Wide-Format Printers/Plotters

The Outs ... Move Your Workflow Forward with Large-Format Printers (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Apr, 2007 By: Ron LaFon

Cadalyst Labs surveys the latest wide-format printers from Canon, Hewlett-Packard and iSys.


Being able to print in wide-format output is a must for many disciplines and for many firms, whether in-house or at a service bureau. And if you have tight deadlines or a sizeable volume of work, it's often fastest and most economical to do the work in-house.

I've mentioned before how often I see many original hardcopy drawings and blueprints at CAD firms that have never been transferred to digital formats. These drawings and blueprints have tangible meanings and represent a substantial amount of work, time and money for the firms that generated them. Much of what hasn't been transferred to a digital format could be considered at risk of loss. Although getting these original works into a digital format via wide-format scanners is one part of the solution—and is covered in a separate article in this issue (—the ability to produce high-quality output from these originals is another.

The intent of this particular comparative review is to focus on the general types of printing devices currently available and to describe what factors buyers should consider when purchasing a wide-format printer/plotter. As a result, I performed no hands-on testing for this review.

What to Look For

Deciding that you need a wide-format printing device is, of course, the essential starting point. Once you've determined that both your needs and your budget will sustain such a purchase, you'll need to determine many things when selecting the printer for your particular situation. Cadalyst editors and contributors are often asked to recommend wide-format printer/plotters, but because individual needs vary so widely, it's impossible to make those type of recommendations. We can, however, recommend some factors for users to consider when making purchases.

Determine the maximum print size you'll want to produce and whether the printer/plotter can accommodate single-sheet feeds or rolls of paper—or perhaps multiple rolls. Will the rated output speed of the printer/plotter allow you to produce the quantity of output you need within your time constraints? Does the printer have an integrated paper cutter? What are the options when the output comes out—does it have a bin or an accessory stacker? Ink capacity, cost and use are major considerations as well. What are the approximate printing costs per page? Does the printer/plotter perform batch operations? Does it allow users to recall a given print job and replicate it in the future?

Other factors you'll want to consider are servicing options, support and availability of onsite service (if any is provided and if it is, for how long). If the printer/plotter houses a hard disk (most do these days), what is the capacity—and is it large enough to accommodate the type of work you'll typically be producing? Connectivity is another significant area for consideration. How does the device link to your network or the workstation that will be driving it? Are drivers available for the particular version of the operating system that you use? With the recent introduction of Windows Vista, drivers certainly are going to be a factor if you move to this new operating system. You'll certainly want to ensure that Vista support will be forthcoming, otherwise you risk having an expensive device that is essentially orphaned without support by this latest iteration of Windows. Because some printer/plotters use software beyond basic printer drivers to perform various functions and maintenance, you'll need to take a careful look at what's available for the device you're considering.

These are but a few of the questions and concerns that you'll need to address when you consider purchasing a wide-format printing/plotting device. Your particular needs could add more questions to this basic list. Whatever your choices may be, look at output from the specific model you're interested in before committing to a specific device (if this request is possible). You'll be living with the output on a day-to-day basis for an extended period of time, so you'll want to be reasonably sure that the printer/plotter will produce the output that meets your needs and expectations.

For most users, a wide-format printer/plotter is a major purchase, and there's a lot to consider when purchasing such a sophisticated device. The accompanying online feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0407printer-table) can give you some idea of the capabilities of the devices that are discussed in this article. If you also expect to add a wide-format scanner, you'll want to evaluate how easily it can integrate with the wide-format printer/plotter you're considering.

Review Standards

Cadalyst requested information about devices that supported at least D-size (22" x 34") output and that had been introduced since last April's Cadalyst Labs printer review. Vendors were able to submit no more than three models each for review, but the printer/plotters could use any printing technology appropriate for CAD and GIS applications (inkjet, thermal and LED).

