Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Review

I signed the non-disclosure agreement and shortly found myself on the 40th floor of a hotel suite in midtown Manhattan.  Knocked three times, secret handshake, and I was lead towards a makeshift gallery; photographs that were printed on the new Epson Stylus Photo R3000. The quality of their output could have been easily printed on a “professional printer.”  I was so impressed that I totally ignored the Hudson River skyline.  After absorbing what I saw, I handed my personal file to the Epson Tech, studied the printed results, and decided that my test image deserved more scrutiny.  Was this new printer marketed for the serious amateur and artist actually on par with the Epson Stylus pro series printers, especially their 3880?

The Epson Stylus Photo R3000 is a 13-inch desktop printer that most of us can accommodate next to our editing station.  It’s working foot print is 24.2 x 32 x16.7” ( 24.2 x 14.5 x 9” stored), and weighs 35 pounds. While writing this review, the printer sits next to my laptop on our dining room table.  I like the layout, but my wife isn’t too fond of the situation. “But honey, just a few more days until the construction crew is out of our kitchen.”

The R3000 benefits from the advanced technology of Epson’s Stylus Pro series; utilizing Epson UltraChrome K3 ink technology (included inks are Cyan, Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Vivid Light Magenta, Yellow, Photo Black, Light Black, Light Light Black, Matte Black) and the eight channel, high-precision MicroPiezo AMC (Advanced Meniscus Control) Print Head that produces a maximum resolution of 5670×1440 optimized dpi.  The AccuPhoto HD2 Image technology created in collaboration with RIT’s Munsell Color Science Laboratory ensures precision placement of each individual ink droplet as small as 2 picoliters.  Translation; smooth transitions, gradations, and reduction of the metameric index for consistent color under different lighting conditions.

The R3000 has auto switching between PK and MK ink sets.  Via the printer’s front LCD panel, I found that it took one minute, twenty seconds to switch between PK and MK ink, and two minutes and thirty-eight seconds back to PK.  Not an eternity considering this was once done manually.

But unlike the Stylus Pro 3880, the Photo R3000 has wireless 802.11n connectivity (both printers have Ethernet connectivity) that was extremely easy to set up via the printer’s LCD screen. At no time was there a connectivity issue sending jobs to the spooler. I sent a seventy meg file via wifi and it took just thirty seconds to start doing its mojo.  The printer is extremely quiet during its print cycle.  On a number of occasions, I had to put my ear next to the printer, not because of too many Led Zeppelin or Grateful Dead concerts, but it’s just that quiet.

Using roll paper is extremely simple, initialization prompted by the front LCD panel’s instructions. Lack of a built in paper cutter is somewhat cumbersome. The user has the option to print a thin cut line, again being prompted by the printer’s LCD panel.  Once the print is manually cut, the roll retracts and is ready for another print.  Custom sizes are created within the Epson print driver. Inside the “Page Layout Settings” the print page frame is active, allowing a dotted line to be imprinted on the page in addition to the cut line if so desired. I would forgo all of this, buying cut sheets, avoiding the extra steps of manually cutting and additional handling of the medium creating the possibility of a damaged print. That being said, 13×44” panoramas are easy to manage with the roll paper adapter. The roller adapter is made of plastic, and occasionally makes an annoying clicking sound as the paper is slowly fed through the printer.  I’m sure one can get used to anything, but again, why should we?

The CD/DVD printer application took a few minutes to get used to.  It comes with the enclosed CD software package, and a CD holder that loads into the “thick media tray.”  Results are best if used with MK ink.  Don’t expect the labels to look as crisp as your prints. When I selected the premium radial for printing, I read a prompt telling me that applied inks to this medium could take up to 24 hours to dry.  No Thank You!  There was a time when I thought I would want such an application, but it’s been years since I’ve archived files on DVD’s, and I’m not willing to wait the additional time it takes to print one disk at a time.  Its availability is nice for a custom presentation, but not for my application.  No worries, you make the decision. One problem that irritated me was that if I wanted to change tasks, i.e. print a CD, and then print with fine art paper, I had to push in the thick media tray, close the front door, and then make my selection from the printer’s menu.  It would be a lot easier if I could just control media choice without having to go back to the printer’s default position; closed.

It’s hard to say that the 25.9 ml ink cartridge is large when compared with the 80ml high capacity tanks of the Epson 3880, but again, we are using 13×19” media and smaller, but the price is also cheaper per ml for the 3880.

