I’ve been using the Metallic for a few months now, and I really like it. It’s the first paper that I’ve found that approximates metallic photographic papers from Kodak and Fuji. It’s not an analogue to a paper like Kodak Endura Metallic VC; Polar Pearl Metallic doesn’t feel (to me) like it has as much depth as the Kodak paper. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Endura Metallic was always an “extreme” photographic paper, and I’ve had to tell a few photographers that the Red River Metallic is more subtle than that.
Polar Pearl Metallic isn’t a paper you’re going to use every day for all your photos, but it is definitely worth playing around with, and October’s sale is a nice way to get a chance to do so.]]>
The 4900 is an update to one of my favorite Epson printer models, the Stylus Pro 4×00 line. This line, which started with 2003’s Stylus Pro 4000, has a maximum print width of 17 inches, and is equipped with both roll- and sheet-fed mechanisms, and automatic swapping of matte and photo black inks. The 4900 uses the 7900/9900’s UltraChrome HDR inks, which provide a wide print gamut on a variety of paper types. Like the 7900, it has a 10-channel printhead that utilizes auto switching between matte and photo black inks.
Also available with the 4900 is the SpectroProofer 17, an in-line spectrophotometer developed in conjunction with EFI (this option is also available for the 7900/9900). The device snaps on to the front of the printer and will offer proofing-based profiling when used with an EFI RIP. (Unlike the embedded spectrophotometer in HP’s Z-series, the SpectroProofer really appears to be designed for graphic arts and proofing situations, not for the fine-art photography market.)
As I noted above, the 4×00 line has long been one of my favorites; it is one of the most robust and well-designed Epson print engines, and the combination of roll and sheet support provides the best of both worlds. The Stylus Pro 4800/4880 was eclipsed a bit by the Stylus Pro 3800/3880 (Printerville review, but if you wanted the ultimate flexibility in a 17-inch printer, it was hard to beat the 4800. My only knock on it was the requirement to physically swap black ink cartridges in later models, but the 4900’s dual black-ink bays fixes that complaint, although the 10-channel ink head means losing some time and ink when switching between black inks.
The 4900 will be priced at $2,500; the only thing downer is the fact that Epson provides only 80ml “starter” cartridges with the printer. I understand the desire to keep list prices low, but you’ll end up spending another $1,000+ on a set of 200ml cartridges to begin any appreciable printing.
The Stylus Pro 4880 — which uses the 8-ink UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta inkset — is still listed in the product line at $2,000, although it’s likely that this product will ultimately go away. (There’s currently a $500 rebate for the printer, which makes it quite attractive for photographers who want roll capabilities and plan to utilize one black ink type.)
Although Epson has been pushing hard with the HDR inkset at the 24-inch/44-inch end of the market, it’s been clear that there’s still a group of users looking for lower-cost wide-format alternatives, and the 7890/9890 are clearly designed to fit that need. Priced at $3,000 and $5,000 ($1,000 less then the HDR versions) — they use the UltraChrome K3 inks with Vivid Magenta and auto-switching black inks — and offer higher printing speeds than their previous K3-based counterparts. They also have support for the SpectroProofer system, which will have some appeal to graphics shops that are looking to save a little bit on the extra ink costs found in the 11-ink HDR inks.
While it’s outside the scope of this site, the Stylus Pro 7900CTP looks to be quite an innovative product for the printing/graphic arts market. For $10,000, you’ll get a 7900, heat curing unit for the aluminum plates, and an EFI RIP And, since it also uses the same UltraChrome HDR inks used in the 7900, it theoretically will do double duty as a fine-art printer of the highest quality.]]>
Today, the Scitex and Iris lines are long gone, having ultimately been subsumed by Kodak, and Epson dominates the high end of the fine-art and photographic printing market, despite half-hearted attempts by HP and Canon. The company’s latest wide-format printers, the Stylus Pro 7900 (24") and 9900 (44"), represent a gradual, deliberate evolution of the line, not a sharp detour. Over eight months of testing the 7900, I found few surprises (good or bad), but that’s to be expected in a product line with more than 10 years of development (and success). What I did find, is a printer that is at the top of the heap with regard to photo quality, performance and paper handling, with a handful of negative issues that will matter only to few people. (While I did not test the 9900, most of my comments will apply to the wider model.)
