Wide-Format Printers/Plotters

Epson Leaps into CAD Market

27 Sep, 2012 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Epson — the company and the brand — has long been familiar to and respected by professional photographers who know the company for its high-quality wide-format photo printers. But Epson is not a name that has been associated with CAD or engineering work — until now. The company is preparing to make its debut in the engineering market in November with the EPSON SureColor T-Series line of wide-format inkjet printers — and is setting its sights on capturing 20% of the HP-dominated market by 2015.


Epson is preparing to launch the SureColor T-Series line, which includes 24”, 36”, and 44” printers designed from the ground up for CAD, engineering, and GIS applications. (Click on image to view full size.)


Timothy Check, product manager, Professional Imaging Group at Epson America, told me, “Our focus point since the ’90s has been almost exclusively on photographic, fine art, and commercial printing. A different print-head technique gives extreme precision [making the devices ideal for use by creative professionals]. That’s been our focus all along. We’ve never built a product geared specifically for the engineering and architecture space. The timing was never right.

“About three years ago, we looked at the engineering/architecture/GIS space again. We were hearing feedback and realizing we had the technology and could build on what our customers were telling us,” Check explained. Epson decided to develop a new line of professional wide-format printers — a completely new design, built from ground up to meet the needs of this market while delivering improved performance, precision, print quality, and cost of ownership over what is available in existing products.

Target Market

The T-series printers are designed primarily for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that don’t require high-volume printing. Check predicts the customer breakout for the new line will look something like the following:

  • 80% engineering/scientific, including SMBs in architecture, CAE, CAD, on-site construction, industrial design, and GIS and mapping fields.
  • 18% business graphics and education, primarily for production of general-purpose posters and other signage by organizations of all sizes.
  • 2% commercial printing and other users.

Features

The T-series will offer a “tremendous” feature set for SMBs in the design space, Check said, delivering fast print speeds and quality results even when printing on inexpensive materials.


Epson T-series printers come loaded with features for design applications, many of them unique among products in the market. (Click on image to view full size.)


All three models in the T-series line — the 24” T3000, the 36” T5000, and the 44” T7000 — come loaded with all available features. The only option is an internal print server (250-GB hard drive) that offers queue management for multiple users. Customers can add it at purchase or any time later. All can accommodate a variety of materials without any special mounting, including inexpensive 20-lb bond paper, Mylar, photo paper, 1.2-mm poster board, or rigid stock as thick as 1.5 mm — the latter of which is a feature unique to Epson, Check said. Paper loads from the front. “We’ve eliminated the need for a spindle so it’s extremely easy to load paper; anybody can do it.”

The cloth catch bin on all three models has a 20-sheet capacity and keeps printed sheets in order so they don’t roll up and have to be restacked after printing.

The new printers are designed to have a small footprint and to sit flush against a wall, making them easier to adopt in smaller office settings.


The T-series line offers cartridge front-loading and accommodates 110-ml, 350-ml, and 700-ml ink cartridges. Two different black inks are offered: PK for photographic-quality prints and paper and MK, which delivers crisp lines, no bleeding, and instant archiveable results on inexpensive plain paper. Final prints are waterproof for use in the field.

T-Series models have what is labeled “fast mode” rather than draft mode, which despite its name produces good presentation quality, Check said. In terms of speed vs. quality, “This thing is amazing.” Indeed, it can produce as many as 115 D-size prints per hour.

 

Ease of Use

SMBs can demand a higher level of customer service than larger corporations (which often have in-house support teams), Check acknowledged, so Epson designed the T-series to be extremely user friendly.

Check said, “Users are not print experts, we’ve found,” so the T-series sports a clean, easy-to-use interface. And when ink levels get low, the system will send an e-mail reminder to the system administrator.


The interface of Epson T-Series wide-format printers walks users through the steps of various processes. (Click on image to view full size.)


Scanner Compatibility


“This is a print-only printer,” Check said. “We won’t sell a [printer/scanner] bundled solution, but we’ve worked closely with Contex to ensure full interoperability” with that company’s scanners. Epson has ensured that the T-Series line is compatible with Colortrac and Graphtec scanners as well.

Customer Support, Pricing, and Availability

Because support is important to SMBs, Epson offers customer service from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, solving most problems by phone, Check said. When that isn’t possible, customers receive next-day service from a technician who shows up with the needed part. “We will carry forward the level of service people expect from Epson,” he added.

Check said that the T-Series will be available beginning in November from resellers who have established ties and experience with SMB customers. “Hardware resellers are already in the wide-format channels, selling competing and noncompeting printing products,” Check said, and Epson will tap into that.

The 24” SureColor T3000 will retail for $2,995; the 36” SureColor T5000 will sell for $3,995, and the 44” SureColor T7000 will be $4,995.

I asked Check to explain the company’s logic behind launching print products in new markets where digital workflows are expanding rapidly. “Especially from architects,” he answered, “we’ve heard that people don’t print the full set of drawings anymore, but they print selectively to communicate ideas to clients,” such as renderings and construction drawings for markup in the field or to show a client. “We saw that’s not going away, [but rather] moving away from centralized printing to smaller, more local, in-house need for printing.”

Further justifying the designer’s need for a wide-format printer, he continued, “You don’t have to be a pro to want to print something of very high quality. And a printout from a wide-format printer is considerably larger than the version of a design that you can see on a monitor.”

Eye on Quality

Epson products are well known for their “top notch, second-to-none” color quality and reproducibility, Check said, and the T-Series printers are no exception. It’s one aspect of the T-series that the company hopes will set the T-Series line apart from its well-established competition.

“We have our own print language, Epson Precision HD," said Check. “What’s unique is we have Mac and Windows print drivers, guaranteeing that you get full print quality without needing a Postscript process in between, for example. If you’re printing a PDF out of Adobe Acrobat, full precision and detail gets carried directly to the printer for excellent-quality printout.”

“We’re new to this market,” Check continued, “but we think we have the right mix of performance, quality, and user-friendly features … and it all has the Epson brand with the same quality as always. [You get] true photographic-quality prints from this printer.”


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