Cadalyst Labs Review: Big Prints31 Mar, 2006 By: Ron LaFon
Latest Tools for Wide-Format Copying and Scanning
Sometimes I'm amazed at how many original hardcopy drawings and blueprints lurk in CAD firms. I once saw an original blueprint for the first Disney Magic Kingdom castle. This original obviously holds a lot of historical interest, but most drawings and blueprints have more tangible meaning—they represent a substantial amount of work (not to mention time and money) for the firms that generated them. Many paper drawings that remain untransferred to digital form could be considered at risk of loss. Getting paper into digital format is one part of the equation, and the ability to produce high-quality output from these originals is another.
This survey focuses on a sampling of wide-format printers and scanners currently available, as well as the factors people should consider when purchasing one or the other. We did no hands-on testing this time around.
What To Look For
Once you decide that your needs and budget will sustain a wide-format device, you'll need to examine many things to determine what models are appropriate for your situation.
For wide-format printers, consider the maximum print size you'll want to produce, whether the printer can accommodate single-sheet feeds or rolls of paper—or perhaps multiple rolls. Will the rated output speed of the printer allow you to produce the quantity of output you need within any production time restraints? Does the printer have an integrated paper cutter? What are its output options—does it have a bin or an accessory stacker? Ink capacity and price are major considerations—what are the approximate costs for producing a print? Does the printer handle batch operations, which would allow you to recall a given print job and replicate in the future?
You'll want to know about service and support options and how much on-site coverage (if any) is provided. If the printer houses a hard disk (and most do these days), what is its capacity? Is it large enough to accommodate the type of work you'll typically produce? Connectivity is another consideration—how does the device hook up to your network or the workstation that will be driving it? Are drivers available for the operating system that you use? These questions are just a few of those you'll need to ask when you begin to seriously consider a wide-format printer. Whatever your choices, examine output from the models you're interested in before committing to a specific device, if at all possible. You'll be living with the printer for a long time, so you want to be reasonably sure that its output meets your expectations.
If it's a wide-format scanner that you're considering, you'll want to know the maximum sheet size the scanner can handle. The maximum thickness of the scanned original also might be a consideration. On the other end of the spectrum, does the scanner offer soft-pull capability for handling onionskin paper or other delicate originals? For color scanners, how is the color calibrated for accuracy? Does it use ICC (International Color Calibration) profiles or an included calibration sheet? Is it networkable? Are printer drivers and profiles available for the operating system you use, or does the scanner include an integrated controller?
A major factor when choosing a scanner is the software that is either included or available. Such software tends to be a tad expensive, a hidden cost to accommodate. Software literally can make or break a scanner, so you'll want to look at it with great care. Also, consider how the scanner attaches to your network or workstation and ensure that the connection method provides enough throughput to prevent major production bottlenecks.
As is true when selecting a wide-format printer, you'll want to examine actual scanned images. Confirm that lines are generally complete and that broken lines don't merge into continuous lines. Colors should be rendered accurately without obscuring detail, and the representation of given colors in gray by monochrome scanners shouldn't obscure important detail in the original.
Certainly, the purchase of these sophisticated devices requires consideration well beyond the initial question of whether you can afford or justify the purchase. The online feature tables—two tables are provided, one for wide-format printing/plotting devices at www.cadalyst.com/0406printer-table/, and one for wide-format scanners at www.cadalyst.com/0406scanner-table/—will give you some ideas of the covered devices' capabilities. Information in the tables was provided by manufacturers or resellers.
You may not face an either/or choice between printer and scanner, however—a multifunction device can capably handle all your wide-format printing and scanning needs.
What We Requested
For printers, we requested information about devices released after January 2005 that supported at least D-size (24" X 36") output. Vendors were limited to three models each, and the printer/plotters could use any printing technology appropriate for CAD/GIS applications (inkjet, thermal, LED etc.). For wide-format scanners, the requirements were similar: support for at least D-size input and release date after January 2005.
