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Large Format Printing

Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 3
Column Tag: Tools of the Trade

Large Format Printing

by MacTech's Production Staff

For years, large format (e.g., poster size) printers have been available. Recently, there have been some new developments in these types of printers that warrant a look if you have any large format needs. The question that we asked ourselves were "are these the types of printers that we'd want to have in a typical network?" To answer this, we looked at two sets of solutions - low end (starting at around $1700) and high end. Here's what we found.

Choices

There are a wide range of choices that you have when selecting these printers. First, you need to determine your needs. For example, what types of media (paper) do you need? What about ink? (Some inks will fade quickly with any light exposure). What resolution? What are the types of color support that you need?

It's easy to get buried in these details - but you will need to determine them in order to select the right printer.

HP DesignJet 2500CP

This photo-quality color printer has changed our opinion of large format printing. We took the HP DesignJet 2500CP out of the box, plugged it into a Mac G3, and it was ready to go. The DesignJet 2500CP and 3500CP series both come with Adobe PostScript drivers, built-in RIP, and a 4.3 GB hard disk ready to connect to Ethernet.

As far as color matching goes, HP's integrated system of printer, ink, papers and films allows the HP DesignJet 2500CP and 3500CP series printers to produce high quality images with millions of colors. Automatic color calibration guarantees high-quality output every time, and is PANTONE compatible.

We did a test print to check out the saturation, and was extremely pleased at the results. Some designs can be heavy in black saturation, resulting in banding on some printers, but not the DesignJet 2500CP. The completely black and shadowed areas of the print were solid and clear, and the midtones and highlights were equally as clear, with beautiful color saturation on the glossy paper.

This system is very easy to run from your desktop PC. Selecting drivers, changing printing settings, calibration, and everything else involved in getting your design from your monitor to larger-than-life, photo-quality print size is as easy as working your desktop ink jet printer. All at a cost of about 40 cents a square foot on coated paper. I would definitely recommend the HP DesignJet (2500CP?) for anyone serious about printing quality large format prints from their desktop PC.

Choice of Ink and Media/Cost Per Copy

With their large-capacity ink systems, the DesignJet 2500CP printer offers very easy switching between two ink sets - dye-based for maximum image quality, or pigment-based for enhanced lightfastness. A choice of specially-developed HP and 3M DesignJet media contributes further to the output quality.


Figure 1.HP DesignJet 2500CP.

The HP DesignJet 2500CP printer has a low cost-per-copy, and is an excellent addition to anyone looking for an affordable alternative to large format printing.

Features

  • True 600-dpi black and color print resolution
  • Photo-quality output in over 16 million colors
  • A1/D-size color images in around 8 minutes
  • Large-capacity ink system - up to 2000 sq. ft. between ink system changes
  • Auto-replenishment ink delivery for easy replacement of ink
  • Built-in humidity and temperature sensor adjusts drying times for best results
  • Automatic printhead alignment
  • Optional take-up reel for unattended printing
  • Adobe PostScript 3 as standard
  • PostScript drivers for Macintosh and Windows included
  • Reprints images quickly and easily from the queue
  • Automatic color calibration for consistent results
  • Network ready with built-in HP JetDirect EIO network card for Ethernet 10/100 Base-TX
  • 4.3-GB built-in hard disk
  • Print directly from your desktop PC

Not Your Father's Large Format Printer

It used to be that these large format printers were only for service bureaus - they were expensive, and took a lot of effort to use. These Entry level HPs can run as little as $2500 1700 ($2500 is more accurate for Mac solutions - below you have $1700, so we just wanted to keep it consistent.) and plug into your Ethernet network - in other words, you don't need a dedicated workstation. If you have anything above "occasional" use needs for a large format printer, this is a printer worth having on your network.

Range of Product Line

HP's smaller models (starting with the HP DesignJet 488CA printer) have Ethernet connections, but the RIP process happens in software on the Mac. HP has a full range of solutions starting at $1700 and going up to nearly $12,000 with many steps in between. To choose the model, you need to choose resolution, paper handling, software vs. hardware RIP, etc., and then the HP model will be obvious. See HP's web site for more information.

Pricing

The HP DesignJet 2500CP (the model we reviewed) series large format printer cost approximately $10k to own. This comes fully functional and fully equipped with

  • Roll feed spindle, cutter knife, and holder
  • HP DesignJet CP Ink System for imaging
  • One each of black, cyan, magenta, and yellow
  • Two rolls of selected media (paper, etc.)
  • Ink storage container
  • User documentation
  • Drivers
  • Hard disk, HP JetDirect card for Ethernet/LocalTalk, and PostScript drivers for Macintosh and Windows

HP's product line works fairly similar to the DesignJet 2500CP printer with quality of output and media/ink types being the primary difference between models. Information about HP, and its products can be found on the World Wide Web at <http://www.hp.com>.

