FIRST LOOK: Epson Stylus Photo R3000
An A3+ pigment ink printer that produces superior output and is ideal for professional photographers and serious enthusiasts.Photo Review has been given a ‘first look’ at a pre-production unit of the new Stylus Photo R3000, which was announced in the US on 17 January. This model will sit above the Stylus Photo R2880 at the top of the company’s A3+ desktop line-up when it’s released in early March. Claimed as the most advanced model thus far, it features new AccuPhoto HD2 image technology for smoother colour transitions and better highlight and shadow detail. . . [more]
Photo Review has been given a ‘first look’ at a pre-production unit of the new Stylus Photo R3000, which was announced in the US on 17 January. This model will sit above the Stylus Photo R2880 at the top of the company’s A3+ desktop line-up when it’s released in early March. Claimed as the most advanced model thus far, it features new AccuPhoto HD2 image technology for smoother colour transitions and better highlight and shadow detail.
Epson’s new Stylus Photo R3000 A3+ printer, illustrating popular features: borderless printing, direct camera connection and printign on optical disks. (Source: Epson.)
Epson has listened to its customers and addressed a couple of complaints about previous models in this series, notably the need to swap black cartridges when changing from glossy to matte papers and low ink capacities. Both cartridges are installed in the R3000 and swap-over is initiated automatically, depending on the paper you’ve selected in the driver interface.
The ink set is Epson’s UltraChrome K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta, which is also used in the company’s Stylus Pro 3880 and 4880 A2 models as well as most of the larger format printers in Epson’s line-up. The high-density pigments in these inks have garnered praise for their vibrant blues and purples and overall accuracy when reproducing neutral and dark colours.
The ink cartridges in the R3000
Nine colour cartridges are provided: photo black, matte black, light black, light light black, cyan, light cyan, yellow, vivid magenta and vivid light magenta, eight being used at a time for printing. Lightfastness ratings for these inks range from 44 years on Epson’s Traditional Photo Paper to 60 years on Epson’s Premium Glossy Photo Paper to between 83 and 108 years for prints framed behind glass. Ozone resistance is very high.
The printer will ship with full-sized ink tanks rather than reduced-capacity ‘starter’ cartridges, which are sometimes provided with professional printers. The ink capacity of each cartridge has been more than doubled and is now 25.9 ml, up from approximately 11 ml in the R2880 and R2400. This has required a redesign of the ink feeding system that removes the cartridges from the head carriage.
You will find cartridges just inside the front panel, beneath a lift-up cover. Ink is fed to the print head via a series of tubes, which are filled when the printer is first set up. This system, a first in a printer at this level, is similar to the ink feed systems used in Epson’s large format printers, which feature cartridges with even higher capacities.
The photo and matte black inks appear to share the same tube because swapping between them requires the black tube to be purged. According to the published specifications, going from Matte to Photo black uses roughly 3 ml, while Photo to Matte black uses 1 ml. The change-over takes between two and three minutes. Users are advised to manage their workflows to minimise the frequency of swap-overs.
Also new is the eight-channel, high-precision MicroPiezo AMC print head, which has a similar ink-repellent coating to the heads on Epson’s large format printers. Designed to reduce the need for maintenance it also helps to ensure increased reliability. The print head delivers a maximum resolution of 5670 x 1440 optimised dpi, using Epson’s variable-sized droplet technology.
To increase output resolution, the smallest droplet size has been reduced to 2 picolitres, compared with 3 picolitres in the previous model. This is the smallest droplet size thus far with the UltraChrome K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta inks and should provide superior reproduction of fine image details plus subtle tonal rendition.
Yet another improvement made in response to customer demands is the redesign of the sheet feeding mechanism to allow users to load heavier ‘fine art’ papers directly from the front of the printer. This replaces the need to attach guides and load from the rear and has allowed the designers to keep the R3000’s footprint relatively small.
The front feeder, which can accept paper up to 1.3 mm thick, feeds the paper in and then upwards to minimise the need for extra space behind the printer to keep the paper straight. Sensors in the feed path automatically detect the thickness of the paper as it is fed in and, if the paper is too thick or thin or the rear support isn’t correctly positioned, an alert message is displayed on the LCD. This message also provides on-screen guidance showing how to feed paper.
