5 Photo Printers for Big Prints
JULY 01, 2013
By Theano Nikitas
In this world of fast-moving technological changes, almost non-stop digital camera launches and software updates, the pace of new inkjet printer releases seems almost glacially slow. However, ink formulations, print longevity, efficient delivery systems, and connectivity options are now at a level of maturity and stability that makes purchasing a printer a good investment for the long term.
Luckily, the cost of outputting client-ready and gallery-worthy large prints is more affordable than ever. For less than $1,000, you can pick up a wide-format (17-inch) desktop printer that’s more than capable of producing gorgeous, long-lasting prints. You’ll need a bigger budget for a large-format (24 inches or wider) printer, but it can make a great addition to your studio and client offerings. Additionally, paper manufacturers are consistently developing new and improved substrates. This increased variety of inkjet-compatible papers gives photographers an opportunity to explore different looks for their images.
To give you an idea of what’s out there, we’ve put together some of the best—and most affordable—wide- and large-format inkjet printers on the market today.
We’ve also included an inkjet paper roundup, featuring some of the latest and greatest substrates available.
HP Designjet Z3200ps
Available in 24-inch and 44-inch widths, the HP Designjet Z3200 offers a 12-tank inkset that includes the HP Vivera pigments blue, gray, green, light cyan, light gray, light magenta, magenta, matte black, photo black, red and yellow with an estimated longevity of about 200 years (depending on substrate and storage methods). HP claims that the addition of a chromatic red ink expands the printer’s Pantone coverage to about 95 percent. A gloss optimizer is also included to help eliminate gloss differential and bronzing.
These postscript printers are equipped with an 80-GB memory and have an embedded spectrophotometer for easy in-studio custom media profiling. In addition to a sheet feed, with a media size range of 8.3 to 24 inches or 8.3 to 44 inches, the Z3200 can handle roll paper up to a length of 300 feet. The automatic cutter works on all media except for canvas. And, if by chance, you need to print Tyvek banners and signs, this printer can handle that media as well.
Overall, these are efficient printers, with vivid color output and the ability to produce monochrome prints with good dynamic range.
Prices: $3,900 for 24-inch model; $4,900 for 44-inch model
Epson Stylus Pro 4900
For a 17-inch desktop printer, the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 has a lot going for it. Most notably it’s one of the few desktop printers equipped with a roll feed. Better yet, the printer can output full-bleed prints on roll paper (2-inch and 3-inch cores) for widths between 8 inches and 17 inches, and roll prints that can be cut to any length (the printer supports roll media up to 132 feet in length).
In addition to the roll feed, the 4900 offers a high-capacity paper tray for plain and premium paper up to 17 x 24 inches, and automatically switches between the tray and roll feed. Two manual feed options are available, including a straight-through, front-loading, manual feeder for cut sheets up to 1.5 millimeters thick. At 115 pounds, it’s pretty hefty and you’ll need to leave room around its 34 x 16 x 30-inch footprint to access the manual feeds.
The 11-ink printer uses Epson UltraChrome HDR inks, with an estimated longevity of 200 years, depending on paper and storage condition. A starter set of 80-milliliter cartridges—cyan, green, light black, light cyan, light-light black, matte black, orange, photo black, vivid light magenta, vivid magenta and yellow—comes with the printer but can be replaced with 200-milliliter tanks once they’re depleted. Minimum droplet size is 3.5 picoliters and automatic print head cleaning can be performed thanks to embedded sensors that detect nozzle status.
If you’re limited on space—and budget—but need or want a roll feed, the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 is a great choice. Also check out the printer’s optional accessories including a SpectroProofer.
Prices: $1,995; $2,295 for designer edition that includes EFI eXpress RIP software
Epson Stylus Pro 7890/9890
For large-format printing, Epson offers a number of options including the 24-inch Stylus Pro 7890 and its wider sibling, the 44-inch 9890. These nine-ink pigment printers utilize Epson’s UltraChrome K3 inks, with color longevity estimated at up to 200 years, and black-and-white at more than 200 years. The inkset consists of cyan, light black, light cyan, light-light black, matte black, photo black, vivid light magenta, vivid magenta and yellow, with a minimum ink drop size of 3.5 picoliters.
