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Interview with MegaSubMan - Epson 1280 vs. Epson 3000

written by Larry Cohn, Fun Faces Foto Gifts, May 1, 2002

Unhappyguy (UHG aka Larry Cohn) interviews MegaSubMan (MSM) on the subject of Epson 1280 printer v.s. the Epson 3000 printers for sublimation transfer printing.

UHG: Hi, MegaSubMan, welcome to the world of DSSI and the DyeSub.org site. This is, I know, about as close as I'll ever get you to posting here! Your comment on hearing about my Epson 1280 article was, "The Epson 3000 still has it beat." Can you tell us why?

MSM: The Epson 3000 is such of a workhorse printer that I wouldn't even consider using a less heavy duty model, and in the long run I don't even see any real cost savings if I were to do so. Also, there's no real advantage to the print quality of the 1280 for subbing, in my opinion.

UHG: Why do you consider the 3000 to be more of a workhorse?

MSM: The 3000 was designed as a professional printer from the beginning. I've gotten a tremendous duty cycle out of the eleven 3000's I use heavily every day, and they actually have required little maintenance over the years. Judging from the looks of the construction, from the price point of the printer, and from the small cartridge ink capacities, it's my opinion that the 1280 is geared more for the consumer or the "pro-sumer" market and has not been designed for the same level of serious operation. Plus the 3000 comes with a 2 year Epson warranty, the 1280 comes with a 1 year warranty.

UHG: You mentioned, there would be no real cost savings over time going with the 1280? I definitely understand that statement if you compare the operation of the 2 printers when they are both running carts, but what if the 1280 is set up with a bulk ink system?

MSM: Yes, carts on a 1280 are a joke, money-wise, but let's take the case of a 3000 with carts, and compare it to a 1280 with a bulk system. First, you can buy a new, not refurb 3000 for about $836 from some of the discounters on the web. When you add a set of the more reasonably priced sub ink cartridge sets for the 3000, you've got another $280, for example. So your total start cost is $836 + $280 = $1116 + shipping and any color correction profile cost, including 400 mils of ink. The discount web price on a 1280 is $419. Now add the bulk system to that price. In your article, you have listed the lowest total cost of a 1280 bulk setup as $587 including 750 mils of ink. That gives you a total starting cost of $419 + $587 = $1006 + shipping and any color correction profile cost, including 750 mil of the same ink as I was quoting as an example in the 3000. So the 1280 bulk setup is $110 less, and the extra value of the extra ink (750 mil - 400 mil = 350 mil @ 0.46/mil = $161), for a total savings of $271 compared to the 3000 setup with standard 3000 sized carts. Now, I look at a comparative savings of $271 between these two starting setups as pretty insignificant when you compare what each one can do. The 3000 can print up to 17" wide instead of 13", and, as I said before it comes with double the warranty and is designed to be more sturdy and last longer.

UHG: Well, according to the ink costs per mil, a bulk setup such as Tropical Graphics or U.S. Sublimation is going to allow you to pay at least $0.30 per mil less for your ink than if you use the 3000 cartridges. So you should enjoy an on-going savings with the bulk 1280 setup.

MSM: True, but I see that in the context of being relatively insignificant compared to the big extra variable of having to worry about a bulk setup compared to carts. And if you have to do more cleaning cycles to keep your bulk setup primed and going well, or if there is even the slightest risk of the ink siphoning out when it is unattended, then you quickly lose any apparent savings. At the rate I use ink, 30 cents per mil is a very significant potential savings for me, but I'd rather pass on it and keep things running more smoothly and predictably.

And you are only going to see this potential price advantage per mil in the case of 2 of the vendors, since you are only listing 2 vendors that are offering or recommending systems for use with bulk ink instead of the higher priced (per mil) cartridges or ink bags. You will be paying the same cost per mil with 2 of the other three setups, and a higher cost per mil with the third, compared to running a 3000 with 3000 carts.

Another potential worry with bulk setups is the contamination factor. I have been refilling my own 3000 carts, (which is very easy to do by the way). When I fill "virgin empty" carts, I always get good, consistent color results. However, when I filled previously used carts, the new ink apparently became contaminated by the small amount of "older" ink that was left remaining in the cart, and the entire newly-filled cartridge gave me incorrect colors. The question that I have about a bulk setup is, just what happens when the older ink mingles with the newer ink. This is going to be a potential problem with all of the 1280 bulk setups. It may not be a problem with a damper-based bulk setup (such as the one that Sawgrass is using for their 980 bulk system), but their 1280 bulk system does not use dampers, they use internal carts as well as external bags.

The truth of the matter is that, at least in my case, I will never pay the premium price per mil for carts because I am quite comfortable filling my own 3000 carts using bulk ink. The way that the 3000 carts are designed, the ink is held inside the cart in a simple bladder with no foam or goofy physics to deal with.  And it's really great to have the option of the double-sized carts (which various ink vendors fill with 200 to 220 mils of ink per color, or 165 mils in the case of the Sawgrass inks).

Most vendors offer a lower price per mil on the larger carts, and with the larger carts you can print twice as much before needing to worry about changing cartridges. Furthermore, if you fill your own cartridges, you only have to fill half as many cartridges for the same amount of ink usage, saving you time.

One caveat if you fill your own double-sized carts: I used to fill them to 250 mils just so that I could evenly fill 4 cartridges per color per liter of ink, with no left-ever odd fraction of ink. I found out over time that this caused many problems with the printers. The overfill amount would cause the ink to leak inside the printer and eventually cause enough problems to require service. So, the lesson learned was, never fill the "extended", or "9000" carts, to more than 220 mil.

