only an approximation indication of the ink levels in each cartridge, like the R2400, the R2880 displays low ink warnings for cartridge levels down to 5%. It's impossible to estimate exactly when the cartridge actually will run dry but the printer will cease operating when this happens - even if only one cartridge is depleted.
Low ink reminder display.
Epson bases its cartridge yield claims on ISO/IEC 24711 and 24712 test files, none of which contains a typical photographic image. Consequently, it is unrealistic to use the claims published in the specifications on the company's website for typical photo printing usage. We weren't able to estimate exactly how much ink was used for the initial priming of the print head so our estimates of running costs can only be regarded as a rough approximation for typical photo printing.
The first ink cartridge to run out was vivid light magenta, which was depleted well before the light cyan and light light black cartridges (which still had about 20% of ink remaining. At this point, we had made 11 A3 prints and 9 A3+ prints and used two A3-sized sheets for test strips. The cyan remained in the printer throughout the entire test run but we had to replace the magenta, yellow, light cyan, light black, light light black and photo black cartridges and used up two vivid light magenta cartridges.
Ink cartridges for the R2880 are currently priced at $21.99 each. In our tests we use eight full cartridges plus the approximate equivalent of one extra cartridge and made the equivalent of 150 A4-sized prints. This works out at approximately $1.32 in ink per print. A list of paper and inks costs can be found at www.shoponline.epson.com.au/shop/DisplayALLProductConsumables.asp.
The new model appears to be marginally faster than the R2400; but it's still a relatively slow printer. This probably won't concern photographers who don't require high-volume printing but wish to produce A3+ enlargements on a wide variety of advanced paper types and make top-quality B&W prints.
If you already have an R2400 that is still performing well, the viability of replacing it with the R2880 is debatable. The new model is certainly better built and very straightforward to use. As a first printer for photographers who want a top-quality A3+ printer for proofing and making display prints, it represents an excellent choice and will justify its relatively high price tag.
The R2880 has a print lightfastess rating of between 85 and 108 years for most Epson papers when framed under glass, according to testing conducted by Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com/).
Printer type: On-demand inkjet with Advanced MicroPiezo AMC print head
Resolution: 5760 x 1440 optimised dpi (max.)
Paper sizes: 150 x 100 mm up to A3+ (483 x 329 mm); Roll paper: 211mm and 318.5 mm rolls
Max. paper weight: 1.3mm thick
Ink cartridges: Eight-colour (Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Black, Light Light Black and Matte or Photo Black)
Lightfastness: Colour: 108 years on Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper; B&W: Over 200 years on Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper
Interfaces: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 (2 ports); PictBridge (1 port)
Power consumption: Approx. 21W (Printing mode); Sleep mode:4W (240V); Power OFF: 0.4W (240V)
Acoustic noise: 5.0 dBA (per ISO7779)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 616 x 214 x 322 mm (closed)
Weight: 12 kg (without AC cable/bundled ink cartridges)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 9.0
- Features: 8.0
- Print quality: 9.0
- Print speed: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.0