Print designReview

Think big: the best colour A3+ printers reviewed

We put three leading large-scale printers through their paces - find out which one came out on top!

Most photo printers have a disappointingly small maximum print size of A4, but trade up to an A3+ printer and you can create your own 19x13-inch (483x329mm) prints in a matter of minutes, with full control over the whole process.

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Budget A3+ printers tend to run on dye-based inks, whereas pigment inks are the pro choice. The larger molecules of pigments give longer-lasting results that are more fade-resistant and harder-wearing, especially on fine-art and matte papers.

The trade-off is that pigment inks often don’t work so well on glossy paper, giving a lack of shine and variable reflectivity between different colours and grey shades.

Made for mono

A plus point of pigment-based A3+ printers over many of their dye-based siblings is that they can produce much more convincing mono prints.

The addition of grey inks as well as black enables greater definition and smoother gradations, without the need to use any coloured inks. You can therefore avoid any unwanted colour casts. There’s usually also the choice of photo black or matte black ink, to suit the type of paper onto which you’re printing.

Wasting ink

However, with the Epson R2880 you have to manually swap the cartridges over, which takes a few minutes and is wasteful on inks, as the relevant channel in the print head needs to be purged and recharged by pumping ink through it after the change.

The Epson R3000 has both photo and matte black cartridges installed full-time, but still needs to purge ink when swapping media. The Canon Pro-1 has dedicated channels in the print head for both photo black and matte black, so it’s faster and less wasteful when switching between glossy and matte paper. Read on to find the full details of how each printer performed...

01. Epson Stylus Photo R2880

The R2880 offers widescreen printing at a budget price
  • Price: £450
  • Company: Epson

This model delivers vibrant colour print quality that looks great on matte paper and better than from many pigment-based printers on gloss paper. Colour accuracy is very good on the whole but skin tones can look a fraction on the cool side. Monochrome print quality is extremely good. Swapping between matte and photo black cartridges takes about five minutes. Cartridge capacity is quite small, and you’ll drain a quarter of the photo black ink cartridge when swapping from matte to glossy paper.

What we like: Great colour and monochrome print quality on all types of media. The roll-feeder adaptor supplied with the printer enables panoramic printing which is another bonus.

What we'd like: The ink cartridge capacity isn’t well suited to large A3+ prints. Swapping between photo black and matte black cartridges is time-consuming and expensive.

Verdict: It’s relatively inexpensive for a pigment-based A3+ printer but running costs are a bit on the high side.

02. Epson Stylus Photo R3000

Epson takes the R2880 on a stage further with the R3000
  • Price: £575 
  • Web: Epson

More refined than the Epson R2880, this model includes an additional front-loader for fine art paper and board up to 1.3mm thick, as well as its rear-mounted loader and roll adaptor.

The increased ink cartridge capacity, which is 2.28x larger than for the R2880, is particularly useful when printing wide panoramic prints using the roll feeder. However, despite the larger capacity cartridges, running costs are only slightly cheaper.

What we like: The front loading tray is easier to use than the basic slot on the R2880, the larger capacity ink cartridges are welcome and it’s quite quick in normal quality print mode.

What we'd like: It’s nice not to have to manually swap cartridges for glossy and matte printing, but the shared ink channel for both photo
and matte black inks is still rather wasteful.

Verdict: Improvements in the R3000 over the R2880 make it worth the extra outlay.

03. Canon PIXMA Pro-1

A class-leading winner from Canon

With battleship quality, high-capacity 36ml cartridges and an eye on ‘productivity and profit’, the Pro-1 is a big, heavy beast of a printer aimed squarely at the professional market. However, it’s equally well suited to discerning amateurs with a large, stout desk – it weighs 28kg.

Colour rendition and contrast are wonderfully accurate, even for the most vivid images, and skin tones are beautiful. The Pro-1 also does a great job with monochrome images, too.

What we like: Stunning print quality and a good turn of speed. Reasonable running costs are enhanced by dedicated ink channels for both photo black and matte black.

What we'd like: The Pro-1 features USB, Ethernet and PictBridge ports but it lacks Wi-Fi connectivity. There’s also no roll-feeder for panoramic prints, as featured on the Epson printers.

Verdict: It’s expensive to buy, but running costs are reasonable, and it’s simply the best A3+ printer on the market.

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This review first appeared in Practical Photoshop magazine, the number one magazine for lovers of photography and image-editing. Whether you're looking for digital darkroom tips, or want to get creative, you should definitely check it out!

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