Even a well-exposed and beautifully composed photo can lose something when printed small. A large print, particularly of a landscape or wildlife, draws you in. It allows you to become immersed in the scene, providing a taste of what it felt like when the shutter was released.
Large-format inkjet printers return total control of your photographs to you. Prints made from these models, whether destined for a client or gallery wall, provide high color accuracy, wide tonal range and decades of fade-resistance. They also include advanced tools for improved color management and color accuracy.
Although these printers are more costly than their desktop siblings, the investment is more than made up for when you discover the quality of the prints produced in your own home office. You easily can recover the cost when compared to buying such prints.
Epson Stylus Photo R2400
The recently announced Stylus Photo R2400 from Epson is one of the company's latest models to include its new UltraChrome K3 inks. The eight-ink system adds three black cartridges to complement the existing cyan, magenta, yellow, light magenta and light cyan inks. Along with its Photo Black or Matte Black ink cartridge, the light black and light-light black inks allow the printer to produce varying shades of gray. This addition not only helps to produce more neutral black-and-white prints, but creates more subtle tonal transitions in color prints as well. Yes, the black inks are gray, but calling them black lets Epson simplify the product name as K3, as K refers to black. The pigment inks also feature high fade-resistance, delivering color prints with a lightfastness of 108 years, and 200 years for black-and-white prints.
Capable of producing prints of up to 13x44 inches, the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 provides a good introduction to large-format printing. Measuring 24.2x12.6x9.1 inches and weighing 34 pounds, the printer features three different paper paths to accommodate papers of various thicknesses. This is especially important when printing on material such as posterboard. Besides size, this is a feature that easily differentiates a large-format printer from a small model. List Price: $849.
Epson Stylus Pro 4800
With a maximum print width of up to 17 inches, the soon-to-be-released Epson Stylus Pro 4800 creates prints as large as 17x22 from cut-sheet media. It outputs color and black-and-white prints with a maximum resolution of 2880 x 1400 dpi, delivering its UltraChrome K3 inks in droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters. The paper handling is rugged and precise, and can manage posterboard as thick as 0.05 millimeters.
Although Epson drivers deliver good results, photographers with more demanding tastes will benefit by the support of raster-image processing (RIP); the printer supports several third-party RIPs that deliver highly accurate ink profiles for a variety of media. When color accuracy is critical, the RIPs reduce the frustration of producing prints with an unwanted color cast and provide improved workflow and print management than is available with the native driver. The printer measures 33.4x14x30 inches and weighs 83.7 pounds. It supports borderless prints with media up to 17 inches and includes a built-in media cutter. List Price: $1,995.
Epson Stylus Pro 7800
The Epson Stylus Pro 7800 accepts print media up to 24 inches wide and panoramic prints up to 132 inches long. In addition to providing borderless printing and a built-in media cutter, the printer handles paper as heavy as 12 pounds bond with a thickness of 0.05mm. It measures 46.3x46.5x29.3 inches and weighs 131 pounds. List Price: $2,995.
Hewlett-Packard Designjet 90
Bigger prints mean very little if the color isn't right. The HP Designjet 90 is built around an inkset that delivers color accuracy for both color and black-and-white prints. Delivering fade-resistance of up to 82 years, the six-ink printer produces prints on pre-cut sheets of up to 18x24 inches and panoramic prints of up to 64 inches in length. It measures 43x22x20 inches and weighs 40.8 pounds.
The printer promises to deliver color that closely matches your original file and remains consistent print after print using HP's Closed Loop Color Calibration system. It includes a built-in scanner that reads the color tiles on the proof; the printer software then uses this data to make needed adjustments to counter any unwanted color variation. Its Black Point Compensation feature helps to delivers neutral black for monochrome prints, reducing the shifting of tones and color in color prints. Whether it's three or a dozen prints, the system delivers color and tonality that makes each print virtually identical. List Price: $995.
Hewlett-Packard Designjet 130
Prints as large as 24x64 inches can be output on the HP Designjet 130 printer. Providing both roll-feed and rear-feed paper handling, the printer allows use of a wide selection of papers sizes and materials, including watercolor and canvas up to 0.02 inches thick and up to 50 feet in length. HP inks deliver excellent color on matte and glossy surfaces.
The six-ink printer uses its maximum 2400 dpi resolution, four-picoliter droplet size and HP's color-layering technology to produce accurate color and smooth tonal and color transitions on virtually any printing surface. It provides excellent gloss uniformity, even in areas where minimal inks are applied. The printer measures 41.3x16.3x8.7 inches, weighs 48.5 pounds, and offers an open EIO slot for optional network connectivity. This provides multiple users access to the use of the printer. List Price: $1,295.
All of these printers can take up a significant amount of space in your work area, so make sure to consider this when making your purchase. Many of these printers offer optional workstands that not only provide a convenient place to rest the printer, but also help manage large prints, particularly panoramic photographs.
The ink tanks are significantly larger than those found on desktop printers, so it's important to consider the price of replacement inks. It's also essential to regularly use and maintain the printers to reduce the chances for clogged nozzles, which can happen if the printer sits idle for lengthy periods. The inks and nozzle designs have improved to reduce such occurrences.
The first time you gaze at a big print from these large-format printers, you'll undoubtedly be impressed by the difference it makes, especially when you're looking at your best work. This likely will be a feeling that will be shared by those who enjoy and appreciate your photography.