An A2 desktop printer for photo enthusiasts and professional photographers who want to create long-lasting, exhibition-quality prints.Epson's Stylus Pro 3880 was announced early in September as a replacement for the three-year-old Stylus Pro 3800 large format desktop printer (reviewed in December 2006). Compact and competitively priced, it is designed for professional photographers and serious photo enthusiasts who want to produce gallery-quality A2 size prints but could also suit photo studios, camera shops who offer custom printing and design studios. . . [more]
Epson's Stylus Pro 3880 was announced early in September as a replacement for the three-year-old Stylus Pro 3800 large format desktop printer (reviewed in December 2006). Compact and competitively priced, it is designed for professional photographers and serious photo enthusiasts who want to produce gallery-quality A2 size prints but could also suit photo studios, camera shops who offer custom printing and design studios.
Physically, the new model is almost identical to its predecessor and many features remain unchanged. It's still the smallest A2 printer on the market - and also the lowest priced. This is undoubtedly because, like its predecessor, the 3880 is only designed to accept paper in cut sheets; there are no facilities for using roll paper, although you can print on larger, non-standard sheets (see below).
Front view of the Stylus Pro 3880 with output tray extended. (Source: Epson.)
Build quality is similar to the 3800 model. The body of the printer is very solidly constructed and it is quite heavy (19.8 kg) for a desktop unit - although considerably lighter than its ‘big brother' the Stylus Pro 4880.
Our main criticism in the ‘build' department is the relatively flimsy paper support ‘trays'. The flip-down front panel, which becomes a pull-out paper catching tray, also feels quite insubstantial and its push-release mechanism often needs a few nudges to engage and disengage.
The rear paper support guides, which pull up behind the Auto Sheet Feeder, also feel rather thin and insecure for handling large sheets of paper so it's good to have more solid and substantial front and rear feeders as alternatives. To some degree, these compromises are a consequence of keeping the printer's weight down. However, when you've paid more than $2000, you might expect sturdier build in these areas.
The A2 desktop printer category is relatively small with only four models for photographers to choose from (although earlier models from Canon and Epson may still be available). Interestingly, the Epson and Canon models are relatively recent releases, while the HP model has been around for several years and the company shows no signs of updating it. The table below compares the main features of these printers.
HP DesignJet 130
2880 x 1440 dpi
2880 x 1440 dpi
2400 x 1200 dpi
2400 x 1200 dpi
9 (8 active)
9 (8 active)
12 (11 active)
Pigment (UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta)
Pigment (UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta)
Dye (HP Vivera)
110 or 220 ml
Display permanence rating *
Max. paper size
Roll paper support
25W (printing); 5W(standby)
59W (printing); 5W(standby)
65W (printing), 17W (standby)
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed; 10/100 Base-T/TX (Ethernet)
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed; 10/100 Base-T/TX (Ethernet)
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed; 10/100 Base-T/TX (Ethernet), IEEE 1394
USB 1.1 (USB 2.0 compliant), IEEE-1284 (ECP compliant), 1 EIO slot
684 x 257 x 376 mm
848 x 765 x 354 mm
999 x 810 x 344 mm
1050 x 415 x 220 mm
* average in years for up to 5 paper types for unframed colour prints/prints framed behind glass. (WIR data used where available)
Setting up and configuring the 3880 is straightforward - once you've removed all the packaging (about 30 strips of blue tape plus four pieces of Styrofoam and four chunks of plastic all told). Once this is accomplished, the printer can be plugged into the mains and you can start unpacking and inserting the ink cartridges.
The ink cartridges are loaded beneath a lift-up panel on the left front side of the printer. You can't lift this panel until the printer has been powered up and you've pressed the appropriate button for a few seconds. Each cartridge is clearly labelled and keyed so it's impossible to put it in the wrong slot.
The ink cartridge bay, partially loaded.
When the last cartridge is in place, the printer takes about 10 minutes to prime the ink lines and heads before you can take the next step. When the printer is set up for the first time, roughly 15 ml of ink from each cartridge is lost in this process so you can't expect quite as many prints from the original ink set as you'll get from subsequent cartridges.
The final step is to connect the printer to your computer via a USB or Ethernet cable and install the driver software and online user manual from the supplied disk. This takes a further three to five minutes. You are then ready to print.
