OK. So, here’s the deal. For more years than I can remember, I have tried to muscle great prints out of mediocre printers. Granted, the printers I have had never were designed to be able to print at the level I wanted. A few years ago, the Epson Stylus 1270 did its best to accomodate my unwieldy and over-the-top demands.
Late last year, I finally looked in the mirror, and told myself that I had to buck up and get a “real” printer; one that would print images up to 17-inches wide. For the better part of last year, I had my good buddy and designated fine art printer Pat Carr very capably doing my printing. I was totally satisfied until one day he told me that he thought it was time for me to acquire my own printer. When I asked which one I should get, there was little hesitation before he recommended the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (left).
I had tested a few other printers, working with slightly-toned prints (see “Maria #3010, below) above) and just couldn’t get the shading I wanted. Working with the 3880, however, has been a virtual treat. As some of you might know, I am not a “read the instructions” kind of guy. All I do is get confused when I open up the manual. I think I try to operate equipment and software without directions just to see if I can. Sometimes I get lucky, but most of the time, I usually end up picking up the respective manual. The 3880 was a pleasing exception.
Once I received the printer and had it set up in my office, which only took a few minutes, I called Pat and asked him to come over for some pertinent pointers. He was only in the office for less than a half-hour, showing me the basics of setting up the image, making sure all the settings were correct for what I wanted to print. And, I have to say the first print out of the chute (left) was perfect! So much so, in fact, that I could hang it in a recent show in which I participated.
All the manufacturers I requested paper from came through (Hahnemühle, Epson, Canson, and Red River). Now, I was ready to do some “real” printing. Whew! I now had the printer, the papers, and the photographs. There was only one thing left to do: print! No excuses.
I chose a picture I shot of my friend, and fellow Albuquerque photographer, Minnie. We did two shoots. the first one is the sitting that produced my test print, Minnie and the Mask #5384 (below, left). I printed all the test images on 13×19 paper, because that is the size at which I will be printing my pictures. Almost all of my fine art nudes are toned slightly, prior to printing. I like to have a soft feel to the image, and that is why I also chose matte papers, except for one of the Red River papers, which has a semi-gloss surface.
The papers I used are: Hahnemühle Photo Rag, Extra Smooth ($78.55/20 sheets), 305gsm (weight); Canson Etching Edition Rag, Smooth texture, 310gsm ($78.79/25); Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper, Matte Finish, Cotton Rag, 260gsm ($69.95/20); Red River LuxArt Satin Rag, Shiny, textured, coated, 270gsm ($105/20); Red River Aurora Art Natural, 250gsm ($66.15/50, double-sided); Red River Aurora Art White, 250gsm ($66.15/50, double-sided).
As you can probably tell, this is not a technnical review, but what I call a “personal review.” One that is done so as to tell the user whether or not the printer or paper(s) they have chosen to use will work for them. I am not well-versed enough in technical nomenclature to write a review that talks about pixels, grain, dots, etc.
The main reason I chose the above image was because of the shadow effect, as well as the soft lines of the body, and the texture of ths skin. I tested it in both black and white and toned, with the B&W being the first through the gauntlet. For the B&W image myself, as well as two unbiased people who were in my studio at the time of writing this review, Pat Berrett (photographer) and Emily Fine (New Mexico Ballet, Executive Director) picked the Canson paper because of its rendering of the shadow on the left, and the subtle texture of the back. For the toned image, we all chose the Hahnemühle paper. There was a softer, yet clearer dilineation of the back, and the shadow lines were cleaner.
I also chose to test a photograph (left) I took at a nearby sandy location that had some weeds poking up through the sand. I took this image into PS5 and drew some random lines and squiggles, inverted it and turned into a black-and-white picture. The winner, again, was Canson, although the Red River “Aurora” papers held up a lot better than I thought they would. The lines on the Canson paper were a bit sharper, and the contrast was better than from the other papers.
Now, lest you think I only tested boring tones and black-and-white images, I also did some testing on a colorful acrylic painting done by the painter, Ann Hart Marquis (below, right). Since the acrylic canvas maintinas a semi-glossy finish, the Red River paper came out on top in this test, because the printed image was more closely representative of the original work.
I realize that I chose the papers based on what I thought I would like to use for my own printing. As such, even though some of the papers didn’t “pass” my test doesn’t mean they won’t be right for you, or that I may have even selected the wrong papers. The prices listed are from the manufacturers. Overall, if I did have to choose one paper for my printing, it would probably be the Canson paper. Besides my own positive results, Pat Carr (Carr Imaging) uses Canson for quite a bit of his fine art printing for a variety of artists in the southwest. I thank Epson, Canson, Hahnemühle, and Red River for contributing to this project, and I encourage you to do your own testing with your pictures to determine which paper is best for you. These four papers are just a sprinkling of what is out there.
In this addendum to the original review of the 3880, my overall opinion is that while the more expensive papers seemed to perform a bit better (Canson, especially), the newly acquired, less expensive papers from Red River weren’t far behind, especially on the toned prints. The second image from the top of this page, Minnie and the Mask #5384, printed extremely well with the Red River Papers. I see no reason to spend more money on other papers, when I think the quality offered by Red River is very comparable to its competition in this test. Besides the fact that the Red River “Aurora” papers can be used to print on both sides.
One consideration I was unduly concerned about, however, was how quickly ink would evaporate. My concern was unfounded. Not only did I find ink consumption somewhat miserly, but I have printed several print runs, plus a wide variety of test prints, and I have only used barely half my ink supply. The regular price for a 3880 is around $1,300, but you can pick one up for around $929.00 at B&H. That’s the best price I have found.
If you have a printer you really like, let me how it works for you. You can go to this great blog, ronmartblog.com, to read an in-depth review of the 3880.