Looking for advice on printers... please.

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by ldavidson, Dec 15, 2010.

  1. I am thinking about buying a large format printer. I have just started researching printers online and there is an
    almost overwhelming amount of information to digest. I think that it may be less costly in the end to be able to do my
    own quality prints on archival paper than sending them to a lab, especially when I am not always happy with the results. I wonder if I would have more control over the colour if I did my own prints. The cost of some of the high-end printers is quite high. I don't know if it is worth the investment, especially when the cost of ink is another consideration.

    The Epson Stylus Pro 3800 has grabbed my attention. At $1,300. it is affordable. The company claims that their
    Ultrachrome K3 ink is state-of-the-art. I am just wondering if anyone has experience with this, or some other similar
    printer that works well?

    I have been using a HP DeskJet 832c printer for many years. I believe I bought it in 1998. This has been the
    ultimate workhorse. I use it all the time and it has never broken down, or given me any problems. While my family
    and friends printers come and go this one just keeps chugging along. It has to be one of the most reliable printers
    ever designed. The photography prints look good to people who aren't too picky but they aren't proffessional, and
    the size is limited.

    If anyone has thoughts, information or experience they would like to share I would be very grateful. I always get
    great advice here at PN and I appreciate it.

    Thank you.

  2. Watch out for the cost of ink. It can easily swamp the price of the printer itself.
    I use a Canon Pixma Pro9500, and I'm very pleased with it. It does 16" width max.
    It uses Lucia pigment-based inks, which are supposed to be archival, and yield excellent prints. A full set of 12 cartridges is only about $120. In contrast, the Epson cartridges can run over $50 EACH, with a full set up in the $700 range.
    Also, there's an issue with the Epson switching between different black inks and wasting quite a bit of ink in the process. You might want to research this on the net.
    Do a search of the archives here. You'll find lots of threads on this subject.
    - Leigh
  3. If you're making a sufficient number of prints, the ink costs of a larger printer are actually considerably lower than for the smaller printers. While the ink carts for a 2880 run about $12-15 each (compared to about $60 for the 3880) they hold nowhere near as much actual ink. Also, the ink usage characteristics of the 3880 are (supposedly) better. The only thing working against this is if you don't print much... in that case, the ink in the 3880 could expire before you see the savings (keep in mind, though, a lot of folks get more than the "6 months after installation" that Epson recommends).
    So, one question to ask yourself is how much you plan to print. If you print low volume, then one of the 13in printers may make more sense. Of course, if your primary desire is to be able to print larger than 13in, then the 3880 (it replaced the 3800 a while back) is a great printer. I actually just acquired one to replace my aging (and difficult to use under OS X 10.6) Epson 2200... I love it so far (thought I about threw my back out moving it this weekend).
    If you really need larger than 13in for your work, or if you're regularly printing more than a moderate volume then I don't think you could go wrong with the 3880. In fairness, though, Canon and HP both make excellent printers in this class - Epson's Professional series (of which the 3880 is the entry level) just seems to be the gold standard for quality.
    If you decide to get the 3880, you might watch and wait for deals... it is pricey, but Epson often has rebates. They just ended one $300 rebate program, but I am sure another program will come up in the near future.
  4. When comparing ink costs, you have to compare apples to apples.... comparing the ink cart cost of a Canon 9500 to that of the Epson 3880 isn't such a comparison as the Canon uses a much smaller cart size - more in line with the Epson 2880 (and in that respect, ink replacement costs are similar). It's pretty much universally true across all vendors and printers - the larger the ink cart, the lower the cost per ml.
    While you have to be very careful to understand the true "cost per ml" when looking at ink replacement, even that isn't perfect because every model has significantly different ink usage characteristics. Unfortunately, finding unbiased data on the true "cost per print" is a little more of a challenge.
    That said, the comment about ink swapping in the 3880 is a fair one. The 3880 requires swapping between Matte and Photo black ink depending on the media type. The technique used is significantly better than in their high end consumer model (the 2880) but it's still a cost factor; some ink is wasted. Some folks manage this by batching their work and minimizing the number of swaps needed... if you swap between photo and matte inks frequently you will waste a lot of inks. It's a legitimate strike against the Epson printers... but not a killer if you manage your work.