The 3880 has three ways of loading paper: a top loading auto feeder, which can hold up to 20 sheets of photo-quality paper; rear manual feed slot for single sheets of heavy fine art paper, and a front manual feed slot that can take single sheets up to 1.5 mm thick. The top and rear feeds can take paper up to 0.27 mm thick.
Clear instructions are provided in the user manual for loading paper via the front feed slot. It's not difficult as long as you follow all instructions and it's worthwhile because it's the only feeder that passes the paper through the printer without bending it. Consequently, it's the best way to ensure maximum print quality on heavy fine art papers. When printing on A2 paper at least 450 mm of free space must be available behind the printer to allow the paper to be fed through.
The printer automatically detects the dimensions of the paper that is loaded and will alert users when the image exceeds the printable area of the paper and cannot be printed. When you use the front slot, the top and bottom margins are pre-set to 20 mm. Borderless printing is not possible through this feeder.
The control panel contains (from left) a power on/off button, a Cancel/Reset button, a monochrome LCD screen and an arrow pad. There are also three lights indicating power, paper and ink status. The power light flashes when the printer is printing or cleaning the print head, while the other lights flash to indicate problems with paper loading or ink supply.
The Stylus Pro 3880's control panel. (Source: Epson.)
The right arrow pad button accesses the menu, which accesses controls for printer setup and status checks, maintenance checks and job information. The status checks allow you to see how many printable pages are possible with each of the individual ink cartridges. You can also check the percentage of ink remaining in each cartridge.
The status check for the Vivid Magenta cartridge towards the end of our test run.
You can also check the total amount of ink you have used and, by selecting the Job History item, how much ink was used on the last 10 prints you made with the printer. This is very useful for evaluating ink usage and calculating the running costs of the printer.
The Job History display shows you how much ink was used plus the size of the print that was made. The top display shows ink usage for an A3+ print; the lower display shows usage for a 650 x 330 mm image on 430 x 850 mm sheet of paper.
Actual ink consumption may vary depending on the images you are printing, the paper type you use, how frequently you run the printer and environmental conditions such as temperature. When a cartridge runs low in ink, a warning is displayed on the computer screen. You can continue printing until you reach the ink safety reserve when the printer indicates the cartridge should be replaced.
The menu also provides a running total of the number of pages you have printed. Many of the other settings accessible via the menu replicate settings in the printer driver. These include maintenance items like head alignment, connectivity settings for network setup and contrast adjustment.
The printer ships with a ‘Maintenance Cartridge', which is collection system that absorbs the tiny droplets of inks that get dispersed by the print head and any overspill that occurs during borderless printing. This helps to keep the print heads clean, significantly reducing the need for cleaning cycles. You can track the status of the cartridge on the printer's menu and replace it when it's no longer capable of taking more ink. Full instructions are provided in the user manual.
Like the Stylus Pro 3800 it replaces, the Stylus Pro 3880 accepts nine individual high-capacity 80ml ink cartridges with eight of them used at a time for printing. The ink set includes four black inks (interchangeable photo and matte black, light black and light light black) plus five coloured inks (cyan, light cyan, yellow, vivid magenta and vivid light magenta). Each cartridge sells for $99 (including GST).
Unlike the 4880 (where the cartridges must be exchanged by the user), the 3880 features automatic swapping between the photo black and matte black cartridges when you move from glossy to matte papers. Both cartridges are loaded in the printer and the exchange is triggered when you set a different paper in the printer driver.
The diagram above shows which inks are used with different types of media. (Source: Epson.)
Cartridge swapping takes three minutes and 40 seconds and purges approximately 4.6 ml of ink from the swapped-out cartridge. You can track the progress of the exchange on both the LCD on the printer itself and the on-screen display, as shown below. Aside from normal printing, ink is also consumed each time an ink cartridge is installed and during print head cleaning.
Changing from Matte Black to Photo Black ink as shown on the printer's LCD screen.
The display shown on the computer monitor, which doesn't track progress of the exchange.
The 3880 features the fourth generation UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta pigment inks, which were introduced with the Stylus Photo R2880 in mid-2008. Claimed as a ‘breakthrough in pigment ink technology', this ink set has a wider colour gamut than most photographers would need to use, largely through the inclusion of the new Vivid Magenta inks.
The diagram above shows the wider gamut provided by the UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta ink set. (Source: Epson.)
