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Xanté's Accel-a-Writer 3G looks like any other laser printer, but behind the beige exterior lies a technological breakthrough: a $6,045 desktop device that can produce four-color separations of surprisingly good quality. It has some limitations, but publishers with relatively modest quality requirements may find the Accel-a-Writer 3G a cost-effective replacement for their service bureau's imagesetter. (Xanté also offers a version for screen-printing applications.)
Based on a Fuji Xerox engine, the 3G can function as a tabloid-format monochrome laser printer. But Xanté has boosted the resolution to 2,400 dpi and added other enhancements that make the printer suitable as a color-separation device. You can produce separations up to 13 by 35.5 inches with halftone screen frequencies as high as 175 lines, although Xanté recommends it primarily for frequencies of 100 to 133 lines. The printer includes a PostScript 3 interpreter licensed from Adobe Systems.
Here's how it works: you produce color separations as reverse negatives on Xanté's Myriad polyester film. Then you run the negatives through the included FilmStar 2 processing unit to increase the toner density. The result is a set of process-color separations that you can use to produce plates or film proofs.
Macworld Lab tested the printer by producing CMYK separations of one of the magazine's covers at 150 lines per inch. We then generated a Matchprint proof from the polyester film and compared the proof with the printed cover. We were pleasantly surprised by the results: although some headlines appeared thicker in the Matchprint than in the original, image quality was excellent, with sharp detail and reasonably accurate color.
The biggest problem with the Accel-a-Writer 3G is the odor. Because the processor uses a rather foul-smelling chemical solution to prepare the film, you'll need to house it in a very well ventilated space. Surprisingly, Xanté says that the solution has no special disposal requirements, unlike the chemicals used to process traditional imagesetter film: you can dump the Accel-a-Writer's solution down the drain.
Aside from the smell, working with the film processor is messy. You'll need to drain and replenish the FilmStar solution once every 50 tabloid prints; one $34.95 bottle is good for three refills. You also need to immerse the film in distilled water to speed drying time (normally three to four hours).
Macworld's Buying Advice
The Accel-a-Writer 3G isn't for everybody. If you publish a slick consumer magazine or other material that requires top-notch image quality, you should probably stay with a high-end imagesetter. However, if you produce a publication with relatively modest quality requirements, the Accel-a-Writer 3G is a cost-effective means of producing color separations.
RATING: PROS: Great color separations for the price. CONS: Processing unit uses foul-smelling chemical. COMPANY: Xanté (800/926-8839, http://www.xante.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $6,045.
July 1999 page: 44