First look: Epson’s new Stylus Photo R2880

Epson Stylus Photo R2880Epson today announced the Stylus Photo R2880, the long-awaited replacement to the Stylus Photo R2400. The $800 printer, slated to ship in June, is a B-size (13") inkjet that uses pigment-based inks, including two light-density black inks designed to produce optimal black-and-white prints on all types of media. And, while the R2880’s pedigree shows a clear link to the R2400, the new model takes advantage of Epson’s recent technology advancements from both the higher-end Stylus Professional printer line and the recently released Stylus Photo R1900.

Here are some of the Stylus Photo R2880’s key features:

  • Borrowing from the Stylus Pro line, the R2880 uses nine inks, based on the UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta ink set: cyan, vivid magenta, yellow, light cyan, vivid light magenta, photo black, matte black, light black and light light black. The Vivid Magenta inks were released in mid-2007 for use in Epson’s wide-format printers, the Stylus Pro 4880, 7880, 9880 and 11880, and feature a wider color gamut than the original UltraChrome K3 inks. Like the R2400, you still need to swap the matte and photo black cartridges when changing paper types, but Epson claims that the R2880 is much more efficient in managing ink usage and waste than its predecessor.
       (The R2880’s print longevity should be identical to prints made with the Stylus Pro printers that use the Vivid Magenta inks: roughly 85 to 108 years for most Epson papers when framed under glass, according to testing conducted by Wilhelm Research.)
  • The R2880 is the second Epson printer (after the R1900) to use the company’s new Radiance color-matching technology. Radiance was co-developed by Epson and the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Munsell Color Science Lab to produce an advanced color gamut with better ink efficiency, reduced grain and more consistent color under variable lighting conditions (to help avoid a phenomenon known as metameric failure).
  • The printhead in the R2880 is the same one found in the Stylus Pro printers, incorporating both an ink-repelling coating (also found in the R1900) designed to minimize clogged nozzles and a sensor that regularly checks the nozzles and maintains proper head alignment. According to Epson, the R2880 printhead also undergoes a precise colorimetric calibration at the factory, obviating the need for regular calibration of the printer.
  • The printer has two USB 2.0 ports, allowing for two simultaneous computer connections. Unlike the R2400, the R2880 doesn’t have a FireWire port, but it does have a PictBridge port on the front that supports direct printing from a compatible digital camera. (While some people will lament the absence of FireWire, our testing has shown that there is no discernible print speed difference between the two interface types.)
  • As befits the top of the Stylus Photo line, the R2880 has excellent paper-handling capabilities. It can print photos from 4" by 6" to 13" by 44" in size, on glossy, semigloss, matte, fine art and canvas media types. It has a top-loading paper tray that can hold up to 30 sheets of photo or matte paper, a rear slot for loading single sheets of thick media, a straight paper path for thick media, and a rear-feed mechanism for printing on roll papers from 4" to 13" in width. The straight paper path — which can handle media up to 1.3mm thick — also includes a separate tray for printing on inkjet-capable CDs and DVDs. (Epson includes a utility for disc printing with the R2880’s software bundle.)

Our take

At first glance, the Stylus Photo R2880 doesn’t seem like a huge leap forward, at least in print quality, but that’s largely because the R2400’s print quality was already pretty darn good. The Vivid Magenta inks definitely add incremental improvements in gamut and tone, but most users aren’t going to see big differences between the original UltraChrome K3 inks and the Vivid Magenta inks. Where we think people will notice a difference however, is in the small details: the things that Epson has done to improve upon the experience of printing.

We’ve made no secret of our disaffection for the Stylus Photo R2400, especially as HP and Canon have come out with more competitive inkjets. The R2400 produces excellent prints, but printing with the Stylus Photo R2400 can still be a frustrating experience. Many of us have had regular trouble with clogged nozzles on our R2400s, which require frequent (and costly) head cleanings, and, if you want to switch between the matte and photo black inks, you often run into the “drained cartridge dance,” a process that seems to drain more than just the black inks, requiring you to change other cartridges just to get your unit in a state where it can print.

We have been printing with a release version of the R2880 for a short while, and our initial feeling is that it actually is quite an improvement over the R2400. The print quality has been superb on both semigloss and matte/fine art papers (the R1900’s HiGloss ink set produces the best color output on glossy papers), and the extra light-black inks give the R2880 an advantage in black-and-white printing over any printer priced under $1,000. Black-and-white printing was always the hallmark of the R2400, and the R2880 seems to kick it up slightly, producing rich, neutral prints with excellent shadow detail and beautiful tonal range.

In the short time we’ve had our R2880, what has impressed us most though is its ink efficiency. According to Vincent Oliver, who reviewed the R2880 for his photo-i site in the U.K., the R2880 cartridges have an 11ml capacity, which is 2ml less than the R2400. (The R2880’s ink cartridges are also priced a dollar lower than the R2400’s, at $13.99.) This works out to approximately $1.27 per ml, roughly similar to HP’s Photosmart Pro B9180 and B8850 and Epson’s R1900, but still considerably higher than the Stylus Pro 3800.