    Now, if you have your mind made up that a printer in the class of the 3880 is what you need... take a serious look at the Canon iPF 5100 too... Like I said, I recently purchased a 3880 but the 5100 is a serious contender. The things that kept me from it (in order) were that a) I've been happy user of Epson products for going on 9 years and 2) I didn't think I would ever go through a 130ml cartridge before the ink had expired. The 80ml cart of the 3880 seemed like the happy medium between the tiny carts of the consumer models (2880 and 9500) and the huge carts of printers like the Canon 5100 or Epson 4880.
  5. I have and use the 3800 Printer for over 3 years and it does a fantastic Black and White or color print. As far as swapping inks I don't find a need. I like the Harman Gloss Al Baryta paper which is now Harman by Hannemule and prints very well with the glossy ink. The heavy rag papers are the candidates for swapping to Matt black.
    Read this about the 3880 http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/printers/3880.shtml
    This printer is highly recommended by a lot of professionals
  6. I print with a Canon iPF6300 imagePROGRAF. Output quality is at leastthe equal of the current top of the line Epson. Takes rolls and individual sheets up to 24" (there are also 17", 44", and 60" wide versions available. see http://canonipf.wikispaces.com/ for a vast trove of information o nthe ipF printers.
    While generic profiles from various paper manufacturers and some resellers are good, I make my own (it isn't hard) with an Xrite ColorMunki, which I also use to calibrate and profile my displays --a 27" iMac i5 and an Eizo CG222W.
  7. I have the 3800 (no longer available, now the improved 3880). You can often/usually find it for around $950-1000 (wait for $300 Epson rebate). The cost of the ink is a major issue w/ the smaller printers and smaller size cartridges. Printing w/ a 3800 will 1/2 your $$ on ink vs small size carts (like the Canon 9000/9500) to about $0.60 per 8x10 (not incl. paper cost).
    After the 3880, you get into the bigger machines w/ roll paper capability and even larger carts. A lot depends on your expected volume of printing and if you want > 17" output (the 3880 is length limited to 37"). Most of the larger printers are almost a giveaway when you consider the amount of ink that is usually included (3880 comes w/ full 80mL carts so $50 x 9 for a full suite of ink) but it does waste a small amount of ink if you swap to matte black and back.
    Also, the larger printers will usually not handle cut sheet < 8x10 (the 3880 will) if that is an issue for you vs. cutting small prints off a roll etc. You'll want to invest in a good (Rototrim) paper trimmer too. The 3880 is a reasonable 'tabletop' size whereas anything much larger is 'gee, what is that piece of furniture' size.
  8. When shopping for a large printer, I found Eric Chan's comments on the Epson 3800 http://people.csail.mit.edu/ericchan/dp/Epson3800/index.html to be invaluable. Much of his information should apply to the 3880. Those big ink cartridges are expensive, but are economical in the long run. Print quality and reliability have been good for three years and 3000 prints on my Epson 3800. Alternate inks may save money, but having print longivity information on Epson inks and papers from www.wilhelm-research.com/ is assuring.
  9. jtk


    If you can find a refurb 3800 directly from Epson, get it. Better than "new." Reportedly (and seemingly in print exchanges) equal to 3880.
    All of the comments above about 3800/3880 above make sense, except for Leigh's (only because it may not be based on personal experience).
    The bigger the cart, the more economical, assuming you're printing perhaps a dozen or two letter-size prints per month (I do, plus a few bigger prints). It's true that switching between matte black and photo (gloss) black wastes ink, so factor that in. Switching is probably not nearly as wasteful of pigment money as any small-cart printer will certainly be. Also remember that HP and Canon printers both MAY have issues with glossy paper unless you use the brands they specify/authorize (HP or Canon paper, perhaps some Hahnemeule)...see their own marketing info, I don't know that from personal experience. Epson printers seem able to handle all of the best papers, not just a specified list.
  10. Well, John, first you say:
    ...except for Leigh's (only because it may not be based on personal experience).​
    then you say:
    ...see their own marketing info, I don't know that from personal experience.​
    So how does your lack of personal experience make your comments more valid than mine?
    As to paper selection, I use Ilford Galerie paper in various surfaces including "Smooth Gloss Paper" and "Smooth High Gloss Media" in my Canon Pro9500 and have absolutely no issues with it. Prints are beautiful.
    But that's just personal experience.
    - Leigh
  11. I don't know if current Epson printers do this, but my Epson Pro 4000 ran cleaning cycles. It did this on its own as it saw fit. It involves running the print head back and forth over a pad, and cycling the ink lines by dumping ink into a maintenance tank. It really drove me nuts to see all that good ink dumped into the maintenance tank, which you then had to replace once full.
  12. jtk


