Arizona Gretag printer
on Digital Imaging Hardware, Software, Media, and Inks
Reports prepared by
Nicholas Hellmuth, Director, FLAAR Digital Imaging Technology Center.
Reports are distributed by the Francisco Marroquín University.
There is no charge for any of these reports.
January 2001
Must be a boom in the wide format sign-making business since I get quite a lot of inquiries for help
figuring out what printer to buy.
Electrostatic technology has been overwhelmed by all the development funding pouring into inkjet technology. Phoenix went bankrupt (don’t buy any
used electrostatic printer; even Xerox is allegedly abandoning their own
electrostatic printers).
Electrostatic printer
One of the few electrostatic systems that have survived is the Digital
ColorStation 5442 of RasterGraphics. Electrostatic printers can also produce dye sublimation output for subsequent heat transfer to other materials. If you are interested in dye sub, ask for the “FLAAR report on dye
sublimation equipment and supplies.”
This particular model of RasterGraphics is sold with KV color toner to overcome the some of the
limitations of 4 color e-stat machines. The images on display at SGIA trade show were better than
the output from a 300 dpi Encad, less grainy for example. This e-stat machine can reproduce
Coca-Cola red, something that is tough for a Roland to match with its limited gamut pigmented
inkjet inks. $79,000 is approximate price. Don’t expect miracles, but if you need outdoor longevity, speed, low cost of the media, then at least check out this electrostatic system. With Roland, be
sure to do your demo test print with lots of reds and with pigmented inks. If you need to do
wallpaper, for example, then you may find an electrostatic system is one to look at. If you wish to
get a full description of how an electrostatic printer can generate a profit for your sign business,
might as well contact the top man in electrostatic printing worldwide,,
fax (973) 575-9626. Romit Bhattacharya is the force behind electrostatic printing in general and
Specialty Toner Corporation in particular.
Solvent based ink systems are made by Mutoh (one of their
models; I believe it’s the Mutoh Albatross, now relabeled
as the Mutoh Tomahawk). Solvent ink systems are expensive but may have other advantages that you need for your
particular line of work. Vutek, Scitex, Signtech Salsa (now
part of Nur), Nur, etc. cost about $180,000, and up to
$500,000. Vutek now makes several entry-level printers,
perhaps some are more in the $50K to $80K range. Contact Alan Barrett,; you can list us as a
reference. Vutek are currently the most popular printers of their
kind in the world. Robust, relatively fast, excellent service.
Mutoh Albatross
An entry level solvent based wide format inkjet does 62” widths. This is the Gerber Orion, evidently a reincarnation of the former (ANAgraph) Arizona 30, also known as the ANA SpectrumJet.
It uses solvent-based inks from 3M, six colors. As typical of printers for outdoor signage the dpi is
low, here 360 dpi. This machine uses Xaar heads, though the machine is so slow that I at first
presumed it might be Epson heads. The advantages are printing on uncoated media (which means
media costs much less) and solvent inks are more weather resistant. This means the signs survive
outdoors 2 or 3 years with no lamination (the sales rep admitted this was the tentative rating).
Downside is the slow speed, unimpressive image and lots of banding. However if you absolutely
require solvent inks, and can’t afford the Gretag Arizona, then the roughly $40,000 Gerber Orion
may be your only option, unless you select a ColorSpan, Encad or Hewlett-Packard plus a laminator.
If you are doing trade show graphics that need to be viewed close-up, or backlit (for bus shelters,
for example) you really need a higher dpi. Most importantly, you want a printer where the banding
is not as obvious. Besides, most trade show graphics are indoors or only need to hold up for a
week outside. You can get rain-proof media for the HP and I would presume also for the Encad and
ColorSpan, which offers a 72” width. Bus shelter backlit installations are usually protected from
direct rain, so again, hardly needs a solvent ink print.
For outside signage, however, the market for solvent based ink systems is growing, so companies
such as Gretag are expanding into it. The new Arizona 1100-3 prints 111 inches wide (2.82 m,
over 9 feet wide), at 360 dpi, which is respectable for a billboard. Uses piezo heads. I did not check
to see whether they were Epson or Xaar.
