Epson Stylus Photo R3000 is the latest stamp in the competitive A3+ inkjet market. We look at the innovative features it brings and whether it can justify its £699 price tag.
Epson has a high reputation for producing excellent A3+ printers, picking up two Digital Photo Gold Awards in as many years for its Stylus Photo R1900 and R2880 models. Refreshing its A3+ range, but not directly replacing the R2880, is Epson’s latest A3+ printer – the Stylus Photo R3000. Featuring a number of key developments after receiving customer feedback about the R2880, the R3000 has real potential to be a top-notch A3+ inkjet printer offering the very best quality and value to keen enthusiasts and professionals who like the luxury of printing at home. To check out this potential, we investigated its features before examining its printing performance.
Features & Build
Out of the box it’s clear to see the R3000 differs to the R2880 in terms of its design, shape and size. This is no bad thing, though, and the boxy design gives it a clean-cut, stylish appearance. The footprint of the printer is relatively compact, measuring 616x369mm and although this works out as the same width as the R2880, its depth has been increased by 47mm. If you’re worried those extra millimetres could make it difficult to locate on your desk next to your PC, there’s the option of setting it up with a home network using its LAN (Local Area Network) port, or alternatively you could communicate to it wirelessly as it comes with WiFi technology built in.
The R3000 marks Epson’s first A3+ inkjet printer to employ wireless connectivity and it’s a well-received feature. Like the R2880, it uses the same Ultra Chrome K3 ink and features three different blacks (Photo Black, Light Black and Light Light Black) to ensure mono prints are produced with the best tonality. The big development, though, is the cartridge size, which is now more than double the capacity of those seen previously on the R2880, holding 25.9ml of ink. Designed to last even longer, and to save frequent cartridge changes, they’re costly at £24.35 each – when you consider there are nine to replace, you’ll have a £219 bill to face should you need a total refill!
Another big improvement is the fixed cartridge bay underneath the top cover, which accepts all nine cartridges at once. Gone are the days when you had to manually remove the Photo Black cartridge and replace it with Matte Black when you were using Matt Paper – a painstaking and time-consuming process that used up a fair amount of ink. Instead, the printer driver automatically changes the black ink when you choose the media you’d like to print on, or alternatively, you can select it manually using the printer’s all-new menu system and 2.5in colour LCD screen.
The front control panel is superbly arranged; it’s rapid to use and offers a clear indication of current ink levels. Also located at the front of the printer is a new Fine Art front-loading mechanism, which is intended to make thicker media easier to insert and is designed to prevent damage to expensive papers. Capable of accepting and printing on media up to 1.3mm thick, the maximum print resolution is 5760x1440dpi and as with all A3+ printers, borderless printing to a maximum dimension of 483x329mm is offered.
Elsewhere, Epson has also spent time refining the minimum ink droplet size. Measured in Picoliters, or Pl for short, the R3000 offers a minimum droplet size of 2Pl, compared to the older R2880, which offered a 3Pl minimum droplet size. The idea behind this development is to produce less graininess in an image and consequently smoother, sharper pics with finer definition.
Within 10 minutes of setting the printer up and hooking it to a computer using a USB 2.0 cable (not supplied) we were ready to start printing. The print driver took a matter of minutes to install and the cartridges offered a reassuring click as they were loaded in place. Printing an A3+ borderless print on semi-gloss media took 19 mins 57 secs when the high quality SuperPhoto 5760dpi mode was chosen. Selecting the High Speed option in the print dialog enables bi-directional printing and we found doing so reduced the print time to 10mins 55secs. We found no obvious differences between the two prints in terms of image quality, so we’d suggest you use the High Speed option every time. With the Photo 1440dpi setting and the High Speed option ticked, our A3+ borderless print took 5mins 10secs to print. After lowering the quality to Super Fine 1440dpi, the same print took 4mins 12secs but lacked the same definition and sharpness as the SuperPhoto results. All of our prints were dry to the touch as soon as they came to rest on the print tray and the top surface of the R3000 was an excellent space for laying out prints to let them rest and flatten.
Although we can expect the price of the R3000 to drop in a few months, it’s currently £221 more expensive than the R2880. To find out how much more you get for your cash in terms of image quality we ran out test prints on both printers simultaneously before comparing the results.
Interestingly, the R3000 took 25secs to fire up and ready itself for printing compared to the R2880, which took 37secs. The R3000 was also the marginally quieter and quicker printer of the two and, as we half expected with both models using the same K3 ink, colour and monotones were very similarly matched.
Taking a closer inspection of colour and mono prints under a daylight balanced lamp with a 8x loupe revealed slightly smoother gradations and better edge definition in the R3000 prints compared to the R2880. We attributed the better results from the R3000 to its refined 2pl minimum ink droplet size.
Testing the printer with Fine Art media required going into the printer’s on-board menu system and selecting Load Thick Media. After selecting the thickness of paper, it ran us through a clearly explained six-step guide, which included opening the rear support and pushing the front manual feed tray open. Sliding the media up against the far right edge to the indicated line and hitting OK made our sheet feed through in reverse, but it reassured us it was correctly loaded with an on-screen message.
The advantage of working in this way is it saves the hassle of physically pulling the printer forward to access it and it also prevents you ruining the corners of the paper when you’re working in a restricted way from the confines at the back of the printer. We discovered that thicker papers have to be coaxed through the printer a bit more carefully, but on the whole it worked soundly and is a great feature if you print frequently on Fine Art paper stock.
Value & Verdict
The R3000 really excelled in this test and it’s hard to pick fault or find a disadvantage. On the R2880 we found the pair of USB ports at the rear very useful for connecting two computers to the printer and although there’s only one USB port to be found on the R3000, its LAN, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity will certainly appeal to a wider audience – particularly those who enjoy the benefits of working wirelessly.
After reviewing the R2880 in 2008 we concluded that any future A3+ inkjet printer would face real difficulty in challenging and offering better image quality. Remarkably, the R3000 has managed to go one step further, not only by providing the user with a superior feature set, but also in terms of the image quality it produces. The tried and tested three-black ink cartridge system excels when it comes to producing neutrally balanced mono prints and for any photographer who enjoys mono work as much as colour, the R3000 clearly stands out in a league of its own.
It may be hard to swallow the £699 price tag, but for this price you’re getting an awful lot of printer. £25 for a single cartridge does seems fairly extortionate, especially when many of us are used to paying this to completely refill an A4 printer, but in the R3000’s defence, the ink level barely moved over the period of time we tested it, even after we’d rolled out a good number of A3+ borderless prints.
So, hats off to Epson for creating another truly stunning A3+ printer and we’ve rightly rewarded it with our highly acclaimed DP Gold Award.
- Street price: £899 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Cartridges: Photo Black, Matte Black, Light Black, Light Light Black, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Cyan, Cyan, Yellow, Vivid Magenta
- Print resolution: 5760x1440dpi
- Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-speed, Ethernet, WiFi-enabled
- Additional features: PictBridge
- Maximum print size: A3+ (329x483mm)
- Borderless printing: Yes Other features: Print compatible CDs/DVDs
- A3 print time: 10mins 55secs (SuperPhoto 5760dpi, High Speed on) System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, 7, Mac OSX 10.1.11 or later
- Dimensions: 616x369x228mm
- Weight: 15.0kg
- Visit: www.epson.co.uk
This review was first published in the March 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.