So, I've been using an Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer for some six months, and I have to say it's just about the best less-than-a-grand I've spent on photographic gear in a while. It's fast. It's reliable—its aperiodic automatic self-cleaning cycles genuinely seem to work, as I never see a clogged nozzle. I love being able to make 17x22-inch prints in the comfort of my own office; it's just amazing how impressive they look compared to 13x19 prints. And, even though 90+ percent of my printing is no bigger than 13 inches wide, I'm still thrilled I bought it because, you see, it's really all about the ink.
First wonderful thing: the ink costs half as much as it did for my Epson R2400 printer. I'm saving nearly a buck every time I make an 11x17 print. Not as cheap as the ink for my 9800 printer, but I'm not complaining.
Second wonderful thing: those 80 ml cartridges. I just love not having to constantly swap ink cartridges as yet another dinky little 11 ml cartridge goes dry. When those big cartridges run low, I get plenty of warning; I can run a good dozen prints before "low" turns into "empty."
Third wonderful thing: when a cartridge does run dry, the printer handles it with impeccable grace. It halts mid-print and waits for me to replace the empty cartridge. Then it picks up printing where it left off with nary a missed line of droplets. The print comes out looking perfect, despite the interruption.
Why am I writing this right now? Because there's a $150 Epson rebate until the end of the month. That takes the price of the 3880 to under $1000. At that price I can't see any reason to buy the Epson R3000, which runs around $800. The 3880 is an all-around more capable machine, handling media up to 17 inches wide. You may not think you care about printing wider than 13 inches. Well, many of you will be surprised to find out how much you'll like it when you can turn out real "16x20s."
Even if you're positive you won't ever want to make bigger prints, the 3880 is still the better choice. After charging the feed lines, the 3880 includes about 480 ml of usable link. The R3000 includes about 160 ml of usable link. Ink for the R3000 runs a bit over a dollar a milliliter, so that's like getting more than $300 in extra bonus ink with the 3880.
It gets even better. Ink for the 3880 costs only about half as much as for the R3000. You'll average a milliliter of ink for an 8.5x11 print, two for an 11x17 and three for a 13x19 (more or less). Six small prints a week or two large ones gets you close to the break-even point in a year; after that you're saving money with every print on the 3880. Don't believe the people who say you have to use up an ink cartridge in six months. That's just Epson's ultraconservative warranty. Everyone I know has no problem using cartridges that have been open for well over a year, so long as they are printing regularly. What kills printers is letting them lie fallow for weeks at a time, not printing with older ink.
On the other hand, the R2880 is still a pretty good deal. Yet even at the aforementioned modest rate of printing, you'll still hit break-even in about three years. My recommendation is that if you're serious enough about your printing that you're considering one of the professional 13-inch printers, skip them all and go straight to the 17-inch 3880.
NOTE: Time is of the essence! You must take delivery of your printer by the end of this month to get the rebate—not just order it. So if you want to take advantage of this, don't delay.
When all is right with the world, master printer Ctein's weekly column appears on Wednesday mornings on TOP.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.