Like its predecessors, the R3000 offers broad media support with BorderFree cut-sheet media handling for lighter papers and roll paper printing up to 330 mm wide and 1117.6 mm long. It also comes with a tray for CD/DVD printing.
Build and Ergonomics
The new printer looks somewhat different from its predecessors, with a box-like shape that integrates the rear feed slot more tightly into the top panel. According to its designers, the top panel has been kept uncluttered to enable users to rest sheets of paper on it for short periods of time..
Build quality is very good and, although the pull-out output trays may feel loose, they are made from solid plastic and appear to be securely attached. The overall finish of this printer suggests a professional quality product. The footprint of 616 x 424 mm in use is similar to that of the R2880 and quite conservative for an A3+ printer.
The control panel on the front of the R3000, showing the new colour LCD panel.
The control panel is located on the front panel close to the upper right hand corner. Here you’ll find a new 2.5-inch colour LCD panel that provides a graphical ink status monitor as well as displaying media instructions and other messages.
Right of this monitor is an arrow pad that is used for swapping the black inks manually and responding to messages on the LCD. Beside it is a button for navigating back to the previous menu page. Left of the LCD an LED is set into the front panel, providing an alert when ink levels are low. Below it lies a button for cancelling jobs, while the power on/off button is to the left. A green LED above this button glows when power is on.
The mains power lead and USB cable plug into the rear panel of the printer. As in previous models, the top feed chute folds down to prevent dust from entering the feed slot, while the front feed slots are hidden behind a drop-down door. Paper support trays pull out when the door is open.
Before you can load paper in the front slot you must close the top sheet feeder cover then pull out the rear support flap and extend it fully. You then open the front cover and push the centre of the manual feed tray (which is located above the sheet feed outlet slot) to extend it.
Heavyweight papers are fed into this tray with the short edge first and the printable side of the paper facing up. A warning message is displayed when the paper doesn’t lie flush with the right side of the tray. Pressing the OK button on the arrow pad loads the paper and the printer will display a message to that effect and alert you to pull out the output tray. You are then ready to print.
Paper rolls are loaded in the same way as on previous models, using a pair of plastic holders that clip onto either end of the roll. The holders hook onto attachment points on the rear panel (shown by orange labels). Although the printer doesn’t cut the paper automatically, it will print a cutting guide to help you cut the paper with scissors.
To print on CDs or DVDs you must first remove any paper loaded and close the rear feed support. Coated disks are inserted into the supplied holder, which is placed on the manual feed tray used for heavyweight media. Like papers loaded on this tray, the holder must be flush with the right side of the tray. Pressing the OK button on the arrow pad loads the disk.
The R3000 provides all the connectivity options buyers might require. In addition to the standard Hi-Speed USB 2.0, you get Built-in Ethernet and wireless 802.11n, allowing the printer to be used with multiple computers in a home or studio. The wireless connectivity is a first for this series, although it has been provided in Epson’s multi-function business models for some time.
The software bundle includes Epson Web Support, Epson Easy Photo Print, Epson Print CD, EpsonNet setup, Online guide, Network guide and CD installer for WindowsXP/Vista/7 (32/64bit) and MacOSX10.4.11 or later.
The review unit was a pre-production model that had been tested by Epson Australia’s technicians so, although Epson was confident to submit it to extensive testing, subsequent fine-tuning is likely to be applied before the printer is formally released in March. Consequently, some of the comments in this review may not apply to the final production models.
Having recently reviewed a professional A2 printer, one of the first things that struck us about the R3000 was how straightforward it is to operate and how little noise it makes while running. Although not quite whisper-quiet, there’s none of the ‘industrial’ clanking and puffing you get with high-volume, large format printers.
We had to download the printer driver from the Epson America website, which meant some papers weren’t supported (most notably Archival Matte). It’s a 23.8MB file so a fast internet connection is advisable, although purchasers of this printer will receive the latest version of the driver with full media support on disk.
The main page of the R3000 driver interface, with the printer set up for printing on matte paper.