However, despite the smaller cartridge size, after two complete ink changes and some careful comparison with our in-house R2400, the advancements Epson has made in the R2880 were readily apparent. Unlike the R2400, ink life was fairly consistent across all of the colors, and even with extremely low ink levels, we didn’t have to replace cartridges when swapping between photo and matte black inks. In our initial testing, we were able to print nearly twice as many photos using the same amount of ink on R2880 as we were able to do with the R2400, results that were even better than we had anticipated. [see our update on this topic here.] While some of this can be directly related to the advanced ink-mixing technology in Radiance, we think that there’s probably more technological improvements under the hood that Epson isn’t specifically talking about.

The reality though, is that we really don’t want to have to swap the matte and photo black inks; even with minimal ink waste, it costs some amount of ink to change the black cartridges. This is where HP and Canon have it over Epson, but it’s worth noting that this is as much a legacy of those manufacturers coming late to the party as it is intelligent design. Printhead development is complex, and each printer company has invested vast resources — in research, development and manufacturing — into their technology. As a result, printhead advancements are measured in years, and companies are often forced to use variations of a single printhead design for quite some time in order to see a return on their initial investment. It was only last year when Epson released a new printhead design with separate channels for matte and photo black inks, and that was for their 64" wide-format printer, the Stylus Pro 11880. Without possessing any inside information, we estimate that we won’t see the benefits of that printhead, which required new production and manufacturing processes, in consumer-level printers until 2009 or 2010.

We’ll have a full review very soon that discusses the R2880’s strengths and weaknesses in much greater depth. On the surface, however, the Stylus Photo R2880 appears to be well worth considering if you want top-quality color and black-and-white output at a lower price than you’ll pay for a printer like the Stylus Pro 3800. When you look at the photo printers that Epson has announced at this level in 2008 — the R1900 and the R2880 — it’s clear that they have no intention of ceding their position at the top of the market to anyone.

[Updated May 28, 15:00 PST to add correct ink cartridge capacity data, courtesy of Epson UK.]

22 thoughts on “First look: Epson’s new Stylus Photo R2880”

  1. After reading your review and others I purchased an r2880 two days ago, supplementing the r2400 that I have had for a couple of years.
    I was very impressed with the effect of the larger gamut. I’m printing fall vegetation colours right now and the Vivid Magenta has put some extra zip in those colours.
    HOWEVER, I just had an experience that makes me wonder whether I will stay with this printer.
    On the day I got it I printed 9 sheets of 11×17 at about 50% coverage. The only noticeable change in ink cartridge level was a drop of about 10% on the yellow.
    Today I got back to it and attempted to print a 13×19 sheet (50% coverage). The printer went into a continuous cycle for 4-5 minutes, print head generally hanging just left of the cleaning sump but traveling to the far left and back to the far right about 5 times in that period. It finally kicked the paper out and complained that there was no paper. A second attempt started the same kind of cycling, perhaps a bit shorter, ending in a printed page.
    In the end, after 10 sheets of large paper, the Y was down 60%,M down 25%, C 20%, K 20%, LK 15%, LC 20%, LM 25% & LLK 20%. At $15 (Canadian)each, that’s almost $30 for 10 large pages.

    I’d love to hear an explanation for this so that I can avoid it.
    Oh, I had left the printer on since first installation, about 48 hours before the printing today. That has been my practice for two years with the r2400, to avoid the waste of the cleaning cycles. I’ve only turned it off when I’m away for more than three or four daysdays. There’s been only one case of clogging in that time.

  2. One further note.
    Because the box for the r2880 stated prominently, next to a picture of a roll of paper being run into the printer, the there was a length of 44″ possible and because I require at least 60″, I downloaded the driver from Epson USA and checked the roll limits before opening the box. Sure enough, the limit is the same as the r2400 at 129″.
    Consequently I have not yet installed the software from CD which, I suppose, might be my problem.

  3. I had an experience closely mirroring Jake Morrison’s first comment. My first session with the R2880 used surprisingly little ink. After reading the reports that a lot of ink would be used from the first cartridge set to charge the system, I was left wondering: what’s the big deal? A couple of days later I used the printer for the second time, and before printing it chugged around (cleaning the heads, I guess) for quite a while. On the second print, it did it again. By then the guages were showing a LOT of ink used. I had the sinking feeling that I had a defective printer. Since that day, however, I haven’t had a recurrence of the problem. After reading Jake’s report, I cannot believe my experience was a coincidence, but I don’t have any explanation either.

  4. After the heavy ink flow of July 7th I gave Epson a call the next day. The service rep told me that they could never recommend leaving the printer on when not printing and I should reinstall the drivers. They’re sending me a full set of carts and want to hear of any further problems. That definitely helps to ease the pain.

