ColorSpan or Roland to print fine art giclée ? Print

Which of these excellent wide format inkjet printers should you select to do fine art prints? ColorSpan and Roland both produce high quality wide format equipment which print beautiful large format prints. My first experience with a ColorSpan printer was with an 8-color ColorSpan model four years ago (the Ilford Graphics OEM version of ColorSpan) and found the color and image detail to be of the highest quality I had yet seen anywhere (reported upon in and

Now ColorSpan has a 12-color printer. The speed and print quality are even better. The clever part of the 12-printhead system is that you can run it as a triple-speed 4-color printer (CMYK each three times). This makes the ColorSpan the fastest most productive wide format printer of its class on the market (through now ColorSpan has an even newer faster model, their Mach 12 and others since then).

ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII wide format inkjet color printer ColorSpan DesignMaker XII fine art printer

You can also set the ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII as a double-6-color printer, 2x6 colors. That produces double the speeds of any normal 6-color printer. Or you can run 8 different colors (and have the other colors unloaded). In 8-color mode you naturally get the best color spectrum. The 8-color mode would equal the beautiful output of the earlier model which had only the eight print heads.

By January 2003 we upgraded our ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII to a full set of twelve inks. We enjoyed the increased color gamut and perceived resolution. Of course today, as we enter 2007, there is sophisticated software and new inks and smaller dot size from new generations of Canon iPF5000, iPF6000, iPF9000, HP Z2100 and HP Z3100 photo printers. The Roland d’Vinci and Roland Symphany are also available, though they are both retrofitted models, not officially promoted by Roland Inc.

Read on, this review continues with actual user reports, people who have ColorSpan printers in their studios.

However in cases where people have the Roland, they sometimes comment that it's too slow. Especially at 1440 dpi. Thus the question is, why bother to buy a piezo printer where all the quality that is claimed is sort of not available since it takes over an hour for one single print? The truth of the matter is that most Roland users drop the dpi down to 720 or even to 540 in order to make the printer less slow. The lower the dpi the faster any printer is.

Now that FLAAR has additional facilities in Ohio , at last we have space for the ColorSpan DisplayMaker. We had the opportunity to take part in a two-day operator training program at ColorSpan headquarters. This provided the change to meet the technical support staff at ColorSpan.

The snapshots of the ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII above were taken at PMA trade show in Las Vegas (many years ago) where I spoke with two pleasant people in the ColorSpan booth. The prints are not mine but stock photos.

Reality Check for Speed Claims:

Unrealistic claims for printing speed are a common form of advertising. Although Epson is the worst offender, this practice is by no means exclusive to any one company. Even HP recently succumbed to this temptation. First, the speed claims don't usually tell the uninitiated that the printer does not even begin to print until your image is RIPed. That delay can be 2 minutes to 20 minutes or more. During this time your printer is not even receiving the image so can unlikely even start to print. Second, the claims do not fully explain to the first-time-user that "productivity" mode (high speed mode) equals low-quality mode. In other words, it is unlikely you would often actually want to use the "productivity mode" because it would, well, not be very productive because the images would look like a cheaper printer's output, just ordinary 600 dpi. Why buy an expensive printer and use it to print low-quality output.

Most production mode prints are defaced with severe banding (on thermal printhead systems) or splotchy, grainy, overall poor image (on piezo printhead systems).

Thus when you are calculating your actual production, check with a person who already has a ColorSpan installed in their fine art giclée studio. Keep in mind that you will prefer to use the top quality mode for your clients. This way you will achieve the legendary quality of the ColorSpan. That speed option for quality slows the printer down so it can accomplish the goal of exhibit-quality photo-realistic output. Of course ColorSpan at its slowest is most likely faster than two simultaneous piezo printers printing even in tandem. The piezo ads will also claim to be the "fast" but any thermal printhead system (HP, Encad, and ColorSpan) will be considerably speedier.

