Now that the high-end digital SLRs boast at least 16-MP (or 24 or even 36 MP) resolution, a wide-format photo printer makes a great deal of sense. That’s why both Canon and Epson have expanded their lines of machines that can make 13 x 19-inch prints. Any of these can take full advantage of the superior quality that a digital SLR camera can produce. If you want to showcase your best images in a size that works well as wall decor, a printer like the pro-grade Epson Stylus Photo R3000 that I tested would be an excellent choice.
The R3000 benefits from the best of the technology developed for the R2880, which remains available, including its use of the UltraChrome K3 pigment inks. The set consists of nine cartridges, including four blacks, although only eight are used at any time, including either Photo Black or Matte Black. The K3 set includes both Vivid and Light Magenta for maximum colour accuracy and in Black & White mode, three blacks are used to provide excellent monochrome prints. In addition to cut sheets, both machines can use roll paper, for making prints as large as 13 x 44 inches.
Prints made on the Lustre paper should not show noticeable fading or colour change for 83 years when framed, matted and displayed under glass. Switch to glass with a UV filter and they should last up to 200 years without. (To minimize fading of any photo, do not display it in direct light.) When made on Epson’s Enhanced Matte paper, prints should look great for 82 years or 110 years, depending on the type of glass that’s used. In many other respects however, the R3000 is preferable to the R2880, offering greater convenience, new technology and even better print quality with less noise. The following are the primary benefits of this new model.
Redesigned print head: The new MicroPiezo head, with a maximum resolution of 5670 x 1440 dpi, offers greater speed and even smaller variable-sized droplets as small as 2 picolitres (pl) vs. 3 pl in the Max Quality mode. As with any printer, the smaller the droplets the less graininess there will be in areas such as skies and skin tones.
More connectivity options: In addition to USB and PictBridge, the R3000 offers both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity but only 802.11n. That can be very convenient if the printer is not very close to your computer or if your home includes several computers in various locations.
New LCD data panel: This 2.5-inch (63.5-mm) control panel offers a great deal of visual feedback as to settings as well as guidance as to using certain features, making the process more convenient and less prone to errors.
Automatic switching between black inks: Since both the Photo and Matte Black cartridges are loaded simultaneously, there’s no need to pull out one and insert the other when changing between glossy and matte paper. This is definitely a time saver.
Larger ink cartridges: To minimize the need for frequent switching, cartridges for the R3000 hold 25.9 ml vs. 11 ml. They’re also more economical in the long run, offering a savings of approximately 12% per milliliter.
Improved handling for thick media: Instead of requiring thick papers to be loaded through the back, the R3000 allows for more convenient front loading via a new straight media path. The LCD provides illustrated instructions on the entire process. After printing, the paper is ejected via the front of the machine.
The setup process was straightforward: removing the tape and packaging materials, inserting the nine ink cartridges and installing the software. While Ethernet connectivity is available, I decided to choose the Wi-Fi option instead. That required entering my home network’s code and password via the LCD screen. Afterwards, the wireless connectivity worked perfectly. Naturally, USB connectivity is also available and is even simpler.
The R3000 is very rugged with sturdy trays but certainly not compact at 61.6 x 36.9 x 22.8 cm when closed and weighing 15kg. It does require a sturdy desk with adequate space, including an extra 26 cm in the front for the long paper tray that you’ll use if loading thick media. And as a bonus, all printer controls are now located in one area, beside the LCD on the right/front of the machine. Following the instructions on the screen, I had no difficulty loading cut sheets, a roll of paper or an inkjet-printable CD/DVD (using the special tray).
Epson’s printer drivers are excellent in terms of navigation; they’re versatile but straightforward and intuitive to use. That’s true of the R3000 too, although it offers entirely different screens and items than the R1900 and R2000, for example. Even so, I was fully proficient with it after five minutes of trying all of the available items. The default settings are fine for getting started but serious print makers may want to consider using some of the other options.
Colour printing: The Mode is a particularly important item in the driver software. It’s at sRGB by default but when printing images that are in the Adobe RGB 1998 colour space, switch to the Adobe RGB mode. I tried the sRGB option when working with Adobe RGB images and got lighter tones, lower contrast and less vivid colours; for a head-and-shoulders portrait, this was actually a more pleasing effect. Control over aspects such as Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Gamma is available by clicking on the Advanced tabs.
There’s another Mode, Off-No Color Management, but with some types of papers, this did not provide ideal results whether I had set the print utility to Photoshop Manages Colours or to Printer Manages Colours. The final mode, ICM, is useful for experienced printers using custom colour profiles although Epson’s profiles are excellent.
