Hardware

Four Top-Notch Inkjet Printers

1 May, 2003 By: Michael Lennox

Printer Power


The large-format printer market resembles the consumer inkjet printer market—there are multiple players, and their names are all familiar: Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Roland. This year, Cadalyst Labs reviews Canon’s imagePROGRAF W7250, EPSON’s Stylus Pro 10600, HP’s DesignJet 1055CM Plus, and Roland’s CAMMJET CJ-500.

These printers share some common features. All handle a variety of media types-adhesive vinyl, banner material, canvas, glossy photo paper, and plain bond (the type of media you use greatly affects the quality of your print). They all support roll feed and sheet stock.

HOW WE TESTED

REVIEW SUMMARY

Wide-format inkjet printers use technology similar to that found in desktop printers, and indeed many of the vendors featured here are also known for consumer inkjet printers. The number of vendors in the market means that when the time comes to print your CAD design to paper, you should be able to find a quality wide-format inkjet printer to match your needs and budget. All printers reviewed here handle a variety of media types as well as both roll and sheet stock.

When assessing your printing needs, consider such things as volume of plots, sizes needed, type of drawings printed (monochrome line drawings, color renderings, etc.), and desired speed. If photographic-quality output is important, look for support for six inks instead of the usual four. Today’s printers should provide many years of trouble-free service, so also anticipate future requirements whenever possible.

Units reviewed here range from Canon’s 240 model for budget-conscious buyers to Roland’s 540 sign-making machine, which yields excellent color fidelity. The EPSON Stylus Pro 10600 earns a Highly Recommended rating for its versatility at printing both line drawings and renderings.

As for future trends, look no further than Hewlett-Packard’s just-released DesignJet 100, which brings D-size sheet-feed capabilities to the desktop.

Cadalyst Labs' tests are straightforward. For each printer, I print the same line drawing on bond paper and image on glossy paper, time the print, and compare the results. The line drawing is a moderately complex D-size drawing with varied lineweights, colors, and fills. The image is a 50MB D-size TIF with a variety of colors. I set all plotters on their highest quality setting.

The printed line drawings were all comparable-crisp lines and solid fills. All the printers produced the line drawing in less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, with the HP 1055CM edging out the EPSON Stylus Pro 10600 by a few seconds for the fastest time. The times for the photographic image varied considerably. Because each printer handles the processing differently, the highest quality settings tend to vary, and, within reason, most users will sacrifice speed for quality. This is an area where the manufacturer's stated speeds provide the best basis for comparison. With the notable exception of Roland's CAMMJET, which comes with a standard processor, all of the printers reviewed could benefit in speed, control, and possibly quality through the addition of a RIP (raster image processor). The true test is in the quality of the printed image, and here the results clearly favor the printers with support for six inks, namely the Epson, Roland, and Canon.

The move beyond CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) as the foundation for color printing has a profound impact on print quality. The EPSON, Canon, and Roland all support CMYK plus two additional inks: light cyan and light magenta. These additional inks help the reproduction of a variety of flesh tones and improve the quality of midtones and highlights in an image. You can outfit the Roland CAMMJET with green and orange inks instead, enabling the creation of a wide range of colors.

You can't go wrong with any of these printers. It comes down to what you need to accomplish and your budget. If you're looking for a plotter to mainly handle line drawings and the occasional rendering, and you want to share with a workgroup, the HP 1055CM is a good choice.

If you're looking for the best of both worlds-the ability to create line drawings and also print rich, photographic images-the EPSON Stylus Pro 10600 accommodates media as wide as 440 and multiple ink types. If you need only 240 support with an emphasis on ease of use, look at the Canon imagePROGRAF W7250. If you want to jump up to the next level and into sign-making, or if you need to combine printing and plotting in one unit, check out the Roland.

Reviewer’s Report Card
  Print Quality Print Speed Price Star Rating
Importance
Factor
(35) (33) (33)  
Canon imagePROGRAF W7250 A A A 5 stars

EPSON Stylus Pro 10600 A A A 5 stars

HP Designjet 1055CM Plus B A A 4 stars

Roland CAMMJET CJ-500 A B A- 4 stars


About the Author: Michael Lennox


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