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Epson Stylus Pro 7880 review

Using the SP 7880 24 inch large format printer

The Epson 7880 reviewed, is here in our print room. It's being used for some of Keith's colour and black and white prints.

We recently reviewed the Epson 4880 and decided that at A2 it wasn't really wide enough for some of our large colour prints.

This review covers the basic 7880, not supplied with any RIP or additional software. Most observations would apply to the larger 44" SP 9880.

Epson 9880 review... read this one but substitute 44" where you see 24" (the printers are that similar)

Epson 7880 (9880)

We've writen several more articles connected with our fine art printing business. Have a look in the 'Article News' section for details.

What do you get with the 7880?

The 7880 is much bigger and more solid feeling than most smaller printers (131 lbs.).

It took two people to take it up to our print room, where it was placed on the stand we'd assembled.

The 7880 has three paper paths and supports roll and cut media, up to 1.5mm thick.

Epson SP7880

The picture to the right shows me about to load a 24 inch roll of paper into the printer.

There are a total 8 ink cartridge slots in all, meaning you have to choose whether to install the Matt Black or Photo Black when you first set up the printer.

Epson 7880 with 24 inch roll of paperThe inks are the Epson K3 pigment ink set with vivid magenta.

The printer is supplied with 9 110ml cartridges and uses a significant amount of ink during its initial charging and setup. This is a one off occurrence.

Waste ink goes into the maintenance tank, which can be replaced when full.

It's worth noting that the cartridges are also available with 220ml of ink.

Connectivity

You get a choice of USB2 or Ethernet to link your printer up to a computer.

Setting up Ethernet network connectivity (for both PCs and Macs) is also pretty straightforward using the supplied utilities.

There is included software that allows you to configure a lot of features of the printer remotely and to check on various counters and status.

The printer display is a clear but quite simple LCD.

Most printer test functions and settings can be accessed through front panel display menus, however it's often easier to access the printer remotely.

Our print room also contains our main servers and a 44" width Epson 9600.

You don't need too much extra space for this printer - however, don't even think of putting it on the desktop.

Using the 7880

If you're used to using a desktop printer, then moving to Large Format necessitates a few changes.

However, it's the advantages of cheaper printing costs and making huge prints, that should be what convinced you this was a good idea.

It's worth remembering too, that in making bigger prints you need better quality image files. These are big and may well tax your computer.

If you really want good results with third party papers, then consider getting custom profiles made or even looking at making your own (we do).

The printer can do an auto nozzle check at start-up if you want.

The picture below shows a sheet of A4 copier paper I'd just used for such a test.

printer auto nozzle test

The 7880 has a powerful vacuum system for keeping media flat - much stronger than in smaller printers, and a definite advantage if there is any residual curl in your media.

Changing ink

Just when doing some tests for this review, a couple of cartridges were deemed empty by the printer. It stops printing and tells you to replace the ink cartridges.

7880 front panel - low ink

I've had this happen mid print and since I had a replacement ready, I was able to swap straight away.

Looking carefully at the print afterwards I couldn't see the join, even knowing the part where the swap had happened.

The cartridges are found at either side of the printer behind panels.

Move your mouse over image to see details.

ink cartridge holder

The blue lever locks the cartridges in place.

It's lifted to change the cartridge (light black in this instance).

Move your mouse over image to see details.

replacing ink on 7880

The 7880 ink cartridges waste much less ink than those for my 9600.

Old carts from the 9600 have enough ink left over that you can feel it sloshing about if you shake a cartridge.

T6021 Epson 7880/9880 ink cartridge inside viewThe new designs use a pressurised feed which ensures the ink bag inside is emptied.

The picture shows the lid removed from an old cartridge.

Move your mouse over image to see details.

There is a thin plastic seal over the front that allows a positive pressure to be built up.

When buying replacement ink, be careful that you have the correct cartridges, since I'm told (by one of my suppliers) that Epson's numbering scheme changed at one stage causing a deal of confusion in supplying the correct versions.

