High-quality ink-jet printers are getting a lot of attention these days, and with good reason. But other printing technologies exist, and the Alps MD-5000 is a good example of an alternative that delivers functionality comparable to that of the latest photo-quality ink-jets.
Using ribbons coated with a special ink-saturated resin, the MD-5000 offers several unique features, including metallic and spot colors and the ability to print glossy images on plain paper. Although the printer delivers good quality, its relatively high price may lead some users to opt for a lower-cost ink-jet model.
The MD-5000 is compact and easy to set up, although you'll need Alps's $98 SCSI connection kit to use the printer with your Mac. At present, there's no option for directly connecting to the iMac or the new blue-and-white Power Macintosh G3, unless you've installed a SCSI card or USB-to-SCSI adapter.
You can install up to seven cartridges, allowing you to apply special inks or coatings in addition to the manufacturer's MicroDry CMYK process colors. For example, the VPhoto Primer undercoat lets you print photographic images on copier-grade paper or preprinted letterhead with the same quality you'd expect from expensive specialty papers. Other cartridges provide spot colors, glossy overcoats, opaque white and metallic inks, and gold and silver foil.
These specialty ribbons are ideal for creating eye-catching presentations, invitations, or greeting cards. In addition, the overcoat and foil cartridges let you create mock-ups of varnished or foil-stamped output. The ribbons cost between $7 and $12; the price per page is comparable to that of most ink-jets.
When printing with standard MicroDry inks on Alps's photographic paper at its full 2,400-dpi resolution, the MD-5000 does a great job. Colors are well saturated and reasonably accurate. However, the output in this mode is not truly photo-realistic; photos print with the kind of visible line screen you might see in a magazine halftone. Although the effect is no more pronounced than the dot patterns four-color ink-jet printers produce, the output lacks the photographic quality of the newer six-color ink-jet models, such as Epson's Stylus Photo series.
For true continuous-tone photographic output, you'll need Alps's $100 dye-sublimation kit, which produces images with a level of sharpness and color saturation we've not seen in other dye subs. However, we saw some minor banding on a few isolated prints.
Alps claims the printer's output is waterproof, smear-proof, and fade-proof. It's too soon to tell how well the images stand up to sunlight, but unlike the output from most ink-jets, images from this printer are definitely waterproof and smear-proof. The MD-5000 produces some of the sturdiest digitally printed images we've seen.
The MD-5000 produces durable output, and the company's specialty ribbons offer printing options not available with today's popular ink-jet models. But these features carry a price. With photo-quality six-color printers going for less than $300, paying $700 or more (depending on options) for comparable output is difficult to stomach. If you simply need photo-quality prints, a less-expensive ink-jet is a better value. But if you're looking for durable output, need to proof foil-stamped print jobs, or want to produce near photo-quality images on regular paper stocks, the MD-5000 is a good choice.
Rating: PROS: Versatile, durable output; good photo quality with dye-sub option. CONS: Expensive. COMPANY: Alps Electric (800/825-2577, http://www.alpsusa.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $599; Mac connection kit, $98.
july 1999 page: 51