Wide-Format Printers/Plotters

HP Aims to Make Wide-Format Printing Cheaper, More Colorful

16 Jun, 2014 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

The company seeks to overtake LED printers with its inkjet-based PageWide technology, which will be available on a large scale in 2015.


Making a printer exciting can be a challenging proposition. High-energy music, dramatic colored lights, a rotating pedestal — no matter how much glamour is poured into the reveal of a new model, it’s ultimately a utilitarian beige or black box in the spotlight, not a curvaceous sports car.

Beauty is more than skin deep, however, and HP is a hardware developer that knows what truly excites its customers: faster print production and reduced running costs. At its Designjet Production Premiere, held last week in San Diego, California, HP unveiled large-format hardware and software solutions that promised both.

Ramon Pastor, vice-president and general manager of HP’s Large Format Printing Business, explained that HP is making a two-stage push to become a bigger player in the production printing market. The first wave comprises this year’s launch of two new large-format printers, plus software that manages the printing workflow. The second wave will be the 2015 release of large-format printers built around HP's PageWide inkjet technology, already in use on a smaller scale in the company's Officejet Pro X series.

What’s Ready Now

HP is expanding its large-format portfolio with new offerings for a market that includes AEC and design firms, enterprise organizations and public-sector agencies with central print facilities, quick-printing companies, and small- to medium-sized reprographic houses. “Reprographics is not a new market,” said Pastor, “but it is a new market for color.” Stephen Nigro, senior vice-president of HP’s Graphics and Inkjet Solutions Business, explained it this way: “A big factor why people stay with monochrome is they’re afraid of the costs of color.”

The 36-inch Designjet T3500 Production eMultifunction Printer (eMFP) ($14,750) is designed for use in corporate and public-sector environments, as well as small repro shops. This model requires no warm-up time and provides batch scanning, multipage PDF creation, and scan-to-email capabilities. According to HP, it can produce monochrome prints at the same cost per page as light-emitting diode (LED) MFPs, and can produce an A1 or D-size print in 21 seconds. It also consumes 50% less energy than an LED model. Security features include a self-encrypting hard drive, which can’t be accessed if it’s removed from the printer; secure disk erase; and the option to secure shared documents with a PIN. HP expects that customers will be able to reduce the number of machines in the “print corner” of office environments by replacing LED and inkjet units with one T3500 that can do the work of both.


The HP Designjet T3500 eMFP can print documents as large as size E/A0. Image courtesy of HP.


The 42-inch Designjet T7200 Production Printer ($12,644) is a full-color large-format printer designed for central reprographic departments and reprographic houses with high-volume print demands. The model is recommended for customers who print 10,000–25,000 sq ft per month, explained Monica Alvarez, worldwide strategic product manager, Large-Format Printing. It has more memory than its predecessor, said Alvarez, yielding faster job-processing times. This model can produce both color and black-and-white prints on a range of media, from bond to glossy photo paper, with a cost of operation comparable to monochrome LED printers.


The HP Designjet T7200 Production Printer is intended to produce high volumes of CAD drawings and other documents. Image courtesy of HP.


Pastor explained that 70% of printer operators’ time is spent on activities other than actual printing, such as job preparation, sorting monochrome and color jobs to different machines, etc. HP seeks to reduce that with the Designjet SmartStream Pre-Flight Manager and Controllers (available June 30 for $1,295 and $795, respectively). The software can “cut prep time in half,” claimed Pastor. SmartStream, with its embedded native Adobe PDF print engine, provides high-speed rendering of PDFs and warns users if problems — such as missing fonts — are detected before printing a file. A Crystal Preview feature accurately portrays print outcomes on various types of media, overcoming customer fears that previews aren’t accurate enough to be trusted, said Alvarez. SmartStream also automatically detects whether each job is wide-format, full-color, etc., and routes it to the correct printer as needed.

For IT managers, HP also introduced the HP Designjet Universal Print Driver, which allows users to manage all their HP Designjet machines with a single, standardized driver.

 


What’s Coming Next

During the Designjet Production Premiere, HP also announced the scaling of its inkjet-based PageWide Technology for large-format printing, with the goal of delivering high-quality prints at faster speeds and lower costs. HP contends that the large-format PageWide printers are needed because monochrome LED technology (which dominates the reprographics market) and traditional inkjet technology are both lacking — in color performance and productivity, respectively. PageWide combines the best of both worlds, producing monochrome and color output “at twice the speed of LED with lower running costs,” said Nigro. “You can change the industry, you can change the landscape … with this disruption,” he said.


HP's forthcoming large-format PageWide printer — visible at left — will be faster than LED or traditional inkjet models, the company says.


Pastor compared the increases in HP inkjet performance to the exponential increases in computer processing power as observed by Moore’s Law: “Every 18 months, we double the performance of our systems,” he said. The technology has its own challenges, however, including scalability. HP addressed that concern with a modular printhead a little more than 5” wide; combining eight of these units side by side into a stationary PageWide print bar delivers about 202,000 nozzles total, and spans the full width of a 40" page, so the printhead does not need to move from side to side, and the entire page is printed in one pass. The modules are user-replaceable.




The PageWide print bar, which spans the width of the page being produced, is created by joining 5" modular printheads (top) side by side — making the technology scalable to various printer sizes. Above, HP's Brian Keefe (left) and Xavier Bruch (right) demonstrate how the modules fit together.


The forthcoming PageWide printers will use water-based pigment inks designed for fast drying, fade and smear resistance, and compatibility with a variety of print materials. They’ll accommodate two sets of the four ink cartridges (CMYK), so users can swap out empties while the machine is running.

Although the technology is being demonstrated now, large-format HP PageWide printers won’t be available till the second half of 2015; HP will use the intervening time to “make sure it is a bulletproof system,” said Pastor. Pricing — for the machines themselves or the exact running costs — is not yet available, but should be announced in the middle of next year. The company expects to produce three or four models, but it’s likely we’ll see more beyond those first releases. “This technology is very scalable,” said Pastor. “This is the first wave of products, there will be more.”


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