Changing black inks

This is quite an involved procedure - not difficult, but it also takes about half an hour, swapping cartridges when prompted.

I've more information on the procedure in the 4880 review, since it's essentially the same.

The 'waste' ink all goes into the maintenance tank, so if your tank is nearly full, then have a spare ready...

  • Unofficial tips - use at your own risk - With the 7600/9600 there are some shortcuts you can take to reduce the amount of ink lost - We also have some info for the 7880/9880 black ink swap.

Paper Loading and Media handling

One of the advantages with this size printer is that you can use roll media up to 24" width.

The rolls fit on a spindle, under the top cover.

Move your mouse over image to see details.

roll paper cover -7880 - 9880

There is a cutter too, that will cut through heavy media such as Canvas, but don't be tempted, it's really for paper (and lighter papers too).

Cutting heavy rag papers can easily generate loose fibre and dust - where is the one place you want to keep this away from?

Yes, the print head...

The picture below, shows access to the print head (and cutter) assembly

(Move your mouse over image to see details).

front cover panel - print head access

There are a number of markings on the printer that make it pretty easy to accurately load single sheets of paper. You will need to load individual sheets though.

If you are using roll paper and the cutter, the prints fall out of the printer when finished.

Below the printer is a print catching device - some shiny cloth that shouldn't damage prints as they fall on to it.

print catching deviceIt folds out for larger prints (move your mouse over image to see).

This is a different design to the 7600/9600 of old, but it still mystifies me exactly how you use it, other than it beating the floor as somewhere for your prints to fall.

I've asked several people about the old design on the 9600 and so far no-one has done much other than shuffle their feet a bit - there is nothing in the manual as far as I've ever seen :-)

Printer testing - some suggestions

All I can show in this article are a few nice images and point out how nice 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 to start with.

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, be sure to read the explanatory notes that go with them.

Of course I do use my own prints for testing, but they are far less likely to (obviously) show up problems than the test images.

datacolor test image fro printer profilie evaluationprinter test image for black and white printing

I had a range of Epson media to test and the ones that needed photo black ink all looked very good.

I've tried this set of inks in the 4880 and results were of the same high quality. Much reduced bronzing on glossy papers and rich deep blacks in Black and White prints.

Since we've got a 9600 for printing on matt papers, I wasn't trying this option for the 7880 (it wastes ink to swap)

Printing bidirectionally or unidirectionally produced no real difference between prints, while going for higher printer resolutions - improved prints slightly - but only if I got out a magnifying glass.

Epson vivid magenta ink gamutThe 7880 benefits from an improved dither pattern (placing of the ink droplets) over earlier printers.

This makes prints look better, although it's actually most noticeable for the test prints I produce for creating printer profiles.

The 7880 has the 'Vivid Magenta' ink set which increases printer gamut.

For those of you with print industry experience it now manages colours such as a rhodamine reds and reflex blues with much greater accuracy.

Pigment inks have particles of coloured pigments embedded in a resin. A new version of the resin is designed reduce gloss differential and increase pigment density (beyond the K3 inkset and the older UltraChrome in my 9600). The reformulated resin and altered head design also supposedly decreases the likelihood of clogging.

It's actually very difficult to spot differences in prints without direct comparisons, however I've got samples of test images from a friend's Epson 2400 and was able to compare the Datacolor test image on the same paper.

The 7880 was similar to the 4880 I looked at a while ago in that when looking at the Datacolor test image, it showed more depth in the deep reds of the peppers and the deep blues in the folded fabrics looked better defined. Not a lot in it, but noticeable if you place the two prints together in a viewing cabinet.

The Epson ABW black and white printing mode produced good quality black and white prints. Glossy papers show a bit of gloss differential (dull areas due to different glossiness of paper and inks), but not an annoying amount.

