|Roland Hi-Fi and Pro V8 (eight color) FJ-540 for fine art giclée|
Roland's web site (May 2008) no longer lists their venerable Roland FJ 400, FJ-500, or FJ-600 large format printers. The only water-based printer that Roland still lists is the Roland Hi-Fi FJ-540. But at most trade show booths, Roland tends to show only Roland eco-solvent or Roland AJ-1000 solvent printers.
In the early years of giclee, when you moved up to the realm of fine art prints you tended to look at an Iris, Roland, Mutoh I-Jet, or Colorspan.
If printing signs, posters or banners you looked at an Encad NovaJet or Hewlett-Packard DesignJet wide format printer (HP being the better of those two).
Today for printing on fabrics, ColorSpan is out of that market, Mimaki has the longest run with textile printers; Stork exists in Europe but is a non-entity in the US; Roland is trying to get into the textile market; and Yuhan-Kimberly has a great product but is not yet well known in the US.
Today, in 2008, not many fine art photographers or giclee ateliers would have a Roland printer on their short list, not even the Roland Hi-Fi FJ-540. Not that the Roland Hi-Fi FJ-540 is a bad printer, but because Epson knocked Roland of of this market years ago. And since 2007, both HP and Canon have been gaining market share in giclee over Epson. So Roland, Mimaki, and Mutoh have all pretty much dropped out of the water-based inkjet printer market.
If you have a large professional sign company, you can do almost everything with various Roland printers, but slowly. Besides, Roland printers are solidly made and have a sterling reputation, albeit models in past years were frequently blemished with problems of banding caused by clogged printheads. I know one fine art giclée company that keeps their several Roland wide format printers running day and night and all weekend as well, every month, all year.
Roland is a well regarded companies in the world of wide format printing. They do not make any cheap models, nothing low-bid. Roland takes the basic Epson piezo printhead and packages it with their own Roland software. The downside of their own RIP software, however, is that it encourages you to use Roland-only media. If you have a Wasatch, Ergo-Soft, or Caldera RIP you can produce your own custom ICC color profiles and thus buy economical media.
Older Roland's use six-colors of inks. This is the industry standard for Epson heads. Attempting to use 8 inkheads or 12 ink heads can increase productivity in theory, but not necessarily in reality. Actually the purpose of the eight slots is so you can load dual sets of CMYK, so you can print a path double width, and hence twice as much printing in the same amount of time. This is crucial for the Roland since its Epson piezo-electric printheads are so slow.
I am looking forward to the opportunity of seeing more my own digital photographs reproduced on a Roland HiFi printer. I am especially curious to see if Roland can match, or exceed, the professional quality of the color output and rich color depth of today's 12-color HP Designjet Z3100 printers.
During circa 2000, I did a comparison between the Roland and another printer. Same identical image on both printers. The Roland image was printed at a leading fine art giclée printing company. We then showed these pictures to various people who visited our office, including an experienced digital imaging person who knows the Iris printers quite well. Of the one image (Tikal pyramids at the Maya ruins in Guatemala), the Roland image looked as good as the other from a distance of six to ten feet away. Upon closer inspection the Roland image definitely looked better. Of the other test image, a Mayan textile from Guatemala, scanned on a Scitex scanner, both the image printed on the Roland and the image printed on the other printer were of similar high quality. Only if you devoted close-up attention, and had a very experienced eye, could you notice faint differences between the Roland print and the other print. Indeed it was as much the media as the print quality (in other words, the other printer quality was just as good but the Roland media was a bit shinier and hence looked better to the eye). Problem is that the Roland printer cost more than the other printer. The fact the other printer could match the quality of the Roland has been a surprise to everyone coming to my office. Initial test suggests that Roland at 740 dpi is not automatically significantly better than a DesignJet at 600 dpi since dpi is only a superficial indication of quality. The DesignJet achieved this high quality due to its stochastic print mode.
We subsequently found that that the Roland had been set to "productivity speed," which is jargon for "prints faster but not at top dpi" In other words, those Roland prints may have only been at 720 dpi, not the full 1440 that Roland is capable of. This is typical if you send your art or photos to an expensive giclée printing company. They will tend to do a quickie print at the lower dpi. But if you buy a printer yourself, you can often do a better job, save money, and make more profit.
