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Roland Hi-Fi and Pro V8 (eight color) FJ-540 for fine art giclée Print E-mail

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).

If printing textile samples, or on fabric or other cloth, again, Colorspan , I-Jet, Mimaki , and Stork had special textile-printers.

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.

Printer

Pros

Cons

Encad

Adequately constructed, last long time. But the visible dot pattern on most Encad models makes them naturally unsuitable for fine art.

Headache getting ink through lines on older models (no test printer of newer models available for us yet). Encad has concentrated primarily on printing signs and CAD drawings rather than on fine art. Encad printers have low resale value since the company went out of business under Kodak. Tech support for old printers is tough to find (even if the company is still in business).

Hewlett Packard

Well constructed, last long time, good resale value because brand name is so well known, available everywhere ; impressive quality (good enough for museum exhibits); easy to use ink; easy to change inks (no mess). With proper RIP I have not yet found much banding (however you need a fast RIP). Quality is definitely better with a good RIP (hardware RIP or even better, software RIP)

With old HP 2000cp era printers, it was not easy to rewind paper back onto the roll. Possible occasional banding at faster speeds unless you have a good RIP (with EFI Fiery, Onyx PosterShop, 3M Cactus or PosterJet you eliminate the banding and get better quality). Overall the quality of color and detail from the HP printers is better than most people expect. The test unit we have has produced outstanding results every day. No banding whatsoever and no noticeable dot pattern when in photo-realistic mode. In this mode the results are as good as many fine art printers. Minor flaw is that HP DesignJet printers waste too much media in all automatic modes. Best feature of the HP 5000 is the outstanding color gamut and longevity of its new UV pigmented inks. Wilhelm's tests are ongoing, but the rating is for "over 100 years with test continuing." These comments are for older generation HP printers; the HP Z-series are much improved.

Epson

Low cost (except for the cost of wasted ink), can run without any RIP at all (but only if you have extreme patience and are experienced), often produces acceptable print quality, especially the colors. Nice results on photographs, look like real photos from a darkroom in some instances, if viewed from distance.

Avoid Epson 1520 , avoid Epson 3000 (no experience with Epson 5000). Major downside of Epson 7000 and 9000 printers is that their fast fade inks lose their color rather quickly. Epson printer drives are renowned for quirky behavior (Epson software in general is considered poor). If, however, you use a good software RIP, you can turn any Epson into a good proofer. The new inks last longer than inks of two years ago. Epson 7500 and 9500 have problems with metamerism (color viewing problem). Epson 10000 may use excessive amount of ink and may have micro banding in areas of solid color. The newer Epson models (late 2007/2008) are not really more than minor improvements on the Epson 4800, 7800, 9800. We still use the older models.

Iris giclée Printer

The Iris Gprint (giclée printer version of the Iris proofer, the Iris 3047, is no longer assembled (not for the last seven years). Finally these printers are no longer even listed on the CreoScitex web site.

The replacement for the venerable Iris printer is the Ixia. But now this is no longer made either.

Only four colors, but an Iris print still looks better than its lesser competition.

The Iris Gprint giclée version of the 3047 had severe design defects. These have been redesigned by the service technicians who got tired of repairing the defects. So they threw out the bad aspects and rebuilt the printers from scratch with improved parts. The new printer is the Ixia. We installed the Ixia version of the former Iris giclée printer but abandoned it because of its need to squirt ink 24-hours a day. When you turned it off (to save ink) it cost a fortune to bring in a service technician to get it running again.

Unless you are a museum of giclee printing, or interested in the first generation giclee printers, there is no good reason for having an elderly printer that is hugely expensive to maintain.

I-Jet

OEM of Mutoh sold by Improved Technologies. The prints we received from this printer are comparable to any Mutoh or Roland printer (all use the same printheads)

We see this printer at trade shows and have sample prints from it that are handsome in quality. But we have not used it in person so do not yet know its intimate details. From the print quality, however, we looks nice. But one company that had one abandoned it after a year or so. Nowadays, most giclee is printed on Epson, HP, Canon or Roland printers, not Mutoh.

ColorSpan various models

Great photo realistic quality for its prime years (1999, for example). Many of my ColorSpan prints at normal 6-foot viewing distance look as good as Cibachrome prints (in other words, close to traditional print from a professional darkroom). ColorSpan printers were available from Agfa (Agfa Montana) and from Ilford Imaging.

Printer complexity makes it correspondingly costly; ink is considered expensive; maybe not as fast as promised and if you try the fast productivity mode your print quality is reduced to no better than cheaper printers. Earlier models may be prone to mechanical problems. These complex machines are considered "operator intensive," translation: don't try to run a ColorSpan if you are a one-man shop unless you like to do daily calibrations. But if you want absolutely top color, and can't afford to wait for slower printers, then ColorSpan may be a good option if you have the technicians available when needed in case the equipment needs tender loving care. FLAAR has calculated that the benefits greatly outweigh any cons; thus we had two ColorSpan DisplayMaker printers installed in the FLAAR facility. Its RIP is fast and the output is attractive quality for its era.

Roland

Acceptable reputation for workmanship, quality is considered good enough for fine art printing, 6 color CMYK, Light C and Light M; 8 color now available up to 1440 dpi, so you get nice prints. However the printheads are not permanent (they wear out and do need to be replaced) and the printer definitely does not produce continuous tone as claimed by frequent ads.

Other than legacy of slow printing from its Epson piezo heads and occasional horizontal banding defects across the prints, I guess there must be some feature that is not flawless, but I have not yet heard from many Roland users that they had major problems (other than with color drop-out (random non-printing color from clogged head), poor reds in UV inks, and that people would prefer a RIP other than Amiable). That is easy enough to take care of, just buy a printer that takes PosterJet, Onyx PosterShop, BESTColor, or Wasatch. But since 2004, Epson took over the giclee and fine art photography market (in part because Epson told other printer manufacturers they should not advertise their Epson printhead machines for giclee and photographic markets; Epson allowed Roland, Mimaki, and Mutoh to advertise only for signage market, since in those years Epson itself did not make a signage printer. Of course today (2008), Epson is trying to knock Roland, Mimaki and Mutoh out of the signage market too, with an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000.

FLAAR now offers a more detailed comparative report of Epson 10000 , Roland HiFi V8, ColorSpan DisplayMaker, Iris, Ixia, Hewlett-Packard 5000 all compared and contrasted with CymbolicSciences and Durst Lambda continuous tone LED digital printers. This detailed report is available in convenient Adobe Acrobat PDF download, sent at now cost by our university. To obtain your copy, just send in the inquiry-survey form and you will get the download within 48 hours.

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.
Previously updated Aug. 12, 2001, Nov. 15, 2002, May 17, 2002.

 
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