Arizona printer
My notes from The Big Picture Show for the RasterGraphics
Arizona printer are as follows: 300 dpi (typical for Xaar
heads and solvent inks) is claimed to be “apparent 600
dpi.” My notes say the quality was “very very nice.” (Gretag)
RasterGraphics Arizona output looked good at SGIA trade
show as well. As readers notice quickly, FLAAR is very picky
about visual appeal of images. The advantage of the Arizona is that you get up to 3 years outdoor durability, with
no lamination, when using the 3M inks on 3M materials. All
solvent ink printers can work on untreated media, which
costs substantially less than inkjet media which has to be
coated to receive the water-based dye or water-based pig
mented inks used by Epson, HP, Encad et al.
If you wish a separate report just on the Arizona, just ask for the “Arizona user report”. In general
we hear nice things about this printer, the kind of quality you would expect from a company as well
known as RasterGraphics.
If you are considering a solvent-based printer, be sure you recognize the maintenance requirements, whether a trained technician is required, and how much cleaning is needed each day
before you start. You need to calculate such down time into your budget. Some solvent ink printers require this tender loving cleaning, as does the ColorSpan (thermal printheads, regular inkjet
inks, not solvent inks). ColorSpan, however, is faster than many solvent based ink printers and is
museum-exhibit quality, something not yet achieved by any Xaar printhead or any solvent or oilbased ink system.
Oil-based inks are another technology that we are gathering information on. Oil-based inks are
not very popular. I don’t myself know the chemical trade offs in terms of noxious fumes though
solvent inks are rather rough on humans as well. Seiko makes one of the few oil-based wide
format printers, the IP-4500 and 4010 models. These are 720 dpi, six colors, and Xaar piezo
heads. Although the brochure screams out “highest speed in the world in class” it did not seem all
that fast in real life. But maybe they were comparing it to their sister printer from the other Seiko
company, Epson, which is the slowest large format printer on the planet. The brochure also touts
“super high image quality.” That is nonsense. The image quality from six feet away is okay, but up
close its “super low quality.” Indeed the Seiko, the XES Xerox Xpress, and the Fuji Hunt (Brady)
printer consistently win the FLAAR award at every trade show for “worst output of a wide format
printer.” The Seiko output is, however, not grainy like the Fuji or Xerox, its just featureless. You
just don’t get the crisp detail. It is interesting that both the Xerox and the Seiko use Xaar piezo
All that said and done, if you need an oil-based print, then you may need a Seiko printer. It at least
does not cost as much as the overpriced Xerox Xpress and is a newer technology. Besides, most
signs are viewed at a distance. Just be sure your signs are high up and not accessible to close
viewing distance. And be sure your competition does not use a ColorSpan or Hewlett-Packard.
Even an Encad produces better photographic quality.
Many of the vinyl cutters are also in a chart on that same home page,;. We can only list them since it will be a while before we have an opportunity to test
each one. The focus of the FLAAR network is on printers using inkjet for color printing.
We now include fresh information on wide format printers we inspected during three intensive
days at Seybold San Francisco trade show and then Photokina trade show.
In the world of wide format Xerox has been dead in the water for the last several years. Their XES
oil-based inkjet is the most overpriced yet of the lowest quality. They charge $7000 for their
hardware RIP, the identical hardware RIP that everyone else tries to charge $4500 for (yet many
companies can’t sell even at that price since all the better software RIPs cost only $3000 and offer
more options). The Xerox Xpress printer I saw at Seybold had the worst quality of any printer at
the show, yet was one of the more costly models. They use MIT XAAR piezo heads, the lowest dpi
on the market. Even a 4-year old Encad printer (long obsolete) can produce better quality at its
300 dpi than the newest most expensive Xerox large format printer. Although oil-based ink may
possibly be needed for certain special applications, but uugh, what grainy dot structure. We continue to receive e-mails from people who own the Xerox Xpress who indicate they wish to get rid
of them and get something better. We are thus trying to figure out why they are so unpopular
since every printer does something well, and no matter how many faults a particular printer has,
lots of people will like them nonetheless (usually because they do not know or have experience
with the printers that are much better).
If the machine you are considering uses an Epson piezo head (such as the Mutoh,
Mimaki, Roland HiFi, and hence I am guessing possibly their CammJet) then it is
slow, very slow. Furthermore you can’t always use output at the claimed faster
speeds. To print faster a piezo head sort of skips spaces to leap across the paper;
to print photo quality the piezo head takes up to an hour to do a .91 x 1.5 meter
poster and several hours to do a 2 m banner. Thus obviously don’t try an Epson
for signage outside, the prints start fading in a day or so in the sun. This is why
the sophisticated outdoor printers have to use solvent-based inks. Very smelly
inks, however.
