A Sign of Things to Come: New Printer Means Further Automation in Color Management: A Brand New Printer Is Here

ItÕs been a long time since HP had a brand new printer aimed at the proofing market. The HP Designjet Z3100 series of printers is finally here, and it shows promise . Although this printer may fail to knock Epson and their dominant Ultrachrome K3 inks from the top position in our market when used for quality proofing and color matching, this new HP printer has some important new features that make it special when compared any printer out there. This printer, and the changes in software that are being made to accommodate it are revolutionary. It is a sign of things to come in the near future.

The HP Designjet Z3100 series printers are special because they contain a built inX-Rite/GretagMacbeth i1 spectrophotometer.  The i1 is the worldÕs most popular spectrophotometer, with over 130,000 of them sold. Why is an internal spectrophotometer such a big deal? This internal spectrophotometer can be used for automatic functions such as closed loop calibration, relinearizing, and or even profiling papers. If you look at the future of proofing, the inkjet proofer of the future may very well look like the HP Z series printer.

Already, popular rip software such as EFI Colorproof  XF, GMG Colorproof, and CGS Oris ColorTuner are releasing versions of their software that use this printer for closed loop calibration. The sheets are simply read directly on the printer by the printer with no need for trimming, hand reading or feeding into a spectro. In the case of GMG Colorproof the internal spectrophotometer can be used to recalibrate and tune any existing GMG paper to itÕs original spec. With EFI Colorproof XF the features are even more impressive. Using EFI Colorproof XFÕs driver the user needs to just load a paper and select a Ôprofile paperÕ button and the software will take of all of it; reading patches, building a profile, and optimizing a match with final results of less than 1 deltaE. CGS is also creating a closed loop system for their ColorTuner RIP. Simply put, an operation that used to require a consultant and expensive spectrophotometers is being automated to the point where it will truly be a push button. This is where the future of color management is headed and with the HP Designjet Z3100 series of printers you can be here today.

From the paragraph above you may conclude that the HP Designjet Z  Series printers can do a lot. Are there things that they cannot do? One thing they cannot do is read a reference target (such as a press sheet) and in turn create an input profile for simulation. This simulation profile still has to be read in with a regular spectrophotometer and created with external profiling software. There are other limitations with the HP as well. Like some of the printers before it, the HP is still using thermal technology, which means that the print heads can change, degrade, ghost and have some problems with color shifting as they dry. (Of course being able to recalibrate in-line can help keep the printer linear, and more that one person has asked if the reason hp inserted the spectrophotometer was because print variation. Even if frequent recalibration was required this printer should be able to maintain itself without user intervention.)

Another potential use for the The HP Designjet Z3100 series printer is as a remote proofer. Because the printer can read and recalibrate automatically without needing a user on the other end to cut and read or mail the patches, it would be a perfect printer for use in a remote location. The printer can be completely controlled and driven remotely, including reprofiling and calibration. Right now there is not other printer out there that can perform this type of task as effortlessly. Even in an in-house situation where the printer may be recalibrated manually by an operator the printer could have tremendous advantages. Imagine a high volume Epson user and their quality control needs. In a high volume, high quality environment they may validate 15 Epson inkjet proofers by hand every day. How much time would it take in the current scenario to perform these checks and calibrations? (The answer is a full day, each day). With the The HP Designjet Z3100 series printer the user can let the printer do the calibration itself and focus on printing itself rather than worrying about print accuracy.

The HP Designjet Z3100 series printers have much to offer. The stand and paper bin are designed in a way that anyone who has ever used (and touched or accidentally kicked) an Epson paper bin will appreciate. It folds out easily and elegantly folds back out of the way when needed. In terms of print, the printer itself can feature a wide range of inks to provide an expanded gamut. Inks include the following cartridges; Light cyan, light magenta, light gray, photo black, gray, gloss enhancer, magenta, yellow, matte black, red, green, blue. Note that this printer can hold both matte and gloss black inks so that you do not have to perform an ink changeover when you change to a job requiring the alterative black cartridge. The printer contains an Adobe Photoshop plug in to be used for printing directly from Photoshop. The inks are rated for up to 200 years stability when printed on the appropriate HP media, and the specifications show less ink stability issues than previous printers such as the hp 5500 have exhibited in the past (The HP Designjet Z3100 series claims to stabilize to within 1 deltaE within 5 minutes . HP also claims to have reduced metamerism and offers itsÕ own profiling software, aimed primarily at photographers and other creatives who need good, fast, consistent wide-gamut prints. For prepress users The printer covers over 80% of PANTONE¨colors(2 and completely encompasses the SWOP, ISO, GRACOL, EUROSCALE, TOYO, FOGRA, and 3DAP gamuts. The printer comes in both 24Ó and 44Ó sizes, and runs at either 600 or 2400 x 1200 dpi.

Whether you ever purchase a HP Designjet Z3100 printer or not, one thing is clear – at some point we will probably all be purchasing printers like it. The enhanced quality control, speed, and ability to remove some of the pain of color management from our lives will make this innovation first seen on this printer a part of the automation cycle that continues to make printing more automated and predictable.

About the author: Ron Ellis is a consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He worked in the commercial printing industry for 18 years and brings a strong background to all aspects of prepress. He has consulted on numerous CTP installations and he provides color management, integration, training, workflow development, and troubleshooting solutions to the graphic arts community. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.