This impressive model makes 17-inch pigment printing more affordable than we ever thought it could be. In fact, the new printer sells for $500 less than Epson's own 17-inch Stylus Pro 4800, one of last year's top inkjet contenders. Yet the Stylus Pro 3800's print quality easily matches that of the SP4800, largely because it uses the same UltraChrome K3 ink system.
How do you reduce the cost of a large-format printer so dramatically? Partly by not incorporating a roll paper holder and cutter. (The SP4800 has both.) Along with the SP3800's smaller cartridges (80ml as opposed to the SP4800's 110ml or 220ml), that change also allowed Epson to make a much more compact printer -- 27 inches wide by 15 inches deep by 10 inches high, as opposed to the SP4800's 34x30x14 inches. For photographers who want to make prints up to 16x24 in a limited workspace, that's a huge advantage.
Though the SP3800's smaller cartridges make ink slightly more expensive than with the SP4800, in one respect the new model offers greater ink economy: You don't have to swap black ink cartridges when you change from matte to glossy paper and back. The SP4800's eight cartridge slots allow use of only one of its black inks at a time. But the SP3800 has nine slots, so it can house both black cartridges at the same time -- and switch automatically from one to the other depending on the paper selected. With the SP4800 and its wider-format siblings, the Stylus Pro 7800 and 9800, cartridges must be swapped when you want to change surfaces, at a cost of about $75 in lost inks and about a half hour of lever flipping. The Stylus Pro 3800 lets you skip all that -- and save money too.