HP’s Designjet Z3100; A Large Format Pigment Ink Printer Page 2

Or, if you plan to print in grayscale, the Gray Balance tab gives you total control over tonal range, something I haven't seen at this level in any other printer driver, and exceeds the Advanced Black & White mode available in the newer Epson UltraChrome K3 printers.

Note: HP is currently working on a plug-in for Photoshop that will make printing a one-stop operation, similar to what is available for the B9180 printer. This plug-in wasn't available when I wrote this review.

I found the speed of the Z3100 a pleasant surprise, especially when viewing the quality of prints. I found speeds to be about 15 percent faster than the Epson Stylus Pro 7800, even though I was printing at a higher quality setting with the HP. Compared to the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000, the Z3100 is about 10 percent slower. I haven't had direct experience with the larger Canon printers, but I would expect this speed difference to be similar there.

To track use and expenses, the built-in web server gives you plenty of information, including print jobs, ink use, paper type used, and more. For anyone producing prints for sale, this level of reporting makes it possible to accurately price work and track supplies.

Based on my initial use of the printer, ink costs are very reasonable. On average, the printer uses 2.12ml of ink per square meter of paper. At the retail price of $75 per cartridge, this works out to about $1.20 per square foot for ink. Buying ink in the available two pack reduces this cost to about 93 cents per square foot.

The web server also includes information on print head status, full access to online support and documentation as well as a way to reorder supplies when needed. If you've used a pigment printer in the past, you've likely experienced the problem of clogged heads. HP recommends leaving the printer turned on at all times which will allow it to perform nozzle checks and cleaning as needed. This significantly reduces the amount of ink used (and wasted).

Print Quality
Print quality is the main objective for most of us. It doesn't matter if the printer has four colors or 12--if the print looks good, we're happy. The Z3100 doesn't disappoint. Color prints have a slightly larger gamut than the Epson I'm used to, especially in the greens and blues, thanks to the inclusion of primary inks in these colors. Black and white prints are more neutral than anything I've ever done without using an additional RIP like ImagePrint. And, along with excellent neutrality, there is no--that's right no--metamerism, or shift in color tone, when going from one light source to another. Dynamic range is better, too, with more detail in deep shadow areas than I've seen in an inkjet print, exceeding the Canon by a small margin. When printing on photo papers (gloss, luster), the Z3100 uses three blacks, while on fine art papers all four blacks are used, essentially giving you a quadtone printer.

Along with the Z-series printers, HP has brought out a full line-up of media, some of it made in conjunction with Hahnemühle. The Smooth Fine Art feels very much like the Hahnemühle Photo Rag, but is a brighter white that I find excellent for black and white and color work.

If you're serious about printing, the Z series is impossible to beat. Canon and Epson have a strong competitor now, which is great for all of us. The gloss enhancer included with the Z3100 makes it possible to print outstanding gloss and satin prints with no bronzing or gloss differential to detract from the print. And, with an archival life of 200 years, our work will be around long after we're gone. With the frugal ink use, ability to print quadtone black and white, and very little ink waste due to cleaning, the Z3100 is an excellent option for anyone interested in printing on a variety of media types. The initial price tag may throw some off, but given the inclusion of a spectrophotometer, the price is very reasonable. Although I have Epson and Canon printers available as well, this has become my primary printer now, especially for work on photo papers where the gloss enhancer sets the Z3100 apart.

For more information, contact Hewlett-Packard Company, 3000 Hanover St., Palo Alto, CA 94304; (650) 857-1501; www.hp.com.