Aside from the two Vivid Magenta cartridges, the other inks appear to be the same as those used in the 3800 model. But readers should note that you can't use the older model's inks in the 3880 because their colour profiles are different and the driver and ‘canned' profiles aren't set up to accommodate them. Epson claims colour prints will last without fading for up to 75 years while black and white prints should survive up to 200 years without fading under normal display conditions.
The inks are delivered through a 25mm wide MicroPiezo AMC (Advanced Meniscus Control) print head, which has an ink-repellent coating to ensure precise droplet delivery under high workloads. This print head should never need replacing.
The Stylus Pro 3880 print head. (Source: Epson.)
Print head alignment has been improved with a built-in multi-sensor system that uses a white LED plus two sensors to scan printer utility calibration test patterns and ensure the print head is always aligned with the media. The sensors can also detect nozzle clogging and automatically activate the cleaning function to keep all nozzles clear.
The new printer also uses Epson's Image Processing Technology, a new image half-toning algorithm that improves print speed, produces more stable half-tones, improving print quality in both high and low resolution print modes by reducing grain size. It also offers better gamut smoothing and negligible metamerism (colour changes under different types of lighting).
The 3880 also includes proprietary Look Up Table (LUT) technology, which 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 above diagram shows how Epson's LUT technology converts the RGB colour information in images into precise values for each ink colour. (Source: Epson.)
The printer is shipped with PreciseColor colorimetric calibration already applied to the print head at the factory. This eliminates the need for internal calibration devices or constant re-calibration.
The printer driver is similar to the drivers on other recent Epson printers and comes with pre-loaded ICC profiles for Epson's most popular photo printing papers. Profiles can be easily added for other manufacturers' media. Users have the option to print directly through the printer driver or work through software, such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
You can also choose between having the software or the printer control colour management. When the software controls colours, the appropriate paper profile must be selected before moving to the printer driver and the printer driver mode must be set to ‘off (No Colour Adjustment). The correct paper profile must also be set in the printer driver (see below).
The correct driver settings for printing through image editing software that supports ICC profiles.
If you opt to print through the printer driver, you must also select the correct paper profile and ensure the software is set to ‘Let Printer Set Colours'. Make sure the driver interface is set for Best Photo quality and select Photo Enhance to access the fine-tuning controls the driver provides.
The Photo Enhance interface.
The driver also provides a good range of colour adjustments through an easy-to-understand user interface. These are best kept for last-minute fine-tuning as it's usually best to set up image colours and brightness levels on a calibrated monitor. You can't be assured of colour and brightness accuracy in the driver interface.
Similar adjustments are also available for monochrome printing when you set the Colour to Advanced B&W Photo and much more effective to use. It's easy to ‘tone' monochrome images for printing and adjust brightness, contrast and shadow tonality as well as overall tonal rendition via the colour target and slider controls.
Colour adjustments provided in the printer driver.
Adjustments provided with the Advanced B&W Photo mode.
One feature we weren't particularly happy with was the driver's tendency to re-set the quality settings to favour output speeds each time you make any changes to the printing parameters in the driver interface. This only happens when changes are made so, when you're making a series of prints on the same type and size of paper it won't bother you. However, change just one parameter and the printer defaults to the Speed setting and you must open the dropdown menu and select Quality Options in order to uncheck the High Speed box and set the quality slider to maximum.
Quality Options selection.
The speed setting makes a significant difference to the amount of time it takes to produce a print. Allowing the printer to default to the Speed setting will typically cut printing times by about one third. In practice, we found very little difference in colour prints made with different quality settings, although B&W prints were noticeably better with the highest quality settings.
Making Larger Prints
Although the 3880 is set up as a sheet feed only printer, it is possible to make prints that are larger than the A2 maximum size for which the printer is designed. Two factors are critical to success: you must use the rear sheet feeder and you must set up the printer driver correctly. The rear sheet guide must be in place and the paper guides for the auto feeder should be folded away.
In most cases, photographers producing over-sized prints will be using roll paper, which means you must cut the paper to size and flatten it before embarking on a print. It's best to leave the paper for at least 24 hours to flatten because strongly-curved paper can cause head strike, which results in ink being deposited in places where you don't want it.
