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Epson Stylus Photo R2880 review
Using the SP R2880 A3+ printer
The Epson 2880 offers a revised formulation of inks and other improvements.
Keith has been looking at how it performs as a photographic printer.
This review looks at an Epson R2880 driven directly from Photoshop and using an Apple Mac.
Functionality is very similar if you were using a Windows PC.
News - We also have a new Epson R3000 review
Epson SP R2880
We've written several more articles connected with our fine art printing business. Have a look in the 'what's new' section for details.
This review concentrates on using the printer for high quality print output, rather than covering any of the bundled software.
An A3+ pigment ink based photo printer.
A3+ is 13"x19" which is a good size for prints, and will quickly convince you that A4 is rather small for prints, and that maybe you need to raise your game in terms of image quality for printing at this size.
The printer is the latest in a range of pigment ink printers dating back to the SP2000.
Over the years, the print quality has improved quite dramatically, and the '880' designation shows that this printer is using the latest Vivid Magenta ink formulations, with their improved colour gamut. The print head has improved coatings to help prevent clogging, as found in larger format printers.
Add to this, improved dithering patterns (how the ink drops are laid down on the paper) and the printer looks capable of very high quality printing.
The design of the unit has a clean uncomplicated look, where the paper guides for feeding and collecting a print just fold out.
The printer has several add-on feed units such as the one below for printing on to CDs.
Do ensure you use CDs/DVDs designed for printing with pigment inks, since I tried one sitting in my office drawer, and ended up with inky fingertips when I picked it up. There is software supplied to make print layout easier.
I'll cover some of the paper feed attachments later when looking at printing.
Two USB 2 ports are provided at the rear, allowing easy sharing of the printer. Ethernet connectivity is not available - even as an option.
There is a USB connection at the front for directly connecting a camera - not something I tried out
I installed the printer driver and the printer's on-line manual.
You will also need to decide the types of paper you are going to use, since matt art papers need a different black ink to that used for gloss/lustre/fibre type papers - I'll cover this aspect later.
The printer was plugged into my laptop (Mac OSX 10.5) and shared over our network, enabling printing from any of our Macs (that have the printer driver installed).
The simplest printing method is just from loading paper at the top.
The driver installation also installs ICC profiles for numerous Epson papers.
The screen shot below shows some of the profiles available when I was printing from within Photoshop.
All the better known Epson papers are there - if you're printing and not using colour management, I can safely say it's very unlikely you are going to get the best results from this printer.
Black and white printing works very well with the ABW print mode, although you can also use colour printing to create B/W prints with good quality profiles.
I find the ABW mode gives very good results, although for my own work I often prefer to make a QTR linearising profile to get a known predictable greyscale response (even for Epson papers).
I'll not go into the details here, but I've covered this aspect of 'fine tuning' B/W printing in several other articles, including:
It's very easy to make excellent B/W prints with this printer.
The only slight 'problem' you may come across, is that bigger prints can need a lot more work preparing them.
Proper print sharpening is vital - it makes a tremendous difference to the 'look' of the print.
At this size I find that every print needs it's own sharpening choices - some parts of the image may need none, others lots and some bits in between.
This is something that takes practice and learning to trust your own judgement. It also helps to not look at the image on screen at 100% magnification too much.
I always remember that the screen image is just a step in the process of getting to a fine print. Too many people make the mistake (IMHO) of trying to get the screen image looking perfect, and then print what they see.
This is a path to disappointment - some of my best colour prints are nowhere near their best on screen.
I've got lots more articles on the site covering aspects of my printing and the tools I use:
Changing ink on the R2880
There is an ink cart for each colour ink - eight in all.
A full set of inks is available, or you can buy individual inks:
The ink carts are accessed by raising the top cover
Ink levels can be checked via the printer utility and are shown during printing (below).
To change cartridges, you press the ink button, and when the carriage stops moving, you lift the lid.
A low ink warning means you can probably do a few more prints.
Once ink runs out for a cartridge, you must replace it to continue.
I'm told that this can be done mid print, but I didn't try it out.
The inks come in sealed plastic packages.
Be careful opening them - note the two cuts on my finger courtesy of the sharp plastic edges!
The other time you'll need to swap inks is if you decide to use Matt art papers, such as Epson Velvet Fine Art
If you just open the carriage, you can take out one black cartridge (PK in the photo below) and replace it with the other black.
During testing, I happened to wait for another cartridge to run low and swapped both. You can see an orange light behind the cartridges indicating that the Cyan cartridge is the empty one.
After changing, the printer will make assorted whirring sounds and then settle down ready for use.
Normal weight papers can be loaded via the sheet feeder at the top of the printer.
Depending on the paper type you can load several sheets, but do be careful in following the guidelines since it's possible for several sheets to be drawn into the printer at the same time.
The mechanism seems robust and didn't misfeed any individual sheets. even when trying some odd sizes of paper for Christmas cards.
The rear feed slot is intended for heavier media, such as velvet fine art paper - a heavy rag based matt paper that I find gives some excellent results for certain images.
