At first glance, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 Standard Model looks out of place in the photo printer market. There are a few very good photo printers with similar features that cost much less than the Epson's £999, and some excellent industrial-strength printers with richer sets of features starting at a few-hundred pounds more.

However, if you are a photographer looking to create high-quality, large-format prints for sale or exhibition, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is a great printer that is worth your consideration, even though it has a flaw that will drive some potential buyers away.

The basics

The Stylus Pro 3800 uses nine pigment-based inks designed to provide long-lasting output on a wide variety of paper types. Like most pigment ink printers, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 switches between two black inks: photo black, which is used when you print on glossy and semi-gloss paper, and matte black, which is used for printing on smooth finish and fine art papers. The other seven inks - light black, light light black, cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, and yellow - are used with all paper types.

Setup is quick and easy: the cartridges snap into place, and the driver installation is simple. The Epson Stylus Pro 3800 can connect directly to your PC via USB, but it also has a port for connecting to your ethernet network for group printing. While the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is a fairly large unit, you can recess the paper trays when the printer is not in use, which significantly reduces its footprint.

When it's time to print, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is very flexible, offering borderless printing on paper ranging in size from 6x4in photo size, all the way up to 432x559mm. It has three paper paths, including a front-loading, straight-through path for printing on rigid media up to 1.5mm thick, and two top-loading slots for papers of lesser thickness.

Print quality and performance

For years, Epson's hallmark has been its print quality, and the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is no exception. Colours are rich and vibrant, even on glossy paper, which often presents a problem for pigment inks.

The Epson Stylus Pro 3800's black and white prints were exceptional - and exhibited no color shifts (or metameric failure) - when printed on fibre and fine art papers.

When comparing a large selection of glossy- and matte-based photos printed from the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 to similar prints output by HP's Photosmart Pro B9180, and Canon's Pixma Pro9500 printers, viewers almost always chose Epson's prints as the best of the group.

And, when it came to black-and-white prints, viewers on our jury unanimously chose the Epson Stylus Pro 3800's output over any printer in its class.

The Stylus Pro 3800 doesn't just offer superior print quality; it's also very fast. Using the standard quality setting, a 6x4in photo took 56 seconds to print; an 8x10in image printed in 1 minute and 48 seconds; a 12x18in picture printed in 4 minutes and 16 seconds; and a 16x20in photo took only 5 minutes and 44 seconds to come out of the printer. (As a point of comparison, Canon's Pixma Pro9500 took approximately 6 minutes to output an 8-x10in print at its default quality setting.)

NEXT PAGE: ink costs and verdict >>

Dealing with ink

One of problem with some of Epson's printers is that they require you to swap cartridges when you switch between matte and photo black inks. This process is clumsy and wastes a lot of valuable ink, and it can set off a cascade effect that drains other ink cartridges in the process. The Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is better in this regard, offering separate slots for each black ink type. When you choose a paper type in the print driver, the printer automatically chooses the appropriate black ink type.

Unfortunately, the black inks share a single channel to the printhead, which means that the printer still must purge that line of ink before switching. This two- to three-minute process wastes approximately 2ml of ink when swapping from photo to matte black, and 4.5ml when going the other way. While this is better than the R2400, both HP's Photosmart Pro B9180 and Canon's Pixma Pro9500 use separate ink lines for matte and photo black inks, a much less wasteful approach.

Fortunately the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 does an excellent job with ink efficiency. We printed almost 400 photos - mostly 8x10in and larger - before we had to replace any ink cartridge, and we went back and forth between black ink types during the testing. Because of this, the cost per page will be much less with the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 than it will be with any comparable large-format photo printer, which really turns into savings if you print a lot of photos.

Epson Stylus Pro 3800 Standard Model: Specs

  • 8-channel, drop-on-demand, inkjet print head
  • 9-cartridge (C, Lc, M, Lm, Y, Lk, LLk + PK or MK)
  • auto head alignment and cleaning technology
  • Pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 Ink technology
  • Colour and Monochrome: 180 nozzles x 8
  • smallest droplet size: 3.5 picoliters
  • variable droplet technology produces up to three different droplet sizes per print line
  • 2880 x 1440 dpi
  • 1440 x 720 dpi
  • 720 x 720 dpi
  • 720 x 360 dpi
  • 360 x 360 dpi
  • 360 x 180 dpi
  • suports: Macintosh OS X 10.4.7 or higher (universal binary)
  • Windows 2000 or XP (64-bit also supported)
  • 686x381x254mm
  • 19.6kg
  • 8-channel, drop-on-demand, inkjet print head
  • 9-cartridge (C, Lc, M, Lm, Y, Lk, LLk + PK or MK)
  • auto head alignment and cleaning technology
  • Pigment-based Epson UltraChrome K3 Ink technology
  • Colour and Monochrome: 180 nozzles x 8
  • smallest droplet size: 3.5 picoliters
  • variable droplet technology produces up to three different droplet sizes per print line
  • 2880 x 1440 dpi
  • 1440 x 720 dpi
  • 720 x 720 dpi
  • 720 x 360 dpi
  • 360 x 360 dpi
  • 360 x 180 dpi
  • suports: Macintosh OS X 10.4.7 or higher (universal binary)
  • Windows 2000 or XP (64-bit also supported)
  • 686x381x254mm
  • 19.6kg

OUR VERDICT

If you are a professional photographer or serious amateur looking to reproduce your work at large sizes and with extremely high quality, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 Standard Model is a great printer. You get speed, quality, and efficiency at a good price, even when you factor in the swapping of the matte and photo black inks. While some people will view the printer's primary flaw as a fatal one, it's hard to argue with the end result: large, beautiful prints on almost any media type.

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