|Stylus Pro 7900/9900 specifications|
|Type||Wide-format, pigment-based inkjet|
|Inks||11 UltraChrome HDR (10 printing)|
|Ink colors||Photo Black, Matte Black, Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Light Vivid Magenta, Orange, Green, Light Black, Light Light Black|
|Ink cartridge costs||$90 (150ml); $160 (300ml); $280 (700ml)|
|Ink cost per ml (est.)||$0.60 (150ml); $0.54 (300ml); $0.40 (700ml)|
|Maximum resolution||2880 by 1440 dpi|
|Minimum paper size||8.27" by 11"|
|Maximum paper size||24"/44" wide; length variable by operating system|
|Thick paper support||Yes|
|Straight path||Yes; media up to 1.5mm thick|
|Interfaces||USB 2.0; 10/100Base-T Ethernet|
|Operating systems supported||Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7; Mac OS X (10.4.9 and up)|
|Weight||187 lbs./256 lbs.|
|Dimensions (W, D, H)||54" x 27" x 48"|
The biggest changes in the 7900 are all on the ink delivery side. First and foremost is Epson’s 11-color UltraChrome HDR (high dynamic range) ink set, which adds orange and green to the standard nine-color pigment ink set that Epson has been using for years. Epson claims that the HDR inks—when combined with the improved HDR screening algorithms required for the new inks—give the 7900 the widest color gamut of any inkjet printer on the market, and both my eyes and gamut plots backed up these claims.
To get those inks onto the paper, the 7900 incorporates the MicroPiezo TFP printhead first introduced with the Stylus Pro 11880. This 10-channel head has 360 nozzles that produce variable-size ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters, as well as an ink-repelling coating that is designed to minimize clogs. At an inch wide, the TFP printhead is larger than those in previous Epson wide-format printers, which also means increased printing speeds.
As is the case with most of Epson’s UltraChrome pigment printers, the matte and photo black inks share a single channel to the printhead. This means that when you switch between glossy and matte (or fine art) paper types, the printer must purge the black ink channel and switch to the appropriate black ink. The amount of ink used during this process is minimal, and at this level—where most prints are designed either for sale or for proofing—I really don’t think this is an issue, but it is worth noting.
While the HDR inks and new printhead are the obvious “big features,” the 7900 has a few usability and productivity enhancements worth mentioning:
The Stylus Pro 7900 is a behemoth: at nearly 200 pounds, you’ll need at least three people to set it up and get it into place. Luckily, once it has been assembled, you can move it around easily. The printer has both Ethernet and USB interfaces; most operations will likely use a networked setup, and getting the 7900 connected is a breeze. Epson also includes a utility with the 7900 that lets you check the Web for firmware updates, and will add them as needed.
The 11 ink cartridges that ship with the printer contain just about enough ink for you to load the ink lines and print a few samples, so make sure you’ve invested in a set of additional cartridges for long-term printing. Epson was smart about the ink capacities in the 7900, offering 150ml, 300ml and 700ml options, and you can mix and match any capacities. At 40 cents per ml, the 700ml cartridges are hugely economical, but your printing volumes might be better served with the lower capacity cartridges.
With previous wide-format models, Epson included a management utility that tracked print jobs and ink usage, which is a necessity for any shop that charges for prints. With the 7900, Epson has moved away from the dedicated utility to a Web service called myEpsonPrinter.com. This service has been in a public beta period for nearly a year, but Epson has gotten it to the point where it is quite useful for tracking media and ink usage. You can easily track multiple printers; set ink, media and overhead costs (including tax information); view charts of usage; download Excel spreadsheets of usage data; and more. Overall, I’ve found it quite useful, although I do wish that Epson provided a standalone utility for tracking jobs, and a number of other print shops with 7900/9900 models expressed similar concerns.
