In 1999, I tested Epson’s first wide-format, photographic-quality, inkjet printer, the Stylus Pro 9000. At the time, there were a number of companies that offered wide-format proofers and signage printers, and the 9000 competed well in that space, but Epson was as interested in the nascent fine-art printing market, which was dominated largely by Scitex’s Iris printers.
At Photokina in Germany, HP today announced the Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer, a wide-format inkjet printer for professional photographers and designers, with a new ink formulation, speed and paper-handling improvements and other enhancements over previous models.
The Z3200 is the successor to HP’s the Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer, which, when it first shipped late in 2006, was one of the most innovative photo printers we had seen in a long time. The Z3100 utilized 12 pigment-based inks (including a gloss optimizer) to produce high-quality, gallery-ready prints, but it was the printer’s embedded spectrophotometer (from X-Rite) and seamless integration with networked Macs and PCs that set it apart from competitors like Epson and Canon. HP spent considerable effort streamlining the process of printing: everything from unboxing the device to profiling and adding new paper types had been thought through by HP’s hardware and software engineers. The result was a printer that created top-quality prints and was a joy to use, day in and day out.
At the Drupa trade show in Germany this week, Epson announced two new wide-format printers, the Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900. The new printers, which have a maximum print width of 24" and 44",respectively, incorporate a new pigment-based ink set, called UltraChrome HDR. The HDR inks include photo and matte black inks, light black, light light black, cyan, light cyan, vivid magenta, vivid light magenta, yellow, orange and green, and use an 11-channel head that switches automatically between photo and matte black.
Ink cartridge size (a hot topic these days) is quite large — 350ml and 750ml — and Epson claims that the 7900 and 9900 offer significant speed improvements over the existing Epson wide format devices.
Also notable in the new printers is an optional built-in spectrophotometer from X-Rite, called the Epson SpectroProofer, which provides “automatic color measurement data to the printer, allowing user profiling and linearization, enabling professional color management while at the same time reducing labor costs.”
The Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 are expected to ship this spring in Europe and Australia, although pricing was not announced. Epson America representatives stressed that this announcement was made by Epson Europe, although we would assume that ultimately the new printers and inks would reach the U.S. and Canada at some point not long after they ship elsewhere.
[Source: Print21, an online publication produced by the Australian trade association, Printing Industries.]
Macworld.com has posted our reviews of two wide-format photo printers, HP’s Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer and Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF6100. Both of these printers offer excellent color and black-and-white print quality on glossy, matte and fine-art papers and have good ink efficiency and strong performance.
The Z3100 is priced at $4,095 and has 11 inks; a 12th cartridge, which is a gloss optimizer for reducing the bronzing effect when printing on glossy paper (Unlike most high-end photo printers, it does not have a cyan ink, using blue and light cyan to . The printer also has an embedded i1 spectrophotometer from X-Rite, which lets you easily create ICC profiles for new media types, as well as update the profiles for existing papers (which is often recommended when changing inks). The Z3100’s software is among the best we’ve ever seen for adding new media and keeping ICC profiles current across all your network machines. One other unique attribute found in the Z3100 is the fact that, when printing in black and white on matte or fine art papers, the printer uses four monochrome inks—photo black, matte black, and two grays—in essence giving you quadtone prints. (Epson and Canon printers use photo black with glossy papers and matte black with fine art papers.)
The iPF6100 (which also comes in a 17-inch version, the iPF5100) is priced $500 less than the Z3100. It has 12 inks and supports direct printing of 16-bit images via a Photoshop plug-in for both Mac OS X an Windows XP and Vista. We found the print quality of this generation vastly superior to the iPF5000/iPF6000 series (although subsequent firmware updates did improve the print quality somewhat), and it was definitely one of the faster wide-formats we’ve tested.
These are the first printers in this class from Canon and HP that approach the print quality of Epson’s Stylus Pro line. During our jury testing, when showing prints from Epson, HP and Canon pro-level inkjets, pro photographers and amateurs alike could not consistently pick which printers produced which prints. This is a far cry from years past, where Epson printers consistently produced prints that were recognizably better than the competition. We think Epson’s printers are still top notch, but HP and Canon have gotten into the game.