Make sure the ends are cut off level, making the paper into a perfect rectangle. (If it's not, the printer is likely to reject it!) Note: the printing surface on roll paper is the outermost side so care is required when handling it.
When you're ready to print, check that the paper profile is correct and select Manual -Rear as the paper Source setting. Open the Size dropdown menu and select User Defined. (This setting won't appear if you've selected Borderless printing in the printer driver because borderless printing is not supported in this mode.)
Selecting the User Defined page size. (Note the warning that borderless printing is not supported.)
The next step is to set up the page size. Click on the Unser Defined button right of the Size settings. This opens a dialog box with paper width and height adjustments. The maximum and minimum settings for each parameter are shown in brackets below them, indicating the largest sheet you can print on is 431.8mm wide by 950mm long. (That's considerably larger than A2 size.)
The User Defined page setup.
Key in the parameters of the sheet of paper you plan to use (not the image parameters) and you're ready to set up the image in your editing software and load the paper. The paper must be fed into the rear feed slot with the printable side upwards. It will curve back over the rear sheet feeder as you feed it in.
Using the rear sheet guide, insert the paper into the manual feed slot flush with the right edge guide. Slide the edge guide on the rear sheet guide until it is flush with the paper. Holding the paper by both sides, guide it into the printer until it passes through an initial point of resistance. (You may need to push the centre of the sheet down gently with one hand to ‘help' it into the slot.
Maintain a constant pressure against the paper (approx. 3 seconds) until you feel the printer take up the paper. It will then take between 30 seconds and a minute to pull the paper into the printing position. If it doesn't get fed in properly, an error message will appear on the LCD panel and you'll have to push the down button and repeat the exercise. When the printer is ‘happy' with the feed, it will indicate it is Ready to print on the LCD.
You can now pull out the paper catcher extension and start printing.
Epson supplied four different types of paper for our tests: Premium Glossy, Premium Semigloss, Archival Matte and Traditional Photo Paper. We also had a few sheets of UltraSmooth Fine Art paper left over from a previous review to use.
There was no canned profile for the Traditional Photo Paper in the driver software and we were unable to find anywhere to download one from. The closest equivalent appeared to be the UltraSmooth Fine Art paper profile, which delivered good results. But it was disappointing to find the profile from one of Epson's premium papers omitted from the canned profile list for this printer.
On the basis of our experiences with the previous model, we expected excellent output quality. And we weren't disappointed. Producing a technically perfect colour or B&W print should be straightforward with modern photo printers; but it depends on having suitable images and how the printing workflow is set up.
When you know what you're doing with respect to your computer, printer and colour management, good results should follow. Epson also makes obtaining good prints easier by supplying an excellent set of canned profiles that can be used straight out of the box and a driver interface that makes it easy to use them.
Our test system involved the following steps:
1. Our Eizo ColorEdge CG19 monitor was calibrated with an EyeOne Display colorimeter.
2. Test prints were made through Photoshop CS4 using Epson's canned profiles and both sRGB and Adobe RGB colour spaces. Some test prints were also made directly through the printer driver (again with the canned profiles).
3. Prints were left to stabilise for at least 30 minutes before evaluation.
4. Prints were evaluated under controlled daylight lighting - indoors in a room brightly lit with natural daylight. They were also assessed under indoor fluorescent lighting to pick up evidence of metamerism.
Epson appears to have got the ‘canned' profiles spot on. Using them we obtained excellent results with all these papers. Our only (minor) complaint was that gloss differential could be seen on prints made on the Premium Glossy and Traditional Photo Paper papers. But this is to be expected with pigment inks.
Prints on matte papers were smooth with rich colours and consistently fine tonal reproduction. Image detail was fully rendered and we found no evidence of metamerism in any of the prints we made and no sign of bronzing in any B&W prints.
Don't expect fast printing speeds - particularly if you've set the printer for maximum print quality. Typical printing times for A2 prints were around 20 minutes. A3 and A3+ prints averaged 17 minutes and A4 sheets were completed in just under 10 minutes. It took roughly half an hour to print an 890 x 296 mm panorama on 430 x 950 mm paper with the maximum quality settings.
When you default to the Speed setting, printing times are much shorter, with an A2 sheet taking approximately eight minutes, A3 and A3+ prints taking between three and three-and-a-half minutes and A4 sheets less than two minutes. A 650 x 330 mm image printed on a 430 x 850 mm sheet of paper at maximum quality took 23 minutes and 44 seconds and used 2.5 ml of ink - which is pretty good. The same image printed with the default setting was delivered in only six minutes and seven seconds.