As expected, the two printers offer roll printing (including full bleed and automatic cutting to any length) with a minimum width of 10 inches. Minimum cut sheet size is 8.27 x 11 inches and the printers can handle media up to 1.5 millimeters thick. Its built-in cutter offers automatic and manual options.
The printers come with a starter set of inks (110 milliliters) while replacement cartridges are available in 150-milliliter, 350-milliliter or 700-milliliter capacities. Built-in connectivity is high-speed USB 2.0 and Ethernet, and optional accessories include a SpectroProofer.
It’s no surprise that prints from both of these models are excellent, delivering high-quality output in color and black-and-white. If you need even larger prints, Epson also has the 64-inch Stylus Pro 11880, as well as other 24-inch and 44-inch models.
Prices: $2,995 for the 7890 model; $4,995 for the 9890 model
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5100
Now a veteran on the wide-format inkjet scene, the Canon iPF5100 (released in 2007) is a 12-ink, 17-inch desktop printer with a roll feed. In addition to the standard CMYK LUCIA pigment inks, the 5100 utilizes 130-milliliter tanks of gray, matte black and photo gray, along with blue, green, photo cyan, photo magenta and red. Given its broad inkset as well as a self-calibration system, the 5100 is capable of producing outstanding color and monochrome prints.
Although it’s a desktop printer, you’ll need a sturdy surface to support this 117-pound machine; an optional print stand is available from Canon if you don’t already have a suitable one. Given its top, rear, cassette and roll feed paper options—with a maximum print roll length of 59 feet—you’ll also need plenty of space for the 5100’s 13.5 x 39.3 x 31.9-inch footprint.
Fortunately, the two print heads, with 2,560 nozzles for each color and minimum four-picoliter dot size, are user replaceable. No hard and fast statistics are available for when the print heads need to be replaced but, obviously, someone who prints eight hours a day for days on end will need to replace the print heads sooner than a photographer whose printing habits are less rigorous.
Given that the 5100 has been around for a while, connectivity options are limited to high-speed USB 2.0 and Ethernet, with an optional IEEE 1394 Firewire connection. However, the 5100 delivers versatile paper handling in a relatively compact size (and at a relatively affordable price), so if you’re limited on space but want to print big, this may be a good option for you.
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6400/iPF6450
These two 24-inch imagePROGRAF large-format printers share many similarities, including a 12-Color LUCIA EX pigment inkset with black, blue, cyan, gray, green, magenta, matte black, photo cyan, photo gray, photo magenta, red and yellow inks, and a minimum droplet size of four picoliters. While the 6400 and 6450 are capable of producing top-notch monochrome prints, the ink combination excels at color printing thanks to the addition of RGB inks.
You’ll need to make room for these models, which come with a stand and a basket for media output. They both measure 39.4 x 48.3 x 34.3 inches and weigh 154 pounds with the stand.
Top- and front-loading manual feeds can accommodate a variety of media, with thicknesses from 0.07 to 0.8 millimeter for the top feed and 0.5 to 1.5 milliliters for the front feed. The roll feed can accommodate up to a 59-foot print length and the printers come with a 2-inch roll holder and 3-inch adapters for additional versatility.
Connectivity is basic with Ethernet and high-speed USB 2.0 ports but these printers are, in many other ways, quite sophisticated. Dual print heads are user replaceable and the printers feature a sub-tank system that holds a certain amount of ink in reserve so you don’t get caught short in the middle of a printing job. The printers can also detect if a nozzle is clogged and automatically compensate by using other nozzles to pick up the slack.
Other features are a color calibration management system, tint and tone adjustments, a range of bundled software including PosterArtist Lite and a gallery wrap feature for custom printing, to name just a few. More importantly, a media configuration tool allows you to adjust up to eight parameters when using non-Canon media.
Both printers come with a starter set of 90-milliliter ink tanks but one of the differences between the two models is that the 6400 can accommodate 300-milliliter and 330-milliliter ink cartridges, while the 6450 can accommodate 130-milliliter and 300-milliliter tanks.
But perhaps the biggest differentiators are the 6450’s 250-GB hard drive (the 6400 has none) and the availability of an optional SU-21 spectrophotometer for the 6450. Either way, these printers are a good investment for photographers.
Prices: $2,300 for the 6400 model; $3,695 for the 6450 model
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