Product Review: Epson Stylus Photo R3000

September 23, 2011

By Dan Havlik

The Epson R3000 hadds a new front-in, front-out media path for fine-art papers of up to 1.3mm thick. This includes Epson's top-notch line of Signature Worthy art papers.

The 13-inch photo printer is dead? Long live the 13-inch photo printer! That’s what I was thinking while testing the Epson Stylus Photo R3000, a very good 8-ink, 13-inch pigment printer that professionals may want to take a serious look at.

There was a time when 13-inch photo printers were the bee’s knees of the inkjet world since they were capable of producing excellent, jumbo-sized prints while still being able to fit on a desktop. But with the advent of relatively compact 17-inch photo printers such as Epson’s Stylus Pro 3880, which we named “Printer of the Year” back in 2009, going big didn’t mean having to surrender a spare room in your studio to a large-format printer anymore. In fact, the 3880 fits just fine on a desktop.

So where does that leave the R3000, a printer that shares a few of the attributes of its (slightly) bigger brother, the 3880? Well, for some photographers, 13 inches might be wide enough. It’s certainly the right size print to put in a portfolio. (Remember those?)

It’s also a great size for proofing shots and, not to mention, 13 x 19 inches is a totally manageable size for a basic print sale. Let’s face it, when you start printing at 17 inches, 24 inches, 44 inches and above, the shipping logistics are enough to give you agita.

The R3000 doesn’t necessarily break new ground from its predecessor, the R2880, released back in 2008, but it does add some very handy features. Like the previous model, the R3000 uses Epson’s proven UltraChrome K3 eight-color inkset, which includes Yellow, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Cyan, Light Light Black, Light Black, Photo Black and Matte Black inks.

But, thankfully, unlike the R2880, the R3000’s Photo Black and Matte Black inks both fit in the ink tray and are auto-switchable, i.e. you don’t have to manually swap one with the other depending on which paper you’re using. This had long been a bugaboo with Epson’s pro line but finally seems to be a thing of the past.

The manual black swapping wasn’t just a time-consuming pain; it burned pricey ink during the change. This is much improved in the new set-up but not entirely solved. Though you don’t have to physically remove the inks if you’re using Ultra Premium Luster (photo black) or Velvet fine-art (matte black) papers, you do have to do some button-pushing on the R3000 and pick the appropriate ink on the printer’s new 2.5-inch color LCD. And since both black inks use the same feed path, the printer has to flush out the old ink and siphon in the new. This not only takes a few minutes, it wastes a couple milliliters of precious black ink.

Another improvement with the R3000 is that it uses larger, 25.9 ml ink tanks. This gives you a little more bang for your buck, for sure, but don’t go too crazy. I tore through three quarters of the Light Cyan ink tank in my R3000 test printer after just a half dozen 13 x 19 prints. Granted, at least one of those prints was at the premium SuperPhoto (5760dpi) setting but it was still surprising how quickly it went. (Meanwhile, the other inks were still about three quarters full.) In contrast, the 17-inch 3880’s ink tanks are considerably larger at 80 ml. (Editor’s note: When contacted by PDN regarding the low ink reading, Epson said the ink indicators in the R3000 are not very accurate and there was likely more ink in the cartridge than the read-out suggested.)

I also encountered a small glitch with the Light Cyan tank while switching between the Photo Black and Matte Black inks. After printing a few photos using glossy and art papers without issue, a prompt came up on the screen in the midst of a swap between the two black inks saying it couldn’t recognize the Light Cyan cartridge and I needed to replace it. I turned off the R3000 and started it up again and this issue did not reappear. Strange. (Editor’s note: In response to a query on this issue, Epson said that the error was possibly triggered by an incomplete contact between the cartridge and the printer. To ensure an accurate contact, the cartridge should be properly seated and free of dust.)

Like the R2880, the R3000 can print cut-sheet photo paper as large as 13 x 19 and, with the help of the included roll holders, up to 13 x 44 inches for roll paper. But the R3000 also adds the ability to print onto CDs and DVDs, if that’s your thing. (I knew some people who liked to do this in 2006.)

More helpfully, the R3000 has built-in Ethernet and wireless (802.11n) connectivity if you want to network the printer. Even more helpfully, at least in my book, it adds a new front-in, front-out media path for fine-art papers of up to 1.3mm thick. This includes Epson’s top-notch line of Signature Worthy art papers.

One of the best things about recent professional photo printers from the big three (Epson, HP and Canon) is how well they can now accommodate art papers. In the past, inkjet printing onto art papers could be a pricey and perplexing nightmare. These days though, thanks to printers like the R3000, it’s a breeze and it’s what’s made printing at home and in the studio so much fun and, potentially, profitable.

Overall, print quality is about on par with the larger 3880, as well it should since both models have essentially the same print engine. The R3000 uses Epson’s AccuPhoto HD2 image technology and does what it’s billed to do, which is to provide smooth and natural transitions between colors along with improved highlight and shadow detail. The R3000 also uses Epson’s MicroPiezo AMC, an eight channel print head that can print at a maximum resolution of 5670 x 1440 dpi with ink droplets as small as 2 picoliters. Like the 3880, the R300 renders detail exquisitely and with precision.

I noticed this particularly in a portrait I shot of a trio of serious looking Carabinieri (Italy’s national military and civilian police force) in Rome. The subtle folds and creases in their distinctive dark blue uniforms, which I couldn’t detect in the image on my computer screen, were plain as day when I printed it out on Velvet Fine Art paper via the R3000. The same was true in a black-and-white shot of an Escher-like spiral staircase at the Vatican, to which I had added simulated grain via the Kodak Tri-X 400 filter in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2. The R3000 was able to handle the dramatic transitions between the bright white light areas and inky black shadows while maintaining detail. Excellent D-Max all around.

Print times were very good, especially if you use the high-speed mode, which, surprisingly, didn’t mean losing much detail. I averaged four-minute print times for 13 x 19-inch photos at 1440 dpi in high-speed mode and about ten minutes per print in regular mode. In Super Photo mode (5760 dpi), however, it was a slog at about 16 minutes per print.

If there’s anything negative I can say about this printer it is that for not a huge step up in price you can get the 17-inch Epson 3880 ($1,200), which is not much bigger, physically, than the R3000. However, you don’t get a roll feed option with that printer. If you want a 17-inch Epson printer with roll feed, you need to step up considerably in size and price for the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 ($2,500). If you decide that 13 inches is big enough for you, then the Epson R3000 is the best model in this class right now. The only other main rival is Canon’s Pro9500 Mark II, which has comparable image quality to the R3000 but fewer features—no Ethernet or WiFi—and is due to be replaced soon.

Epson Stylus R3000
Pros: Excellent print quality for both color and black-and-white images; Ethernet and WiFi connectivity; automatically swaps Photo Black and Matte black inks; easy-to-use front-in and -out art paper path.

Cons: Epson’s 17-inch 3880 printer is not much more expensive and only a little larger in size; despite bigger ink tanks, R3000 burns through ink quickly; automatic black ink switch still takes a few minutes and wastes some ink.

Price: $849