Although this article is a survey rather than a hands-on review of the individual devices, I've had direct experience with other models from most of these vendors and can attest to the high quality and excellent engineering of their products. This article obviously does not cover all wide-format devices on the market—and there are many—but these newer products should provide an idea of the features and capabilities found in the latest hardware. We also look at the newly released Xerox 6204 monochrome copier and printer (www.cadalyst.com/0406wide-xerox/) and the EIS Ultima II, a new multifunction device that is available with the Canon imagePROGRAF W8400 printer included in this article (www.cadalyst.com/0406wide-ultima/). And, we take a hands-on look at the HP Designjet 4500 printer. For the sake of brevity, we've grouped the devices by vendor/supplier in the printer and plotter categories. Epson missed our deadline for the print issue, but we'll post details about its Stylus Pro line on the Cadalyst Web site.
The Canon imagePROGRAF W8400 is a 44", six-color bubble-jet printer that features 7,680 nozzles (1,280 per color). It can output as much as 307 sq.ft./hr in draft mode and 117 sq.ft./hr in normal mode. Maximum print resolution is 2400X1200, with a droplet size of 4pL.
The 44" imagePROGRAF W8400 has 7,680 nozzles to provide 2400X1200 print resolution.
Cartridges include cyan, magenta, yellow, black or matte black (interchangeable, you can select either), photo cyan and photo magenta. The pigment-based inks are available in 330mL cartridges.
Support for custom ICC color profiles is incorporated for both the Windows and Macintosh environments.
The printer supports paper thicknesses of 0.07mm to 0.8mm. It accommodates cut sheets as large as 44" X 63" and can produce prints as long as 599 from roll media. The W8400 also supports borderless printing. Media widths from 8" through 44" can be used in the imagePROGRAF W8400, which supports a wide range of paper as well as materials such as CAD translucent matte film. The printer features a built-in paper cutter.
The imagePROGRAF W8400 printer comes with a stand, a basket, a 2" core media spool, a print head, seven ink tanks, a maintenance cartridge, a power cord and a cutting blade. A software CD includes printer drivers, a plug-in for Photoshop and utilities. The package also includes application CDs for PosterArtist and Digital Photo Print Pro, a software RIP CD with PhotoPRINT Select and a user guide CD. A setup guide poster and a printer reference guide booklet help users get started.
The printer also comes with an Ethernet card and a USB 2 high-speed interface—and even hardware for setting up the stand. Warranty coverage for the imagePROGRAF W8400 is one year on site. An AutoCAD HDI driver is included, and Adobe PostScript Level 3 is provided by the PhotoPRINT Select software.
An IEEE 1394 FireWire card is optional, and can be used instead of the 10/100Base-T/TX card if you prefer a FireWire connection.
A less-expensive 24" model, the imagePROGRAF W6400, is available for those users who do not need the wider output of the W8400.
The Canon imagePROGRAF W8400 weighs 216lb and measures 64.6" X 38.2quot; X 42.3quot;, including the provided stand. In operation, the printer uses a maximum of 160W when printing and 6W or less in standby mode.
The Canon imagePROGRAF W8400 was submitted by the Paradigm Imaging Group (www.scantopia.com), who signed a distribution agreement with Canon USA in November 2005. Paradigm also markets the Canon imagePROGRAF W8400 as a component of its Express Imaging Station EIS Ultima II (www.cadalyst.com/0406wide-ultima/).
Seiko LP 1010
IDEAL Scanners & Systems
The IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 is an LED electrophotographic printer (the only printer that uses this technology in this small roundup). It produces prints as large as 3' wide by 33' in length. A monochrome printer, the IDEAL/Seiko 1010 prints at a resolution of 600dpi at a rate of 3.4 prints/min for E size (34" X 44") or approximately 1620 sq.ft./hr. For D-size prints, the rate is 6.2 prints/min or 2160 sq.ft./hr.
The IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 features a user-replaceable drum to avoid maintenance calls when replacement is needed. A black toner cartridge containment system prevents accidental toner spills.
