Features and highlights of the 44-in. Z3100.
I was stunned at the quality of images that came out using the "Fast" media setting in the HP driver. This mode (the fastest offered under the "Custom" Quality Options) may produce slightly lower density or less detail in certain areas, but it is worth testing for some applications that don’t require the highest quality because the speed increase is significant over other modes.
To give a real-world example, a 30 x 36-in. print took about 9 minutes to print in Fast mode and about 13 minutes using Fast mode with "Maximum Detail" checked. One negative with the Fast setting is that the Gloss Enhancer option cannot be used. The Normal mode with Max Detail off, however, took just 12 minutes to print the same 30 x 36-in. print, and Normal mode does allow for Gloss Enhancer to be enabled. In comparison, the same print took about 20 minutes to print in the Best mode with "Maximum Detail" off, and about 30 minutes with "Maximum Detail" on.
Also of note:
* Prints that last: Photographers, artists, and those who produce outdoor graphics require prints that will not fade or change color quickly. Of course, everyone defines "quickly" a little differently. The 8-color set of Vivera pigment inks used in the HP Designjet Z2100 (similar to the Designjet Z3100’s inkset) have been rated in combination with a variety of media to have an expected display life of more than 200 years behind glass before noticeable fading.
* RIPs o’plenty: Many RIP manufacturers are producing RIPs for the Designjet Z3100 to help clients better handle image nesting, CMYK workflows, and other issues. As of this writing, many RIPs were still in development.
* Cleaning: I have not had to do even one cleaning cycle since installing the printer over a month ago. That’s due primarily to a procedure that the printer performs on a timed basis or at other intervals. According to HP, the tests use only a negligible amount of ink, and to optimize its effectiveness, it is important to leave the printer on at all times.
Two wish-list items I have for the printer: I would like to be able to load cut media from the front of the machine by lining it up with the blue lines from the very beginning of the process. This would save time by reducing the percentage of "paper skew" errors and would avoid the need to feed paper from the back when you have heavy sheets. Second, I’d like to customize the printer’s internal beep much like a customized ringtone (the current beep is used to signal when a paper needs to be selected, or if there is an error).
I would recommend the HP Designjet Z3100 printer to anyone who wants a well-built large-format inkjet printer with excellent ink longevity, a great black-and-white printing engine, and an elegant, simple, yet powerful built-in calibration and profiling system.
Price: $4095 (24 in.) and $6295 (44 in.).
Andrew Darlow is a photographer and digital imaging consultant based in the New York City area. He is editor of The Imaging Buffet (http://www.imagingbuffet.com an online magazine and podcast with news, reviews, and interviews on the subjects of digital photography, printing, and imaging. His new book, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques (published by Thomson/Course Technology), covers a wide range of printing topics.