Photo inkjet technology has reached a point where the leaps in print quality from generation to generation are no longer huge; they are incremental. With refined ink sets, better screening algorithms, and improved printheads, all three of the major printer companies—Epson, HP and Canon—have consumer-level photo inkjets that produce images of stunning quality.
At the professional level, however, changes in print quality, however small they might appear, are of extreme importance. Artists and photographers want the optimal print quality, with no visible “printer grain” and the widest possible color gamut for the best print reproduction on the paper that matters to them. They can see the difference between printers, and and this is where the Stylus Pro 7900 shines. The addition of the orange and green inks widens the color gamut to the point where, on most media types, the 7900 edges out even HP’s Designjet Z3200. On semi-gloss papers, the blacks produced with the 7900 were beautifully rich and dark, while still being able to hold shadow detail.
During the review process, I printed on nearly all of Epson’s professional paper line, in both roll and cut-sheet form, as well as a wide variety of papers from companies like Red River, Moab, and others. On fine-art, matte or glossy papers, 7900 prints were consistently clean, with no visible printer dot patterns, clean, smooth gradations of color, and extremely high fidelity with images on-screen (in a tightly color-managed environment).
When printing at the highest quality (2880 dpi) setting, the 7900 produced some of the most outstanding prints that we’ve ever gotten out of an inkjet. When I showed viewers images printed at 1440 dpi and 2880 dpi, most viewers could clearly tell the difference: the higher resolution produced the smoothest color transitions with no printer noise. What was more fascinating was that many 7900 prints at 1440 dpi still looked better than prints from a Stylus Pro 3800 or Designjet Z3200 at their highest quality settings.
And while most photographers are printing in color, the 7900’s black-and-white print capabilities are just as good. Again, the improvements over previous Epson Pro printers are slight, but prints on all paper types were drop-dead neutral, and I spoke with at least two print shops that were printing largely black-and-white photographs, and felt that the print quality was the best they had seen out of an inkjet.
The wide printhead on the Stylus Pro 7900 definitely helps with print speeds. On average, a 17" by 22" print took less then 5 minutes to print at 1440 dpi, and 7 minutes and 40 seconds at the highest quality setting. A 24" by 36" image took 10 and a half minutes to print at 1440 dpi, and 15 minutes and 15 seconds at 2880 dpi. At all print sizes and settings, the 7900 printed slightly faster than HP’s Z3200, which had been the fastest comparable wide-format I have tested.
While the 7900’s feature set and print capabilities are excellent, it’s not a perfect printer. There were a few issues that came up during my review, most of which are relatively small, but they do bear mentioning:
Wide-format printers are among the most versatile and cost-effective printers available on the market. While the initial cost of entry is high, the economics often work out for professional photographers and fine artists who sell their work, even if they aren’t printing at 24" or 44" widths. The Stylus Pro 7900, with its UltraChrome HDR ink set, excellent print quality and highly flexible paper handling, is definitely the gold standard in wide-format photographic printing. While both Canon and HP make very good wide-format devices, Epson’s commitment and storied history in this market segment do matter, and the 7900 is pretty darn good proof of that.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Epson’s Stylus Pro 7900 product page
Pricing starts at $99 for a version that supports 13-inch printers (like the Stylus Photo R2880), going to $199 for 17-inch printers, $399 (24 inches), $599 (44 inches) and $799 (64 inches).]]>
On the surface, the 3880 offers a few incremental improvements over the Stylus Pro 3800, adding the Vivid Magenta inks, an improved printhead, and new screening algorithms. The case design, print engine, and ink system (with its spacious 80ml cartridges and 8-channel head that requires switching of matte and photo black inks) are identical to the 3800, which is testament to that printer’s design and its success in the market, as well as the relative maturity of the photo printer industry.
