Epson Stylus Photo R3000 £669.99

5th Aug 2011 | 09:12

Epson Stylus Photo R3000

We take a look at the latest Epson printer

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Good print quality; 2pl droplet size; Up to A3 prints; Convenient cartridge arrangement;

Dislike:

Ink costs; Not a massive improvement over the R2880

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review: Overview

For many enthusiast photographers Epson's Stylus Photo R2880 is the printer they use, or aspire to using. Though it produces excellent prints, it suffers from two often cited problems, both of which the new R3000 addresses.

The first of these is that although the R2880 is capable of using nine inks, it only has eight cartridge bays and the Matte Black and Photo Black ink tanks are interchangeable. This means that if you switch from printing on glossy media to matte, you must remember to swap the ink cartridges. It's not difficult or messy, just a pain having to remember.

Epson's new R3000 has nine cartridge bays to accept the Matte black, Photo Black, Light Black, Light Light Black, Cyan, Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Vivid Light Magenta and Photo Yellow tanks and it switches between the Matte and Photo Black inks as required. Just as the print media is selected via the print driver, the user can tell the R3000 whether to use the Matte or Photo Blacks.

We were originally told by Epson UK that the R3000 has 9 ink channels, one for each cartridge. This would mean that printer doesn't have to purge and recharge the black ink lines when swapping between the Matte and Photo Blacks.

However, the full specification of the R3000 has subsequently been released and mentions the ink usage when swapping between the Matte and Photo Black inks (approximately 3 ml when switching from Matte to Photo Black and 1ml when swapping from Photo to Matte Black) suggesting that they share a channel. I have checked this with Epson UK and it has confirmed that, like the R2880, the R3000 actually has 8 ink channels.

Another issue with the R2880 is part of a wider concern about the cost of inks. A cartridge capacity of just 11.4ml can also mean that keen A3+ printers are also likely to become anxious about the frequency with which the cartridges need replacing.

Epson has addressed this with the R3000 by fitting it with cartridges that contain 2.27x more ink, 25.9ml. As well as reducing the frequency with which the cartridges have to be replaced this allows some economy of scale. The list price of compatible cartridges is £24.35 (inc VAT) each, which means a complete set of nine cartridges will cost users £219.15.

As each R3000 cartridge contains 25.9ml of ink, a unit cost of £24.35 means that every millilitre of ink cost around 94 pence. This compares with 97 pence per millilitre for the R2880's ink which is supplied in cartridges with a volume of 11.4ml.

Some users may be disappointed that increasing the ink volume by 2.27x only reduces the ink cost per millimetre by 3 pence - though wastage is reduced as one cartridge is used for every 2.27 of in the R2880.

The Stylus Photo R3000 is set to retail for £699.99.

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review: Features

Epson stylus photo r3000

There are many similarities between the R3000 and the older R2880, but we are told that the new printer doesn't replace the old one, they are to continue in tandem, at least for the time being.

Just like the Stylus Photo R2880, the Stylus Photo R3000 can be used to produce prints of up to A3+ size or 13-inches wide, or smaller.

The inkset is also the same, Epson UltraChrome K3 Ink with Vivid Magenta and three black inks (or two grey and a black) being available for enhanced tonal control, especially with monochrome prints.

Although the Micro Piezo print head with 1440 nozzles (180 per colour) is the same in the R3000 as it is in the R2880, and it lays the ink down at the same maximum resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi, the minimum droplet size is significantly smaller from the newer printer at 2pl rather than 3pl. This is the smallest droplet to date achieved with Epson UltraChrome inks and it should enable the R3000 to reproduce the very finest details more accurately and ensure that tonal gradations are smooth.

Wireless connectivity has been a feature of less specialist, multi-functional printers for a while now, but the R3000 is the first of Epson's enthusiast or semi-professional focussed printers to have Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) as well as High-speed USB 2.0 capability. This puts an end to trailing USB leads for photographers who like their workspace to be uncluttered.

As usual there's more than one way to load media into the R3000, largely depending upon its thickness. For many, the majority of paper can be loaded via the rear automatic sheet feeder, but there's also a front fine art paper path, a front thick paper path and a roll paper feed included (though there's no trimmer built-in). It is also possible to print onto compatible CDs and DVDs using the supplied disk feed.

A 2.5-inch colour LCD screen is another new feature since the R2880, it displays ink levels and operating instructions.

Stylus Photo R3000: Handling and print times

Epson stylus photo r3000

As with Epson's other printers, the R3000 arrives with the print head installed so after removing the blue packing tape all the user has to do it click the ink cartridges into place (their position is clearly labelled and their shape prevents any mix ups), connect the printer to the computer and install the software. It takes just a few minutes.

Printers don't tend to be the most attractive objects in the world, but the R3000 is very smart. Unlike the R2880, it has a flat rather than sloping top which gives it a cleaner look and makes a convenient resting place for prints. When the paper trays are extended ready for action the R3000 has a footprint of around 616mm x 814mm x 424mm, it's not excessive for an A3+ printer.

With a minimum droplet size of 2pl I wondered if Epson's R3000 might take a long time to make prints, but when the highest quality mode is selected an A3+ prints I takes around 8min 35sec from drawing the paper in to ejecting the finished article. Setting the driver print quality option to 'Quality' rather than 'Maximum Quality' reduces the A3+ printing time to around 3min 15sec and has a barely discernable impact on the result.