    Leigh, sorry...I expressed that poorly.
    I did share immediate and personal experience, except in the case that I clearly specified (and as you quoted)...in that case I urged people to read HP/Canon paper advice because both brands are well known to have had problems in the past with many other brands, whereas Epson's been great with a huge array of alternative brands forever (didn't start working well with baryta until 2400 et al around 5 years ago). There's a reason Epson far-outsells the other brands, and it isn't because of advertising (HP and Canon seem to do a lot more advertising).
    I wouldn't want a printer that can't use the many very beautiful baryta papers, each appealing in their own way.
    I wouldn't want a printer that can't use non-photo papers (such as non-photo Japanese mulberry paper). I've used three generations of Epson that could do that, so I'd be inclined to go with Epson again, if my 3800 ever wears out.
    While I've seen and appreciated various Epson glossy papers, Epson SUBJECTIVELY seems much better with matte. For me much of this boils down to my appreciation of Ilford Gold Fiber Silk. If HP or Canon do as well with that as Epson does, that'd be important information for me.
    As to cleaning cycles, they're part of the reason Epsons have been so reliable, and they use very little pigment. The 4000 was notorious for other reasons, but was capable of fabulous work.
  13. Personally, I could not even imagine leaving the fold of the Epson K3 printers: R2400, 3800, 4800, ... Then replaced by the 2880, 3880, 4880, etc.
    I've had the R2400 for almost five years and cannot comprehend a printer providing a better quality print, up to 13x19 inches. It's performed flawlessly all these years except for paper feed issues -- it can be rather finicky at times. I use a variety of fine art papers from several manufacturers and do not have a favorite.
    I've kept track of every single ink cart replacement:
    Most used = 14 of the Lt. Magenta, followed by 13 yellows
    Least used = 7 Magentas.
  14. If you live in a dry climent you may face clogging issues with Epsons. You would need to print every week or so to
    avoid the issue. If you live in a more normal climate you may never have a clog. On the plus side there is a very
    large and rich community of Epson users, so advice, tips, and opinions are easy to find. The inks from Epson are top
    notch. Media choice and ICC profile support are the best.

    Me, I live out side Denver, it is very dry here so Epsons are not a great option for me as I do not print as often as
    needed. I have a Canon printer on back order. The reasons I went with them besides clogging is that their inks are
    reported to be just as good and exceed in some colors, ease of use, and price. Also, I still have some prints from my first Canon printer which look great. Got rid of it to get an Epson 1290 when they came out. Since then been waiting for Canon to get serrious about fine art printers again. IMO they did so a couple of years ago and their growing pains are mostly over now. The above mentioned 16 inch Canon
    printer is a great option IMO.