Mutoh Albatross
The Epson 7500 and 9500 are at last somewhat better; the inks are new and they have only
recently achieved an acceptable color gamut. As for using an Epson 9000, these printers are not
really made for serious production work and definitely not for any outside signs. An Epson is made
for doing occasional proofing.
With an Epson 9000 or 9500 printers, allow 30 to 50 minutes to do a single 44” print (piezo
printheads are a tad slow), then calculate RIP time (which can vary from slow to less slow unless
you use PosterJet). If you set the printer to run faster, the quality suffers because the printer has
to skip spaces to squirt across the page in an attempt to finish in less time. A print at 360 dpi with
some Epson print heads may look blotchy; actually an Encad print at 300 dpi may look better.
These are facts that the ads and PR releases don’t really properly inform you about. One asset of
Epson printers, however, is that it can handle thick media that won’t fit through most other
So if you need to produce 20 copies of a sign or poster, the Epson is not fast enough. If you
attempt to make it less slow, the quality drops appreciably. Might as well use a printer with a
thermal printhead system that is fast and high quality at the same time, such as Encad or HP.
The Roland uses the same Epson piezo heads. I presume the Mimaki does also. Thus if you get a
job to print 200 copies of a poster, you can’t use their 1440 dpi; too slow (you can only produce
about 10 posters a day; if you run it overnight maybe 30 a day. So it will take you an entire week
to produce 200 posters. What happens if someone wants 1000 of the same poster? Then you need
to buy three or four Rolands (which many people do). Of course you can avoid the glacial speeds
of a piezo electric head by using the considerably faster thermal heads, such as on ColorSpan, HP,
or Encad. With the HP you get 1200 dpi quality plus reasonable speed for production. People in
sign shops who for whatever reason bought a Roland generally say that they need a ColorSpan to
actually handle their production, “the Roland is just too slow…”
At DRUPA trade show last month one of my images was printed at fast mode with Epson heads (on
a Mimaki) and the ink pattern was so pathetic that I wanted to throw it away. The slick ads don’t
explain that 360 dpi means the printer skips much coverage to move a bit faster. Mutoh, Mimaki,
Roland, all use Epson piezo heads.
The other glitch is banding, a blemish caused by lack of cleaning the print heads and common in
the so-called fast production speed modes on many printers. To avoid banding you may have to
set your printer at 1440 dpi mode or at least on 720 dpi. That of course is the slowest possible
print mode. What happens if you need the speed, but the speed causes banding? Then you should
consider a printer with thermal printheads such as ColorSpan, HP, or Encad. Of course if you prefer
the 1440 quality, then the banding goes away at the slow settings which are necessary to accomplish the higher dpi. Trouble is that the banding may appear again, even at any dpi, once your
piezo heads get dirt or grunge on them. Since I am a photographer, I would want all my prints at
1440 quality. I have plenty of other tasks to do while the printer spends its 50 minutes on a single
print. Except, what if you have only a single computer, and if your RIP is on this same computer!
Whoa, your computer, if a Mac (as are all mine) can’t multi-task, so while the RIPing is going on,
you can’t use your computer for anything else. Most people escape this by composing on a Mac yet
sending the file to a Windows NT workstation (with PosterJet you can print via an iMac).
(Gretag) RasterGraphics Bellise Plus uses Epson printheads but with pigmented inks. The regular
Bellise (not the Plus) uses dye inks. You can’t change the inks; you have to change the entire
model to change the inks. The output is average. The output of the Bellise Plus looked okay but
had a soft appearance. That means the definition was not especially sharp.
The RasterGraphics Piezo Print 5000 is an older oil-based ink. I have not seen one at a trade show,
but this model is still around in print shops. If it is anything like the other oil-based paint systems
I know it uses Xaar heads and has low dpi. “apparent resolution of 1100 dpi” means its got poor
dpi pumped up by the PR department.
The standard inkjet printers to do posters, signs, and presentations are Encad and Hewlett-Packard.
Professional sign printers keep their printers running day and night and all weekend. This is what
Encad and HP are good at.
