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Epson Stylus Pro 3800

>> Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's worth noting that the Stylus Pro 3800 isn't for everyone. Its wide tonal range, long lasting prints, fantastic black and white printing, accurate color prints, and wide array of paper types make it wonderful for enthusiasts and professionals. But, if you don't plan on selling your prints, or you lean toward scrap booking instead of fine art printing, you may be more economically served by something such as Epson's Stylus Photo R2400 or R1800, HP's Photosmart 8750 or Canon's i9900.

Plus, any of these other printers will take up less desk space than the Stylus Pro 3800. However, if you're after the best print quality available for less than $1,300, this printer should definitely be toward the top of your list. And if you plan to use the printer for proofing, Epson offers a professional edition, which includes the same hardware but also ships with professional RIP software.

Despite all the major improvements that have occurred in home photo printers in the last few years, big time prints still require a big printer. But, even though it's a lot larger than most home printers, Epson's Stylus Pro 3800 manages to fit the same print engine as that of the company's much revered Stylus Pro 4800 into a unit that can fit comfortably, if a bit snugly, into a home office. Somehow, the 3800 manages to come across as both blocky and stylish at least to photo geeks at the same time.

Upon further inspection though, the efficiency and intricacies of Epson's design shine through. More than half of the front panel flips down and slides forward to become the output tray. The further the tray is extended, the more it rises up to meet the paper so that especially large prints are less likely to hit a snag on the tray as they emerge.

On top, the back section flips up to become the input tray, the middle section flips up to provide access to the print head and the paper path, and about three quarters of the fore ward most section of the top and the front section above the output tray opens to reveal the ink cartridges. Just be careful to prevent mishaps, the ink cartridge door can only be opened through the printer controls, so don't try to force it open manually.

Next to the ink cartridge door there's a small monochrome LCD screen, a set of controls, and the power button. The screen displays the ink remaining in each of the printer's nine cartridges and which type of black ink is currently in use, and it provides direct menu access for maintenance and paper handling, as well as status reports on many of the actions the printer performs, such as switching between matte and photo black inks.

In addition to the regular paper input tray, which can hold as many as 120 sheets of plain paper or 60 sheets of Epson photo paper (depending on the paper type), there's a separate, slightly straighter path for fine art papers, which accepts only one sheet at a time from its own short feeder tray. Epson calls this the Manual Rear paper source in its driver. For very thick stock, up to 1.5mm thick, you can use the Manual Front paper source, which loads one sheet at a time from a slot just above the output tray.

If you use the front loading option, you'll have to make sure there's adequate clearance behind the printer. In the case of 13x19 inch paper, that means 13.39 inches, and for A2 size paper, you'll need 17.71 inches. As long as you have the room for it, Epson makes the front loading process very simple with a tray that lowers into place and has guides to help you align your paper.

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