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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

High-Tech B&W Printers

Today’s high-tech black-and-white printers can produce images that surpass anything that was possible in the film darkroom

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This Article Features Photo Zoom
Epson Stylus Photo R288
Canon has one 13-inch desktop printer in this roundup, the PIXMA Pro9500. Like the other Canon printers covered here, the Pro9500 uses Canon’s Lucia pigment inks; in this case, there are 10 inks. In addition to the standard six colors, Canon added red, green, gray and a matte black. The Pro9500 has a dedicated grayscale mode that primarily uses the black and gray inks for output. You also have the option to tone your prints, for example, giving them a sepia or platinum effect, by mixing in color. Depending on the type of paper you’re printing to, you’ll use either photo black or matte black inks. Like the other Canon desktop printers, the Pro9500 works with sheet paper only, but a straight-feed path allows you to print on heavy fine-art media. Estimated Street Price: $849.

Canon PIXMA Pro9500
In the 17-inch printer category, the imagePROGRAF iPF5100 is a work-horse that’s capable of excellent black-and-white output. With a tray feed, manual single-sheet feed and a fully motorized roll-feed unit, the iPF5100 is a 12-color printer with photo black, matte black, photo gray and gray inks that are capable of excellent black-and-white prints. One unique benefit is an included plug-in for Photoshop that gives you complete control over output in a single location. If you’re using Canon paper, all you need to do is select the paper type from the list rather than selecting the appropriate profile. When printing in black-and-white, this uses specific information to mix inks in the optimal manner to generate very neutral black-and-whites. You also have the ability to print in 16-bit mode, something that the other printers can’t match at this time (Epson has a 16-bit option for Mac OS X 10.5 users, but Canon’s solution works with all platforms). When choosing the Auto Monochrome setting, you have access to a full-featured tool to adjust the properties of your grayscale mix from warm to cool, including a Curves editor to fine-tune the output. Estimated Street Price: $1,995.

The imagePROGRAF is available in larger sizes, including a 24-inch model, the iPF6100, which drops the tray feed but adds a stand. Print output from both is identical as they use the same ink and printheads. Estimated Street Price: $3,495.

Epson Stylus Pro 7880
Epson is well known to anyone who has been printing images for any amount of time. In fact, Epson essentially created the ability for digital photographers to output photo-quality prints from their desktop. Epson also pioneered the use of pigment inks for improved stability and print life. Epson offers the widest lineup of printers designed for the pro or advanced amateur, starting with the new Stylus Photo R2880. A 13-inch desktop printer, the R2880 is a nine-color printer with photo black, matte black, light gray and light light gray inks, along with the Vivid Magenta and Vivid Light Magenta inks found in the large-format 4880, 7880 and 9880 models. Only photo or matte black ink can be installed at any time, so in essence you have three shades of black available to you. Epson has an Advanced Black-and-White mode in its print driver that lets you adjust the toning of your prints with presets or by adjusting sliders for brightness, contrast, tonality and density. The R2880 can print to single sheets or to roll paper, as well as onto printable CD/DVD media. Estimated Street Price: $799.

The next step up in size and performance is the Stylus Pro 3800. The most affordable 17-inch printer on the market, the Pro 3800 is an excellent option for those who don’t need to print on roll media. It uses 80ml ink cartridges with the same formulation as those found in the R2880. All nine inks are installed in the printer, but you still need to flush one ink line when going from photo black to matte black. The Pro 3800 does have a new print head that improves the smoothness of tonal gradations. Estimated Street Price: $1,295.

HP Photosmart Pro B9180
If higher volume and roll paper are on your list, the Stylus Pro 4880 has the same 17-inch-wide paper path as the Pro 3800, but adds a high-capacity tray and roll feed. The ink capacity also is larger, with the option to use up to 220ml cartridges. Unlike the Pro 3800, you’ll need to swap the photo and matte black cartridges when changing paper types. The Pro 4880 uses a new Vivid Magenta and Vivid Light Magenta ink formula that increases color gamut, especially in the blues and purples. For landscape and nature photography, these colors are sometimes hard to reproduce. The new inks make a big difference here. You have the same Advanced Black-and-White mode options in the print driver as the R2880 and Pro 3800. Estimated Street Price: $1,995.

The Stylus Pro 7880 has the same feature set as the Pro 4880 but drops the paper tray and adds a stand. Like the 4880, the 24-inch-wide Pro 7880 can use ink cartridges up to 220ml. All of Epson’s Pro series printers include Ethernet ports for shared use on a network as well as USB. Estimated Street Price: $2,995.

HP Designjet Z2100
We mentioned the HP Designjet 130 as the lone dye-based printer in this lineup. HP also has a range of pigment printers, and some of them have unique features you won’t find in the others.

The Photosmart Pro B9180 is an eight-color, 13-inch desktop printer that uses Vivera pigment inks. It includes photo black, matte black and gray inks. Unlike the other printers, you can choose to use only these three inks to print a black-and-white image. By selecting only gray inks in the print driver, you essentially turn your printer into a tritone device. If you want to use toning on the print, you’d select Composite gray, which forces the printer to use mainly the black inks, mixing in color as needed to achieve the tone you’re looking for. The B9180 has a paper tray but no roll feed. You can print panoramas, but you’ll need to precut your paper and use the manual feed path. Estimated Street Price: $699.

HP Designjet Z3100
HP doesn’t have anything in the 17-inch range at this time, so your next step is the 24-inch Designjet Z2100. The Z2100 uses the same eight inks as the Photosmart Pro B9180, so the output is virtually identical between the two, making it possible to use the B9180 as a proofing device before sending the final print to the larger Z2100. What’s unique about the Z series printers from HP is the addition of an onboard spectrophotometer for color calibration and profiling. Essentially, you have an X-Rite i1 Photo built into the printer. This lets you create custom profiles for additional paper types, as well as calibrate your printer to keep print quality consistent. Estimated Street Price: $2,895.

Outwardly identical to the Z2100, the Designjet Z3100 is a 12-ink printer with 11 color cartridges and a gloss enhancer. Unlike the gloss optimizer used in some of the Epson consumer-level printers, the Z3100 mixes the gloss optimizer with the inks at different levels to ensure that the entire print has the same uniform density. This is the only printer I’ve used that has absolutely no gloss differential when printing on glossy paper. The Z3100 also has no visible metamerism when viewing prints under different lighting sources. Estimated Street Price: $3,395.

(800) OK-CANON

(800) GO-EPSON

(800) 752-0900

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