Last week, Epson’s Professional Imaging group quietly announced four new printers in its wide-format line. Three of the printers, the Stylus Pro 4880, 7880, and 9880, are updates to existing models (the Stylus Pro 4800, 7800 and 9800, respectively), and offer incremental, albeit important, enhancements over their predecessors, while the fourth, the Stylus Pro 11880, is a brand-new model with some features that offer tantalizing insights into Epson’s future directions at the pro end of the market.

The biggest change in the 880 series is also the first change to Epson’s UltraChrome K3 pigment-based ink set since it was announced in May 2005: the replacement of the existing magenta and light magenta inks with “Vivid” magenta and light magenta inks. With these new inks, Epson claims that the 880 printers not only offer a wider color gamut than previous UltraChrome K3 printers, but also over competing printers from HP and Canon. (Due to the composition of the inks, the Vivid inks won’t work in earlier UltraChrome K3 printers, however.)

Other changes across the line include a new coating technology on the printhead that is designed to eliminate entirely the issue of clogged nozzles, and a new screening algorithm, called AccuPhoto HD, that produces prints with more accurate dot placement, finer blends and reduced grain than ones produced with Epson’s current line of Stylus Pro printers. Epson’s Mark Radogna also told me that all of these printers will support printing of 16-bit images with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) when the new operating system ships this fall.

The 64-inch Stylus Pro 11880

As befits a printer of this size, it includes an automatic take-up reel, which is great when you’re running the printer in a high-volume production environment, borderless printing at a variety of sizes, and USB 2.0 and Gigabit Ethernet support. The print cartridges include a whopping 700 ml of ink.

A feature that will also be of great use to high-production shops is a system that imprints a small bar code on the end of the paper when you change rolls to run a job on a different paper type. The code contains information about the paper type and the amount of paper left on the roll. When you put the old roll back on, the 11880 automatically scans the bar code, and updates the printer’s settings without requiring any further operator intervention.

The Stylus Pro 11880 will be available for $15,000 in limited quantities later this year, and a version with the ColorBurst RIP should also be available soon after launch.

The rest of the line

Stylus Pro 3800

Pricing remains the same as the the models they replace: the 17-inch Stylus Pro 4880 is $2,000 ($2,500 with the ColorBurst Rip); the 24-inch 7880 is $3,000 ($4,000 with the RIP); and the 44-inch 9880 is $5,000 ($6,000 with the RIP).

What does it mean?

Designjet 3100Z series

It is also interesting to finally see Epson confront the nozzle clogging issue. This is one of the things that has made some people wary of investing in Epson printers over the years, although I can honestly say that, when I have run into this, it largely has been with one of Epson’s consumer printers, not the ones in the Stylus Pro line. But for some users, it is a real issue, and it’s good to see that Epson is paying attention. (Ultimately, I would think that the advances made in the Stylus Pro models would be applied to consumer-level inkjets.)

The new nine-channel printhead in the Stylus Pro 11880 is obviously where Epson is going with its entire Pro line, and it will be a good thing to finally have the ink-swapping issue behind us once and for all. Because of the timing of the announcements, and Epson’s general product release cycles—I have no inside information—I wouldn’t imagine that Epson will be announcing 17-, 24- and 44-inch versions with the 9-channel printhead for at least a year, if not longer, so, if you need to sell your prints now, and can live with the swapping, the updated models represent a pretty decent upgrade.

The other intriguing thing about the announcements was the lack of a replacement for the Stylus Photo R2400. My guess here is that Epson is finding that the improved ink efficiency of the Stylus Pro 3800 makes that printer a better draw for professionals and serious amateurs, while many other users are looking at lower-priced alternatives, such as the Stylus Photo R1800 (   ) or Stylus Photo 1400 (   )—or HP’s Photosmart Pro B9180 (   ).

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