The print engine offers the same software configuration as the Stylus  Pro printers, providing the user with Epson’s black and white color wheel for infinite tonal possibilities, Shadow and Highlight tonality, Max Optical Density (adjusting overall focus of the print), and Highlight Point Shift (adding density to highlights, thus reducing gloss differential). Although the Epson software will automatically convert a RGB photo to gray scale, I prefer to convert my files to the desired color space prior to printing.

Looking around our home, walls adorned with some of my favorite silver heroes; Robert Frank, Jerry Uelsmann, Gary Winogrand, I noticed that most of these photographs were printed on 11×14 paper, with the exception of a few 16×20’s”.And if that format was considered the norm during photography’s golden era, the 13×19, and 17×22 formats have replaced it in today’s digital environment

Working within this format allows the artist/photographer the luxury of seeing the success and or failure of an idea, providing enough visual information to make critical edits within the file or a change in direction down one’s creative path. The 13×19 format is large enough to provide all of the information captured on the user’s camera without any compromise of image quality, provided that the photographer’s files are exceptional, not just technically, but successful in conveying that previsualized moment of mind’s eye and hand coordination.

Going through the Photo R3000 paces, I learned more about printer resolution, dpi, and multidirectional printing than I have with the Epson Stylus Pro Printers.  In the past, throw as much ink at the page, choose the highest resolution, and print uni-directional. It was the best recipe for my work (obviously this is an over simplification of my workflow) and I never questioned the quality of my results.  I didn’t care about how long it took to pull a 40×50” print, nor how much ink was used per square millimeter. Lots of ink and lots of time.

But with the R3000, the largest sheet I could print from was 13×19” so why shouldn’t I familiarize myself with the unknown. My testing wasn’t scientific; I started the I Phone’s stopwatch once I heard the printer running, and a GSI Light Box for print evaluation.  All images were printed on Epson 13×19 Premium Luster, borderless; Dpi 5760, 1440 High Speed, and 1440 Unidirectional.

Judged separately, all of the prints exhibited were successful in conveying the decisive moment, shooting a Korean Vet in Harlem under a slight drizzel. I never considered that the pixels were too large, color not accurate. It was a homeless vet, behind the face of Jesus.

But when the three photographs were critically viewed together, it was obvious which one was the 5760, 1440 bi and Uni-directional.  As would be expected, Saturation, and contrast SUBTLEY diminished with the lower dpi. Again, when the prints were not compared with one another, they all looked beautiful, nothing interfering between viewer, and the artist’s intent.

Comparing black and white prints were not as obvious, especially between the 1440 bi and uni-directional choices.  Photographs were printed on Epson’s Exhibition Fiber.  The difference between this resolution and the 5760 DPI was the smoothness of skin texture exhibited with the higher resolution where as the lower dpi created a contrast that could be mistaken for edge sharpness. Nothing that I saw would be construed as negative, or inferior.  As a result, I wouldn’t hesitate to use 1440 hi speed when printing with fine art papers, especially when outputted on 13×19’” substratta.

When using fine art papers, it’s necessary to use the front paper tray. Upon page set up, make sure that you select the correct paper size with the “Fine Art” notation.  Failure to do so will deny you access to the correct media type, i.e. Velvet Fine Art paper. Even if  MK ink is highlighted on the printer’s screen, PK ink will be selected under Media Type until “Fine Art” has been selected.

How many times have we traveled down a familiar road, noticed an unusual distraction and muttered, “I should shoot that,” only to have edited the shot a few miles further away from the original scene, rationalizing; I’ve done that, been there, but no T-shirt. We can talk about the mechanics of image capture, workflow, and output, but does that really enhance our vision?  I’ve been doing the application dance with my I Phone images, some of which I used as examples for this review.  What I have learned from using my I Phone is that it’s always at hand, capable of taking exceptional photographs within the constraints of smart phone technology.  I manipulate the hell out of these images, never using such a heavy hand when editing my “serious” work.  And such a dance has prompted the question, ”Why not?”  Why shouldn’t I start to look at my work a little differently?  Using the R3000 has forced me to view the photographic process outside of the preverbal box.

All that aside, we need to have a printer that will elicit the emotion of smart phone capture as well as compliment our images derived from professional capture. The Epson R3000 does all of this flawlessly, and I would recommend this printer without hesitation, but Epson’s Pro Stylus 3880 is capable of printing 17×22” format. With a price difference of approximately $300, the end user must ultimately make that decision, but for me, I prefer the opportunity of using the larger 17×22” format, and the capacity of 80ml ink tanks.