You can tint and tone images in the ABW section of the print driver, but I have a personal dislike of seeing my B/W images toned so although I can say it works fine, I couldn't say how well you'd like the results. If I want a warmer looking print I'll use a warmer paper, that's about the most colour I want to see in one of my B/W images :-)

smith tower, Seattle USAVarious Prints

I printed this 23"x35" print on Pinnacle Oyster on the 7880 using Epson ABW mode.

I'd often print images like this on Epson Enhanced matte on my 9600, but the bright white lustre finish of the Pinnacle paper and richer blacks worked well.

Paper choice for images is to me a personal matter, and I always advise people to take anything they read in a paper review (even my own) with a pinch of salt.

In particular, the more graphs and tables of numbers I see, the more I'm suspicious.

For the final output of my images onto paper, they have to 'feel right - it's nice that this printer expands the range of options I've got for images.

The Epson supplied profiles are good but you can improve things if you use the Epson ColorBase software that is available as a download.

This allows you to create a calibration file to bring your particular printer back to factory aligned standard.

You need a spectrophotometer of a supported variety.

The real benefit comes for people with several identical printers where you need to minimise variation between individual printers.

This is probably not so much use to people with just one printer, but I have heard it said that it can make a (just) perceptible improvement in the quality of prints.

The colour image below was taken at Rutland Water in Leicestershire and was converted from a RAW camera file as part of our testing of the latest version of DxO Optics Pro. Printed on Innova Ultra Smooth Gloss (IFA-49) paper, it has kept the range of colours really well.

rutland water sunset

The combination of wider gamut inks and modern 'Fibre' papers gives an excellent feel for the vibrant colours that afternoon.

Conclusions

Given the similarities with the 4880, we weren't expecting many differences in print quality, and sure enough there wasn't anything obviously visible in a direct comparison.

  • If you are buying a printer, then be just a bit wary of vendors who try to sell you a RIP to go with it. There are some extravagant claims made about how much better prints are when you use this software to drive your printer - well, this often used to be true, but as printers get better, any advantages are less and less. Just remember that even nice people selling printers and especially RIPs are not always the most objective judges of print quality ;-)

The 7880 is in fact slightly slower in printing than the 4880, and does not offer complete borderless printing on cut media, it also has no cut media tray - but of course it prints up to 24" width, so I can easily do 24"x36" prints, and my 90" width panoramic prints are no problem.

  • Note - According to Epson the longest prints possible are: "90.5 inches when using the Epson printer driver. This may vary depending on the application being used and the image resolution. Using a RIP may allow you to exceed this limit as well."

It takes a bit of experimenting to set up custom paper sizes when printing from roll media - this has often been a reason for people to use a RIP to drive the software, but that's getting less of a reason, now that more software is capable of directly addressing this (Qimage on the PC for example) We're currently looking at assorted solutions to this problem and hope to have more info on the site over the next few months.

Print quality is very good indeed from this printer and the Epson supplied printer profiles we've tried are good.

In fact I've not even re-profiled several of the Epson papers I have packs of here.

The Epson ABW printing mode is one I often use for Black and White prints with the 7880 - several papers have taken only minimal corrections with a QTR linearising profile to get pretty much spot on B/W results.

Buying the Epson 7880

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the 7880, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link

It won't cost any more (nor less we're afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.

This printer is our standard printer for many of my landscape prints. The Epson 9600 is used for matt papers (cotton rag and the likes).

My 9600 is permanently set with matt black ink. I print all my large black and white prints on matt paper, where it gives splendid results.

This does mean that I don't have the option of printing colour and some B/W prints on some of the newer 'fibre' type papers - this is where the 7880 comes in, using Photo Black ink.

This brings up what is still my only real criticism of the printer.

It's that black ink swap procedure.

It is clumsy and wastes ink and maintenance tank capacity. Estimates of cost vary but I'd say that $40 wouldn't be too wide of the mark.

One minor annoyance (under Mac OSX 10.4) was that after swapping black inks you have to re-select the printer in the printer setup utility, or else it won't display the correct options.

Printer drivers often have various quirks and I did have some initial problems how best to use roll paper, without lots of waste.

