HP Designjet Z3200

New 12-ink large-format printer from HP improves on an already great product.

Dec 2, 2008
By Dan Havlik

HP Designjet Z3200

New HP Vivera inks improve both color and black-and-white printing with the Z3200.
Whenever I start a printer review these days I'm inevitably faced with the same question: Why do photographers need to print anyway? I'm not being facetious here. In the age of the digitized image of higher and higher resolutions; speedy transfer of work to clients via FTP; and beautiful wide-screen displays that can produce nearly the entire Adobe RGB color space, why do we still long for a hard copy?

Inkjet printer manufacturers have approached me on numerous occasions to try to pick my brain about how much I think photographers are printing these days and what they're doing with the output. After a bit of head-scratching, I usually say two things: a) I don't know exactly, but I would suspect somewhat infrequently; and b) They're either selling individual prints via their Web site, filling a portfolio and/or creating prints for a gallery show.

The real answer is, I think, somewhat more oblique. Photographers often make inkjet prints for no particular reason at all. Sometimes they print to fill the walls of their studios and sometimes they print to share their work with fellow photographers. Much of the time, however (and this is still a bit of a guess), photographers print just for the pure pleasure of it. Like the glory days of the darkroom, nothing beats holding and closely inspecting a freshly made print. (As a side note, I find the only way to truly judge a camera's capabilities when writing a review is to create prints of the images on a variety of papers.)

Contemplating the joy of inkjet printing and the reasons that it is still necessary arose again when I was looking at the new HP Designjet Z3200, a 12-ink pigment printer that, I'm happy to say, straddles both the work and "pure pleasure" spectrums. Available in both 44-inch and 24-inch models, (I looked at the 24-inch version), the Z3200 is not as revolutionary as its predecessor, the Z3100, which was the first large-format printer to include a built-in spectrophotometer for color calibration. The new Z3200 does offer enough significant tweaks including a great new color system; a 20-percent increase in speed; and a simplified overall workflow, which, if you're in the market for a large-format inkjet printer, you'll definitely want to consider—even if you're not sure how often you'll use it.

UNPACKING IT & LOADING IT UP

The more printer reviews I do the less time I need to spend on the set-up section of the story—and that's not just because I know the particular quirks of HP, Epson and Canon printers better; manufacturers have simply made the process easier. (Thank the stars!) Setting up the Z3200 was even easier than the Z3100, and that model was pretty darn simple to put together.

I tested the Z3200 with Jason Groupp (www.jasongphoto.com), a wedding photographer I often work with when reviewing studio equipment. We had the printer sent directly to his studio in Chelsea (a neighborhood in Manhattan) and it arrived in a huge blue plastic box with handles. (After seeing the box, I was glad I hadn't had it sent to my home office—the superintendent would have had a meltdown.)

There was a point to such a large box, however. It meant that the Z3200 arrived partially assembled and only needed to be slid out of the box and wheeled over to the appropriate spot. Even the hammock-like catch tray under the printer came already attached and only needed to be unfolded for use.

(As we went to press, HP explained that early test units of the Z3200 were shipped in the large plastic crates to make them easier to transport back and forth without damaging the printer. The Z3200 ships in standard cardboard boxes when it's sold to the public.)

Like its predecessor, the Z3200 is an elegantly designed printer, looking less like an oversized version of a desktop consumer model, and more like a standalone "professional" printing machine. In fact, had it not been for the model name badge and a few new stickers advertising the latest features on the Z3200, I would have had a hard time telling the difference between this printer and the previous version, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

IN THE RED

Inserting the 12 HP Vivera pigment inks into the Z3200 reveals the most obvious difference between the two generations of printers. Though the Z3200 has the same number of inks as its predecessor, it uses a new HP 73 Chromatic Red ink instead of the old standard red ink from before. HP's Chromatic Red ink is designed to expand the color gamut of the Z3200 to achieve 95 percent Pantone coverage.

But what initially struck Jason and I most about the new Red ink wasn't the "73 Chromatic" insignia on the cartridge; rather, it was how much smaller the actual cartridge was from the other 11 inks. And this isn't some kind of weird optical illusion where HP is able to fit more red ink into a smaller cartridge; it's literally a smaller cartridge, approximately half the size of the others. Querying HP about the smaller Chromatic Red cartridge size revealed one of the annoyances of large-format printer purchases; you get stuck with those infamous "starter inks."

Instead of coming with full-sized cartridges, most large-format printers ship with half-sized starter inks designed to give you just enough color to get you addicted to making prints and then force you to buy more after you quickly run out. Since we received an early test unit of the Z3200, the available "starter" version of Chromatic Red, which stood out (and soon ran out) was only 69 milliliters compared to the other 130-milliliter cartridges.

Make no mistake, if you spend $3,400-plus to buy the 24-inch Z3200, you will get stuck with the smaller, starter inks. Once you run those dry, you'll have to pay the $87.15 manufacturer's suggested retail price (street price is usually lower) for each Vivera replacement ink which is a considerable built-in cost. It should be noted, however, that you can save a bit by buying Vivera twin packs for $138.60 (MSRP).

Having said that, we did notice that the new Chromatic Red ink provided significantly richer color saturation, particularly, in the red channel with skintones looking healthier and more life-like than with previous HP printers. Though I've generally liked the color produced by HP printers in the past, I've found some prints to be a bit neutral for my taste. The Chromatic Red certainly blows the doors off that perception, producing vibrant color that even on some rare occasions appeared too saturated. In particular, a print Jason made of models he photographed under bright sun in front of a red background produced results that were slightly ruddy though not entirely unpleasant.






The latest addition to the PDN family, the PDN Gear Guide in print, has a total circulation of 30,000, and covers the latest and greatest in photographic equipment. Initially created in 2006 to be the official guide to PDN's annual flagship photography event, PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo, the PDN Gear Guide is now also available online for gear news and updates 365 days a year.
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