At 15 feet distance an Encad print looks very nice, photo-realistic. But if you look more closely the
image is often grainy, in part due to the dot pattern of the printing. This is the old-fashioned way
to print, forming an image with round dots of ink. This print mode is fine for signs at grocery stores
and Wal-Mart, which is one of the current focuses of Encad sales. If you select an image with a
rough texture to begin with, then you don’t notice the dot pattern. Such images, if done at 600 dpi
(which two models of Encad can achieve) then the pictures look beautiful from a distance. We still
have our NovaJetPro 36”. These printers last a long time; just have to get used to their quirks.
Encad printed one of my images at the recent DRUPA trade show and it looked outstanding
because the texture of the image (a rough woven design) obscured most of the dot pattern.
However when I looked at the image closely I noticed gray and black dots everywhere, making the
color look dirty. If hung far enough away from an observer, however, few people will notice the
dotty background in the highlights.
The advantages of the Hewlett-Packard is their sophisticated stochastic print system (can’t spell
it, or even translate it from the Greek, but the results are definitely cleaner).
The ink feed system on my older Encad requires priming every two weeks; in other words, if you
go away on vacation or even if you just don’t happen to print for several weeks, the ink may
harden, dry out, and possibly clog the print heads. It can take hours to clean the lines and print
heads when you return from your vacation. Can you clean the lines before you go? Sure, that also
takes hours and is messy (as in ink splatter). Then, when you return, you still have to load the ink
back, by hand, another job of several hours and potential ink stains on the floor. I enjoyed my
Encad because I simply telephoned for a technician and he came in to do all the maintenance. He
enjoyed taking the print system apart, even got the full service/repair manual to practice with, so
if you don’t’ mind tinkering with the ink system and you don’t mind the dot pattern, then Encad is
a reliable printer. Fortunately the newer models can be left perhaps up to a month without the
heads drying out. Encads are production workhorses and hence popular in sign shops. If you can
get an Encad for substantially less price than a HP, then consider purchasing the Encad. But if you
ever need to print museum-quality images, you will more likely get better results with an HP
Design Jet, even the entry-level HP 1050 and 1055 models produce photo-realistic quality.
Encad printers are also sold by Ilford, Graphtec, Oce and by Kodak. Thus they will all have the
identical ink lines and printhead situation.
Encad presented its 8-color printer at Seybold. It was an unfinished prototype in the sense that
the ICC color management system was clearly not yet working. The images looked as bad as did
the Epson 7500 and 9500 colors three months ago (shadow areas all too dark; reds, greens, and
blues out of kilter; highlights blown out). But, as the Epson printers improved dramatically since
May, the Encad has also improved by the time it shipped later this year. Disappointment is that the
dpi is still 600 dpi, seemingly all its printheads can handle. Several other models of Encad use
Lexmark heads so perhaps that’s what the new printer uses as well. Also keep in mind that the
speed claims are based on using double-four colors (two sets of four colors simultaneously in
parallel). That means you only get four colors, not six, not eight, but the same ordinary CMYK, in
two identical sets, to print (more or less) twice the path at once. If you wish to take advantage of
six colors or eight different colors, then the printing gets slower. The ink-set used by Ilford and
Oce is better than the ink set used by Encad for the same 8-color printer.
Hewlett-Packard lists vehicle graphics as an application its printers can handle. HP DesignJet
printers also print on a wide range of media including 3M media, indeed with 3M media and 3M
laminate it is warranted 24 months outside. HP 2xxx and 3xxx prints about 12 feet long and then
refills with ink to keep going and print the rest of your image (if you need a print 20 feet long, for
example). You get a print artifact line at the point the printer refills at about 12 feet but on a truck
it would hardly be noticeable and I presume it could be retouched if necessary. I do all my prints
at about 4 to 8 feet long so I have never reached the ink-refill situation, but I have heard of it.
There is also a workaround, by setting the ink refill option that may avoid the situation. Of course
all this has changed with the new model HP 5000ps. The new printer handles murals, banners, as
long as you want, flawlessly. In our test of the new HP UV pigmented inks for the HP 5000ps we
did a panorama mural that was perhaps 14’ long.
The advantage of the 3M outdoor guarantees with the HP printers is that you don’t have to use
solvent inks. Solvent inks give longevity, but the fumes from the solvent are worse than having an
entire chemical factory in your office or shop. HP does not use solvent inks, but instead pigmented
inks based on water. Pigmented inks and vinyl do have an odor but not as aggressive as that of
solvent inks.