    From what I've gathered in my research there is not much difference in the final prints between the major companies,
    Epson, Canon and HP.
  15. I bought an Epson 2200 several years ago. I never made enough prints to justify the cost (~$750.00) Not to mention the EXPENSIVE ink costs. I'm now looking to sell it. (~$175.00?)
    I recommend trying www.mpix.com. They are a pro quality lab and prints ship next day.
  16. The Epson 3880 cartridges are $45 each at B&H, but they also hold 80 ml of ink. The cost per print looks like it is less than with the Canon Pro9500. (Example: $1.68 vs. $2.46 for a 13x19 print using photo black. This does not include ink maintenance. For the Epson the total cost including the average ink lost to maintenance would be $2.01. Ink maintenance information is not available from the page I found detailing the Canon costs.) A complete set of cartridges would consist of 9 inks, roughly $405. Occasionally you will also have to replace the ink maintenance tank at $20.
    CPP Epson 3800/3880: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/printers/3800-costs.shtml
    CPP Canon Pro9500: http://www.redrivercatalog.com/cost-of-inkjet-printing-canon-pro9000-pro9500.html
    That out of the way...I have an Epson 3880 and I couldn't be happier with it. I can't think of a single complaint regarding the print quality. It handles my most difficult color and B&W prints with ease. Excellent shadow and highlight detail, zero problem with muddy shadows, excellent color gamut and gradation, and no discernible dithering even at 1440 dpi (second best setting). The thing just works and faithfully produces what I see on my screen. IQ is higher than what I can get from a lab using a Fuji Frontier or Noritsu, i.e. better shadow detail, higher resolution, and better gamut, not to mention very neutral B&W prints. Assuming Wilhelm's tests are accurate predictors of longevity, Epson prints should last longer than lab prints as well.
    Supposedly the 3880 print head is more resistant to clogs. I haven't had a problem yet (knock on wood) and I tend to print every couple weeks rather than every week.
    About the only complaint one could make when it comes to the 3880 is the photo black/matte black ink switching. It costs about $0.85 (1.5 ml) to switch to matte printing, and about $2.25 (4 ml) to switch back. I don't know why they designed things that way, but you have to batch your prints according to glossy and matte paper. It hasn't been a real issue for me yet because I prefer the glossy papers, particularly Epson Premium Luster.
    Otherwise, it's hard to beat.
  17. This whole Epson v. Canon argument is like Fords and Chevys (I'm a Chrysler man).
    As to paper usage, I've used everything from high-quality exhibition-grade papers to regular inkjet papers as well as CD labels and adhesive labels in my Canon with no problems whatsoever.
    In the final analysis it's just a question of which printer you like best, and which is best suited to your particular work habits. They both produce excellent results.
    - Leigh
  18. Linda.
    I have first hand experience with both the Epson R2400 and the Epson 3880. Both of these machines are outstanding. I prefer the 3880 because the head tends to clog much less frequently and the larger ink tanks are much more economical down the road. The switching of the black inks is really not an issue for me because I print only on matte papers (Epson Velvet and Enhanced Mat) and I do very little color work. The quality from both of these machines is outstanding on these papers, especially the Velvet Fine Art.
    Printing with Epson printers on high quality art paper is not a cheap date but you will love the results.
    With regard to the clogging issues the 3880 is less of a problem. I live in Denver and the R2400 needs a head cleaning every so often and this does eat a lot of ink.
  19. jtk


    I had clogging issues back in 2200 days, but they were easily unclogged until I started using MIS black. 1290 wasn't a pigment printer and it was a lot worse than 2200 that replaced it (but Epson continued to sell them).
    I'm in New Mexico. Pretty dry most of the time :) I print weekly, for the most part, but if I skip for a couple of weeks or a month (and I've done that) it only takes one cleaning cycle (less than a dollar) to clear it. Almost the same as with the old 2200, which sometimes sat for two months...but whose tiny carts were a lot more expensive.
    The various brands of printer may be equally good (per Leigh) but I wouldn't roll the dice with anything but Epson unless I could personally inspect HP or Canon prints on the baryta papers that I like the best (Ilford Gold Fiber Silk especially).
    I take part in three print exchanges (two of them B&W) and only one or two of the participants use anything other than Epson printers. Seeing hundre of prints in these exchanges I've been fortunate to evaluate he look of many different papers...paper choice is ultra-important to me. Ilford Gold Fiber Silk is my favorite and by far the most popular of the baryta papers used in these exchanges, followed by various matte papers and a couple of Harmon barytas. Baryta is probably irrelevant if you only want matte or highest gloss...baryta papers tend to look like air-dried-glossy silver papers, like Agfa Brovira.
  20. I have Epson 1400 for 13X19 print using Ilford Galerie glossy papers but the inks are expensive. I have another Canon Pixma 9000 where I use to print canvas only Epson satin canvas at 13X19. Most of the time like wedding 16 x 20 picture I usually send it through Nations Photo lab to print metallic which my customers like it a lot. I do the mat, framing and hanger which stands 40 lbs. of pressure. It's cheaper to have somebody print it for you for less due to discounted deals. If you prefer to buy large format make sure you get return of investment in the future.
  21. And I thought the price of gas was expensive! I wonder how much those ink cartridge manufacturers net per litre (or gallon for my American friends)? You have to admire those marketing geniuses who are always figuring out new ways to give you less and charge you more. Like whoever thought of chocolate bars for the overweight; half the calories, half the size, and twice the price.

