Technology is not the result of evolution, but its partner.
The application of technology to digital printing has, in the past several years, become both a means and an end. Advances have convinced all but the most intransigent that this technology is capable of reproducing the most accurate and visually appealing representation of the original image that we have ever seen. The most exciting realization is that there is no end in sight.
Last week, at a lecture I was giving at Hallmark Institute in Massachusetts, I said that the color prints I was making with the current Epson technology were the best in the history of photography. I defined "best" as being a combination of accuracy in color reproduction, longevity, and artistic appeal.
Several students and teachers thought this might be hyperbole. I defended the statement with my years in the business, my reputation as a color "expert," and my experience with the medium, including dye transfer, triple-masked Cibachrome, and Fresson prints.
Different From The Start
The first hint that something was different with this printer came before I even opened the box. Instead of requiring two people to lift it, I found it quite manageable by myself. As usual, the packing and overall design of the box ensured that damage due to shipping would be rare, although anything is possible with a forklift! The physical design seems Apple-inspired and very much at home in my minimalist environment.
At only 27 inches wide, I found a spot for it on my Metro shelving cart, which supports numerous other Epson printers and scanners. In New York, where space is very much a commodity, to be able to print 17x22 inches from a printer this size is of considerable value.
A longtime Epson user, I didn't consult the manual or the brief setup sheet (not recommended!) packaged with the printer. The longest delay was in removing all the little pieces of tape that prevent damage to the printer. I loaded the driver into my Apple Quad computer and was pleased to see that Epson had decided to include as standard a built-in Ethernet card, usually an additional $300.
Black & Black Cartridges
Ten minutes and a cup of tea later, I installed the ink cartridges in anticipation of making my first print. At 80ml, they are about the physical size of the 110ml ink cartridges for the 4800, and hold about the same amount of ink.
The big change here with regard to the ink cartridges is that you no longer have to choose between photo black and matte black. Both black cartridges are installed simultaneously. When a change is necessary, the 3800 does it automatically, freeing the user from the tedium of raising and lowering ink levers, as is the case with the 4800/7800/9800. This had been my only complaint with this generation of Epson printers, so I was elated to find my prayers had been answered.
Auto Head Alignment
The next order of business was to run an auto head alignment, which is recommended by Epson upon initial setup and whenever the printer is moved. The operative word here is "auto." No longer do you have to spend large amounts of time in a Zen-like state evaluating patterns that seem to defy evaluation.
For optimal color accuracy, I always print with custom profiles, so my next task was to output the targets necessary to produce the custom profile. I chose Epson Premium Luster Paper as the media type, 2880 as the resolution, high speed off. The printer automatically selected "Photo" black as the correct black ink. I use the highest-quality settings, which means my printing times are always longer than those who print at lower resolution.
Seconds later, the printhead swung into action, and minutes later my targets were done. I read the targets with my X-Rite DTP 70 and created the custom profile using Monaco Profiler Platinum software. Once finished with the profile, I loaded the printer with a sheet of 17x22-inch paper and printed my first print. Exactly 18-1/2 minutes later, the print was completed.
Evaluating The Output
To evaluate prints, my viewing standard is a GTI Soft-View VRV-1e. I placed the finished print on the viewer for a critical evaluation. Compared with an identical print done on my Epson Stylus Pro 4800, the print appeared a bit sharper and had a slightly larger color gamut. The sharpness I was prepared for, knowing that Epson had developed a new screening algorithm that determines placement of the ink dots.
But the increase in color was unexpected. To verify my subjective analysis, I compared the two profiles in ColorThink Pro software. Indeed, the profile for the 3800 was slightly larger than the profile for the 4800. Wishing to avoid an unforeseen variable, I reprofiled the 4800 using the same parameters I had used for the 3800, and my results were the same.
I repeated the process for Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper and got a slightly larger profile for the 3800. Since they both use the same ink set, I could only surmise that the enhanced screening pattern might be enhancing color gamut, as well. Another contributing factor may be the pressurized ink cartridges, which the Stylus Pro 4800 does not have.