  5. David, Jake:

    I haven’t found anything out of the ordinary for ink usage beyond the ink life tests I posted a while back. Have either of you had any further issues regarding ink life?


  6. All:

    So, what Epson inkjet printer should I buy if I want the very best in color prints, but never print in B&W? It seems that with the 2400 and, now, the 2880 I’m paying for B&W printing quality I don’t need. And, the 1900 uses way too much varnish.
    bob johnson

  7. Jake and David; exact same experience as you; turning on the first couple of times caused extensive cleaning or whatever it does, with significant drop in ink levels as a result. From there on, just stright on (“booting” in 2-3 sec) and starting to print directly when I ask it to 🙂

  8. I am considering buying the R2880. What is the smallest paper size it will accommodate? The brochure says 3.5″ x 5″, but the Epson website and phone rep say 4″ x 6″. I would appreciate finding out from someone who actually owns one what the drivers will allow.


  9. Russell:

    The R2880 will print on 3.5×5 sheets – it’s available from Page Setup in the driver.

    Most of Epson’s desktop inkjets have supported this size for years. Although I haven’t tried them on the R2880, I printed a bunch of index cards on the R1800 for a project a while ago.


  10. Rick,

    Thank you very much for such a quick response. I need to be able to print post cards with it, so that is perfect.

  11. If you put them in a Ziploc-style plastic bag and push as much air out of it, the cartridges will last a couple of months without drying out. A bit longer than that, and you do run the risk of it clogging, but I’ve rarely had a problem.


  12. Can anyone tell me what Epson’s definition of “thick paper” is? My R2880 manual tells me I have to load “thick paper” singly, using the special front manual tray. But nowhere do they tell me what they mean by “thick” in terms of gsm/lbs or mm/ins. I do not want to ruin my printer by loading paper which is too thick into the rear paper-feed! Would be grateful to know, thanks.

  13. I wanted to know if anyone has done any analysis on the R2880 vs. HP B9180? I am interested in both printers and have heard great things about both printers.



    • RD:

      I assume you’ve looked at both the R2880 and B8850 reviews here on the site. The B9180 is nearly identical to the B8850: it uses the same inks and paper transport as the B8850, and adds an Ethernet port and support for slightly thicker papers. If you think you like the B8850 over the Epson printers, then you just need to think about those two differences.

      If you don’t think you’ll use anything other than stock HP papers for fine art work, then the 0.7mm thickness limit on the B8850 won’t be of too much concern. It’s really for when you want to use extremely thick fine-art papers or poster board where you’ll run into trouble.


  14. Paula:

    The front tray is really only for thick media 1mm to 1.5mm thick; it’s not for paper like Velvet Fine Art, Watercolor Radiant White, or any of the other fine-art papers that Epson sells.

    Medium thickness paper, like those and most sold by companies like Moab, Red River and others, is handled through the secondary manual feed slot behind the main paper load mechanism.

    Epson really isn’t very clear on that.


  15. Thank you Rick.

    So, the pack of complimentary paper that I received – glossy @ 255gsm & ‘ heavyweight matte’ @ 167gsm, is handled by the main paper load mechanism: fine art papers by the secondary rear feed slot: papers 1-1.5mm by the front tray. Does that sound right?

    They are not very clear about it are they!

    Your help is much appreciated!

  16. I just bought one of these and for the life of me can’t get it to return the roll paper to printing position after printing an image.

    It just keeps spitting out the roll and till it is all gone. I’m hoding down the roll button for 3 seconds as it instructs in the manual.. Am i missing something…?

  17. Hello all,

    I’ve just received an email from another r2880 user who has had the ink flushing problem that I reported in post #1 above.
    I wanted to report that that early incident is the only one that I have experienced. Also, Epson has never shipped the set of inks that they promised at that time. I called about four months ago and was told that the shipment was in process. Maybe I should call again and inquire about what kind of process its in!

    Also, responding to the question above about feeding heavy paper. I use flat sheets of Epson UltraSmooth Fine Art paper (325 g/sm) for my best prints. I have very little depth to my printer shelf so I tried feeding it through the top feed and have had no problem. It does have to travel around a tight curve so another heavy paper, with a coating on it, might start flaking because of the stress.

    Finally, regarding the roll paper feed: I have given up! The r2400 roll handling is a dream compared to the r2880. The r2880 seems to be set for printing on pre-cut pieces. I need to be able to do continuous feed of multiple prints to be at all efficient with the (very expensive) paper. I use the r2400 for that.

    But, despite all the frustrations, the prints are still gorgeous.


  18. Repalcing the black inkts (to glossy paper), only works with a new cartridge. if I have 40% left, replace the cardridge to matte, it is ok (with matte for 80% filled). But when I then replace back to the glossy cartridge, it refuses and tells me the level is to low to replace (but it indicates teh 40% flled…).
    I have installed the latest driver I can find (6.60).
    I don’t want to replace my cardridges with 40% inkt left!!


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