UHG: Well, I can see that this issue is not as cut and dried as it first sounded. If I were to assume that the 3000 can give me roughly the same overall economy as a 1280 bulk setup, with only a slightly higher initial cost getting into it, then that still leaves open many other questions, mostly concerning print quality. Since the 3000 is "old technology" compared to the 1280, with a larger ink dot size, with a fixed dot instead of a variable dot, 4 colors instead of 6 colors, and 1440 max resolution instead of 2880, wouldn't I be much better off using a 1280 even if there were no cost advantages in doing so? Wouldn't a 6 color system be able to match more PMS colors, and come closer on all colors in general?

MSM: I do one-up photo work all day, and I've never had a problem finely matching skin tones to the original, or suffering with anything less than "perfect" resolution, clarity and photo quality from a customer standpoint, using my 3000's. A six color setup can theoretically give you a more subtle range of colors, but not a wider gamut. Six color printers were designed for photo reproduction where subtle skin tones were a bit harder to get with only 4 colors. I don't believe that you are going to pick up any significant extra PMS range by adding these subtle colors to your existing range of colors. My opinion on 2880 dpi is that it is overkill for most subbing applications that I can think of. I'm guessing that at 2880 the 1280 is very slow - not something I'd like to use for large quantity production. In my situation, I'm sure I'd still print at 720 with the 1280 just to keep the speed up. I don't get any discernable dots, so I don't feel the need for a smaller or variable dot size compared to the 3000. On the other hand, now you've got more variables to worry about, 6 heads that can potentially clog or need replacing instead of 4, and in the case of a bulk system, 50% more apparatus and bottles, bags or carts to worry about. Also, it is important to understand how the "variable dot size" works. Variable sized dots are achieved by driving the piezo print head with different amounts of electrical current, not by varying the actual nozzle opening. When forcing dye-sub particles through this small opening I believe that always using full pressure as in the 3000 will probably cause less clogging problems than a variable pressure system like the 1280. And remember, for every cleaning cycle you run, the 1280 is wasting 50% more ink. Given a choice, all else being relatively equal, I like to keep things as simple as possible.

UHG: Since the 3000 is parallel only in it's native interface (a USB-to-parallel adapter will not speed it up) instead of parallel or USB, isn't the 3000 going to be slower than the 1280, since the 1280 can run natively on USB?

MSM: No, I don't think so, the 3000 is a very fast printer even though it is a parallel interface printer (and it's very fast on a network, by the way). It beat my 980 when running the same exact file set up in identical conditions, even though the 980 was running through USB. I hear that the 1280 is supposed to be faster than the 980, but not by much. So it should pretty much be a draw, although I haven't confirmed that yet.

UHG: Since the 3000 is such an old model in such a fast paced market, and is certainly going to be discontinued soon, (in about 6 months or so as rumor has it), shouldn't I be worried that the 3000 will become obsolete quicker than a newer model such as the 1280? I'm concerned about support, driver updates, parts, and cartridges in particular.

MSM: Actually, as funny as it sounds, I think that at this time you will enjoy a much longer service life from a 3000 than you will with some of these "flash-in-the-pan" models such as the 1280. Epson and other vendors absolutely have to realize and respect the fact that the 3000 is firmly entrenched in the pro community and has been a fixture in the industry for years, in a market where a 12 month product life is a long life.

I fully expect that the 1280 will have a relatively short life, with relatively few sales compared to the aggregate sales of the 3000, and since it will have had a short life, it will not be easy over time to get service, support, or parts for it. Epson is on a very aggressive campaign to make life as hard as possible for the "third party" ink market. The chips on the 1280 are relatively easy to "crack" compared to newer model printers such as the C80, and Epson has come up with a way to make the C80 carts much more difficult for "third party ink companies" to fill, while the 1280 cart is easy to fill. So Epson surely will be replacing models quickly as they move to lock up the ink market, with newer printer models with ever-more sophisticated chips and harder-to-fill cart designs.

So, considering the long and popular life of the 3000, even if it was discontinued tomorrow I would still say that you will get a longer service and support life from a 3000 than you will from a 1280. Because every 3000 has a two-year warranty I know that Epson has to support that printer for at least two years from the time the last one is sold. Many people don't know that even though Epson says they don't support or warranty printers they have been very good at repairing or replacing printers no matter what ink has been used. I personally have had 4 or 5 printers replaced under warranty and several others repaired. Most of my 3000's have printed in excess of 30,000 pages (8.5x11 @ 90% coverage equivalent). I also recently replaced an out-of-warranty 3000 through my local Epson repair dealer under Epson's "one-time" repair/refurb for about $400.

UHG: Well, I think that, from a personal standpoint, I can only think of one other reason to consider a printer other than a 3000; it's big and it's heavy. For retail or event applications, I'd much rather have a smaller, lighter printer.

MSM: You're certainly right about that!

UHG: Well, at least I got one thing right! Thanks for your "counterpoint". If someone wants to take issue with any of your comments, I'll be the go-between.

MSM: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2002 Larry Cohn. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author.  All trademarks mentioned above are owned by their respective companies. 

Note:  This interview was done after the sister article "The Epson 1280 Printer is Here and Going Strong!"  was written.  We suggest that if you are interested in purchasing either the Epson 3000 or the Epson 1280 for dye sublimation transfer printing that you also read that article.

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