After I posted a hands-on review of the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer, a few people left comments asking what the differences are between the Epson Professional or Graphic Arts Edition (a version of the ColorBurst RIP) and the Standard Printer (without the RIP). In this article, I will explain some of the differences as I understand them, and my comments should cover all versions of Epson’s Stylus Pro line (except where indicated), including the Stylus Pro 3800, 3880, 4000, 4800, 4880, 7800, 7880, 9800, 9880, or 11880 (the new Stylus Pro 7890 and Stylus Pro 9890 do not have a Professional/Graphic Arts Edition option listed on Epson’s Professional Imaging website). The new Epson Stylus Pro 4900 will offer an EFI® eXpress RIP option.
The first thing to understand is that the only difference between the Graphic Arts/Professional version and the standard printer is the software. The printers that ship are identical, regardless of which option you choose. The Epson Graphic Arts Edition adds a software application often referred to as the ColorBurst Edition bundle (because it is bundled with the printer as opposed to being sold separately). Most people who do not purchase the ColorBurst Edition bundle use the Standard Epson Driver, which comes on a CD with the printer. However, I recommend downloading the newest driver (and any updates) from Epson.com. It’s also important to note that even if you purchase the Professional/Graphic Arts Edition, you can always use the Epson software (even from print to print). You just have to know how to configure your system so it know whether you are printing from the RIP or the driver.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Some of the advantages of the Epson Professional/Graphic Arts Edition vs. the Standard Epson driver:
1. Ability to extend the maximum print size past the Epson Driver’s 37.4 inch maximum (refers to the Epson Stylus Pro 3880). Prints of 100 inches long (about 3 meters) or more are possible when output from most applications. For the other printers in the Stylus Pro line, the maximum print length with the driver is between about 44 and 90 inches.
2. Ability to get better overall color from PDFs exported from InDesign, Quark XPress, Adobe Illustrator and other applications. Dropping PDFs into the X-Rite Print Queue allows the software to use a lot of behind-the-scenes color intelligence compared with just printing from those applications directly through the Epson driver. This is particularly important for Pantone color matching. The printer you use will also determine what percent of Pantone spot colors you can match since many spot Pantone colors fall outside the printable gamut of many printers.
3. The ColorBurst print queue can hold many completed print projects, making it easier and faster to reprint something compared with the Epson driver and Mac or Windows Operating System queue.
4. You still have the ability to use the standard Epson driver at any time. This is useful for printing at speeds higher than the 720dpi options available in the Professional/Graphic Arts Edition.
5. A hardware linearization can be performed using X-Rite spectrophotometers such as the i1 Pro, as well as the X-Rite ColorMunki.
6. There are quite a few 720dpi environments available for printing with Epson Glossy and Semi-gloss papers. In the Epson driver (at least with the Epson 3880), only the Plain Paper option supports printing lower than 1440 (180dpi and 360dpi). Otherwise, 1440 is the lowest resolution that can be selected with any of the glossy/semi-gloss papers. Although I recommend that most people use 1440 or 2880 for high quality printing, there are times when 720dpi is great to have because it allows for considerably faster print speeds.
Some of the advantages of the Standard Epson driver vs. the Epson Professional/Graphic Arts Edition:
1. Custom profiles can be added and used with the Standard Epson driver (whether you create them, purchase them or download them from a paper manufacturer’s site), but custom profiles cannot be created and installed by the user when using the Professional/Graphic Arts Edition. Only a limited number of papers (generally the Epson branded papers) have custom profiles available in the form of “environments.” Upgrading to one of the other RIP options at ColorBurstRip.com allows you to create custom profiles for any paper.
2. 180dpi and 360dpi printing are available in the Epson Driver under the Plain Paper Media Type setting, allowing for very fast printing, but 720dpi is the minimum resolution available when using the Professional/Graphic Arts Edition (depending on the “environment” you choose, which contains the paper profile and print resolution). 180/360dpi are useful in many cases when you want to do a quick test for alignment or if you are printing something that does not have to print at a very high quality level.
Below is a set of specific suggestions for how to prepare PDF files created in Adobe InDesign, Quark XPress, Adobe Illustrator, etc. (thank you to ColorBurst support for these tips)
1. Export PDFs as high quality pdfs using version 1.6 compatibility.
2. Set PDF standard to NONE.
3. Drag and drop the PDF file into the ColorBurst RIP queue.
4. Turn on “Use embedded profiles” in the ”input profiles” section.
5. As with any printing that you might do, all image files that are inside the PDF should have an embedded profile.
Pricing and Availability
As of 10/22/2010, the street price for the Stylus Pro 3880 was about $800 for the Standard Edition and $1,100 for the Graphic Arts Edition after a $300 rebate. This is a considerable savings over the original street price just a year ago. The new 17-inch-wide Epson Stylus Pro 4880 was recently introduced, but it does not replace the Stylus Pro 3880, and the street price is yet to be determined (retail price starts at $1,995). If you’d like to check current pricing on the Epson 3880 and help support our site, please consider using one of the links below. We have an affiliate relationship with all of the companies below, and all are Epson Authorized Professional Imaging Resellers. A $300 mail-in rebate applies to purchases of the Stylus Pro 3880 from 8/1/2010-10/31/2010 (download the rebate form here for details).