what do you do if you relocation works fine but your beloved excellent printer obviously dies upon homesickness?
YES - you cry a tear, have a telco with your bank accountant, an intense discussion with your spouse, a consultancy with your interior designer and finally you'll have to do a gene test to proof that you're not likely to copy banknotes.
I will break down my experiences in small steps so you can get your own impression since sharing printing results is impossible without having the optical and haptic access to the prints.
My personal starting point
I've ordered a copy of the HP DesignJet Z3200 Photo 24 inch and I would like to share my initial impressions with you since this could be (or not) the ultimate bargain Fine Art printing machine on the market today. Things change and every now and then new contenders enter the stage for fine art printing. Many might be limited to DINA A3+ since this seem to be the least affordable size for many of us. After a deeper look into the running costs and cost vs. printing quality it might look different though.
Throughout my xmas vacation I was reading tests, user reports, technical descriptions and threads in forums to understand what would suit best my needs. Knowing that coming from a 24 inch wide printer (HP DesignJet 130 NR) a step down to 17 inches would be a very harsh loss in flexibility. Furthermore the printing technology is quite different and there are many EPSON fanboys around that simply repeat their unchallenged praising of their consumer grade printers.
My short list after two days of evaluation contained (in alphabetical order):
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6100
Epson Stylus Pro 7900
HP DesignJet Z3200 Photo 24
My final decision was based on availability, color gamut, printing features and calibration possibilities. The last (not unimportant) point lead to the decision to choose the Z3200 over the others (small sidemark - a very nice Canon product manager promised me to send printing samples from the iPF 6100 early Dezember nothing till today arrived).
The Z3220 was initiated round Photokina 2008 (which I visited). And I was impressed by the evolution of the DesignJet series. Now these printers also have a good look from the outside and having a 1,3 by 1,1 x 0,7 m monster standing in your home office is a huge commitment to printing technology.
Cost and delivery
Well - it could not be easier - ordered the Z3200 with 0 % for 6 month credit via internet including carrying service to my new flat (19th century building 3rd floor without elevator) and received the printer 6th of January. 0 % credit and 6 month downpayment are very welcome plus HP obviously had a 30 % rebate in December in Germany plus the price was very attractive. Excluding tax cash back and rebate I come down to 1 k EUR real cash out for this monster - not bad at all after almost five years of using the previous model.
The mechanical installation was done by the forwarding company and so I was able to start directly with the final installation.
Installation and 1st impressions
Well - it could not be easier -- after having owned dozens of printers over the years of computer usage it is no miracle at all anymore. Start engines (am - printer) and follow the instructions on the LCD screen in the middle of the printer. 12 x 69 ml cartridges in (normally you can only order 130 ml ones) and start fill system with ink. Placement of 6 x print heads and further 15 minutes and the printer completed it's initiation process all by himself.
No moment of panic nor any malfunction as one would expect. Even a roll of 24 inch photographic paper came with it to help the unorganized ones to have something to print on. As I have had a large format fine art machine before it was no problem to just get a roll of cheap bond paper to run the first print head alignment on cheap disposal.
Further 5 minutes later the printer was ready for start. In total some 60 minutes for installing very carefully 12 ink cartridges, 6 print heads and a roll of 90 g/mÂ² paper. Much easier compare to my DJ 130 NR.
Ink consumption is a bit on the high side for filling the pipes and nozzles. Some 15 to 20 ml of precious pigment ink flow into the system -goose bumps on my skin thinking about the cost for that.
Software was properly supplied by Apple (you don't have to install the software on your own anymore - Apple does it for you. Printing was immediately possible. No installation CD needed and all necessary ICC profiles installed as well as all components ready to go.
Well - what should I say - the best initial print of my lifetime on any printer I ever owned, saw or borrowed. Right out of the box tack accurate in colors and perfectly matching the screen in LightRoom (dependent on the possible saturation on the paper - 90 g/mÂ² bond paper can't print the same saturation as high gloss photo paper). Maybe it is due to the fact that I was experiencing lots of pane with the DJ 130 NR or simply because I got older and less hectic.
Nevertheless the Z3200 performed excellent. I printed an interior shot 42 MPixel on 24 x 36 inches (600x900 mm) and was stunned by the fine tone gradation and color accuracy I never experienced without having done at least two or three test prints in advance.
A second print proofed that even monochromatic b&w prints turn out to be very dynamic and really usable also on very cheap paper (15 EUR a 45 m roll)
driving the Z3200 through its paces
My 3rd paper was my favorite paper (foil) HP thick polyester film 230 g/mÂ² with extremely high Dmx round 2.4 on my former dye printer. I did not measure the Dmax with the pigmented inks on the Z3200 but from the first looks it seems like it is at least on the same level. Knowing that dye printers always had a reputation for better printing quality with far less inks I am really surprised that this pigmented formulation sees to beat my dye printer in every respect. the results are simply stunning. Fine tones are rendered the same way as hard contrasts are reproduced. The images have almost a three dimensional look printed on the polyester foil.
Then I loaded 210 g/mÂ² heavy plus paper from HP and was also surprised. 1st of all the 130 mm diameter roll fitted perfectly in to the feeder as well as the printing quality was absolutely convincing on rag paper.
Next steps will be Canson Baryth paper and canvas (I have still a remaining few meters for test purposes from an old project) and of corse the photo papers with glossy surface.
All in all I am positive surprised and eager to load further papers to see how they perform.
Summary / Conclusion
My first impression is - this is a very well designed Fine Art large format printer with few flaws. The easiest setup I ever did even though it looks like such a monster is hard in it's setup. The 12 pigmented inks work just fine on different media I've tested. Color reproduction is fine and sharpness plus micro contrast within the images are as good as it get's today on a modern printer.
Black and white printing is simply a joy!! Equally to the quality I got from the traditional darkroom years ago when I was doing the messy job of baryth images with wetting, drying and flattening of the pictures. Not to mention dust and defects that could not be fixed easy.
Having owned a large format Fine Art printer before it is a huge step forward in technology - we've come a long way with printing and I would say that b&w is better then ever before - color is on the ame level or even exceedng traditional Cabachrome prints.
Stating Giclee print quality can be reached is not only a marketing gag but a real thing.
Would I recommend this printer
YES - if you're searching for men's size printer (just kidding) then you should seriously considering this printer. Given it's relatively low price + good printing results and supposed long term stability of prints (confirmed by Wilhelm research) on a huge selection of papers it is a no brainer to have also a look at this printer.
In terms of test procedure I'll have to check the calibration feature for ICC profiles as well as some further media. SInce i have a lot of real work to do I will be in a position to post my results hopefully early February for this part. But so far I can state it is an excellent printer for the money - from what i've seen at least on par with the other contenders in this market segment and maybe a bit better with the built in photo spectrometer + the gloss enhancer none of the others can provide.
So I will keep you posted with my findings - do not hesitate to ask questions if you're in your decision phase or you're simply curious about printing large Fine Art Giclee pritns.
Feedback is very welcome