Printers are like politics, religions, and everything else. Everyone has his or her favorites. Encad
was my favorite printer (as perhaps you can tell from its inclusion all over my network of 10 sites)
until I tried an HP DesignJet and found out it was easier to use and produced better quality. I still
have my Encad after all these years; its print head has clogged and the ink lines continue to be a
problem, since air gets in them; kind of hard to print a sign or poster using air instead of ink.
ColorSpan is my favorite for near-continuous tone. I prefer a ColorSpan image because ColorSpan
is faster, larger (wider) etc. So if money is no object, and you are yourself, or have a trained
technician on salary, you can probably keep a complex system such as the ColorSpan running. If
you wish additional information on the use of ColorSpan for producing outdoor signs contact Bruce
Butler, . ColorSpan is the only traditional inkjet printer at width of 72”
in its high-dpi class (1800 dpi, which is perceived dpi). We have several reports from end-users of
ColorSpan. Both reported they made a considerable profit in their sign shop with the ColorSpan,
due to its speed and quality of the output.
Although you want to print signs, posters, and banners there is a new source of income if you have
the appropriate large format printer, namely doing photo-realistic museum-quality posters for
wealthy clients and large corporations. So if you are clever you will select a printer that can
productively and economically do all your outdoor advertising signs as well as an occasional prestige job for extra income and profit. Doing top quality photographs cannot yet be done by solventbased printers. You need a traditional inkjet with pigmented inks. However such a printer as the
HP 5000ps can handle vehicle graphics, outdoor signage, banners, and even billboards (its easy,
just tile the sections). The HP 500 and HP 800 are not for outdoor prints because they do not
accept any pigmented inks. HP 2xxx, 3xxx, and 5000ps, however, all accept pigmented UV inks for
ColorSpan recommends FIRST as a system for outdoor longevity without lamination. The FIRST
machine takes the print from the ColorSpan (on special FIRST media) and sort of bakes it to melt
the image into the structure of the media. That makes it longer lasting. But if you read the small
print, they then recommend that you also consider laminating that as well. I also believe that the
FIRST media is limited in width. It is very expensive. Nonetheless the idea sounded great and it is
useful for ColorSpan to be making people aware of such a system.
Another substantial source of income for a sign shop is fine art prints. No solvent-based ink
system and definitely no oil based ink can produce the necessary quality. Only Epson, Roland,
Mimaki, Mutoh (all very slow) or ColorSpan and HP can handle the needed quality.
At DRUPA printer trade show in Germany we spent two weeks searching for such a multi-purpose
printer. I went to the exhibit of fine art prints to see what printer they had selected. They had
paintings and photographs printed on European art paper with an inkjet printer. The paper people
said that one of the artists came to visit their display. The artist saw her own painting in the show
and asked where the inkjet copies were. The art-paper people had to explain to her that the image
on the wall was an inkjet copy, not the original. What printer achieved this?
That German fine art company selected the same identical printer as I use myself, the HP DesignJet
2xxx series (I print photographs and other digital art). If the quality I achieve is what you are
looking for, then this is a printer for you to seriously consider. Look at
then look at (the exotic women are done on canvas)
That is the printer I do my photo quality posters and signs with, the DesignJet 2800. I used indoor
dye based inks. This printer has other, pigmented inks for longevity.
Of course to have a print outside in the sun is a different matter. Here another advantage of the HP
DesignJet 3xxx series is that it comes with a training course from 3M that warranties the prints for
outdoor use 24 months without noticeable fading when laminated. The course consists of an
informative booklet, a CD, and a description of the warranty.
I realize you want to print signs, not fine art, yet why not have great signs that impress people?
With the HP DesignJet printer I don’t even have to know how the thing works. I just plugged it in
and it prints.
Any combination of software RIPs will be faster and more versatile than the HP 3800 with the EFI
Fiery RIP. Any aftermarket RIP will be faster than the 3500 and eliminate potential banding. A
good RIP, at photo quality mode, means flawless prints. Even the EFI gets rid of banding.
The HP DesignJet prints on silk, cotton, metal foil, backlit material, vinyl, self-adhesive, photo
glossy, photo matte, weather proof banner material, waterproof media and many other kinds of
media. The new HP DesignJet 5000 does all this at greater speed, six colors of inks, and 1200 dpi
For tiling giant billboard-sized images you might also wish to consider PosterWorks. In other
words, you can do a 5-meter high billboard without having to spend $145,000 on a 5-meter
printer. Just use a Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 3000 (you add your own RIP), 3500 (has mini-RIP
on board but you need to add a RIP to get more options like tiling), 3800 (with EFI Fiery RIP but
we don’t recommend since that hardware RIP lacks most of the options that you really need). The
newest HP DesignJet offers 60” widths (model 5000). The new model 5000, with its archival UV
pigmented inks, is what would be good for backlit signs. The pigmented inks will be available in
March; the printer is available now with dye-based inks. You can switch to the pigmented inks as
soon as they are available.