The monochrome Seiko LP 1010 prints on C-, D- and E-size rolls of paper with with a 3' X 33' maximum print size.
The LP 1010 accommodates maximum paper thicknesses of 0.2mm, or 0.01", and supports two paper rolls for front-side output. The printer incorporates 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. Connectivity options include Ethernet (100Base-TX and 10BaseTX), USB 2 and Centronics—all interfaces can receive data simultaneously. Warm-up time is less than 4 min.
The IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 printer comes with a power cord, two process cartridges, three toner cartridges, one waste toner bottle and one 100' roll each of C-, D- and E-size paper. A paper flange for each roll holder is included. An installation CD contains Plot Share One LT software, an electronic manual and a Windows driver that allows you to print from any application. The high-performance controller with simultaneous parallel processing provides high-quality output even during continuous printing of different sizes.
The IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 measures 46" X 22" X 42", including the stand, and weighs a hefty 418lb. Output file formats supported include HPGL, HPGL/2, HP-RTL, TIFF and CALS.
IDEAL provides a 90-day parts warranty with extended warranty coverage available as an option. IDEAL notes that its IDEAL/Contex 25" and 36" large-format scanners can serve as front-end systems for the IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 for scanning and printing large-format drawings. The LP 1010 printer can be used as the monochrome component of a scan-to-print system. When using the PlanDEX Web-based controller, users can create print job tickets and automate printing to the IDEAL/Seiko LP 1010 printer.
Océ North America
Price: From $12,495
Océ manufactures a broad array of sophisticated and capable equipment for the entire spectrum of imaging needs, including printing, copying, scanning and multifunction devices. For the printer section of this roundup, Océ selected the printer component of the Océ TCS400 wide-format technical color system.
The Océ TCS400 printer is one component in the Océ TCS400 wide-format technical color system, which combines a print engine, a scan unit and an integrated controller.
The entire Océ TCS400 is a multifunction system that comprises a print engine, scan unit and integrated Océ Power Logic Controller. The wide-format printer component is based on multiple-printhead thermal inkjet technology. It features ten printheads (four black, two cyan, two magenta and two yellow) and provides output at 600dpi. Ink cartridge capacity for all colors, including black, is 400mL—and all ink tanks can be changed on the fly while the system is printing. The latest version of the TCS400 includes a third media roll and a copy-receiving rack that automatically stacks prints without needing operator intervention, so the printer can run overnight or unattended.
The Océ TCS400 printer outputs black-and-white copy in 33 sec, check print quality in 1 min and presentation print quality in 5 min. Output rates for color are 2 min, 5 sec for check prints and 9 min, 30 sec for presentation prints. The media rolls, all of which are front loadable, can be as long as 3009 and as wide as 36" wide. Like the ink cartridges, the paper rolls can be changed while the system is printing. The Océ TCS400 printer supports media as thick as 50lb weight.
The printer has one-year warranty coverage and includes an 80GB hard disk and 512MB of RAM, expandable to 1024MB. It measures 77" X 41" X 58" and weighs 364–397lb, depending upon its configuration. Connectivity options include DPP Centronics, FireWire PBA and Token Ring.
Supported printer languages are HPGL, HPGL/2, Calcomp, HP-RTL, TIFF 6.0, CALS, C4, NIRS/NIFF, and Adobe PostScript Level 3/PDF printing. The Océ Power Logic controller features embedded Windows XP. A Windows print driver is included.
The Océ TCS400 printer is designed to produce consistently high output quality, even after years of operation, as a result of automatic calibration and alignment.
HP Designjet 4500
Wide-Format Multifunction Device.
With output similar in both speed and high quality to the HP Designjet 4000 that we previously reviewed (Cadalyst, September 2005, http://manufacturing.cadalyst.com/0905hp4500/), the new HP Designjet 4500 offers significant new tools and capabilities.