The information included in the online feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0407printer-table) that accompanies this article was provided by either the manufacturers or vendors of the submitted devices, upon whom Cadalyst has relied for the accuracy of the information and queried for elaboration when necessary. Although this article is a survey rather than a hands-on review of each individual device, I've had direct experience with models from most of the vendors included in this article and can attest to the high quality and excellent engineering of their products.

All wide-format devices on the market—and there are many—aren't covered in this article, but these new introductions should give you some idea of the features and capabilities available in the newest hardware. Your ultimate choice might not be an either/or, but rather a multifunction device that will handle both your wide-format printing and scanning needs.

For your consideration, I've also included a sidebar ("Controlling Costs,") about Ringdale's FollowMe, a document-output management product that can help users get the most out of their new printer/plotters.

Many high-quality choices will help you meet your immediate needs and also provide room for growth as your needs expand. For the sake of brevity, I've grouped the printer/plotters by vendor/supplier.

imagePROGRAF iPF600 and imagePROGRAF iPF700

Canon USA
800.OK.CANON
www.usa.canon.com
Price: $2,295–$3,995


Canon has an extensive line of digital products that enable both businesses and consumers to capture, store and distribute information. For this article, Canon USA submitted two wide-format printing devices, the 24" D-sheet Canon imagePROGRAF iPF600 and the 36" E-sheet Canon imagePROGRAF iPF700. Both dye-based models produce crisp, clear prints and are ideal for CAD and GIS applications as well as for office applications that require large documents.

The iPF600 and iPF700 include Canon's high-speed L-COA image processor and FINE printhead technology, which is designed to deliver exceptional image quality and high-speed output. Both models also feature the company's new five-color dye-and-pigment reactive ink system, which consists of Canon's newly developed, fade-resistant dye-based inks in black, cyan, magenta, yellow and Canon's matte-black pigment.

When combined with Canon's Reactive Ink Technology, these new dye-based inks produce black lines and text that have a resistance against rubbing, moisture and bleeding. The printers switch to the appropriate black ink type according to the type of media and image, producing rich dark black on glossy media using dye-based black and crisp, detailed line drawings with laser-like precision using matte black on matte surfaces (including bond paper). This results in sharp, thin lines and high-density black for CAD line drawings, as well as vivid colors and solid image consistency with sharp text for attention-getting signs and posters.

Both imagePROGRAF printers use a total of 15,360 ink nozzles (5,120 for matte black and 2,560 for each other color) arranged in two nozzle arrays in 1.07" printing swaths to achieve resolution as high as 1,200dpi. Both of these printers can produce borderless printing on roll-feed media of various sizes. Standard for the iPF700 and optional for the iPF600, the PhotoPRINT Select software provides true Adobe PostScript Level 3 printing with professional color control using the Pantone Color Library and HP-GL/2 emulation capability.

 The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF600 is a D-sheet printer/ plotter that can produce resolutions as high as 2,400x1,200dpi.
The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF600 is a D-sheet printer/ plotter that can produce resolutions as high as 2,400x1,200dpi.

Other enhancements include new printer driver functions such as Free Layout and Copy Enlargement. The Free Layout feature, also know as nesting, facilitates the creation and printing of nested layouts by combining data created by popular software applications, including Microsoft Word and Excel and Adobe Illustrator. Other features include a standard high-performance rotary cutter, a nozzle recovery system and automatic print optimization.

Both printers include Canon's Printer Driver 2006, HDI driver for AutoCAD/AutoCAD LT 2000–2007 and the Printer Driver Extra kit (with Free Layout and an image-RUNNER Linking Function). The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF600 weighs 159lbs, measures 39.0" x 39.3" x 38.6" (H x W x D) and uses maximum power of 100W or less in normal operation and 6W or less in standby mode (7W or less when the EB-05 is installed). The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF700 weighs approximately 130lbs, measures 43.2" x 59.3" x 29.6" (H x W x D) and uses 160W or less power in normal operation and 6.8W or less in standby mode (13W or less when the EB-05 is installed). The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF600 printer includes 192MB of RAM, prints 304 square feet per hour in normal mode (514 square feet in draft mode) and costs $2,295. The Canon imagePROGRAF iPF700 printer incorporates 256MB of memory, prints 331 square feet per hour in normal mode (585 square feet in draft mode) and costs $3,995. Both wide-format printers are covered by one-year limited warranties.