Once you are used to an HP DesignJet you would unlikely ever be satisfied with other printers
which are moody or require you to fiddle with them to keep them running. If you wish to obtain
more information about HP printers to accomplish photo-realistic exhibit quality prints, we recommend Jonathan Knecht at Color DNA, e-mail He knows the new HP 5000
as well as all the other models. He also handles Heidelberg scanners which are our favorites (have
two of them). Color DNA was the beta test site for the new HP UV pigmented inks. FLAAR initiated
this evaluation on Jan 9th. Nicholas Hellmuth’s report should be available by late January. The
actual inks will be available first week of February.
Once you actually have your new printer in-house, you may gradually wish for additional information about what paper to feed your new machine, about what inks are best for various purposes,
and about laminating equipment. Thus we are working out a program to follow up with news tips
from the pertinent companies to send you later this year. Since I am a photographer myself I too
am always looking for cost-effective new products. But since I don’t have a room full of secretaries
to handle all this, usually it’s easier to ask the hardware or software company if they can help out
and forward you the information themselves.
People always ask us for help figuring out how to create outdoor prints with no lamination needed.
For media (paper) you need contacts with the major media companies such as Rexam, American
Ink Jet, and IJ Technologies among others. IJ Technologies makes an outdoor paper that is rainproof, without lamination I believe. They exhibit this “dura duck” media in a shower with the
shower head pouring water on the inkjet print, with rubber ducks floating around in the water
lapping against the lower part of the print as well. Now that HP has its new-pigmented inks ready
and available in February, this makes a good combination.
It is true that many sign shops use exclusively solvent inks to avoid lamination. But the new HP
5000 with a really good RIP is very fast, especially the 60” model. With waterproof media and
pigmented inks you can certainly print outdoor posters. After all, how many posters are seriously
intended to stay in place five years? The new HP pigmented inks offer an outstanding color gamut.
Grand Format Solvent Ink Printers
Since we get so many questions about which is better, Vutek or Salsa, I went to the Vutek factory
in New Hampshire last month. It is clear from this visit that the company is competent in every
respect. They must be, because they are outselling all the other grant format printers. The output
I saw at SGIA trade show from the Vutek UltraVu 3360 EC looked nice. The output from the
PressVu Digital Press was the grainy appearance you expect from a grand format printer with low
resolution. It’s okay for viewing at a distance.
Its tough for us to indicate which $200,000 printer is best, since each has its own pros and cons.
I would recommend that you visit Vutek in person, after all, it’s only an airplane ticket even if from
the other side of the globe. Better to make this modest cost then buy someone else’s printer that
might be a $150,000 mistake. Contact Jane Cedrone, fax 603 279-6411, e-mail
The people at Nur to contact are: Ed Chrusciel, fax 617 721 9908, telephone
617 527-2300. I visited their booth at a recent trade show and will be looking at their equipment
in more detail in November.
Idanit is a grand format printer, solvent inks, and fast. A person at Scitex to contact is Jeff O’Reilly,
I was not aware you could use an apostrophe in an e-mail ad-
dress, but if you telephone Scitex Vision, he is the person in their large format printer division.
As soon as we get a contact person for the Gretag Arizona we will provide this as well, since their
printer is popular in sign shops.
Printers using thermal transfer technology (ribbons with color), such as Gerber Maxx, Summa
DuraChrome, or newer Matan Sprinter are available for outside work. These costly machines are
for large commercial sign printing companies. If you are just starting it might be better to use a
moderately priced Hewlett-Packard or Encad. With waterproof inks, UV pigmented inks, UV curing
(such as FIRST) and traditional lamination you can do a lot with a basic HP DesignJet. As your
profits and experience accumulate then you can move up to the fancier more costly alternatives.
Nonetheless, if you need to produce outdoor graphics with no lamination, or indoor graphics such
as wallpaper that withstand sunshine and/or being washed, you may want (or need) an electrostatic printer, a solvent-ink printer, or a thermal transfer printer.