Like the HP Designjet 4000, the 4500 has a built-in Web server that can be accessed across a network or from an off-site computer. In addition to controlling the printer, previewing current jobs and checking printer status and ink levels, you can now use the FMExcel Tool to generate spreadsheet information for facilitating pay-per-use contracts as well as tracking the type and number of jobs generated in-house. This spreadsheet information can be e-mailed automatically to the administrator or to selected e-mail addresses.
The HP Designjet 4500 handles larger rolls of paper, supporting 3" core rolls with 575' of paper. It accommodates two separate rolls, and the loading of rolls has been simplified. Larger capacity ink cartridges facilitate unattended operations: ink supplies of 225mL and 400mL are available for the cyan, magenta and yellow inks and 400mL and 775mL for the black ink. The printer comes with 256MB of memory, which is expandable to 512MB, and includes a 40GB hard disk.
HP Designjet 4500
I tested the HP Designjet with both an AutoCAD drawing and a bit-mapped photographic image in TIFF format and tested the combined scanner/printer operation with a catalog cover that was scanned and printed in a single operation. Output was both fast and of excellent quality, with crisp clean lines and clear, accurate colors. The HP Designjet 4500 uses pairs of staggered print heads.
Estimated street price for the HP Designjet 4500 is $10,995 for the standard version, $13,495 for the 4500ps (with PostScript) and $29,995 for the Designjet 4500mfp (multifunction printer). The HP Designjet 4500 stacker is available separately for $1,995, and the Designjet 4500 scanner costs $18,995. The scanner offers new specifications such as faster scans, three cameras instead of two and automatic height adjustment for heavier materials.
With all the components installed, users can Scan To Batch, saving sets of items such as scans, drawings and other output to a set and recalling and reprinting the set (which is saved to the device's hard disk) at a later time. Although material is not collated on output, this function saves a great deal of time and energy when you need to print a given set of output at a future time. You can now operate the scanner from the printer system, rather than as a separate device.
The HP Designjet 4500 combines high-throughput color printing, copying and scanning with unattended operation and high output quality.
I tested the HP Designjet 4500 on site at the Dunwoody, Georgia, office of GeorgiaBlue Imaging, which is headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, and once again made its facilities and expertise available to me for this review. With its high-quality output, flexibility of management tools, optional scanner and stacker and its potential for unattended operation, the HP Designjet 4500 earns the Cadalyst Highly Recommended rating.
SmartLF Cx 40m, SmartLF Cx 40c, SmartLF Cx 40e
For this roundup, Colortrac submitted information for three wide-format scanners—the Cx 40m, Cx 40c and Cx 40e—from its SmartLF line. SmartLF scanners use deep-focus CIS (contact image sensor) technology for compact design, low weight, and low power consumption. All three SmartLF scanners have a 40" image width and handle media as wide as 44" with unlimited length. The units have a scanning resolution of 600dpi, which can be interpolated to as much as 3600dpi. Accuracy is 0.1% ±1 pixel.
SmartLF scanners feature all-wheel-drive APT (active paper transport) to feed originals. The hinged APT provides access to the scan glass and pressure rollers for cleaning.
Colortrac SmartLF scanners feature instant-on scanning to file, copy or e-mail with the provided software. All scanners in this series feature 2+4 all-wheel-drive APT (active paper transport) for handling originals with care. APT applies a constant minimum force necessary to achieve required traction and accuracy. Access to the scan glass and pressure rollers for cleaning is quick and easy using the hinged APT.
All three SmartLF scanners feature dynamic normalization with automatic color monitoring and adjustment, where appropriate. These plug-and-play devices also feature USB 2 connectivity. SmartLF scanners can be upgraded from monochrome to color on site, so if you know you need monochrome scanning but are uncertain about your need for color, you can add it later to meet your needs.
The SmartLF Cx 40m is the base-level monochrome scanner that scans at speeds as fast as 10.1"/sec at 200dpi. It uses simple and 2D adaptive thresholding methods. The SmartLF Cx 40c adds standard color to the base model, and the SmartLF Cx 40e offers high-performance color scanning that substantially increases scanning speeds. Pricing, including a two-year on-site warranty, ranges from $9,795 for the 40m to $10,895 for the 40c and $11,995 for the 40e. A floor stand designed for all models costs $400. Other options include a universal reproduction stand and an optional paper catch basket.