    Some of the new papers make me drool, I would love to experiment. Sadly, photography has never been an inexpensive hobby. Back in the day, when I was a student learning to develop film and print in the darkroom we were shocked at the price of photo paper and chemicals. Now it’s ink. Sigh.

    Thanks for all the advice and tips. There are several points made that would not have occurred to me. You have given me a lot to think about. I appreciate it your help.

    It is interesting that no one mentioned laser printers.

    Happy Holidays!

  22. From Wikipedia:
    Inkjet printers may have a number of disadvantages:
    1. The ink is often very expensive. (For a typical OEM cartridge priced at $15, containing 5 mL of ink, the ink effectively costs $3000 per liter—or $8000 per gallon.) According to the BBC (2003), "The cost of ink has been the subject of an Office of Fair Trading investigation.Which? magazine has accused manufacturers of a lack of transparency about the price of ink and called for an industry standard for measuring ink cartridge performance".[11]
  23. As expensive as the ink is the final print cost for the Epson 3880 is still very competitive with labs. AdoramaPix is about the same for an 8x10, but the 3880 is cheaper once you go larger. It's surprisingly a lot cheaper at 8x10 than Walmart. Costco is a bit more competitive and probably cheaper at 16x20. MPix isn't nearly as competitive and looks like they are clearly beat at any size. (I'm assuming Epson Premium Luster, which is an excellent paper and certainly not their cheapest.) Looking right now I'm kind of surprised at the spread I see between vendors on print prices, and I may not be taking paper differences fully into account. For example, what is the paper quality of a Costco poster print given how cheap it is? But if paper is one of the factors between vendors I'm confident Premium Luster is competitive with the best. You can get your Epson print costs even lower by choosing a cheaper paper, and matte papers tend to use less ink in my experience.
    I also noticed that labs which offer true B&W prints tend to have higher prices for B&W. That wouldn't be an issue on the 3880. That said certain images could use a ton of ink. I have a Milky Way shot that would no doubt suck black ink and might be best printed at a lab, at least for quantity runs.
    As I said earlier, I think the 3880 beats any of the labs on IQ and longevity, to say nothing of paper choice and control. It's a bit surprising that given the high relative cost of the ink (something like $2k per gallon for the 3880 carts) it's also still price competitive with labs. You can of course spend a lot more on a print when choosing more expensive papers, but with labs you don't even have those paper choices.
  24. there are always 3rd party inks if you're printing a quantity that can justify it. of course, then you need to custom profiles (and esp. if you're experimenting w/ papers) but a ColorMunki can do that for you. I consider the 80mL carts of the Epson 38xx to basically be the entry point for real (somewhat 'economical') printing. Also realize that the printers are almost giveaways (the 38xx comes w/ a full set so do you think Epson is making money by charging $400 for a 38xx printer?
  25. Daniel, I don't know much about the new photo papers. I have been painting watercolours all my life and I do know there is a big difference in the way different watercolour papers hold, distribute the paint, and keep the same vivid colours for hundreds of years. This is why I always use the best "rag" paper when painting. I don't want to sell someone a piece of art that will yellow and disintegrate in a few years or decades. The cheap wood fiber papers buckle, shrink in a decade or less. Some do this right away. So, I assume this is the same with photo papers. I have seen photo papers at the art supplies store that are "archival". I don't know how they are made and how long they last and I have never used them. I had a poster sized print made on watercolour rag paper at a lab and it turned out beautifully.