Controlling Costs
Controlling Costs

HP Designjet 4000ps, HP Designjet 4500ps and HP Designjet 5500ps

Hewlett-Packard
800.752.0900
www.hp.com
Price: $10,995–$17,995


For many, the name Hewlett-Packard is synonymous with printers, despite the fact that the company produces a broad array of technology products, most notably an outstanding line of computer systems and peripherals. For this roundup review, HP submitted three wide-format printers: the HP Designjet 4000ps, HP Designjet 4500ps and the HP Designjet 5500ps.

The HP Designjet 4000ps features HP Double Swath technology, which offers high-speed color and black-and-white printing to produce output as wide as 42". Double Swath technology uses two long-life HP printheads for each color, producing a wider print swath with a higher firing frequency. You can get two D/A1-size prints in color and black-in-white in less than one minute. The embedded processor delivers fast, simultaneous processing and the ability to print as many as 100 D/A1-size prints per hour.

The HP Designjet 4000ps supports a wide range of media, including plain paper and various specialty media such as canvas and glossy stock. The HP Designjet 4000ps printer accommodates media rolls as long as 300', comes equipped with a standard bin that holds 50 E/A0 size prints and supports B/A3-size media using a manual sheet feed.

All three of these HP printers use the HP Embedded Web Server to remotely manage printer, ink and media usage. Users can reset print job priorities at any stage to save time; get driverless multifile submission to increase productivity; reprint stored jobs; preview print jobs to avoid surprises; view and save accounting information to monitor ink and media consumption; send service print screens to HP for quick troubleshooting; preview supplies and printer status; and get error notifications.

Hewlett-Packard provides a Jetadmin plug-in for the HP Designjet 4000ps that gives network managers a single support tool for installing, configuring, monitoring and troubleshooting various network-connected devices.

The HP Designjet 5500ps is a color thermal inkjet printer with six print heads that offers dye- or pigment-based ink options.
The HP Designjet 5500ps is a color thermal inkjet printer with six print heads that offers dye- or pigment-based ink options.

The HP Designjet 4500ps printer offers large input and output capacity for unattended printer operation and optional high-performance scanning/copying, making it an ideal color production system for many technical applications. The 4500ps accommodates two rolls of media to allow for different media types or sizes and offers fast automatic roll switching and long-roll support (as long as 500'). The Designjet 4500ps also has an optional stacker that can flatten and stack as many as 200 plots.

The HP Designjet 4500ps supports resolutions as high as 2,400 x 1,200 optimized dpi from 1,200 x 1,200 input on glossy media. The Designjet 4500ps can use the new HP 90 Extra-large 775cc black ink cartridge and three-ink cartridge multipack, providing greater convenience and fewer interruptions for environments that produce a high volume of line drawings. The three-ink cartridge multipacks and value packs for each color help lower the overall printer costs.

The HP Designjet 5500ps combines high productivity, outstanding image quality and so-called intelligent printing solutions to simplify workflow and allow unattended printer operation. The 5500ps is a flexible printer for varied work environments, and it supports both multiple ink sets and a wide range of media.

New production print modes that are available on the 5500ps deliver professional image quality at speeds as fast as 100 square feet per hour for glossy and 189 square feet per hour for coated media. The printer can accommodate transfer speeds as high as 4.5MB per second using an HP Jet-Direct 615n print server card.

The HP Designjet 5500ps also offers superb large-format photo printing using a six-ink 1,200dpi wring system and HP color-layering technology to provide a wide color gamut, continuous tones and smooth color transitions.

