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Monday, September 29, 2008

Go Large With High-Tech Printers

Modern large-format printers are cost-effective and give you the opportunity to make exhibition-quality prints right in your studio

This Article Features Photo Zoom

pro printersMany photographers are looking to control the entire process, from capture to output, these days for a number of reasons, including quality, price and turnaround for clients. While most studios have at least a 13x19 printer in-house, larger work is often sent out to a lab or service. Large-format printers have had the reputation of being expensive and demanding to operate, and it’s just one more thing to pull you away from the camera.

While the initial cost of a large printer is certainly higher, the actual cost of ownership is often significantly lower than a smaller printer, and the options available to you for output can quickly make the addition of a 24-inch- or 44-inch-wide printer a profitable addition to your studio. There are a number of options available, but for the photographer looking for top-quality prints, Canon, Epson and HP are the logical choices. Just a couple of years ago, this would have been limited to Epson in the large-format area, but we now have true competition with models that fit any requirements from each of the three major manufacturers.

Dye Or Pigment?
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether you want to go with dye- or pigment-based inks. Traditionally, dye inks have been a better choice for prints that need large gamut and high saturation, or for reproducing deep, rich blacks. The primary drawbacks to dye inks have been longevity—with print life measured in a few years—and the lack of media options. If you want to print on RC-type papers, dye is great. When it comes to fine-art surfaces, you’ll find your options more limited. The best option for dye printing in this size range is the HP Designjet 130. This is a six-color printer with a 24-inch maximum width. The Vivera inks used in the Designjet 130 have an archival life of about 100 years on their own gloss media. A 130nr version adds Ethernet and a roll feed with cutter, while the standard version supports cut-sheet only.

pro printers
Epson Stylus Pro 7880
The other printers covered here are all pigment ink based. The chief advantages to pigments are long archival life—over 200 years in some cases—and the wide range of media available to print on. Everything, from traditional photo papers to the new baryta- and fiber-based papers, canvas, rags, films and more, is supported. If you can feed it through the printer, the odds are that you can print on it. These pigment printers also bring more colors to the output with eight to 12 inks, including multiple shades of black for better black-and-white output. Both Canon and HP add primary color (red, green, blue) inks to increase the color gamut in this range.

Cost Of Operation
While the up-front costs might seem high, with the Epson 7880 starting at $2,995 on the low end and the HP Z3100 at $4,095 on the high end (both 24-inch models), the cost savings by using larger ink cartridges and roll media enable these machines to quickly pay for themselves in a busy studio. As an example, a 12ml cartridge for the Epson 2880 costs $1.06 per ml, while the 220ml cartridge for an Epson 7880 has a $.58 per ml cost. Paper costs also are more attractive when purchasing larger sizes. Epson Premium Luster, a favorite with portrait photographers is about $1.04 per square foot in 13x19-inch size and only $.68 per square foot when purchased on 24-inch rolls.

Of course, the downside to this is that individual purchases are for larger amounts—$85 for a single cartridge versus $13 on the smaller printer (for Epson). Another consideration to make is whether you switch between fine-art papers and photo papers frequently. On the Epson, you’ll need to swap out the Photo Black and Matte Black cartridges when changing paper types. As part of this swap, you’ll use about $50 worth of ink when purging the ink lines. Canon and HP have both black inks on board and don’t have this ink-swap issue. The new Epson 7900 and 9900 also have all inks on board.

You might wish to add a RIP to your print workflow. This will give you advanced layout options (ideal for the portrait photographer), as well as high-quality profiles and color-management capabilities that exceed what you get through the standard printer drivers, particularly for black-and-white printing. Popular options are ImagePrint from Colorbyte Software (www.colorbytesoftware.com), EFI Designer (www.efi.com), and ColorBurst X-Photo (www.colorburstrip.com).

If you run a high-volume studio, speed always is an issue. Canon, Epson and HP all are more than acceptable for typical printing work, but if you need fast output, the Canon imagePROGRAF line is the speed king, running about 20 percent faster than the other printers.


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