Here’s a rundown of the new features in the Stylus Pro 3880:
Vivid Magenta inks. These two inks (vivid magenta and vivid light magenta) will give the 3880 a slightly wider gamut over 3800’s stock UltraChrome K3 inks, especially in the blues and the violets. They will also help with black-and-white printing, helping provide much more neutral prints, when used in conjunction with the new screening technology.
These inks debuted more than two years ago in the high-end Stylus Pro 4880, 7880 and 9880 printers, and Epson even leap-frogged the 3800 last summer, incorporating the set in the $800 Stylus Photo R2880.
Improved screening. The new screening algorithm, called AccuPhoto HD2, is probably the most important enhancement to the Stylus Pro 3880. Epson says that this technology provides “smoother color transitions and better highlight and shadow detail” on photographic prints, even at lower print resolutions. It should also further reduce the dwindling instances of metameric failure, a condition where the the human eye detects a shift in color when viewing a print under different light sources.
AccuPhoto HD2 is the result of an ongoing partnership between Epson and the Rochester Institute of Technology (which also resulted in the Stylus Photo R1900’s Radiance technology). When used in conjunction with the printhead and the UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta inks, we should see much richer prints on a wide variety of media, with smoother transitions and improved shadow detail.
Ink-repellent printhead. While the 3880’s printhead utilizes the same 8-channel design found in the 3800, Epson has updated the printhead to include the ink-repellent coating found in in higher-end and consumer-level photo inkjets, which will help minimize ink clogs and spatter over the life of the printer.
For those new to this sector of the market, it’s worth listing the other notable characteristics of the 3880:
There is bound to be some disappointment with this announcement, especially from photographers looking to the 10-ink UltraChrome HDR inks in the Stylus Pro 7900/9900 wide-format printers, or the 12 inks in HP’s Designjet Z3200. But, while you might get a slightly larger gamut with more inks, it’s highly unlikely that it would be worth the extra mass and expense for a desktop printer that already has sterling print quality.
The real issue that will come up is the ink waste when swapping inks, but in the two-and-a-half years that I’ve used my 3800—and spoken with many, many 3800 users—it really has been a minor issue. Yes, in an ideal world, we would all want a 9-channel printhead with no ink waste whatsoever, but the reality is that, on the 3800, this is a problem that rarely gets in the way, thanks to the 80ml cartridge capacity, which makes it much more economical to print. (And don’t think that there isn’t ink waste in all inkjet printers; there is.)
Over the past 18 months, there has been a pretty steady drumbeat of anticipation for an update to the Stylus Pro 3800. Not a week goes by where I don’t get at least two or three emails from readers looking to buy a 3800 and worrying that they’ll get caught off guard with an announcement from Epson. My response is always the same: “It’s a great printer, and if you need it now, buy it now,” and I can’t see any reason that will change with the 3880 release.
The Stylus Pro 3880 is definitely an incremental update to the Stylus Pro 3800, but it shouldn’t be dismissed as a placeholder upgrade. The new inks, when combined with the AccuPhoto HD2 screening, should represent a slight, but noticeable improvement in print quality for discerning artists and photographers, especially with tricky images, black-and-white prints, and anything being offered for sale. And the 3800’s basic design has been proven again and again as the go-to desktop printer for the professional photographer.
Part of this is a tacit acknowledgement that we’re running out of room when it comes to big enhancements in photo quality; the bar has been set pretty high by Epson, and we just aren’t going to see the type of generational print quality changes that we saw in the early parts of this decade. (It’s worth noting that both HP and Canon have raised the output quality level of their professional printers as well.)