Pricing is $11,495 for the HP Designjet 4000ps and $13,495 for the HP Designjet 4500ps. The HP Designjet 5500ps is offered in two sizes—a 42" version for $10,995 and a 60" version for $17,995. All three Hewlett-Packard printers come with one year of next-business-day onsite service. For additional information about any of these printers, see the online feature table for this article or go to the Hewlett-Packard Web site at www.hp.com and search for the specific model that interests you.

i24 Direct Imaging Printer and i36 ImageMaster

iSys—The Imaging Systems Group
866.415.4797, 403.204.5200
www.isys-group.com
Price: $12,260–$14,590


iSys, the Imaging Systems Group, is an innovative developer and manufacturer of direct thermal and digital imaging technology that focuses on developing customized printer/plotter configurations to fit its customers' needs. iSys began as a small plotter division of Veritas Geophysical in 1990. After an employee buyout in October 2000, iSys was launched. Today, iSys provides leading-edge performance printers/plotters for the oil and gas industry, government agencies, engineering consultants, aerospace, military defense, marine, manufacturing, commercial art, graphic design and newspaper industries. For this roundup review, iSys submitted two printers: the i24 Direct Imaging Printer as well as the i36 ImageMaster.

Both iSys printers are direct thermal printers that use heat to create an image on paper. This process enables characters and graphics to print clear and crisp, print after print. With just a few moving parts, thermal printers offer years of reliability, minimal maintenance and consistent operation. As a result, they can print faster and comparatively more quietly than many other printer technologies available. Unlike other print technologies, direct thermal printers don't require expensive inks or toners to replenish and supervise—saving both time and money.

The iSys i24 Direct Imaging Printer offers plotting speeds as fast as 2" per second and supports heavy-weight and field-grade papers.
The iSys i24 Direct Imaging Printer offers plotting speeds as fast as 2" per second and supports heavy-weight and field-grade papers.

Thermal printers have only one consumable—paper, which means a fixed and lower operation cost per page. They also provide environmentally friendly printing.

The iSys i24 Direct Imaging Printer is a D-size thermal printer with selectable speeds that can print as fast as 2" per second on a continuous feed. The iSys i24 can accommodate rolls of media as long as 500' and incorporates a built-in paper cutter. The RIP includes 512MB of RAM and can be expanded to 1GB. Connectivity is via either a 10/100 Base-T Network or an optional IEEE-1284–compatible Centronics interface. Drivers are included for Windows 2000 and XP, and the printer language support includes HPGL, HPGL/2, TIFF G4, CalComp CCRF, CalComp 906/907, Cals Group 4, Postscript and PDF. Printer dimensions are 13.5" x 33" x 15.5" (H x W x D), and the iSys i24 weighs 70lbs without its optional pedestal.

The i36 ImageMaster E-size thermal printer is designed for high-volume production. Like the iSys i24 printer, the i36 ImageMaster has selectable speeds and can print as fast as 2" per second with 400dpi resolution. The RIP on the i36 ImageMaster comes with 256MB of RAM and is expandable to 512MB. Connectivity is accommodated either with the integrated 10/100 Base-T Network connector or via an optional IEEE-1284–compatible Centronic interface. Printer drivers for Windows 2000 and XP are included. The iSys i36 ImageMaster measures 39.5" x 46" x 20" (H x W x D) and has a net weight of 150lbs. The printer supports roll media as long as 500', and it has an integrated paper cutter. The i36 ImageMaster can accommodate multiple paper widths and media, including heavy-weight, field-grade, film and polymedia.

Pricing for the i24 Direct Imaging Printer is $12,260, and the i36 ImageMaster Printer is priced at $14,590. Both printers are covered by a six-month warranty. For additional information about these and other printers made by iSys, visit the company's Web site at www.isys-group.com. You can also order media and learn more about direct thermal printing on this site.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and a computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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