B&W printing: Before making monochrome prints, the Color item should be switched to Advanced B&W Photo so that only three black inks will be used, providing the most neutral prints. Clicking on the Advanced tab now opens the Printer Adjustment screen with options for modifying aspects such Brightness, Contrast and Shadow Tonality. Toning options can also be selected if desired: Neutral (default), Warm, Cool and Sepia.
When making black-and-white prints from images converted to monochrome in Photoshop, my first prints were a bit too dark. After noticing that the Tone item in the Printer Adjustment Screen driver is set to Dark by default, I switched to the Normal option. The default is fine if you appreciate b&w prints with very dark blacks but I preferred to get more shadow detail, making Normal my standard setting.
Note: After deciding on the options that produce the best results in colour or black & white printmaking with a certain type of paper, I was able to save this set of functions under Custom Settings, by giving the set a name such as Lustre Speed Adobe RGB. Many different custom sets can be saved and later activated when desired, a real time saver.
Photo Black or Matte Black: After making some prints on lustre and glossy paper I decided to switch to the fine art matte papers that Epson had provided. With the older Epson R2880, that would have required removing the Photo Black cartridge and inserting the one with Matte Black ink. That’s not necessary with the R3000 but the previous ink must still be flushed from the lines and that does take a few minutes. When working in the Standard mode (instead of Economy) the process uses 3ml of ink so it’s wise to keep the switching to a minimum. In other words, make all of the desired prints with Photo Black ink before making a set of prints that will require the Matte Black ink.
Speed: The time required to complete a print varies significantly depending on the Quality level that’s selected as well as the computer that you’re using. With my very fast PC, I was able to make a borderless 330 x 483 mm print in 5 minutes at the Speed quality level (1440 x 720p), in just over 7 minutes at the Quality setting (1440 x 1440 dpi) and at just under 10 minutes at Max Quality (5760 x 1440 dpi). In spite of its slightly higher print quality, the R3000 is a tad faster than the R2880 and much quieter.
Print Quality Evaluation
As expected from Epson’s flagship in the Stylus Photo line, the R3000 produced prints ranging from gorgeous to stunning depending on the paper and the driver settings that I used. After trying the various quality levels, I decided to conduct primary testing with the Quality option since this produced gorgeous prints at a reasonable speed with acceptable ink consumption. The Max level may be used by professionals and galleries but when compared to the Quality option, the improvement was not obvious, perhaps 10% better.
My colour prints are outstanding, with high detail sharpness, smooth sky and skin tones, snappy contrast and great definition of fine detail. The prints exhibit excellent colour fidelity and differentiation between similar but not identical hues, pleasing skin tones with a slight tanned effect and rich saturation with especially rich blues.
Note: It’s impossible to accurately reproduce the characteristics of an inkjet print on these pages, so we have not attempted to do so. Instead, the digital images used for illustration include comments with my insights as to the optimal settings in the printer driver and a brief evaluation of the results provided by the R3000.
Although I had perfected my images with Photoshop CS5, using a calibrated computer monitor, shadow areas in a few colour prints were too dark. While some users might take advantage of an override in the printer driver software, I preferred to make modifications in Photoshop, using a lighter image when re-printing. Since the R3000 ink set does not include a gloss optimizer, prints on the glossiest paper did exhibit very mild gloss differential that’s barely noticeable. A bit of research indicated that this could be eliminated for colour prints in Photoshop by setting the white output in Levels to 248. For monochrome prints, you might try activating the Highlight Point Shift in the Advanced B&W mode. (Neither tactic is necessary when using matte paper, of course.)
No other printer I have tested can match the R3000 in terms of monochrome prints. They’re outstanding, matching the level of quality that I expect from a custom lab that prints for galleries, with rich blacks, luminous whites, accurate mid-tones and completely neutral without any colour cast.
The Bottom Line
Epson’s Stylus Photo R2880 was already a highly-rated printer and it’s still available for those who want pro-calibre prints from a machine at a slightly lower price. Of course, the R3000 offers some benefits, as discussed earlier, although it uses the same UltraChrome K3 pigment formulation. Especially those who make a lot of prints will prefer the experience provided by this newer model in terms of its controls, connectivity options and larger ink cartridges. If you’re looking for the best combination of features, convenience, versatility and beautiful archival prints, this Epson machine should be very high on your list of models to consider.
Specifications: For the full list check Epson Canada‘s website
Price: At the time of this writing, the street price in Canada is $700