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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The True Cost Of Big Prints

Does it pay off for you to make large prints yourself or to contract the work out to a high-quality lab?

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8300

If you've had prints of 20x24 or larger done for you on a regular basis, you've probably thought about purchasing your own large-format printer at some point. While the idea is attractive enough, there's a number of factors to consider before jumping into the large-printer arena.

Epson Stylus Pro 9890
Large printers are a major investment, and not just in money, but in time to learn the ins and outs of getting the most out of them, and maintaining them at peak performance. Let's start with the basics.

Right now, large photo printers are available from Canon, Epson and HP in size ranges of 24, 44 and 60 inches (note, the Epson Stylus Pro 11880 is actually a 64-inch model). I look at three particular 44-inch models in this article. The size is a compromise between large print sizes and practicality for the typical photographer. Most of us don't find the need to print wider than 40 inches often enough to justify a 60-inch printer. You might not feel a need anything larger than 24-inches in which case there are a number of other models available. See the chart in this article.

44-Inch Models
The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8300 has a list price of $5,995, the Epson Stylus Pro 9890 has a list price of $4,995 and the HP Designjet Z3200 44 is available at $5,595. Originally we had used the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 for comparison in this article. Epson has since advised us that the Stylus Pro 9890 is a more appropriate printer to compare because the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 has a wider print gamut than the other printers mentioned.

Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6300
24-Inch Models
For a lot of photographers 44-inch printers are overkill, but a 24-inch model is not. Each of the printers in the 44-inch section has a corresponding 24-inch version. The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6300 has a list price of $3,695, the Epson Stylus Pro 7890 has a list price of $2,995 and the HP Designjet Z3200 24 is $3,395. You can see that you can save a lot if you don't need to go larger than 24-inches.

Ink containers for 24 and 44 inch printers are large, as would be expected, and while the initial cost can be high, when you look at the cost per ml of ink, it's pretty low. The Epson Stylus Pro 9890 and the Stylus Pro 7890 both have the option to use three different-sized ink cartridges—150ml, 300ml and 700ml—and you can mix sizes as needed. The Canon iPF8300 can use 330ml or 700ml tanks and the imagePROGRAF iPF6300 uses 130ml tanks. The HP Designjet Z3200 44 and Z3200 24 use 130ml tanks. Unless you're running thousands of prints the differences in ink costs per print between large and small cartridges isn't likely to make a big difference to you so it makes sense for most photographers to use smaller ink cartridges and ink tanks to avoid the high initial costs of the large ones.

Media Considerations
Another thing to consider is that some large-format printers don't do a particularly good job of handling smaller media while others have no problem (Epson large-format printers for example can handle letter-sizes easily) If your large format printer isn't small-media compatible, you will want to have a smaller unit on hand. I find it useful to have a 13x19 available for this type of work.


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