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Unlike most inkjet printers, HP’s Designjet 10ps is produced specifically for graphic designers. It’s the entry point in a range that also includes the Designjet 20ps and (from January 2002) 50ps. Compared to other inkjets, the Designjet 10ps might seem a little steep at £708. However, the Designjet is not your average inkjet. It’s a genuine colour-proofing device, along the lines of the Epson Color Proofer (£3,495), but a lot cheaper.
It can do most of what the Epson can do, but there’s a big difference. Unlike the Epson, the Designjet doesn’t have a hardware RIP (Raster Image Processor). This means that print speeds are slower with the Designjet, at least with the entry-level Designjet 10.
Most graphics and page-layout applications use Adobe’s PostScript technology, a more memory-efficient way to describe graphics than standard bitmap images. Inkjet printers print bitmap images, so a PostScript translation needs to be made. Laser printers use internal PostScript RIPs, and the Epson Color Proofer uses an external Fiery RIP. The HP Designjet 10ps uses your Mac to do this image processing, which means PostScript printing, but slower performance. While printing, you may as well go and make a cup of tea while your Mac is busy RIPing images.
Apart from the cheaper (the Fiery on its own costs £1,295) but slower RIP solution, the Designjet is impressive. It has A3+ paper capability, so you can print a double-page spread with full bleed, registration and crop marks.
The point of a proofer is to achieve accurate colour, and the Designjet has a few tricks up its sleeve for colour consistency and accuracy. It has a six-ink system using dye-based inks. This enables it to print 90 per cent of Pantone spot colours. It can also emulate different printing presses, such as EuroScale, SWOP, DIC and TOYO. There is also support for ICC profiles and ColorSync colour management.
HP has made a point of saying how fast this printer is, and, under the right circumstances, it is. However, the fact that your own machine is acting as the RIP means that its speed is determined by the performance of your Mac. Even a fast machine (such as my 466MHz Power Mac G4) took over ten minutes to process a single page. Once the processing is finished, the actual printing is pretty quick. This is due to a half-inch print swath that can cover more paper in a single pass than the smaller consumer models.
Image quality is excellent. The same quality can be achieved with some consumer inkjets, but the crucial difference is that this printer prints genuine PostScript images with highly accurate colour reproduction.
The average inkjet can’t do that, and that’s the reason that graphic designers usually have to shell-out cash for expensive Cromalins. The Designjet also has a duplex (double-sided printing) unit attached for accurate booklet proofing.
If you are using Mac OS X, you’ll have to wait until early next year for native drivers for the Designjet. Until then, you need Mac OS 8.5.1 or better, or you’ll have to print from X’s Classic mode.
The Designjet 10ps is ideal as a personal printer for a single designer. The cost per Cromalin-quality print works out so much cheaper than constantly coughing-up for expensive cromalins. The unit price is certainly amazing and the quality impressive – but the speed many designers yearn for simply isn’t there.
The £1,236 Designjet 20ps offers networking for workgroups (plus a second 250-sheet paper tray), but still requires a dedicated Mac to act as a RIP.
You could use any USB Mac – for instance, an iMac of any age – to power the RIP, but remember that the faster the Mac, the speedier the RIP. The 50ps features an even more sophisticated RIP made by Heidelberg. For more information on the 20ps and 50ps Designjets, see News, Macworld, October 2001.
What this printer needs is a hardware RIP, but that would boost the price to something closer to the Epson Color Proofer. You’ll save yourself £3,000 by buying this instead of the Epson proofer and RIP, but the Designjet 10ps isn’t a good choice for anybody in a hurry who doesn’t have a speedy Mac to spare.