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Moving into a market dominated by Epson, Hewlett-Packard recently released a line of large-format ink-jet printers for graphic designers. The three printers, the DesignJet 10ps, 20ps, and 50ps, are all based on the same print engine but offer different configurations for single users, workgroups, and dedicated prepress shops. All three models are PostScript-based color-proofing devices, along the lines of Epson's successful Stylus Pro 5000, albeit with a few important differences. We looked at the entry-level DesignJet 10ps ($849) and found that it does a good job of proofing, although it has some performance issues.
RIPping off Your Mac
Most proofers use an external RIP (raster image processor) that takes print jobs from your Mac, processes them, and prints them. The DesignJet 10ps uses your Mac to perform this image processing, which means that its performance depends on the speed of your Mac. In most instances, you may as well go make a cup of coffee while your Mac processes files through the RIP. For example, a single large-format page took more than ten minutes to process on our relatively fast 466MHz Power Mac G4.
Once the processing is finished, the actual printing is rather quick. This is due to a half-inch print swath, which makes the printer able to cover more paper in a single pass than lower-priced ink-jet printers can.
Apart from its less expensive but slower RIP solution, the DesignJet is impressive. It can print on paper as large as 13 by 19 inches, so you can print a full-bleed, double-page spread with registration and crop marks. The DesignJet also has a duplex unit for double-sidedbooklet proofing.
The point of using a proofer is getting consistent, accurate color; to achieve this, the DesignJet has a few tricks up its sleeve. It has a six-ink, 2,400-dpi system that uses dye-based inks; HP claims that this system enables the printer to cover 90 percent of Pantone's spot colors. It can also emulate SWOP, Euroscale, DIC, and Toyo printing presses, and it's ColorSync compatible.
Image quality is excellent. You can achieve the same quality with some lower-priced ink-jet printers, but the crucial difference is that the DesignJet uses PostScript to generate prints with highly accurate color reproduction. The average ink-jet printer can't do that--which is why designers often shell out cash for expensive, accurate color proofs.
If you're using Mac OS X, you'll have to wait a few months for native drivers for the DesignJet. Until then, you need Mac OS 8.5.1 or later, or you'll have to print from OS X's Classic mode.
Macworld's Buying Advice
The DesignJet 10ps is ideal as a personal printer for a single designer. The cost per page is much less than it would be if you constantly paid for expensive proofs, the unit price is affordable, and the quality and color consistency are impressive.
Hewlett-Packard has touted this printer's speed, and under the right circumstances it can be fast. But the speeds many designers yearn for simply aren't there. To be fair, this is a limitation shared by most software-based PostScript RIPs, and if you have a speedy Mac you can dedicate to it, the DesignJet 10ps (or the network-capable 20ps, priced at $1,495) can be a nice addition to your workflow.