The printer driver interface has barely changed since the R2880 and full details are provided in that review. (INSERT LINK) The driver we downloaded is obviously still in the development stage because it repeatedly re-set itself to the default position (A4 portrait on Premium Photo Paper Glossy with Photo black Ink, Speed quality and Epson Standard colour mode. If we changed the paper type, a message would be displayed and we’d have a minute’s wait while the driver parameters were re-set.
Fortunately, you can set up and save a number of paper, ink and quality combinations to suit different output requirements. These settings will be loaded into the list in the Select Setting dropdown menu.
The Print Quality settings are circles in the screen grab above.
The default Print Quality setting for the driver prioritises speed. However, if you click on this box you can select from four settings, the other three relating to quality. We would actually have preferred the default to be Quality Options, which we think is more appropriate for a printer at this level. This is the only setting that is adjustable. If you uncheck the High Speed box, you can choose from three quality levels.
The ink status monitor.
The ink status monitor was relatively small so it was difficult to estimate how much ink was left in individual cartridges. In addition, the printer driver was quite slow to warn when ink was close to depleted, although it posted warnings when ink levels were down to approximately 15% (which wasn’t much help).
According to the user manual: ‘It’s a good idea to check the ink status and replace cartridges, if necessary, before printing a large job. If you need to replace a cartridge while printing, you can continue to print but you might notice a colour difference depending on drying conditions.’ We would have preferred the printer to post a warning before this situation arose.
There’s nothing in the user manual about borderless printing and it appears to be supported with most paper types and all paper feed options. However, when you check the Borderless box in the driver interface stating: ‘Print quality in the top and bottom areas may decline or the area may be smeared depending on the media. Please refer to your manual for details.’ It appears some work is required here as well.
The Print Preview.
Print previews are as lurid as we’ve found with previous Epson printers, which means you can only use this facility to assess whether the image is correctly positioned on the page and see how the page is orientated. However, it’s a vital facility and can save time and money so it’s handy to have a Print Preview checkbox on the main page of the driver.
One factor that caused us some concern was the printer’s tendency to leave fine track marks on the back surfaces of many prints, particularly with the larger paper sizes when printing on double-sided matte paper. This may have been caused by stray ink in the printer as it only occurred after we made several borderless prints.
When any inkjet printer lays down ink right across the paper surface it’s impossible to prevent some ink from over-spraying the edges of the paper without compromising the quality of the ink placement in these areas. Maintenance cartridges are placed inside the printer to collect and trap this stray ink. But they seldom get it all.
Cleaning the rollers eliminated further problems. It’s easy enough to do; you simply load several sheets of plain paper in the sheet feeder, open the menu screen on the printer’s LCD and select Maintenance > Cleaning Sheet. Pressing the OK button feeds one sheet through the printer. It took five sheets before all track marks disappeared and, since we made no further borderless prints, no additional problems were encountered.
Despite making more than 100 prints of varying sizes (mainly A4, A3 and A3+ with a few custom-sized sheets) and using both top and front feeds. Unfortunately, we were unable to test the printer’s roll feed mechanism through a lack of suitable media.
Overall, we had no problems with paper feeding and printing was generally trouble-free. On one occasion the printer alerted us to a skewed sheet of paper in the front feed slot. But it was easy to remove the paper and re-load it.
Output quality is influenced to a great extent by the printer’s ink set, the choice of paper and the output quality settings. We’ve already worked with Epson’s UltraChrome K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta ink set when reviewing the R2880 and R3880 printers so we had high expectations. In this respect, the new model did not disappoint, producing prints with excellent fine detail and subtle tonal nuances. Doubtless the smaller droplet size played an important role here.
We were limited in the range of papers at our disposal for this test. However, we managed to make test prints on Epson’s Archival Matte, Premium Semigloss, Velvet Fine Art 260 gsm and Traditional Photo Paper 330 gsm media as well as Longbottom Digital 170 gsm double-sided matte paper (which we favour for printing calendars, cards and books).
We had to create profiles for the Traditional Photo and Longbottom double-sided matte papers but relied on Epson’s ‘canned’ profiles in the printer driver for the other media. These were uniformly excellent for all the papers we printed on. In addition, the double-sided matte paper profile included with the driver also delivered very good results with the Longbottom double-sided matte paper.