As much as we all might want some magical desktop photo printer that costs next to nothing and produces prints for even less, the fact remains that the Stylus Pro 3800 was a great product that sat uniquely in the market, with no real competition. The Stylus Pro 3880 should slip effortlessly into its place.
The big question is whether HP or Canon decide that the 17-inch desktop market is now worth playing in: both companies have been extremely silent while Epson has maintained a sizable lead in the market. Epson has proven that there is a middle ground for the professional photographer who prefers a more compact unit with economical printing over wide-format, roll-fed photo printers.
The Stylus Pro 3880 will be priced at $1,295; a Graphic Arts Edition, which comes with a ColorBurst RIP for proofing and design applications, will be available for $1,495. Epson expects both models to ship in October; if Epson’s past history is any indicator, we would expect a few early units to get snapped up quickly, with wide availability by the end of this year.]]>
The Piezography K7 inkset is optimized for Roy Harrington’s QuadTone RIP software, and comes with profiles for a number of papers from Epson, Innova, Hahnemuhle and more.
The kit is priced at $508, and includes everything you need to get started, including inks, cartridges and profiles. Inkjet Mall is offering $75 off through March 17 – use the code ‘BEST2880BW’ when checking out.
For those of you interested in a color-based CIS for the R2880, Cone isn’t yet offering a version of its ConeColor system; you can send an email requesting one on this page.]]>
Both printers have USB 2.0 and PictBridge ports; a top-loading paper tray that will hold up to 150 sheets of paper; and a straight-through paper path that can handle fine-art media up to 1.2 mm thick. They will include Canon’s Digital Photo Professional and Easy Photo-Fix software, as well as Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 6.0. The printers will run on Mac OS X, Windows XP and Vista, and Vista users will be able to take advantage of Canon’s Ambient Light Correction software in the print driver, which “optimizes print color for the lighting conditions where the final print will be shown.”
As noted, the new models are using the same inkset and printheads as the previous generation, but print speed gains will be quite welcome, especially in the Pixma Pro9500 Mark II: the older 9500 was painfully slow compared with Epson’s Stylus Photo R2400 and R2880 (see our R2880 review for more details). The Pixma Pro9000, on the other hand, was already quite fast, beating even Epson’s Stylus Photo R1900 in our standard- and high-quality print tests.
The first-generation versions of the Pixma Pro printers were both solid units that had little to distinguish them from their counterparts by Epson and HP. The Pixma Pro9500 (see my Macworld review here) was a good printer overall that produced true-to-life photos on both matte and glossy papers, and did a good job with black-and-white printing as well. To me, its weakest point was the poor quality of the ICC profiles that came in the box, but properly profiled, the 9500 was capable of printing excellent photos, and we know more than a few photographers who are happy with their units.
The Pixma Pro9000 was also a good printer, matching up well against Epson’s Stylus Photo 1400 with vivid, dye-based output and good print longevity (an estimated 100 years, under glass, for Canon’s glossy paper). Thanks to its eight inks (vs. the Stylus Photo 1400’s six), the 9000 had an edge in color gamut, although it really didn’t translate into quantifiably better images, especially when you factor in Canon’s inattention to the profile aspect of the printing equation.
We’ll plan to run both units through our standard test suite once they’re available in May. If you want more info, you can check out the press release on the Canon site.
[Updated March 10 with more details on the print speed changes.]]]>
The free application lets you print photos wirelessly to any local networked HP Photosmart printer from an iPhone or iPod Touch. It is limited to 4" by 6" prints, and will automatically choose the appropriate tray if your printer has a dedicated photo paper slot`.
iPrint’s interface is simple. It lets you browse all of the installed photos on your iPhone. Selecting one displays a Print button, which sends the image directly to the printer when pressed. There aren’t any extra options, other than a “chooser” for multiple printers. I downloaded the program from the iTunes App Store, and, upon launch it instantly found the Photosmart C7280 on my network, and printed borderless photos without any hiccups.
