ColorSpan service-after-the-sale continues to improve Print

The first ColorSpan we tested was the Ilford OEM version of the DisplayMaker HiRes (8-color series) in the Ilford Imaging office (outside Frankfurt, Germany) circa 2000. The print quality from this ColorSpan was the best I had seen on any other large format inkjet printer of that era. Indeed now, four years later, still have not seen a result from any other brand of printer which is better gamut.

ColorSpan DisplaMaker

The newer model ColorSpan DisplayMaker Mach 12 was designed for ease of maintenance. This is the first totally new wide format inkjet printer produced by MacDermid, the new owners of ColorSpan. The Mach 12 was shipped in June 2001. At FLAAR we have one of each model.

At SGIA 2002, ColorSpan unveiled an update, the DisplayMaker X-12 with enhanced dryer system, faster speeds, and the kind of comparable enhancements you would expect. Frankly we much prefer an improved update (such as this) rather than a radical new model that may not be finished.

Epson has a habit of needing to redesign and create totally new models to replace the grievous errors, omissions, glitches, and headaches of earlier models. Unfortunately, each new model piles on some totally new and unexpected headache (and sometimes a horror, such as metamerism; the newest potential problem may turn out to be outgassing under glass; ironic that Epson itself says you have to put their prints under glass, but this very attempt may cause other problems worse than expected). We are checking to verify these situations. In the meantime we use ColorSpan instead, so don't have the problems for which Epson is legendary such as out-gassing. It only is noticeable with Epson since Epson insists you put their prints under glass (which adds about $100, per print, to the production cost).

The purpose of our search for information is two-fold. 1st, FLAAR itself has an extensive photo archive of images of pre-Columbian art and archaeology. Thus our own institute has been searching the last three years for the ideal photo-realistic digital printer (, describe the initial 2 years of this search). The ColorSpan produces excellent quality among equipment we tested. We have 19 printers at our two facilities, and only three printers are used every day: HP 5000 (we have one at each university), and the two ColorSpan printers (XII and Mach 12).

2nd, we get inquiries by e-mail whether someone should buy a new or used ColorSpan. Thus in addition to answering our own questions of what wide format printer is best for our needs, as a nonprofit public-service institution we can help other people (who may not have the time to attend all the trade shows and visit all the companies in person).

interviews with actual ColorSpan owners to find out what it is really like to own a ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII


The results of our survey are fairly consistent, most users report the ColorSpan printers offer outstanding rendition of detail and color:

"We do not have the 12-color printer from ColorSpan, only the DesignWinder 8 color. They have proven to be reliable. The reason why we are sticking to ColorSpan is our customers are satisfied with the quality and we would not risk replacing 8 color output with other 4 or 6 color printers that have lower color saturation than the ColorSpan 8 color printers."

As you notice with these FLAAR reports, we report real-life situations, and we report both sides of the story. The other wide of the story is that to accomplish the consistent ColorSpan quality the printer requires weekly cleaning and calibration to keep it running properly.

In the period 1997-2000, I still have not seen any other printer as good as the ColorSpan for color fidelity and flawless rendering of fine detail in an enlargement of a 4x5 chrome. Often when a report comes in relative to technical problems the print shop does not always indicate to us which actual model they had problems with.

Of course today you can get 12-channel printers with wider gamut from Canon (iPF 9000) or HP (Designjet Z3100). The 12-channel ColorSpan printers are no longer manufactured, but dozens are still at work daily in giclee ateliers. Indeed the person who invented the word giclee was still using a ColorSpan printer when I visited him circa 2004.

The majority of the complaints we received about ColorSpan printers were from when the company was owned by a venture fund. This former company seemingly had interest in profit from equipment sales but less interest in actually providing service or technical help. When MacDermid bought ColorSpan they initiated a new era. Technical assistance is noticeably improved. After running two different models of ColorSpan printer in our own facilities at the university we can recommend them. Nonetheless, please realize that all these printers are "over two years operator intensive," a polite way of saying they require the operator to learn how to handle the equipment. ColorSpan itself provides a free training program at their corporate headquarters outside Minneapolis.

"I've seen three ColorSpan giclée printers at two different shows: PMA and ArtExpo. The drum style printer prints beautifully. Absolutely beautiful! But each print takes taping on the paper, spending at least an hour aligning and calibrating, and then printing, which, by itself, is quite slow. At both shows, two different operators said that it's time consuming, temperamental, needs a skilled printmaker (rather than an operator) and always needs a setup sheet for testing and adjusting..."

"As far as the ColorSpan DesignWinder and older DisplayMaker go, the DesignWinder does a nice print. When you can get the printer to work properly.

The only thing with the DisplayMaker was, it is very operator intensive. If the operator did a good job with the machine as setting it up, color calibrating, it as well as cleaning it, the prints would be nice. If the operator skipped a setup step or did not do a good job with it, the prints would show it.

The DesignWinder is a faster machine. The print quality is better than the DisplayMaker. But only at 1400 dpi. Any of the other settings of the machine as far as speeding up the print time, the print would be comparable to the DisplayMaker.
As far as mechanical strength goes. They both have done very well. Only minor fixes, belts on the DisplayMaker, blades, not much else.

As we learn more about the capabilities of the ColorSpan printer we realize that many of the people who complained about problems probably were not cleaning and calibrating their printers properly. In other words they were not doing preventative maintenance.

People who did the daily ritual of cleaning the heads and calibrating their printer got excellent results and reported they made a profit with their prints. One print shop indicated that in 16 months of ownership they never needed a single service call. We spoke with them in person; they were quite content with their ColorSpan printer and its output.

If you need a plug-and-play printer where you never intend to peer inside and get to know the mechanics of the printer, then you ought to opt for the HP 5000ps or HP 5500ps. If you want 8 to 12 colors, the wider 72" size, and the perceived 1800 dpi, then you should opt for the ColorSpan DisplayMaker X12. It's the difference between a Ford, Chevy, and a Jaguar. The ColorSpan is the Jaguar of large format printers, fast, yet requires a bit of tinkering to keep the complex engine running smoothly. As we interviewed more ColorSpan owners, they reported that the rewards are worth the effort.

Some of the people who are considering to buy the ColorSpan also ask about the Roland. Thus FLAAR has prepared a series of comparative reviews: what are the positive features of the Roland as compared with the advantages of the ColorSpan. Indeed one person we interviewed said that it was his ColorSpan which helped him earn one million dollars (Canadian) last year. He had both a Roland and a ColorSpan. Basically it was the speed (productivity) of the ColorSpan which make such earnings possible. This owner of a print shop indicated the Roland was just too slow. To get additional information, contact FLAAR to obtain our report on "Experience with the ColorSpan." This is the report of two FLAAR editors who went to take the training course before our ColorSpan printer arrived.

Today people are using eco-solvent or UV-curable printers. ColorSpan no longer makes water-based wide-format printers and is gradually phasing out their solvent printer models too, because the world is evolving towards UV-cured flatbed printer designs. Five models of UV printers are available from MacDermid ColorSpan today. If you wish to obtain information directly, you can go to the FLAAR site, and order your reports specifically on the various ColorSpan UV models.

Last edited Aug 1, 2007.
Previously updated Jan 16, 2004, Nov. 8, 2003, Jan 7, 2003, updated Aug. 12, 2001(NHM). Last checked by webdesigner Nov. 15, 2002.

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