Epson’s Advanced Black & White driver delivered excellent results when we made monochrome prints from colour originals. However, doing the monochrome conversion in Photoshop and then printing in RGB mode without making subsequent adjustments in the Advanced Black & White driver enabled us to produce some outstanding B&W prints. All the fine detail and subtle tonality we’d admired in colour prints from the R3000 carried over into the printer’s monochrome capabilities.
Actual output quality is directly related to printing speed and, although this printer can deliver A4 prints in about a minute and a half, and A3+ prints in less than three minutes, we found quality was visibly compromised with the default Speed setting. To see the best this printer can do, you must swap to the Quality Options settings, uncheck the High Speed box and choose the top quality levels.
In practice, we couldn’t see any difference between prints made at the two highest settings, although level three on the slider producted prints that weren’t quite as detailed and’ snappy’. Similar results were obtained with the ‘Quality’ setting, whereas the Max Quality setting produced high quality results.
Interestingly, the time to produce an A3+ print was extended from just over eight minutes at level 4 to 14 minutes at level 5. These times are similar to those from the R2880 printer we reviewed and not unacceptable in the workflow of a quality-conscious photo enthusiast.
We found no traces of surface irregularities, bronzing or metamerism in any of our test prints (although without being able to test the printer with glossy paper we didn’t expect to see them). Nor did we detect incidences of banding or uneven ink distribution.
The review printer arrived with ink cartridges pre-installed so we had no way to estimate exactly how much ink had been used from each cartridge. To complicate matters, the status monitor gave very imprecise estimates of the remaining ink levels after it posted warnings that ink was running very low. (We assume these indicated less than 5% of ink remaining).
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. Interestingly, the yellow, light magenta, light cyan and light light black cartridges all ran out at much the same time.
Epson doesn’t publish cartridge yields for this printer and the number of prints you can obtain from any set of inks will depend on the ink density required to print the image and the area of paper covered by the print.
Epson Australia hasn’t published recommended retail prices for the R3000 and its ink cartridges as yet (we’ll update this review when they are disclosed). However, the first review published in the UK (http://www.photoradar.com/reviews/product/printer-review-epson-stylus-photo-r3000#ixzz1CYscxFr4) lists the launch price at 699.99 pounds and a price of 24.35 pounds per ink cartridge. According to this review, each millilitre of ink costs around 94 pence, compared with 97 pence per millilitre for the R2880’s ink.
Epson USA’s website lists the R3000 at US$849.99 (http://www.epson.com/R3000). However, no details of cartridge prices have been supplied on this site – or in any of the online reviews we’ve read from US-based websites.
If you already have an R2880 that is still performing well, the viability of replacing it with the R3000 is debatable and your decision will probably be influenced by the cost of the printer and ink cartridges. If the prices are right, the argument in favour of upgrading is probably compelling.
Photographers who are still working with the older R2400 could definitely benefit by upgrading to the new ink set and large cartridges the R3000 provides – again, as long as the prices are competitive. The new model is certainly better built and very straightforward to use and the advantages of the new ink set, large cartridges and automatic swapping between Photo and Matte black are very powerful.
New printer buyers should also consider this printer as a serious investment. 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.
Print head: Advanced Micro Piezo AMC print head with ink-repelling coating technology
Printing technology: On-demand inkjet with Variable-sized Droplet Technology, 180 nozzles for each ink colour; minimum droplet size – 2 picolitres
Resolution: Max. 5760 x 1440 dpi
Paper sizes: Cut Sheet : 89 to 329mm (3.5 to 13 inches); not compatible with roll paper
Max. paper weight/thickness: / 1.3 mm
Ink cartridges: Pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta inks (Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Black, Light Light Black; auto switching between Photo and Matte Black)
Cartridge ink capacity: 25.9 ml each colour x 9 colours total
Interfaces: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 (1 port), 100Base-T Ethernet (1 port), Wi-Fi CERTIFIED (802.11n only)
Power consumption: Printing: approx. 21 W; Sleep Mode: approx. 3.7 W; Power off: approx. 0.4W
Acoustic noise: Approx. 38 dB according to ISO 7779
Dimensions (wxhxd): Closed: 616 x 228 x 369 mm, Open: 616 x 424 x 814 mm
Weight: Approx. 15kg (without ink cartridges)
Distributor: Epson Australia; 1300 130 194; www.epson.com.au
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