The Roland Hi-Fi JET

The Hi-Fi JET is a proof-quality printer - the first to offer 1440 dpi resolution in a wide-format device. The Hi-Fi JET's printing system introduces a new standard for professional digital color printing. The Hi-Fi JET is calibrated to ensure accurate and consistent color reproduction of PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM Colors, when printing in Orange and Green. The Hi-Fi JET is offers large-size proofing capability of solid PANTONE Colors using Hexachrome-licensed color technology.

Features

  • True 1440x720 dpi high resolution printing
  • Additional printing modes of 720, 360 and 180 dpi
  • PANTONE® Hexachrome® color matching
  • Two interchangeable, six-color ink set options for smooth gradations and vivid colors
  • CMYK, plus Orange and Green (UV stable pigment)
  • CMYK, Light Cyan, Light Magenta (dye or UV stable pigment)
  • Roland ColorChoice® driver-based RIP for Windows 95/98/NT and Macintosh
  • Adobe PostScript® 3
  • 50 inch printing width with no length limit (40" unit available)
  • Over a dozen types of media available; matte, gloss, film, backlit film, fine art papers and even canvas
  • Easy set-up, as little as 30 minutes
  • Ink cartridges can be changed mid-print job
  • Self cleaning permanent printer heads

Additional Features

The set-up of this large format printer and included stand went so smoothly, we didn't need to look for further documentation to answer any questions. The parallel printer cable was included and the parallel card for the Macintosh installed quickly as well. All of the printer menus were very easy to understand, and provided a helpful guide covering several popular desktop publishing programs.

You can print directly from applications such as PhotoShop and Illustrator, or Quark Xpress. With the included ColorChoice® Adobe Postscript® 3 software RIP, the RIPping went very quickly. The Hi-Fi JET includes an automatic sheet cutter which will cut and separate the print job when complete. An optional take-up roller is available for rolling extra long continuous-feed prints. The permanent print heads, equipped with automatic self-cleaning functions, produce very high quality prints, photorealistic images and smooth color gradations.

Rolls or sheets of media are easily loaded and secured with a single lever. This printer offers a very wide variety of choices in printing inks, formats, sizes and media, making it extremely flexible and completely adaptable to almost any kind of print job. Loading the media was a breeze, and the front panel menus were straightforward, to the point, and extremely helpful. An optional take-up roller is available for rolling extra long continuous-feed prints. This makes unattended printing even easier.

The Roland Hi-Fi JET large format printer has a seamless user interface. Users can print right from their desktop publishing program of choice, without having to learn a new program. The RIPping program was auto-loading and called itself up when it was needed. This is a true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) printer. What appeared on the screen is what appeared on the output media.

Accessories

  • Power cord
  • Ink drain bottle
  • Sheet cutter blade
  • Roland ColorChoice RIP driver
  • Quick Start Guide
  • User's manual
  • Sample File CD
  • ECP (IEEE 1284) Parallel Cable
  • One ink set (User specified: CMYKLcLm, CMYKOG, or CMYKLcLm Dye)
  • 3 sheets sample media
  • Macintosh PCI Interface Card (Optional)
  • Proprietary USB to Parallel Cable (Optional)
  • Optional Take Up Reel for unattended printing

This Roland printer is a high-end unit. It's meant for people that either are in the business of creating large format output, or have high quality needs (e.g., artists, professional level production, etc...). You really need to have a high-end dedicated workstation to use the product well - as the best way to hook it up is direct interface via a PCI card or USB-to-Parallel cable. The 50" printer has a retail price of around $18,000 - so you really need to have the higher end needs to justify it. But, if you do, you'll be pleased with the results.

About Roland DGA Corporation

Roland DGA Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Roland DG Corporation, a manufacturer of computer-aided input and output devices used in photography, fine art, graphic arts, sign making, engraving and 3D modeling. Introduced in fall, 1998, the Hi-Fi JET is the first wide-format 1440 dpi Piezo inkjet, and the first device with PANTONE Hexachrome technology. The six-color Hi-Fi JET provides an expanded color gamut and truer blacks, dramatically improving the realism and intensity of full-color reproduction as well as offering print permanence of over 120 years when utilizing Roland pigment inks. The Roland Hi-Fi JET is available in 50" and 40" print widths. For more information about Roland DGA Corporation and the Hi-Fi JET printers, visit their web site at http://www.rolanddga.com.

 
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