Both color scanners—the SmartLF Cx 40c and SmartLF Cx 40e—include appropriate ICC color profiles. All SmartLF scanners scan at 200dpi, 400dpi or 600dpi and handle originals as thick as 0.080. All the scanners are supported under Windows 2000/XP.
Each SmartLF scanner weighs 60lb and measures a compact 54.8" X 13" X 6.7". Supported file output formats are JPEG, TIFF and PDF.
CS500-06eN, IS200-11eN Pro LC
Price: $9,995 CS500-06en, $13,995 IS200-11eN Pro LC
For this survey, Graphtec America sent information about two newly released scanning devices: the CS500-06en and the IS200-11eN Pro LC. Indeed, a look at the online feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0506scanner-table/) shows that the CS500-06en is so new that some information on the scanner had not yet been determined at press time.
The 42" IS200-11eN Pro LC offers eight-bit color capture for applications in which limited color is necessary.
The CS500-06en accommodates both color and monochrome scanning, has a scan width of 25", and scans at resolutions as high as 600dpi—which can be interpolated from 50–4800dpi in 1dpi increments. The CS500 is designed for flexible document scanning and can provide sharp, accurate scanning of color photographs, graphics and detailed architectural drawings. The scanner does not include the optional stand, which has a $400 preliminary price. The warranty is one year when purchased directly through the manufacturer or three years through distributor Paradigm Imaging. The scanner measures 30" X 16" X 5" and weighs 39.6lb.
The 42" Graphtec IS200-11eN Pro LC has just joined the Graphtec family of scanners. An update to the IS200 Pro scanner, the new IS200 Pro-LC provides eight-bit color capture for applications in which limited color is necessary and new connectivity options that include USB 2.0 and 10/100 Ethernet. The Graphtec IS200-11eN Pro LC includes an attached stand. It measures 47" X 23" X 37" with the attached stand and weighs 81.5lb.
Scanning speed information on both scanners can be found in the accompanying feature table www.cadalyst.com/0506scanner-table/.
Scanning Master 21+ driver software is included as a standard accessory with all Graphtec scanners. It facilitates scanner setup and control while also enabling easy postscan editing, including scan to file, scan to print, e-mail, copy and PDF operations. The software also allows users to assemble a large-format copying system by combining the scanner with a large-format printer. Driver support is provided for Windows 2000/XP. For monochrome drawings, blueprints, sepias and old or delicate originals with aging degradation, the Scanning Master 21+ software can improve image capture by applying various filtering effects for these less-than-perfect originals. Neither scanner comes with ICC profiles, but they do include color calibration sheets and a procedure for self calibration.
An extensive array of file output formats are supported by both scanners, including bit-map, bit-map RLE, CAD Overlay ESP, a variety of TIFF variants, CALS G4, PCX, Intergraph G4, Sun Raster Uncompressed, Sun Raster Encode, JPEG and Adobe PDF.
Ideal/Contex PUMA HS 36"
IDEAL Scanners & Systems
In addition to plotters, as noted earlier, IDEAL markets scanning systems for large- and small-format drawings and technical documents. It also offers raster-to-vector conversion software with OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities. For this roundup, IDEAL sent information about two IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 36" scanners: the Basic and Plus models.
IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 36" scanner doesn t require a PC. It can be attached directly to a wide-format printer or a network.
Both models are front loading, capable of scanning to an accuracy of 0.1% ±1 pixel in both the x and y axis. These scanners incorporate iJet technology, which is a scanning and copying system embedded in the hardware. The system combines dual 2D adaptive enhancement features with area-diffusion logic and error-diffusion halftoning for accurate scanning of documents with a mixture of photography, line art and text. Both scanners also incorporate a 3C auto-maintenance system that helps keep the cameras aligned, adjusted and calibrated for optimal image quality.
The IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 36" Basic and the IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 36" Plus measure 54.8" X 18.3" X 7.3" and weigh 132.27lb. Both scanners handle maximum sheet widths of 44" and originals as thick as 0.6".
For scan-to file applications, users can purchase optional ScanOS software, which provides single-field indexing for every document scanned that automatically generates the filename, time and date and stores the computer operator's name to the database record. ScanOS stores drawings and index data in an ODBC (open database connectivity)-compliant archive in many formats, including PDF, TIFF, JPEG and BMP. An optional software application, WiseImage, is an intelligent raster editing application that can perform raster-to-vector conversion and OCR. All together, the scanners support more than 50 file formats.
IDEAL also offers ArchiveCenter for workgroups and for enterprises. With this software, you can archive large-format drawings on a company intranet or a secure, password-protected Internet server. Users can search, retrieve, view and print large-format drawings using a standard Web browser. Both applications require a PC to be connected to the IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 36" scanners.
Warranty coverage for both scanners is 24 months return to depot, with the first 6 months covered by on-site service.
Both PUMA HS 36" scanners have variable-resolution settings with a base optical scan resolution of 600dpi. The IDEAL/Contex PUMA HS 360 Basic supports resolutions as high as 1200dpi, and the Plus version supports interpolations as high as 9600dpi. Resolution for both scanners can be adjusted in 1dpi increments. Scan speeds for the Plus version are double the speed of the basic model.
An $890 stand accommodates either of the PUMA HS 36" scanners. Both scanners can be used as a stand-alone device or as an integrated part of a multifunction system.
Océ TDS320, Océ TDS450, Océ CS4032
Océ North America
For this roundup, Océ selected three different scanners—the TDS320, TDS450, and the CS4032—each of which can easily function as a component of a multifunction system.
The monochrome and color Océ TDS450 has an optical resolution of 575dpi, which interpolates to 600dpi.
The Océ TDS320 monochrome scanner uses single-camera/single-mirror technology to bypass the image calibration and stitching issues that can arise with other scanners. Océ Image Logic technology automatically enhances images during scanning. Multiple operators can access and use the scanner simultaneously. When equipped with the Océ Scan Logic software, the scan-to-file capability produces real-time scanned images that can be delivered to as many as six customizable internal or external destinations.
Handling originals with widths from 8.5" to 40", the TDS320 can scan images from 8.5" to 36" wide at resolutions of 200-, 300- and 400dpi at 99/min.
Warranty coverage for the Océ TDS320 scanner is 90 days, and pricing begins at $19,146 as part of a one-roll multifunction system. The Océ TDS320 scanner is built using durable materials such as metal plating instead of plastic system parts to ensure longevity and minimize downtime. The TDS450 is a monochrome and optional color scanner that provides ten scan destination options—drawings can be scanned and distributed to the desired destination from the scanner control panel in one step.
The Océ TDS450 scanner has an optical resolution of 575dpi, which interpolates to 600dpi. Like the TDS320, it can scan images from 8.5" to 36" wide, but is capable of faster speeds—rated black-and-white speed is 10'/min at 600dpi resolution. Color/grayscale speed is 3.5'/min at 600 dpi resolution. Warranty coverage for the Océ TDS450 scanner also is 90 days. Its price ranges from $16,200 to $33,700, depending upon the configuration (as part of a multifunction system).
The third scanner from Océ is the CS4032, a 36" color scanner with an optical resolution of 400dpi, which interpolates to 2400dpi with 0.1% ±1 pixel accuracy. The scanner includes ICC color profiles and a high-speed digital signal processor that enables the scanner to perform a double-threshold control operation on the fly with no need for prescanning.
The CS4032 scans a D-size sheet in full color at 0.3" per second, in eight-bit color at 1.5" per second, and in monochrome at speeds as fast as 3" per second. Warranty coverage is one year, and the scanner is priced at $10,900.
All three Océ scanners include a stand.
Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.