Ink usage is relatively conservative, with A3 and A3+ prints averaging between 1.5 and 2 ml (depending on the relative sizes of the bright and dark areas in the image). Not unexpectedly, the Light Light Black cartridge was used up more rapidly than the other colours.
Nobody could complain about output quality, which was at least as good as the previous model - and probably as good as the 4880, which was one of the first printers with the new ink set. Blues and purples were nicely rendered, thanks to the Vivid Magenta colours. We found the review printer could produce a full range of colours and tones, even from images with a broad dynamic range.
Nor could you complain about the amount of detail reproduced in prints from the 3880. In our tests, the new Look Up Table (LUT) technology delivered on its promises.
Using the Advanced B&W Photo mode enabled us to produce some excellent monochrome prints from both B&W and colour original files. The user interface made it possible to ‘tone' images with a high degree of finesse and at the same time adjust brightness and contrast to compensate for deficiencies in the original image. When the tone was set to neutral, the K3 with Vivid Magenta inks produced a totally neutral tone.
Paper handling was generally good, although on two occasions the printer stopped and indicated a feeding problem. Once, switching the power off and on again resolved the issue. On the second instance, we were left with a half-printed page.
The rear feeder was tricky to use but, once the paper had been accepted, printing through this feeder was trouble-free. The auto sheet feeder refused to take up paper sheets a couple of times with heavier papers but was mostly straightforward to use. No problems occurred with the front sheet feeder when heavy papers were used.
Buy this printer if:
- You're looking for high-quality, long-lasting prints for display or exhibition.
- You want high-capacity ink cartridges.
- You want to produce monochrome prints that are free of colour casts and metamerism.
Don't buy this printer if:
- You want fast printing speeds or require high-volume production performance.
- You'd like to be able to print panoramas or banners longer than 950 mm. (This printer lacks facilities for roll paper printing.)
- You require ICC profile support for the full range of Epson's ‘fine art' papers.
Printer type: A2 professional pigment-ink photo printer
Resolution: Max. 2880dpi x 1440 dpi with Epson Variable-sized Droplet Technology
Paper sizes: Borderless A2, A3+, A3, A4, 11 x 14-inch, 8 x 10-inch, 5 x 7-inch, 6 x 4-inch
Printing area: Width: 89mm to 431.8mm Length: 127mm to 950mm
Max. paper thickness: ASF: 0.27mm; Front Feed: up to 1.5mm
Ink cartridges: 9 colours pigment ink (C, VM, Y, LC, VLM, LK, LLK, Photo K, Matte K) with 8 colour printing
Interfaces: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed; 10/100 Base-T/TX (Ethernet)
Power consumption: Max: 25W (printing); Standby: 5W; power off: 0.4W or less
Acoustic noise: 39dB(A) in best quality mode
Dimensions (wxhxd): 684 x 257 x 376 mm (minimum dimensions with paper trays and other extensions closed)
Weight: Approx. 19.8 kg (excluding ink and media)
Digital cameras, lenses and accessories with 100% genuine Australian manufacturer's warranties.
Ph: (02) 9029 2219
Ph: 133 686
The largest speciality photographic retail chain in Australia.
CameraPro Pty Ltd
Suite 607, 180 Queen St, Brisbane 4000
Tel: 07 3333 2900
Australian owned and run company based in Brisbane.
Retailer of digital camera equipment and more.
Secure online shopping and delivery across Australia.
Ph: 1300 727 056
Ph: 1800 155 067
Digital Camera Warehouse
174 Canterbury Road 367 High Street
NSW 2193 VIC 3070
Ph: 1300 365 220
1300 801 885
Australian retailer of Vapex rechargeable batteries offering factory direct prices and fast, free shipping Australia wide.
Greg Smith's Photo Accessories
1800 50 80 82
Big range of photographic accessories, Australia-wide shipping.
285 George St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9299 2999
Photographic Equipment & Supplies - Retail & Repairs. Click here for list of stores.
1800 186 895
Big range of cameras and photographic products with stores in most states and online.
Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Features: 8.8
- Print quality: 9.0
- Print speed: 8.0
- OVERALL: 8.8