    I am wary of using Walmart or Costco for prints that I am going to sell or give away as a gift. They are fine for family pictures that I don't expect to last, but if it something that is going to be professionally framed, or sold, I want it to last. People cherish portraits and want to keep them for generations. The cost of framing is astronomical. I wouldn’t want to spend money framing a print that will yellow and fade. What I have gleaned from looking around on the net is that there are different qualities of inks. Inexpensive inks don’t hold their colour very long. The expensive inks will last for a long time.

    I guess I should ask this forum about the longevity of the inks used by Epson and Canon printers. I think this may be as important as the paper and dpi. But, I don't know.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I appreciate it.

    Happy Holidays!
  26. Howard, I have so much to learn. I don't know what you mean by 3rd party inks. Do you mean that you purchase the inks from another manufacter, then fill the cartriges yourself? I will have to check into a ColorMunki.

    Thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

    Happy Holidays.
  27. Linda:
    I use Epson Velvet Fine Art paper for gallery and museum work. It 100% rag and has a beautiful cool press texture. Epson make a hot press rag digital paper as well. Hahnemuhle also makes excellent archival rag papers. At the present time Epson is claimiing 100 year plus on the Ultrachrome K3 color inks and close to 300 years on the BW inks. The results that I get with these products are superb.
  28. Linda,
    yes, you can purchase inks from a number of places and of course, some are good, some not so good. the challenge is the cartridges. A very nice setup is from Jon Cone (conecolor.com) but really, you have to be printing an awful lot to justify the ultimately lower cost and if you're just getting started, it's easier to buy Epson inks (plus you dont really have to make your own profiles).
    Keep it simple to start, use Epson inks and paper mfgr supplied profiles and a small # of papers otherwise it becomes overwhelming. In Lustre type papers, try Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and Epson Premium Lustre for starters (Gold Fiber is a GREAT paper)
  29. I started with an Epson 2880 three years ago and replaced it this February with a 3880. Great printers. I'm a moderate printer and have never had clog that required clearing. I do cover the printer with an old shower curtain to keep the dust and stuff out but that's about it. Nozzle checks always come out perfect even when the machine is off for several weeks. It's also subject to the vagaries of climate in the Washington DC area which doesn't seem to affect it at all.
  30. I have the Epson R2880 and am quite satisfied with it. The only downside is that the black inks have to be swapped out when changing from matte to a glossy or silk finish paper. This makes one plan to avoid the ink waste that occurs each time a cartridge is replaced. I don't need to print over 13x19" paper, so the 2880 is fine. The black and whites it produces are superb. The color management is also excellent. If you get a larger printer such as the 3880, beware the cost of quality paper. It really adds up. I generally print on 11x17" paper and turn out excellent 10x15 or x by 16" prints. Epson really works well in combination with my 27" iMac; if you use Mac, I recommend Epson.
  31. Linda, there are a good number of papers/ink combinations that can reach the 100 year mark. The issue is not every
    ink and paper combo will last, there are some relatively short life papers in each manufactures product lines. However,
    that is becoming less of a concern these days as the market is demanding long life from inks and papers. Visit
    Wilhelm Research, they have a lot of info on paper life expectance. But, do not select solely on that. Some printers
    exhibit bronzing and meterism that can be a huge issue for some. Also some may be prone to damage. I have a dye
    printer that is pretty archival, but the prints are so delicate that I do not want to use it any more.

    IMO, archival life is not as much of a problem as it was a few years ago. Look at the whole package, print quality,
    ease of use, and what short comings a printer has before making the purchase. This site is ok on recommendations,
    but there are some large format printer forums around that will be of more use to you.
  32. jtk


    Bronzing has been a thing of the past for two generations of Epson printers.
    The only challenge I experience with glossy papers is gloss differential (glossy/semi-gloss paper white a different gloss than the pigment). The fix for that is handy in the Epson driver...if checked it applies a nearly imperceptible neutral tone to those whites, making them the same gloss as the rest of the image. Only if a sky (for example) is blown out in the file will it appear different than the immediately surrounding paper non-image...which is desirable visually anyway.
    My continuous-soft-daylight-exposed Epson 2200/OEM-pigment prints did not show any sign of change on closest inspection during five years (high UV light @ mile-high). Fully saturated, strong blacks, no shift. Earlier inkjet printers couldn't come close.

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