Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Hands-On Review

January 13, 2009 ·

Michael Reichmann

Let’s not beat around the bush. Epson photo printers are the best selling machines on the market. This is not without good reason. Epson have arguably done more to advance the art and technology of photographic quality printers over the past fifteen years than any other company. While they didn’t invent inkjet printing, they essentially perfected it.

Epson has two lines of photo printers; the Stylus Photo and the Stylus Pro. One of the main differences between the two being that the Pro printers are individually calibrated during the manufacturing process. Epson’s PR blurb on this states “…unique production technology to ensure printer-to-printer colour consistency. Colourimetric calibration is performed during the manufacturing process. This process automatically evaluates and adjusts the colour performance of each printer produced.”

The new Epson Stylus Pro 3880 is the least expensive Pro series printer, and replaces the highly regarded 3800, which has now been around for about three years, and which has likely been the best selling printer in its category. And, for good reason, because the 3800 offered a combination of size, price and image quality that was hard to beat.

The rest of the Stylus Pro line was updated from the 800 to the 880 series with K3 and Vivid Magenta inks a while ago, and indeed while the 880 series are still current there is now an even newer generation of 900 series printers in 24″ and 44″ sizes. But the 3800 is only now being updated to the 3880, and I am told that there will likely not be a 3900 because the head technology used in those high-end printers (7900, 9900) is simply not amenable to a printer of the size of the 3800 or 3880.

Since the 3880 is Epson’s new desktopking of the hill, and likely to remain so for some time to come, so let’s see what’s new about it.


New Inks – New Heads – New Screening

The move from K3 inks to K3 with Vivid Magenta is well documented, and there is broad agreement that the benefits are worthwhile. The expanded gamut of these inks is easily seen in the gamut plots further on in this report.

The technology that Epson uses in their heads and dithering patterns is well described on their web site and needs no elaboration here from me. There are also White Papers available on various aspects that cover this in even greater detail.

The point is that with each new generation of Epson printers there are improvements that provide small, incremental but still valuable improvements in every aspect of image quality. One that I am aware of, though I haven’t done actual measurements, is that the head’s motion across the paper appears to be quieter than on the 3800. This may be due to the new head coatings which are intended to reduce head clogging (which never has been much of a problem on this series for most people, in any event). Regardless, the sound reduction is not huge, but it’s noticeable. The rest of the mechanical sounds, and operation, of the printer, such as paper feed, appear to be the same.


Gamut Improvement

It is impossible to show the differences between printers online. And in any event, the differences are becoming such as to become decreasingly visible without some serious pixel peeping even when viewing prints. Not that the differences aren’t visible. They are, especially when side-by-side comparisons are done. One of the comparisons where onecansee a difference, though it does take close viewing of appropriate images, is in the area of colour gamut.

Epson 3880 = Wire Frame
Epson 3800 = Solid

The gamut of the 3880 is a definite improvement over that of the 3800, as can be seen in the gamut plot comparison seen above. The Vivid Magenta ink really makes a difference, just as it did when the original 880 series printers made their appearance.

Epson 7900 = Wire Frame
Epson 3880 = Solid

Having said that, I was curious to see how this compared to the new Epson HDR inks as found on the 7900 and 9900 Stylus Pros. The above comparison plots tell the tale. The 900 series printers are yet another step up in expanding the gamut capabilities of inkjet printers.


Is It Worth Upgrading?

The 3800 and 3880 are eight ink printers (nine with the second black). That means that a new printer comes with nine cartridges that cost about $60 each at retail. That’s some $500 worth of included ink. So, if you already have a 3800, and decided to upgrade to a 3880, you’re not really paying about $1,300 (current street price), but about $700 for the upgrade. Now, assuming that you sell your 3800 for – say – $700 on eBay, (the current asking price for a used 3800), you essentially get the 3880 upgrade for free. (How’s that for rationalization?)

That bit of nonsense aside, the answer to the upgrade question is that while the 3880 has a wider gamut and likely higher visible resolution, neither is really a compelling argument for an upgrade. They are there, and real, but not huge advances unless you’re a confirmed pixel peeper.

For anyone else though that has any other sort of desktop photo printer, including older Epson models, I would say that the 3880 makes a compelling case for itself. It of course lacks roll paper capability, and is limited to 17″ width paper, but one can always cut lengths from a roll and feed them manually, and in any event, 17X22″ is about as big as most people usually need to print and is at the limits of what current DSLRs are capable of printing at reasonable PPI output.

Succinctly put – the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 inherits the 3800’s mantle is the industry’s best pro-level desktop photo printer in its price range. It retails for US $1,295 and will begin shipping later this month.

October, 2009

Updated: April 1, 2015

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Michael Reichmann

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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