The Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (and the 3800 before it) has been one of the best and most popular printers for making high quality digital negatives for contact printing using various alternative photographic printing processes. However, it has one potential drawback which is that the star-wheels on the eject path of the paper transport mechanism can leave a trail of pin-prick dots on the printed surface of the negative, or any glossy surface. One way of avoiding this is to use the Manual Front Feed mechanism which does not engage the star-wheels. The problem with this is that the Front Feed is designed for very thick materials like poster board, and doesn’t always handle thinner materials well. I have 2 3880s; on one of them the Front Feed works perfectly with the Pictorico Ultra Premium OHP transparency film that I use for digital negatives, but in the other it doesn’t.
Here is a way to disable the star-wheels without having to make any permanent modifications to the printer. We take advantage of the retracted position of the star-wheel mechanism when the Front Feed is in use by tricking the printer into thinking that the Front Feed is closed even though it is in the open position.
Step By Step
- Open the Paper Eject Tray Cover and the Front Feed Tray.
- On the left side you will see the Front Left Housing Cover which is secured by one screw at the upper right. Remove the screw, tilt the cover towards you from the top, and remove it.
- There is a Leaf Switch behind the large white plastic cam near the right side of the opening. When the tray is closed the cam lifts it. It is small and well hidden, and a bit tricky to see at first. What we need to do here is to hold it in the closed position so that the printer thinks the Front Feed is closed even though it is not. That way we can use the Manual Rear Feed or even the Auto Feed but the star-wheels will not be lowered. I used a Printer Cleaning Swab from InkjetMall.com which I happened to have on hand to push the switch lever down just far enough that it is in the closed position while the tray actually remains open. The business end of the swab is wide enough to stay in place by friction without being taped. The panel display will no longer indicate that the Front Feed is open.
- Now locate the guide tab on the front right corner of the Front Feed Tray. Using a piece of electrical tape or similar flexible tape, cover the tab in such a way as to create a ramp that exiting film or paper can slide over.
- Finally, take a strip of film or smooth paper the width of the eject tray opening (17 inches) by 3-4 inches and place it so that it acts as a bridge to prevent the exiting film from sliding below the Front Feed Tray which is left in the open position. The piece I used here came from a roll so it has a slight downward curl. It’s not really necessary to tape it in place.
- Optional: The 2 little white hinged flaps that are visible in the preceding picture shouldn’t be a problem unless your film curls up too much. If it does, you can push the metal frame that is just behind them in a bit, push the white plastic pieces in and up with a piece of cardboard wide enough to push both flaps up together, and then let the frame back out. It’s really easy.
The only drawback to this procedure that I can see is a very minor one. You won’t be able to close the Front Feed and the Eject Tray if it is to be left set up this way, and you’ll have to leave the Left Front Cover off. On the other hand, there is no reason that I can see why it can’t be used this way for printing on paper too, so why not just leave it as is. Alternatively, remove the swab from step 3 and the film bridge from step 5, and close the Front Feed Tray.
This modification does affect how much margin you need on the trailing edge. Since the star-wheels passively (by which I mean they are not motor driven, contact with the paper/film makes is what turns them) help keep the paper/film tracking straight, circumventing them limits the ability of the transport mechanism to to keep it moving properly as it runs out of material. A 1.5 inch margin is no problem; a 1 inch margin skewed before finishing; so it’s somewhere in there. I’m going to stick with and an inch and a half.
That guide tab on the right corner of the Front Feed Tray is a real nuisance since it pushes the front feed path about 1/4 inch to the left of the rear/auto feed path. When film goes over it, as it does with this modification, there is a chance that it may curl upward from the right edge which may cause a problem with the head brushing the surface of the film. It seems that having the strip of film in there helps, and that flipping the flaps up is a good idea, since if the film curls upward along the leading edge it may get caught on them.
I haven’t tried the auto-feed, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I just never have used it much.
It is also possible that this procedure will work on the P800.
I wish I could say that I came up with this modification from my own ingenuity, however that is not the case. Many thanks to Walker Blackwell of Inkjetmall for giving me the clues I needed to figure it out. I’m glad to be able to help out by writing up these instructions.