The news dropped the other day: Epson unveiled an upgrade to its photo inkjet printer, the Epson 3800. That left me wondering what the real news was. On the surface, the new 3880 model offers a few incremental improvements over the Stylus Pro 3800, adding the Vivid Magenta inks, an improved printhead, and new screening algorithms. The case design, print engine, and ink system (with its spacious 80ml cartridges and 8-channel head that requires switching of matte and photo black inks) are identical to the 3800, which is testament to that printer's design and its success in the market, as well as the relative maturity of the photo printer industry.

Here's a rundown of the new features in the Stylus Pro 3880:

  • Vivid Magenta inks
    These two inks (vivid magenta and vivid light magenta) will give the 3880 a slightly wider gamut over 3800's stock UltraChrome K3 inks, especially in the blues and the violets. They will also help with black-and-white printing to provide much more neutral prints, when used in conjunction with the printer's new screening technology. These inks debuted more than two years ago in the high-end Stylus Pro 4880, 7880, and 9880 printers, and Epson even leap-frogged the 3800 last summer, incorporating the set in the Stylus Photo R2880.

  • Improved screening
    The new screening algorithm, called AccuPhoto HD2, is probably the most important enhancement to the Stylus Pro 3880. Epson says that this technology provides "smoother color transitions and better highlight and shadow detail" on photographic prints, even at lower print resolutions. It should also further reduce the dwindling instances of metameric failure, a condition in which the the human eye detects a shift in color when viewing a print under different light sources. AccuPhoto HD2 is the result of an ongoing partnership between Epson and the Rochester Institute of Technology (which also resulted in the Stylus Photo R1900's Radiance technology). When used in conjunction with the printhead and the UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta inks, we should see much richer prints on a wide variety of media, with smoother transitions and improved shadow detail.

  • Ink-repellent printhead
    While the 3880's printhead utilises the same 8-channel design found in the 3800, Epson has updated the printhead to include the ink-repellent coating found in higher-end and consumer-level photo inkjets, which will help minimize ink clogs and spatter over the life of the printer.

Here are some other notable features:

  • Print resolution up to 2880-by-1440 dpi with a minimum ink droplet size of 3.5 picoliters;
  • Nine inks (eight printing) including the aforementioned vivid magenta inks, cyan and light cyan, yellow, two light-density gray inks (light gray and light light gray), and two black inks, matte and photo black. The black inks share one channel to the printhead, and automatically switch when you move between glossy and matte (or fine-art) papers;
  • Maximum cut sheet size of 17-by-22 inches (with panoramic sizes available through the custom print dialog box), and borderless printing from 4-by-6 inches to 17-by-22 inches;
  • Three paper paths, including a straight-through path for media up to 1.5mm thick;
  • USB 2.0 and Ethernet (10/100) interfaces;
  • Compact size: 27 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and 10 inches high (with doors and trays closed).