Serious home printing demands a serious printer.
With its new Stylus Pro 3880, a long-awaited follow-up to the well-received Stylus Pro 3800, Epson refines some of the innovations it introduced in that model, while adding some features that trickled down from its more expensive large-format printers over the past year.
The main boost: Epson's reformulated magenta inks. It still uses Epson's UltraChrome K3 pigment-based ink set, but it has replaced its old Magenta and Light Magenta cartridges with Vivid Magenta and Vivid Light Magenta. These join Cyan, Light Cyan, Yellow, Light Black, Light Light Black, Photo Black, and Matte Black. That's a total of nine inks, though the printer uses only eight at any given time.
Through the printer's menu you tell it to switch between Photo and Matte Black depending on the paper you're using. That's one benefit of the 3880 over Epson's Stylus Photo R2880 ($800, street), which makes you physically switch the Photo and Matte Black cartridges.
Epson says that the Vivid Magentas should provide more intense blues and violets, and we did see a wider range of those colors in the test prints we made. These colors have long been difficult for inkjet printers to reproduce and are usually one of the biggest color shifts you'll see when trying to print an image of flowers-if the African violets in your prints don't look purple, you might want to try the 3880.
Another trickle-down technology is the ink-repellent coating on the MicroPiezo AMC print head. This helps to keep ink away when the head's not in use, so there's less chance of it drying up and causing clogs.
It's generally a good idea to turn your printer off when it's not in use so it will park the print head and let it cool down, again, to avoid drying. Ink can be expensive. You don't want to waste any by running cleaning cycles that could've been avoided.
When it introduced the 3800, Epson debuted a new set of screening and color-lookup table algorithms created in conjunction with the Munsell Color Science Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Now called AccuPhoto HD2 technology, it's responsible for how the printer maps the colors in a photo to the colors it is able to create and how it lays them down on the paper.
The main benefit? Smoother gradations in areas that transition subtly from one color to another, or from light to dark - often in the out-of-focus areas of photos, such as the backgrounds of portraits or macro shots. You may have encountered banding problems in such areas before, where some printers create too big a step in brightness. Not so with the 3880.
Photographers who work in black-and-white will appreciate the Advanced Black and White mode, which makes converting to a neutral or lightly toned monochrome really easy. Annoyingly, years after its introduction, this part of Epson's driver still doesn't show an actual preview of your image.
Instead, it always shows the same portrait of a woman to preview the relative effects of your settings.