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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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