Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer user experience report
Part two: Epson 3800 vs. Epson 4880

Epson 3800 vs. 4880 is a rather tough choice and I had to have a long look at the two contenders before I could make up my mind. Having conducted a fairly thorough research as well as gone to an Epson centre to see and compare the printers in person, I have compiled a summary of their relative benefits—see below.

Pros—Epson 4880

  • First and foremost, the 4880 boasts a host of new technological advances including new head technology, advanced screening technology, UltraChrome K3™ inks with Vivid Magenta, 16–bit printer drivers and so on (visit here for the full list of innovations). It should be noted, however, that inkjet printers already are very mature products and further enhancements offered by new models tend to be marginal and evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Of course, all the improvements of the 4880 are a very welcome development. It, however, remains to be seen and analysed to what degree they will be noticeable in final prints. From this perspective, differences in features (including those mentioned below) remain a very important consideration in the purchase decision–making.

  • The 4880 takes both roll and cut sheet paper while the 3800 can use cut sheet paper only. This has several implications and, to me personally, constitutes a major advantage for the former.

    First, many of my images are of irregular sizes (notably the square images from my Hasselblad system) and printing them on standard–size cut sheet paper would be uneconomical.

    Second, when you use roll paper and notice a problem you can cancel printing and only the strip of paper that has been printed will be wasted; with cut sheet paper the entire sheet will have to be tossed. Similarly, roll paper is very useful for making partial test prints to check for, say, output sharpness.

    Third, some papers (including those from Epson) have significant cost differences on the per–square–inch basis between large cut sheets and rolls for the same type of paper.

  • Ink economy. The 4880 takes 110ml and 220ml cartridges while the 3800 only accommodates 80ml cartridges. If we look at the current ink prices at, say, B&H Photo, the following transpires:

    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 4880, 220ml: USD112, or USDUSD0.51 per ml.
    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 4880, 110ml: USD69.95 or USD0.64 per ml.
    UltraChrome Photo Black Ink Cartridge for the 3800, 80ml: USD59.95 or USD0.75 per ml.

    It is obvious that the 4880 should be more economical to run in the long term. However, if and when one can actually take advantage of this benefit will largely depend on the amount of printing that you do. If the larger cartridges of the 4880 are not used up before they expire, then they might end up being more expensive than the smaller cartridges of the 3800. (Epson advise that "For best results, use up all the ink within 6 months of installation".)

  • The 4880 boasts a vacuum mechanism for holding paper flat against the platen, while the 3800 uses "pizza wheels". Some users of the latter have reported problems with the print heads bumping into paper that has a strong curl; other users have also complained about pizza wheel marks on some glossy papers.

  • It is difficult to evaluate quality and reliability of the internal parts of the 3800 but the printer's outside construction appears somewhat flimsy and does not inspire confidence. The 4880, on the other hand, is much more sturdily built and gives an impression of a solid professional instrument that is ready for heavy use. Unit–to–unit variation of the 4880 model is said to be very small, too.

Pros—Epson 3800

  • The 3800 has significantly smaller size, weight and footprint. While the printer is on the big side it still marginally qualifies as a desktop printer and can be handled by one person. The 4880, on the other hand, requires a separate table of its own (and a very sturdy one) and two persons to move. At the risk of repeating myself, do not underestimate how big and heavy the 4880 is.

  • The 3800 is cheaper (USD1295 vs. USD1995, disregarding the ink economy factor mentioned above).

  • The 3800 has both photo black and matte black inks resident simultaneously and automatically switches between them based on the user's choice of paper in the printer driver.

Naturally, every prospective buyer will have to draw conclusions based on his particular circumstances and preferences. As far as I am concerned, the issue of space was not terribly pressing and the difference in price, if allocated over the number of years that I intend to use the printer, did not seem unbearable. At the same time, the idea of being able to use roll paper was very appealing. Bigger cartridges and sturdier construction were very attractive, too. And of course, all the technological innovations incorporated in the 4880 are the topping on the cake.

Part one: why Epson?

Part two: Epson 3800 vs. Epson 4880

Part three: unexpected surprises

Part four: swapping matte and photo black inks

Part five: printer driver

Part six: 8–bit vs. 16–bit printing

Part seven: print head clogging

Part eight: final thoughts