All-in-all, a pretty slick implementation/proof of concept. And, while iPrint Photo is limited—at least for now—to photos, you can use the iPhone’s built-in screen capture feature in a pinch if you want to print a map, email or other iPhone data.]]>
The Stylus Pro 4880, which is another great printer, is currently $1,808 at Amazon. With the rebate, it drops to $1,328, which is an amazing price for such an industrial-strength machine. (Our pal Duncan Davidson is testing our Stylus Pro 4800, and I think his first impressions have been pretty good.)
B&H and other online outlets also have the 3800 and 4800 at similarly low prices, in case Amazon isn’t your thing.
You can find the rebate info for all of Epson’s current promotions on their Pro printers at Epson.com (There are also rebates for the R1900, R2880 and other consumer-level printers, which can be found on this page.)
Just note that you have to submit your form within 30 days of purchase.]]>
This is understandable: while the R2880 is a very good printer, it does suffer from a few issues, notably the smaller ink tanks and the necessity to swap the matte and photo black ink cartridges when you want to move between matte and glossy papers. The 3800 also requires a switch, but the process is automatic and requires no user intervention. The 3800 does waste a few dollars of ink per switch, which is troublesome, but given the rarity with which people change paper type—and its high-capacity (80ml) cartridge size, this is a lesser issue for many pro users.
Right now, the Stylus Pro 3800 is under $1,200 at Amazon (a savings of $100 or so), while the R2880 is priced around $650 ($150 off the list price). If you’re looking at the two printers, how do you choose between the two? I think it’s pretty straightforward: what follows are some of my thoughts, based on fairly heavy usage of both printers (and nearly every other photo printer in the $300 to $5,000 price range).
The Stylus Pro 3800 was introduced two years ago, and Epson currently has no stated plans for a replacement. In that time, HP and Canon have introduced printers that significantly increased the competitive pressure on Epson (especially in the $300-$800 range), but they haven’t really dented Epson’s hold on the photo printer market. And no one has really come out with a printer that rivals the 3800’s basic specs:
|Stylus Pro 3800 specifications|
|Type||C-size pigment-based inkjet|
|Inks||9 UltraChrome K3 (8 printing)|
|Ink colors||Photo Black, Matte Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Light Magenta, Light Black, Light Light Black|
|Ink cartridge cost||$60 (replacement cost: $540 for all 9 inks)|
|Ink cost per ml (est.)||$0.75|
|Maximum resolution||2880 by 1440 dpi|
|Minimum paper size||4" by 6"|
|Maximum standard paper size||17" by 22" (can print longer than 22" via custom paper sizes)|
|Thick paper support||Yes|
|Straight path||Yes, for media up to 1.5mm thick|
|Interfaces||USB 2.0; Ethernet (10/100)|
|Operating systems supported||Windows XP, Vista; Mac OS X (10.3.9 and up)|
|Dimensions||27" x 15" x 10.2"|
The biggest number to look at is the 3800’s extremely low $0.75 per ml ink cost, which is 35 percent less than that of the R2880 (and 40 percent below HP’s ink costs for the B8850 and B9180 printers). That alone will mean that you’ll save money on ink if you print lots of images.In our testing of the Stylus Pro 3800, the HP Photosmart Pro B8850, and the Stylus Photo R2880, the ink cost per 8" by 10" photo on glossy paper at the printer’s standard print mode was 61 cents per page for the 3800, 78 cents per page for the B8850 and 90 cents per page for the R2880. (The HP printer, while having a higher per-ml ink cost, laid down less ink on the page than either of the Epson printers, which is why its cost per page came out lower than that of the R2880.)
It gets even more interesting when you start looking at the ink cartridge costs. While the 3800’s ink cartridges list for more than four times the price of those of the R2880, you get 80 ml of ink for free with the 3800, while you need to purchase seven sets of ink—totaling $837—to get the same amount of ink with the R2880. That total cost, over $1400 (adding the $650 for the printer), is more than the cost of a 3800.