Sign companies would love to be able to print directly onto pre-mounted material or simply directly onto the rigid sign. Vutek, Durst (Rho), and other companies offer flat horizontally fed inkjet
printers but they are low dpi and over $200,000.
This makes the $14,995 ColorSpan Esprit a bargain. It prints at a vastly superior dpi to any
quarter-million-dollar sign-printing machine. The ColorSpan can handle rigid material up to 1/8
inch thick, such as posterboard, in sizes 4 x 8 feet, perfect for signs. For further information,
MEDIA for outdoor signage
Arlon is a major source of vinyl for inkjet, electrostatic, and solvent ink printing. Tel (800) 3292756. They have a very nice backlite media for Encad and comparable printers.
3M is the major source of media and inks that includes a warranty for how many years it will
survive outdoors.
IJ Technologies makes media for Encad, HP, and other printers that is water-resistant with no
lamination. E-mail
Rexam is a major international company which offers a huge variety of media. Contact: James
Demary,; Ilsa Murray,,
Well all is said and done, however, you should buy the printer that is best for your specific needs.
All printers have a few features that need improving, though some more than others. Listing the
snags is to help you use these printers more efficiently. Furthermore, you should buy what you like
the most even if it has a few imperfect features. You don’t need to avoid any printer just because
it failed to impress us.
Just be sure that if you need to print multiple copies of signs or posters, remember that some
printers are simply too slow. When you attempt to get them to print faster, you may get banding,
splotchy images, and if your competition has an Encad or HP they will tend to be able to run circles
around anyone attempting to do signs at 1440 dpi. Speed claims in ads don’t do much good if the
“production speed” images look unattractive. Might as well get a real production workhorse that
can produce quality plus speed.
Claims of print quality vary from the ludicrous to the ridiculous. One brochure claimed “superior
print quality” yet at the trade show the print was rather crude, sort of like an experimental image
from some early technology, barely useable. Nonetheless, if viewing distance is 20 feet away,
even such minimal quality images look just fine. When you look at a billboard you simply don’t
notice the immature image. So you have to decide, if billboards are all you will ever print, then
solvent ink may be your only option. But if you wish to do signs or anything viewed close up, if
your competition has a ColorSpan, Encad, Roland, or Hewlett-Packard, then their signs will be
noticeably better print quality.
For other information on signs and large format printing in general, The Big Picture Magazine and
Signs of the Times (both by ST Publications). Try the trade associations, trade magazines, and
sign trade shows. A few trade magazines are listed in the index of various of my printer sites.
Every page has all six indices as cross-links, so go to any of the core sites in the network. Look
under “magazines”
A good investment would be to go to one of the big sign association trade shows in Orlando,
Atlanta, or California. Surely the internet would list the trade associations for sign printers. FLAAR
is now issuing reports from the SGIA sign trade show in New Orleans this November. After we have
checked out all the printers, media, and inks there, we are updating all our reports on fleet
graphics, floor graphics, billboard, superwide printers such as Vutek, and all the other aspects of
producing signs and billboards, especially to survive outside
Please note that two of our web sites are undergoing re-design and re-construction. Hence all the
new information is not yet posted on the sites but rather in these e-mail reports, which are
updated weekly.
The M.A.G.I.C. system of Aprion is of course dismissed by all its competitors as “premature,” “not
yet available,” and “still three years away.” CrystalJet showed that such promising technologies
could sometimes not survive reality, yet CMOS technology in digital photography has demonstrated that unique technologies sometimes leapfrog older more established technologies and
take over the high-end market. Time will tell.
If this e-mail provided you information that assisted you in learning about the different products,
we would appreciate you telling other people in newsgroups, user groups, or other e-mail groups
about our network of review sites,
N. Hellmuth FLAAR
Comparative Reports
Specific Reports
Actual-factual, End-User Reports
Signs, Posters, Banners: POP and other indoor signs: Which Printers are Best. A comparative review of Encad, HP, Roland,
ColorSpan, Epson and others.
“Next Level Reports” are reports you should
only read after you have already received
and read the First Level Reports. Thus, if
you want information on the ColorSpan, then
you should first ask for the report on signsposters, or photo-realistic printers, or fineart giclee printers (don’t ask for all three
since you only need one of them. We send
only the one that is appropriate based on
your description of what you intend to print,
your level of experience, and whether it is
for home use, studio, office, or commercial).