This slot is intended for single sheets and needs paper inserting far enough for the printer to recognise it, and start the feed process.
I did have some initial problems here, with numerous misfeeds and the paper not being recognised.
One solution that seemed to help was to manually apply a slight downward pressure on the paper as it came back out of the printer, during the feed process. Not an ideal solution but it helped with some heavier papers.
There seems to be a bit of a knack to get accurate sheet feed with the thicker papers.
The paper options depend on what print setting you've chosen in the page setup for the print.
Just setting 'A3 sheet feed' for example, only allows thinner papers (via the main loading slot).
Switching to the Manual - Roll setting enables 'Fine Art Papers'.
'Manual - Roll' should perhaps more accurately read 'Manual or Roll'
This allows heavy papers via the rear manual feed slot (or roll paper).
You can also feed thick paper directly into the front of the printer (up to 1.3mm thick).
Using Roll paper
The 2880 has optional roll paper supports at the back.
You can see the two orange marks on the printer showing the attachment points for the two roll holders.
The printer takes 13" wide paper on a two inch core.
Since the gap is quite tight, I'd suggest testing 3rd party rolls to make sure they are not slightly too wide, since this will cause problems.
Once loaded the paper feeds into the rear loading slot.
The roll can be left in place during normal sheet paper operation, it just needs unloading.
I printed a panoramic image by setting a custom paper size for the image - 34 inches wide by 13 high.
I've left a bit of a border round the image, although you can print borderless.
The printer software installs a full guide to printer operations. This is well worth reading if you intend to use heavy papers (the front loading slot allows media up to 1.3mm thick).
Here's the print on it's way out.
Note how I've partially unwound some paper at the back.
The roll paper can be quite tight, and when printing a profiling target I found that the tightness caused some slippage of the rollers, leading to blurred prints.
The completed print is shown below.
It's a small lake on the road from Ouray to Silverton in Colorado. The files is from several stiched 21MP Canon 1Ds Mk3 images and has enough detail to make a good print 10 feet long on a wider printer.
Using the roll option requires some care.
As I've mentioned, tension at the back (from the roll of paper) can lead to uneven paper feeding.
Another problem can arise if you let the paper roll hang over the front too much.
The weight of the paper caused uneven paper feeding and led to some slight blurring in the profiling target to the right.
When you've finished printing you can eject the paper to trim it.
You press the eject button and the paper is advanced a few inches for trimming.
There is a very faint line printed on the sheet, as a cut mark.
Be careful to trim neatly, since an uneven cut will likely cause problems when you come to re-load the roll paper at some point in the future.
Perhaps it's because I'm used to the simplicity of large format printers, but I found the roll paper option quite tricky to set up initially.
The printer has no lever to raise the platen, so you can't just run a few feet of paper through, check it's true, lower the platen and go ahead.
The paper loading is automatic and does not take kindly to trying to force paper through the printer on the skew (even a little bit).
Expect to lose a bit of paper when first trying to get this working...
Printer testing - some suggestions
All I can show in this review are a few nice images and point out how pleasant they looked.
Not always of much actual help, so I'd suggest looking at some samples - fortunately many vendors will supply sample prints.
Testing a printer for print quality can be highly subjective, all the more so if you use your own (colour) images.
So for looking at colour and black and white performance I've initially used the Datacolor test image for colour, and my own black and white printer test image.
The images (and many others) are available for free download on this site.
Both images have lots of components to specifically test different aspects of printer performance.
I also use both for testing the performance of printer profiles. If you use them, do be sure to read the explanatory notes that go with them.
I printed some very highly coloured images where I know that there are colours that can cause problems for printing.
The blues and violets in this image of the Curve Theatre are quite difficult to get right.
It came out very well, holding detail in much of the highly saturated areas.
As to just how much you'd notice the improved gamut of the new inks, I'm not sure in the majority of my images.
I prefer not to fill up printer/paper reviews with (IMHO spurious ;-) information about 'gamut volumes' and detailed tables of numbers that tell the average reader nothing of practical use about a printer/ink/paper combination. To be of any use, such data needs detailed explanations and context that is rarely provided.
I've found that the only real way is to compare results is with direct comparison of samples under appropriate lighting.
As printers get better and better, it is getting increasingly difficult to tell them apart from prints alone.
The manufacturers go to some length to find images that show the differences, so I'd always suggest comparing known test images (such as the ones above) as well as one of your own if you get the opportunity.
Printer quality is such that using Epson media, any inconsistencies you get are far more likely to be due to failings in your own workflow (such as a too bright monitor leading to dark prints)
Bronzing and gloss differential is now much reduced, as you can see in the example below, printed on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper.
You'll notice that the driver offers '16 bit' printing - it's greyed out for ABW mode, but for colour printing it can help with some prints.
Of course, the original image has to be in 16 bit mode, and I have to admit, I've not come across an image of mine that clearly showed the difference yet. I take the attitude that any small step that improves quality is worth taking if it does not hamper other aspects of my work.
