Measuring 49 by 19 by 14 inches, the HP DesignJet 500PS is relatively compact (for a large-format printer) and can easily be placed on a desktop or on optional legs ($245). The printer sports a hip design, with rounded corners, curvy moldings, and a large, front-panel LCD.
Setting up the 500PS involves little more than uncrating the printer, plugging it in, and installing the ink cartridges and print heads, which easily snap into place. Separate ink cartridges are used for each color (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black); the 500PS uses replaceable print heads. One black cartridge lasts through about 15 D-sized (32.7 by 21.6 inches) full-color prints without white space; each color cartridge produces about 30 D-sized prints. Print heads last through about 150 D-sized prints.
The 500PS uses a straight-through paper path: paper is easily loaded from the back of the printer. After checking paper alignment, the 500PS automatically trims the front to ensure a square edge. Loading in general is easy. However, because the paper is rolled with its printable side up, glossy paper is exposed to potentially damaging oil from hands -- therefore, caution must be used. A built-in cutter is included, an option that is activated through the driver.
In its stock configuration, the 500PS provides USB and parallel port connections. Though its USB port is fully Plug and Play, if you require a networkable printer, you'll have to spend an extra $330 for HP's JetDirect Ethernet card.
The HP DesignJet 500PS large-format printer creates full-color 24-inch-wide prints using sheets or rolls of a variety of papers ranging from matte to glossy to artist stretch canvas up to 150 feet long. HP's software RIP installs easily on any Mac running OS 8.6 or later, and it is much improved over HP software of a few years ago. The 500PS ships with a chooser-accessible driver -- complete with options for selecting media type, color management, and print size. Plus, it comes with ICC profiles, ColorSync profiles, and is fully Pantone certified. Profile setup is easily accessed from the printer's print dialog box.
However, printing is not as simple as just hitting the print button. We found it necessary to increase the memory size of the RIP before we could print a D-sized QuarkXPress document. The RIP reported this trouble as a simple PostScript error -- it wasn't until we dug through the RIP's print log that the memory problem was discovered. Needless to say, HP's software could use improved handling of errors.
The 500PS is a fairly speedy printer, but it doesn't break any records. Because your Mac is used as the RIP, RIP time is dependent on the speed of your computer, and during printing, your computer's performance will be slowed. On our 500MHz G4, we were able to RIP a 34MB Photoshop file in just under three minutes. Printing was complete in nine minutes, with an additional five-and-a half-minute drying time. After drying, prints were devoid of smearing and tackiness.
Photo prints showed good detail and minimal artifacting. The only major drawbacks: after many attempts, we could not get deeply saturated reds and oranges to print; black shadowy areas printed out dark gray at best. At 1,200 by 600 dpi, the 500PS produced small text with a lot of jagged edges.
If you've been looking for a large-format color printer for outputting big line art such as presentation graphics or giant pie charts, the 500PS is a solid choice. Plus, in the same package, you get a decent printer for color photo output. However, if your objective is to print deep, rich colors and dark, inky blacks, you'll want to consider a different printer.