Extended Warranty is useful option:

If you live in a large urban area with resident ColorSpan technicians (who come immediately and actually get the printer back into full operating condition within 24 hours), and if you have another printer as backup, then the speed and quality of the ColorSpan wide format printer is indeed tempting. But if you are alone in your shop, have no permanent, full-time technical staff in-house, and if you will have only one single large format printer (such as a ColorSpan) be sure that you take the full operator course (its free). If you live in a remote area, you might also consider taking the service technician course. That way you can attend to your nice new printer and keep yourself, your printer, and your clients content.

ColorSpan owners report to FLAAR that it is helpful to chose your dealer carefully. Some dealers have more or better service technicians than others.

Some of the breakdowns and/or clogged heads are due to lack of maintenance by the users who are new to such a complex and labor-intensive machine. ColorSpan people at trade shows last year have told me that if you skip the daily maintenance then it is not surprising that problems may arise. So when these machines break down, and the user is distraught and sends in an e-mail, I naturally have no way to know whether the machine itself was faulty or whether the maintenance by the owner was faulty. Of course the moral of this story is, that this kind of equipment is not plug-and-play. If you want a printer to keep printing virtually forever, keep it clean.

By the way, don't presume that by selecting another printer such as Roland that you get a printer that operates by itself and never has to be cleaned. Roland printers produce exceptional quality, but piezo printheads are notably sensitive to dust, both airborne dust in your studio as well as particles from the surface of the media itself. The dust may clog the piezo printheads, causing either banding or dropping a color. Dropping a color means that color no longer prints or if prints, then inadequate amounts of that color. Either way, that piezo print is ruined, you have to throw it away, and start all over again. So if you have a Roland printer, use media that has less surface debris, work in a studio with no dust from other work inside or coming in from outside your building. And clean your Roland printheads assiduously. In addition, allow for down time with any good printer.


There are many satisfied users of ColorSpan printers, and we always welcome "true life" reports:

"We have had our machine since November 1999 and as far as problems go, we've had very few problems with the printer since we received it. The main problem we encountered is using third party media. In order to program profiles for our printer, we have to purchase very expensive software to use third party media and this has been a problem as we were not informed of this prior to purchasing the machine. Nothing was mentioned to us and we didn't really know enough to ask the right questions about it.

One other problem we had was the salesman told us we could sheet feed into our machine and we just haven't found a practical way to do that without a lot of paper waste. In fact the machine just practically won't sheet feed.

We have been very happy with technical support when we needed help. There is no 800 number to get to technical help, but I dial 800 customer service number and get transferred rather than dial a long distance number. This has worked so far.

We are happiest with the inks and the length of time they last. Their big pack is just now down to about 30% on one of our colors and we've done a lot of jobs with that ink supply. We've had the machine well over six months on one big pack of each color and are still only at 40% on some."

FLAAR has summarized all our own experiences with the ColorSpan as well as comments we have gathered from a variety of ColorSpan owners. You can get this FLAAR Report by looking at the List of all FLAAR Reports. (autodownload)

How are these reports researched? Very simple: FLAAR has a ColorSpan DisplayMaker XII printer and also a Mach 12 in our test facility at Bowling Green State University. Our editors visit sign shops where ColorSpan printers are being used in daily production. We go to all the trade shows in Germany and across the USA. Plus we have feedback from printer owners around the world. We know all about what it's actually like to have a ColorSpan, Roland, Epson, Encad, Mutoh, or Hewlett-Packard printer in your photo lab, museum, fine art studio, sign shop, or even at home.

FLAAR offers different reports on various aspects of ColorSpan printers. Some reports are based on the two ColorSpan printers in our university; the other reports are derived from site-visit case studies.



Last updated Dec 4, 2006.
Previously updated Jan. 16, 2004 , Jan. 7, 2003 , updated Aug. 14, 2001 (NHM), Last modified by webdesigner Nov. 15, 2002.

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