Hi-Tech Studio: Wide-Format Printers

The 24-inch printer is a specialty item for most studios, but these larger printers give you some clear advantages for making gallery prints for display and for sale directly. The 24-inch printer doesn’t replace a high-end custom printing company where you consult with a master printer to fine-tune the nuances of every image, but it offers an interesting value proposition. With prices starting as low as $2,100 for the printers themselves, a unit can pay for itself quickly through print sales. Many photographers who sell prints on their websites farm out the fulfillment—printing, packaging, shipping, collecting payment—which is convenient, but it can be limiting, and the commission you pay does eat into your profit. Making your own wide-format prints can make sense when you add it all up.

Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6450

Why 24-inch models? Everyone has a "regular-size" printer in their studio. By regular, we mean something that can print up to 11×17 or so. Why not just take everything we’re saying about maximizing your profit by doing your own fulfillment and applying it to 11×17 prints? Of course, you could do just that, but the larger the print, the more you can charge for it. It’s not a coincidence that major photography galleries display so many large images in their very successful galleries. Big images certainly grab the attention of passersby, and the galleries are able to charge more for larger custom prints, too. A website isn’t the same as a brick-and-mortar gallery, but you can still command a higher price for 24-inch prints than you can for 17-inch prints.

These 24-inch printers take up space. Unlike 17-inch models, a 24-inch printer is on its own stand, and you can move it out of the way into a corner when you’re not making prints.

Beyond the cost of the printer itself, the media is an expense, but that’s one of the reasons why you can charge more for the prints. Overall, your margins on a large print are likely to be better than with smaller prints.

One specification that you might be distracted by is printer speed. Individual image files can dramatically affect speed. The way the printer is set up can make a big difference. These are some reasons why any published speed figures should be treated as approximations. At DPP, we also don’t place a big emphasis on a printer’s speed because we don’t think it’s the most important feature of a printer, particularly a wide-format printer. When photographers make big prints, we’re usually not making a lot of them in a short time. If you were cranking out 8×10 promotional mailers that you send by the hundreds, it would be a different story. For big prints, several other specs are probably going to be more important than speed for you.

Epson Stylus Pro 7890

A Sampling Of Current 24-Inch Printers

Canon makes several 24-inch printers. For Digital Photo Pro readers, the most relevant models are the imagePROGRAF iPF6450 and the imagePROGRAF iPF6400. Both printers offer nearly identical specifications. The main difference between the two is the inclusion of a 250 GB hard drive in the iPF6450. That hard drive gives you some flexibility and the ability to carry out high-volume print jobs, which, for some photographers, will be useful. If you don’t need the hard drive, however, you can save some money and get a printer with the same 12-color pigment inkset and other key features in the iPF6400.

The imagePROGRAF iPF6450 has a 12-color LUCIA EX pigment inkset. Its built-in Multisensor detects color density, and it allows you to calibrate the unit within 15 minutes. You can use non-Canon-brand media, if you choose, but always be especially careful about that to avoid damaging the printer. The imagePROGRAF iPF6450 is compatible with 130 ml and 300 ml ink containers, and a sub-ink tank holds a quantity of ink in reserve so you can change containers without halting a print. This can potentially be a huge money-saver. Nothing is more frustrating than losing time, paper and ink on an aborted print because one of your containers ran dry.

Epson Stylus Pro 7900

We’ve said that we see 24-inch printers as being most important for making a few custom prints at a time. If you do find yourself in a situation where you’re doing high volume on a tight timeline, you’ll appreciate the imagePROGRAF iPF6450’s built-in 250 GB hard drive. It also has a media configuration tool and Gallery Wrap feature for making popular canvas wraps.

The imagePROGRAF iPF6400 shares many of the same features as the imagePROGRAF iPF6450, but it doesn’t have the 250 GB hard drive, which helps bring the cost down. Estimated Street Price: $3,550 (iPF6450); $2,900 (iPF6400).

Among the Epson 24-inch printer lineup, the Stylus Pro 7900 and the Stylus Pro 7890 are the models that make the most sense for most DPP readers. These printers are very similar, but each uses a different screening algorithm and ink configuration. The Stylus Pro 7890 uses UltraChrome HDR ink, and the Stylus Pro 7890 uses UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta ink.

The Epson Stylus Pro 7900 combines the MicroPiezo TFP print head with the UltraChrome HDR ink. This 10-color pigment ink technology includes new orange and green inks, and with this technology, the Stylus Pro 7900 can deliver the widest gamut ever from a Stylus Pro printer. Sharing technology with the Epson Stylus Pro 4900, the Stylus Pro 7900 has the AccuPhoto HDR screening technology, which contributes to its ability to create true-photographic reproduction.

It’s not a coincidence that major photography galleries display so many large images in their very successful galleries. Big images certainly grab the attention of passersby, and the galleries are able to charge more for larger custom prints, too.

For black-and-white prints, the Stylus Pro 7900 has three-level black ink technology. Black, light black and light light black inks improve gray balance and help to eliminate color casts. Overall, well-processed black-and-white images exhibit a smooth tonal range, and the Epson driver is engineered to take full advantage of the black ink technology. Ink cartridges are available in 150 ml, 350 ml and 700 ml volumes. The cartridges are pressurized for reliable ink delivery, and you can use different volumes in the printer at anytime. That is, you can use any combination of 150 ml, 350 ml and 700 ml without problems.

The Epson Stylus Pro 7890 is quite similar to the Epson Stylus Pro 7900. The Stylus Pro 7890 has the MicroPiezo TFP print head and the eight-color UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta inks. The printer can switch back and forth from photo black to matte black inks.

The Stylus Pro 7890 uses Epson’s AccuPhoto HD screening technology, producing prints with wide color gamut, contrast and excellent detail in highlights, as well as shadows. The Stylus Pro 7890 can produce a Dmax of 2.6 in the advanced black-and-white mode. The printer can handle a variety of media, both rolls and cut sheets. You can purchase the printer with an in-line spectrophotometer and the Designer Editions RIP if you’re doing pre-press work.

Both the Stylus Pro 7900 and the Stylus Pro 7890 come with one-year warranties, and you can purchase optional warranties, which can extend out to a total of three years. Estimated Street Price: $3,9
95 (Stylus Pro 7900); $2,995 (Stylus Pro 7890).

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