As the R3000 was positioned out of sight there were several occasions when we had to go over and check the printer was working because it is almost silent in operation once the paper has been drawn in.

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review: Performance

Test chart

(Click for hi-res version)

The first prints we made with the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 were of our printer test chart. This chart has a series of solid colour and gradation blocks as well as resolution lines and bars to test a printer's ability to reproduce colour and detail.

When colour management is assigned to the printer via the printer driver the R3000 produces very impressive results. There is always a little difference between the transmissive on-screen image and the reflective print and with prints from the R3000 the green and cyan solid colour and gradation bars look slightly less vibrant. The gradations are very smooth with no banding, but the two darkest sections of the grey scale wedge on our chart cannot be separated, they both look black.

With the naked eye the resolution lines look very close to perfect, even the diagonal lines. Using a loupe to give a magnified view reveals slight stepping in both the diagonal lines and the concentric circles. It is also clear that the one and two pixel wide spaces between the one pixel lines are not completely clean.

Prints of photographic images (rather than test charts) from the R3000 are a very good match for the on-screen picture. Colours are vibrant and details are faithfully recorded. The days of dull pigment based colour prints are now gone and even the prints made on glossy media look superb. Skin tones are also accurate.

With three black inks at its disposal the R3000 doesn't need to mix colours to produce monochrome prints so the results are neutral with deep rich blacks. In some instances the blacks are a little too deep however, as some very subtle details can be lost in the darker areas. I suspect, however, that this could be rectified by calibrating the printer.

Portrait small

As printed on the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 (Click for high-res version)

Portrait r3000 small

As printed on the Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (Click for high-res version)

House small

As printed on the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 (Click for high-res version)

house 2 small

As printed on the Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (Click for high-res version)

Stylus Photo R3000 vs Stylus Photo R2880

Epson stylus photo r3000

According to Epson UK the Stylus Photo R3000 is based upon the Stylus Photo R2880, but it doesn't replace it and they are to continue in tandem.

The main improvements that the Stylus Photo R3000 offers over the R2880 are the larger ink tanks, the 2pl minimum ink droplet size (instead of 3pl) and the additional cartridge bay, so that both the Matte and Photo Black tanks can be installed simultaneously.

In addition, the print engine has been updated, as the R2880 has a cartridge on-head system, whilst the Stylus Photo R3000 has an off-head system. The latter point means that the cartridges stay still while the Stylus Photo R3000 is printing and they are located towards the front left of the printer.

Viewed in isolation the prints from the R3000 and R2880 straight from their boxes with no calibration are very impressive. Either printer would satisfy most enthusiast photographers. However, prints from the R3000 have more punch with more vibrant colours, especially the reds. Skin tones are also more pleasant, lacking the cool note that the R2880 exhibits in some instances.

Even when inspecting the finest resolution lines on our test chart with a loupe it is very hard to distinguish much difference between the results form the R2880 and the R3000. However, the smaller minimum droplet size does appear to lend the newer printer with a very marginal advantage. It may also partly explain the slightly higher micro contrast or 'bite' that the R3000's image have.

While the colours from the R3000 are a little closer to matching those on our test chart, there is a smoother gradation from green to yellow in the rainbow band of the R2880's test chart print. In addition, every step in the grey scale wedge is visible (only just at the darkest end) from the R2880. The last two are indistinguishable in the R3000 print.

Although a wider range of tones are visible in monochrome prints from the R2880, the slightly higher contrast results from the R3000 are closer to the on-screen image.

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review: Ink costs

Epson stylus photo r3000

After installing a complete set of fresh cartridges we were able to make 71 A3+ prints (50 colour, 21 B&W) before one cartridge (Vivid Light Magenta) had run out and the printer refused to make any more colour prints. We estimated the remaining level in the other cartridges as:

Yellow -1/5th

Light Cyan – trace

Vivid Magenta - 2/3rd

Cyan - 2/3rd

Light Light Black – trace

Light Black - 1/8th

Photo Black – 2/3rd

Matte Black – 1/6th

As a complete set of nine ink cartridges for the R3000 costs £219.15 from Epson, the average cost per colour print is £4.38 (£219.15/50) for the ink alone.

Epson charges £25.54 for 20 sheets of its Premium Glossy Photo Paper, so we can add another £1.28 per A3+ print for this, or £0.90 for the Archival Matte, which is £45.07 for 50 sheets. This gives us a total of £5.66 or £5.28 respectively, which compares favourably with the £6.59 plus £2.99 for postage charged by Photobox for an A3 print.

Bearing in mind that the black inks are also used for colour prints, it may be a fairer assessment to also take the monochrome prints into account. This works out at £3.09 for the ink.

We printed a variety of different images, with a variety of border sizes on a mixture of glossy (Epson Premium Glossy) and matt (Epson Archival Matte) media as this most closely reflects how photographers use a printer. This isn't intended to be a perfect scientifc assessment, but we think it reflects how most photographers will use the R3000 and gives a reasonable guide price. Extended use would enable us to revise the printing costs.

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review: Verdict

Epson stylus photo r3000

Few photographers can fail to be impressed by the prints from the Epson Stylus Photo R3000, the colours, contrast and detail are superb. This plus the convenience its new cartridge arrangement makes it an excellent choice for enthusiasts.

Some may be disappointed that the larger ink cartridges don't offer the same economy of scale as those in Epson's professional level printers such as the Stylus Pro 3880, but it is a significant step in the right direction.

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