When my friend (and professional photographer) James Duncan Davidson came to visit Printerville a while back, we had a discussion about the economics of the ink regarding this: his post Inkonomics, does a much better—and more thorough—job of explaining this than I could, but the central conceit is the same: if you are planning on printing in any appreciable volume on larger paper sizes, the economics of the Stylus Pro 3800 are hard to beat.
By way of illustration, when printing our 200-page ink test, using a full set of ink cartridges on a fully primed printer, I had to make four cartridge swaps with Epson’s R2880, which cost me roughly $53. The HP B8850 required two cartridge swaps, which cost $68. The Stylus Pro 3800, on the other hand, was still ready for more—a lot more.
When it introduced the Stylus Pro 3800, Epson made a big deal of the new printhead, advanced screening algorithms and highly precise dot placement as the reasons why it produced the best prints of any desktop printer on the market. While it’s easy to lay that all as marketing hype, I can say—with plenty of backup from other photographers—that the 3800’s output is regularly better than any printer at its price range or below.
Does the Vivid Magenta in the Stylus Photo R2880 give that printer an advantage over the 3800? With some images it might, but it’s hard for anyone to see on a consistent basis, and, when you add the higher cost per page for the R2880, it’s hard to see why a pro photographer would go with the R2880 for high-volume printing.
And, while HP has made huge strides in the wide-format market with the new 12-ink Designjet Z3200, the B-size B9180 and B8850 just aren’t printing at the same level as the 3800—or the R2880, for that matter. (HP will also have its hands full competing with Epson’s recently announced Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 wide-format printers, which could ensure that Epson continues to stay at the top of the image quality heap.)
The 3800 is far from perfect, but it’s pretty darn close. Working with two units, and observing the usage of about five other units among colleagues, there are three things that regularly cause grief, some big, some small:
Most of these issues are generally minor, but they’re worth mentioning in a context like this.
Does this mean that we don’t think that the R2880 is not worth buying? Not at all. If you want excellent prints, are looking to print less than 50 photos per month, and the the idea of spending more than $1,000 is anathema to you, the R2880 is a great buy. As we said in our review, the ink swapping is really the biggest problem with the printer, and, if you rarely switch paper types, then you won’t find it as big an issue as we did.
The other thing that constantly comes up is the mythical “Stylus Pro 3900 ”, the unannounced successor to the 3800. Epson has given no indication that such a printer will ever be made available, but we continue to hear from people who won’t buy a 3800 because they believe such a printer is “around the corner.” But we don’t put any stock in it, especially given the logistics of building a high-volume, 9-channel printhead when they’re already moving to a 10-channel head with the UltraChrome HDR inks in the Stylus Pro 7900. (See my comment below for more on my thoughts here.)
Given Epson’s track record, the 3800 is probably still going to be the company’s flagship printer for the foreseeable future, and with HP staying out of the 17-inch market and Canon still floundering—despite the decent reception surrounding the (pricier) imageProGRAF iPF6000 and iPF6100—the 3800 remains the best printer in the class.
I’ve worked with nearly every major photo inkjet that has been released in the past decade, and in all that time, there have been few printers that have both the high quality and design for hard duty. I have banged hard on two 3800s for nearly two years, and they rarely have disappointed me. Like Epson’s other Pro-series printers, the 3800 doesn’t clog, prints quickly on a wide range of media, and produces gallery-ready prints. Sure, there are little problems here and there, but the comments I made more than 18 months ago regarding the 3800 still stand:
If you’re looking to sell your work professionally, and you don’t need anything bigger than a 17-inch-wide print, the Stylus Pro 3800 is without a doubt the current benchmark at this level of the market. There are some fine photo inkjet printers priced under $1,000, but they’re not designed to be workhorses that will churn out print after print. The 3800 will do that in spades.
[Edited 12/10/2008 to clarify competitive set and to add comment link.]