Arizona (a brand of printer in the $40,000+
range): a report kindly sent by an energetic end user.
Colorspan printer report: DisplayMaker XII
and Esprit. If you want to do photo-realistic
prints and/or fine art giclee prints, then you
first need “Photo-Realistic Printers” or “Fine
Art Giclee Printers”. After reading those, if
you are interested in the ColorSpan, you
can ask for this “next level report.”
One page fast facts
HP 5000 and HP 5000ps (prior to asking for
this, you need to read either signs-posters,
photo-realistic, or fine art giclee printers).
We do not send out Next Level Reports until
you have digested the First Level Reports.
ColorSpan’s Training Program: a FLAAR Report based on taking this 2 to 3 day training program at ColorSpan headquarters.
Large format printers which do the best job
of photo-realistic, museum-quality prints.
Survey and Comparative Review of various
Printers for CAD, GIS, and computer generated drawings.
Large format printers for professional fine
art giclee printing, for artists, studios, both
home, hobby, and commercial. This report
covers only 36” and wider.
The FLAAR Report on 24” printers for fine
art giclee and photo-realistic quality. If you
want only a desktop sized printer, sorry,
we do not cover desktop printers.
Scanners: what flatbed scanners and large
format digital cameras are best for digitizing your paintings or artwork so you can
print them.
Scanners for Prepress and comparable professional scanning.
Wide Format Sheet Fed Scanners for Drawings and Maps.
Proofers: inkjet printers for proofing.
Which Large Format Inkjet Printers can Print
Directly onto Textiles?
Dye sublimation, which Large Format Printers can accept dye sublimation inks for subsequent heat transfer.
Used Large Format Printers: pros and cons
of buying a used wide format printer.
RIP, basic report on RIPs: this version is for
people who already have their printer, or
already have one printer and are getting
ready to buy another printer.
RIP+Help: this version is longer and is for
newcomers who may have no idea what a
RIP is, or does, or why they need one. Covers a variety of other topics that are useful
for a beginner to know about.
Solvent Ink Printers for outdoor signs without lamination or for vehicle wrap. These
printers cost from $40,000 to $400,000.
Wide format Media (media=coated material which accepts inkjet inks)
Media and Inks: brief, yet comprehensive
list of general classes of media for large format inkjet printers for signs, posters, banners, photos, fine art giclee, and CAD-GIS.
Media for banners, signs and posters with
some suggested sources of media and inks.
Media specifically for fine art giclee and
photo-realistic museum-quality printing with
some sources for inks as well as the media.
Media, all 40+ kinds of varied media that
are certified to use with HP printers: the HP
Complimentary Media List.
Backlit film: problems some printers have
producing backlit, work-around, and suggestions for other printer which don’t have
the problems to begin with.
List of all Major Manufacturers and Resellers
of Media for Signs, CAD-GIS, Photos, and
Fine Art Giclee Printing with Inkjet Printers
Iris Gprint: a penetrating report kindly sent
by an experienced user. This printer costs
about $58,000, so please don’t ask for this
report unless you are ready for a serious
Roland Hi-Fi: pro’s and con’s for signs or
fine art. Be sure you also ask for one of
the Comparative Reports
Laminating Equipment, a brief list.
Lenticular prints: large format printers,
software, and lenses. What and where to
Painting on top of an already printed inkjet
Thick material: what printers can print on
rigid and/or thick material.
Wallpaper: large format printers for doing
custom wallpaper.
Using an Inkjet Printer to prepare Masters
for Screen Printing.
Canadian reports: If you are located in
Canada we have a special report for you.
India: if you are located in India we have a
special report for you.
FLAAR List of All Known Large Format
Printer Mannufacters, Makes and Models.
Comprehensive Inventory of Rips: Alphabetical list of all harware PostScript RIP plus
all software PostScrip RIP.
All the kinds of Profitable Things you can
Print with a Large Format InkJet.
Trade Shows Reports.
Topics FLAAR does not cover. Please do yourself a favor, and be kind to all of us who work at answering your questions, namely read this report if you are unsure whether
FLAAR can help you. As the number of requests rises, we can only answer the questions that pertain to our sphere of influence. This means we are unable to answer countless
other questions. So before you get your hopes up, please download this list and save both of us lots of time and energy. There are about 10 areas of printing that we absolutely
do not cover whatsoever, nor are we able to suggest who can cover these topics. So please check out this “list of all the topics that FLAAR is unable to assist you on….”