One other issue I've heard about, is that if you are using the ABW printing mode, you should ensure that your B/W working space is gamma 2.2, since this get assumed. I work in G2.2 all the time so this isn't personally an issue, but I'd be careful if I wanted to print one of my very old prints, which might still be in a gamma 1.8 space.

If you are using OSX 10.5, then the printer driver also allows the option of 16 bit printing.

A Mac only problem/fix

One other issue caused me some concern at first (It's perhaps not an Epson problem though) I tried a few 7880 prints from Photoshop CS3 (OSX 10.4.11) and they were all wrong - typically double profiled. The problem didn't exist when I plugged my laptop into the USB port, only over Ethernet. After some hunting round I found that it was an issue with Apple ColorSync processing.

The solution turned out to be to go into the ColorSync Utility and force the printer to a generic setting. This causes -only- the profile I've set in Photoshop to be used (if set to 'generic', ColorSync normally takes this as an instruction to 'do nothing' to the data going from Photoshop to the Epson driver).

colorsync generic profile fix for epson driver

When printing, the Generic RGB profile is shown in the ColorSync part of the (OSX 10.4) print dialogue

This is a bit of kludge - that just doen't seem to be needed when the printer is directly connected - I'm including it in the hope that it helps someone save a bit of paper/ink...

I've heard of similar problems with CS4 and OSX 10.5 with people getting dark prints with colour and the ABW mode - obviously something is not talking correctly with something else here, but as to what it is I don't currently know.

If you are getting double profiling issues (typically prints look fine in CS3 and prints too dark in CS4) then it is worth checking that your print driver is the most up to date version. [See also these links: Adobe forum #1, #2, Luminous Landscape]

Summary

A very solidly built printer capable of excellent print quality on roll and sheet media, colour and black and white.

The 7880 and 9880 are essentially identical except for maximum print width.

Epson supplied printer profiles are of very good quality.

The K3 Vivid Magenta inks show less gloss differential and improved gamut over older printers.

Suffers from a cumbersome and wasteful black ink swap procedure, which might restrict your use of the printer as a general purpose printer.

  • If you've any questions or observations about this review, then please do feel free to ask...

SPECIFICATIONS (from Epson)

Printing Technology

Ink Cartridges

Pro 7880 UltraChrome K3 ink and Pro 9880 UltraChrome K3 ink

Nozzle Configuration

Droplet Technology

Resolution

Print Engine Speed [*A]

Print Mode 16"x20" 20"x30"
Fine - 720 dpi HS 4:20 7:55
SuperFine- 1440 dpi HS 6:41 12:00
SuperPhoto - 2880 dpi HS 12:57 23:18

HS = High-Speed Print Mode (Bi-directional Print Mode). Print speeds are shown in min:sec.

Acoustic Noise Level

Printer Language/Drivers

Operating Systems Supported

Printer Interfaces

Dimensions

BorderFree Printing

Printable Area

Media Handling

Line Accuracy

Epson Intelligent Pressurized Ink Cartridge [*B]

Lightfastness Ratings [*C]

Environmental Characteristics

Temperature

Relative humidity 20 to 80%

Power consumption

Notes
*A. Based upon print engine speed only. Total throughput times depend upon front-end RIP, file size, printer resolution, ink coverage, networking, etc. Normal Mode based on SuperFine - 1440 dpi.
*B. Cartridge yields vary considerably based on images printed, print settings, paper type, frequency of use and temperature. For print quality, a variable amount of ink remains in the cartridge after the "replace cartridge" indicator comes on. The printer ships with full cartridges and part of the ink from the first cartridges is used for priming the printer.
*C. Ink lightfastness rating based on accelerated testing of prints on specialty media displayed indoors under glass. Actual print stability will vary according to media, printed image, display conditions, light intensity, humidity, and atmospheric conditions. Epson does not guarantee longevity of prints. For maximum print life, display all prints under glass or lamination or properly store them.
Visit www.wilhelm-research.com for the latest information

More Info

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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