I still see debates about whether to work in 16 bit after converting raw files. I've seen banding appear in 8 bit B/W files after applying extreme curve adjustments to parts of images. This didn't happen at 16 bit, so I take 16 bit working as one of those minor steps (often not readily visible) that contribute in a positive way to total print quality. Others may think differently but I believe they help...
Given the similarity to our larger 7880 printer I was expecting good quality colour and black and white prints.
Some of my concerns with pigment based inks from a few years ago (excessive bronzing and gloss differential) are now virtually gone, and the latest inks are pushing the wider colour gamut of some dye based printing solutions.
Both thick media (such as Velvet fine Art) and roll paper took some practice to load correctly, and the different driver options seemed a bit more complex than I'd like, but in general, the printer is very easy to use.
However I know from experience, that sheet paper manual feed problems are something that rapidly uses up my patience when I've a few prints to do.
The prints from the 2880 are perfectly fine, and I would be happy putting my name to them and selling them as part of my work.
The supplied ICC colour profiles for Epson media are not easy to better. I've also tried the printer with some third party papers, but I'll cover those in further reviews.
The Epson ABW black and white print mode is excellent as it is, and with a simple linearising profile can produce really high quality results on many third party fine art and specialist papers.
Who will buy one?
One question that occurred to me, given the price of the printer, was who is the target market?
The USB camera link socket at the front suggests home use.
Ink cartridge size. The cartridges are elatively small - fine for a desktop printer for occasional use, but emptied rather too quickly if you start printing many A3+ prints.
Swapping blacks - it may not use much ink, but with the smaller cartridges, you don't want to do it too often.
At the price point for this printer, there were a few omissions that I felt might make me question the utility of the printer for my own work and volume of printing (remember though, that I do this stuff for a living)
Networking - it's not there. Two USB connections imply that I'll share the printer between two computers next to each other. Ethernet is not an expensive option to design in these days and would enable me to place the printer in a more convenient location. I can share the printer via the connected computer, but that does mean that computer needs to be running.
Having reviewed the Epson 3800 when it came out, I'm convinced that if you are looking at a 2880, you should carefully look at how much printing you want to do. (Update Apr 2010 - we have a full review of the Epson 3880)
The larger ink carts (and amount of ink supplied when you buy the printer) quickly make the 3800 more economic if you do more than say 10-15 prints a week. We're hoping to look at the Epson 3880 before long, but the excellent results we had from the 3800 suggest that if you do modest amounts of printing, then the increased 'up-front' costs will quickly be recouped - particularly if you sell your work.
A friend with a 2880, running a weddings/portrait business swapped to a 7880 and reckoned that with time and materials savings, it took only a couple of months for the 7880 to work out cheaper - with it they did more of their own printing, and were able to offer (much more profitable) large prints.
Buying the Epson 2880
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the 2880, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
It won't cost any more (nor less we're afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.
OK, let's say that you are only producing a lowish volume of prints. The 2880 becomes a much more reasonable proposition. The quality is there and you also have the roll paper option, which you'd need to go to a 4880 to find in a larger printer.
I'm assuming that Epson do their market research quite carefully, so there is a distinct market that wants this printer. My suspicion is that outside of Japan, you'll not find many people directly plugging cameras into a printer this size.
Without going for specific third party ink sets, this is one of the more economic ways of getting into producing high quality black and white prints.
I regularly get asked about cheaper black and white printing solutions, and, strange as it may seem, it's much easier to produce good cheap colour printers than B/W. The 2880 produces good prints on many of the newer 'fibre' or 'baryta' papers.
I'd also suggest it's a good printer for 'pro' photographers who only want to print work for portfolio and sample purposes. Very little of my commercial photography work is not supplied digitally these days - our commercial/landscape print business is in some ways relatively unconnected to the corporate photography side of things.
Apart from a few paper feed issues and the need to swap black inks, I'd have no trouble in using this printer to produce prints I'd be happy to sell and exhibit.
You can leave comments/questions about this review via our blog
A pigment ink based printer that produces good black and white and colour prints.
Supports a range of media, including thick paper (to 1.3mm), roll paper and printable CDs
Bundled Software: Epson Creativity Suite incl. Epson Easy Photo Print, Web to Page, Epson FileManager, Camera RAW Plug in for Epson Creativity Suite, Epson Print CD, Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 (PC) / 4 (Mac)
Operating Systems: Mac OS 10.3 - 10.6, Windows 2000/XP/XP x64/Vista/Win7
Standard Dimensions: Storage: 214x616x322 mm (HxWxD). Printing: 415x616x797 mm (HxWxD)
Ink Cartridge Configuration
Minimum Ink Droplet Size
Ink Shelf Life
Maximum Resolution (dots per inch)
Borderless Photo Sizes
Special Media Support
Maximum Paper Thickness
Printer Dimensions & Weight
Interface and Connectivity
Colour Management Solutions
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
Keith is always happy to discuss matters raised in his articles. You can Email Us
Northlight Images prides itself on its independence when giving advice. We do not sell hardware or software and have no direct commercial links with any of the software or hardware vendors that may be mentioned here. See our Review Policy for more information.
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