Possible banding problems in the past:
Roland equipment seems to be well made as we get few reports of structural problems. But a few other glitches ought to be mentioned since end-users write us about them. One woman said the heads crashed on ripples in the paper (possibly cockling, sometimes caused by excessive ink which causes usually cheap paper to buckle; the printheads then hit the top part of the ripples, rubbing or indeed smashing the heads). The Hewlett-Packard is able to survive head crashes, indeed I did a series of three head-crash tests, including the "total destruction" head crash test, and the head repaired itself after each progressively worse crash. The crash itself is easy to organize, just let the paper bunch up in a crumpled area and the heads smash into it. The HP simply did an auto-test, its sensors naturally noted the parts of the heads the test destroyed, and the heads repaired themselves and the next self-test came out flawless.
But banding has now been reported by several users, so in fairness to Roland we are doing our best to ascertain what is causing this. We went to DRUPA 2000 printer trade show for some answers.
Perhaps six to ten ColorSpan printers were displayed throughout DRUPA . I did not notice a single Roland though surely there must have been at least one among the 18 giant halls. A few Encad's were scattered around, a few more Mutoh's, seldom a Mimaki, lots of Epson's (though most of them were not turned on, probably because they print so slowly); scores and scores of Hewlett-Packard's, in all halls where digital imaging was presented. Although HP itself had only a single booth, countless other companies were showing off their products with HP printers, primarily the 2xxx and 3xxx CP series as well as several dozen 1055CMs. I was surprised at the quality people were getting from the 1055 CM, as that is considered mainly for CAD, GIS, and signs, yet people were using PosterJet and other RIP´s to tweak photo-realistic enlargements out of it. However for photo-realistic and fine art the HP DesignJet 5000 is definitely better due to its new UV pigmented inks. ??It is precisely because no Roland's were visible that I am still curious about the banding.
I got one report that said banding only happened at certain modes, such as bi-directional (for speed), that if you set it to unidirectional (slow) this eliminated the banding. But another person got banding at every setting he tried, to the point he returned the printer to Roland. He was, however, new to large format technology, and thus I am wondering if perhaps he simply did not find the proper mode. Many other printers band if set to run too fast or if the RIP can't feed the data quickly enough. This is a polite way of saying it may be as much the problem of the RIP and of the operator as of the printer. As soon as we get additional information we will follow up on these pages.
The most serious problem with older model Roland printers was the printer dropping colors, simply not printing one color. This has been reported at first only once, and here by a person who was new to large format printing, though he had the printer an estimated 1000 hours (most of which he said was lost to color management problems). Again, it seems that individuals may be selecting a printer or an entire technology for which they need more training. Whereas this individual reported that Roland said the dropped colors was a known bug in a few machines none of the other several Roland owners that we asked had ever experienced one color simply not printing for a given random area.
So if you are tempted to buy an older model used Roland on eBay, think twice (for several reasons). First, for printing high quality giclee in 2008, other brands have invested over a billion dollars to develop improved inks and printheads (HP and Canon would be the best examples). And older printers (of any brands) tend to have defects: that's precisely why these models are no longer sold: the newer models are improved.
Solution: first, be wary of selecting a high-tech printer if you are a single individual on your own. If you have a professional trained and experienced operator, or if you are capable of taking a course, then a complex printer may be just fine. Then again, you may well get a good machine to begin with and never experience a single snafu, no matter how inexperienced and all-thumbs you may be.
2nd, if you are a single person, you should seriously consider starting off with a printer that takes care of itself with sensors, auto-cleaning station, etc. Start off with a solid proven workhorse and gain experience for six months or a year, then sell your printer while it is in good condition or trade it in on a newer model. Hewlett-Packard has good resale value precisely because they seemingly last forever. HP is as close to an easy plug-and-play printer as I have yet to experience. Encad, however, is not considered appropriate for fine art giclée due to its limited dpi. But if printing only on canvas, you don't see the dot pattern due to the inherently rough nature of the natural surface of most artist's canvas.
Last updated May. 5, 2008.