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Giclee Printers

If you decided to buy your own giclee printer and read my page Do it yourself?, the next step would be to select the right machine. At this point, the only printers capable of producing giclees are made by Epson, Colorspan, Roland and Ixia. Before I continue, let me say that Canon and HP are hard at work and we should be expecting some great products

Ixia: This is the old Iris that was renamed and re branded by Ixia. Technical improvements were made but it is essentially the same old technology. Should you look at one? Possibly, but deep pockets and a lot of tolerance for extensive cleaning are needed. Frankly, I would never buy one. I worked with the Iris 3047 for 2 years and I do not wish my worst enemy to own one.

Roland: Pros are low operating costs (you can buy inks cheaply), good gamut and very large format capabilities. Cons are high printer costs, frequent banding (although some companies report none) and pretty high service contracts.

Colorspan: Low operating costs, good quality. Definitely giclee level capabilities. Cons are initial printer costs and service contracts.

Epson: Initial printer costs are low. Epson makes money on inks and materials, not the machines. Good quality, getting even better with the X800 line. The X800 line features pressurized inkjets and the new K3 pigmented ink formulation.The piezo heads employed are first grade for fine dot and quality rendition. While other companies are going with thermal heads, so far Epson is counting on the superior design of piezo. Cons for Epson are high ink costs. At this time the latest X900 line is out with the Epson 7900 and 9900. These latest printers are capable of hosting larger cartridges and the cutter can now handle fine art thick papers such as watercolor and canvas.

An update regarding Canon and HP new products. These are preliminary observations and subject to change:

Canon: The ipf9000, a 60" wide printer is promising great speed and quality. It incorporates 12 inks that will in theory increase color gamut opposed to printers will fewer inks. This all remains to be seen. Many factors contribute to color gamut: the quality of the print driver, electronics, nozzles are just a few elements that can dampen an otherwise imprressive 12 ink system. Canon is using a fine dot nozzle technology called FINE, which promises subtle gradations and great speed. Finally, both photo and matte black inks are incorporated to create the widest compatibilty with matte and glossy papers. Read more about the Canon IPF9000.

HP: Hewlett Packard has come out with a new printer series also incorporating the 12 ink set as well as thermal heads. The widest machine is the Z3100, 44" wide. The most notable new feature is an incorporated spectrofotometer which can profile any paper. A very interesting concept which takes paper and ink profiling to an easier and possibly more accurate level.

Conclusion

Whichever of the above brands you choose, you will be pleased with the results. Each manufacturer has strengths and weaknesses. Personally the only machine I would be hard pressed to recommend is the Iris/Ixia. Why? Because it is an inkjet printer featuring 20 year old technology which is basically prehistoric compared to the competition. Some say the print quality is still superior. These folks have not probably seen the latest offerings from Epson or Colorspan, HP or Canon.

Please do not be fooled with "more is better". More inks do not necessarily mean better color. More resolution does not mean better details. The way the print engines use the inks, the chemical properties of the inks, how the nozzles lay the inks and many other factors affect print quality. Iris is a 4 ink, 300 DPI printer that for many years has been superior to higher resolution 6 to 7 ink printers.

Finally, if you decide to outsource your giclee printing, ask what printers the company is using. Some printers that were pro grade and the best of the best just a few years ago, are now obsolete compared to recent releases. For example, while the Epson 9600 and 9800 are great machine, the old Epson 10000 and 9000 just don't cut it any more.