DesignJet 30n; DesignJet 130; Canon i9950

Introduction

Three new colour printers – two from HP and another from Canon – stand out from the current crowd of large-format inkjets for their high resolutions, first-class performance and colour accuracy. They can produce prepress proofs, even contract proofs, within a tightly controlled colour-managed loop, and still offer the kind of everyday versatility required for general tasks in a design studio or graphics department.

An updated version of the DesignJet 20, HP’s DesignJet 30n can print to cut media up to 13-x-19 inches (A3+) in size. You could use it for proofing full-bleed A3 pages or A4 spreads complete with crop marks and slugs intact. Similar in case style to the 20 series, the DesignJet 30 is quite large, with an overall footprint of 724mm wide by 442mm deep – although at just 12.5kg in weight it shouldn’t pose you with any siting problems. The input tray sticks out at the front with the output tray immediately above. A large LCD window on the left indicates ink levels and printhead status, but unfortunately gives no job information.

Print quality from the 1,200dpi printheads is excellent. These printheads are kept separate from the ink cartridges, which are slotted, into a fixed bay under to the right of the print carriage. The DesignJet 30 employs a six-ink system: CMYK plus light-cyan and light-magenta, each loaded individually. The inks are dye-based but rated at 70 years for light-fastness under glass. We profiled and tested the printer on plain paper as well as HP’s own glossy and matte media, achieving accurate results every time. Unlike the DesignJet 20ps, the DesignJet 30 doesn’t come with a built-in PostScript RIP. However, it is supported by the latest version of EFI’s Designer Edition software RIP.

The DesignJet 30n as reviewed includes a combined mini print server and 10/100 Ethernet port in addition to USB and parallel connections. A non-network version is available for just £535 including VAT, which is quite a saving if you already have a print server on your network.

A real wideboy
If you were to stretch the DesignJet 30 to double its carriage width, you would end up with the DesignJet 130, the incremental successor to the 120 series. The DesignJet 130 can feed cut sheets up to A2+ in size but the input tray has been built in such a way as to shrink telescopically when loading smaller paper sizes. Similarly, the output tray has actually been divided into two half-width side-by-side trays, so you can push one of them back into the unit when printing to smaller sheets. It’s a reminder that the DesignJet 130 is surprisingly versatile for a large-format printer: it can handle envelopes and 6-x-4-inch photo cards as adeptly as it can full-size A2+ proofing media.

On that note, the DesignJet 130 can be upgraded with a roll-feed unit that attaches to the rear, letting you print across the full width of the carriage – that’s 625mm (A1+). This is astonishing for a device costing just a little over £1,000, not least because there is no need for it to be mounted on a floor stand. Just put it on any spare table in the office; it weighs just 22kg.

It’s speedy proofer, churning out standard 13-x-19-inch high resolution proofs in around five to nine minutes. It’s also quiet: after the usual clicking and whirring that precedes every print job on any inkjet, the DesignJet 130 completes the job with soft swishing sounds that your studio colleagues will barely notice. We tested the plain USB model, but a network version is available for around £1,600 including VAT.

Rounding off our group test is the Canon i9950. This A3+ printer demonstrates just how far Canon has advanced since the late 1990s when its inkjets were – let’s be charitable – decidedly average. Unlike the styling of proofer products from HP and Epson, the i9950 looks like an overgrown standard desktop inkjet with paper being fed from a lean-back tray on top and printed sheets emerging onto an extendable output tray raised above the desktop at the front. Both trays can be folded up flush with the unit when the printer isn’t in use.

Unique in the market so far, it employs eight ink colours – CMYK plus light-cyan, light-magneta, red and green – each installed individually above the printheads. Canon calls these ChromaPLUS inks, and they expand the printable colour gamut beyond even six-ink photo printers. This may be self-defeating if you’re trying to proof pages for process printing, but it presents interesting possibilities for proofing certain special colours; spot reds and greens spring to mind among the more popular Pantone choices.

Performance is fine: not exactly a speed demon but more than acceptable for high-resolution proofing. Print quality is excellent thanks to its 4,800-x-2,400dpi print capability and 2pl droplets. No PostScript drivers are provided with the product, and unfortunately it isn’t yet supported by third-party software RIPs. Hopefully this will come once the market identifies the i9950 as a potential proofer and not just another big inkjet. That said, you can use it as an office inkjet too, and it even comes with a special tray for loading CD media so that you can print directly onto the label area.

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