Hewlett-Packard’s new DesignJet 120nr has a lot going for it. It’s a networkable, Rendezvous-enabled printer that handles a wide range of papers, including roll-fed papers that can produce prints 24 inches wide and 50 feet long. It uses six colors of dye-based inks in 4-picoliter droplets to produce very fine detail. The DesignJet 120nr is also quite speedy — a 2-by-3-foot print at best quality takes about 13 minutes to print, and a tabloid-size print takes about 4 minutes. The only flaw is the relatively poor color fidelity offered by the standard driver — a strange oversight in a printer aimed at the graphic-arts market.
Unpacking and installing the 48.4-pound, 41.3-by-20.5-by-8.7-inch printer is not particularly easy — the only instructions provided are several sheets of small numbered illustrations that definitely aren’t designed for easy reading, so installing the roll feeder, paper cutter, ink cartridges, and print heads isn’t as straightforward as we’d like.
By contrast, connecting the printer to our Mac network was easy (we used TCP/IP, but the printer also supports AppleTalk over 10/100BaseT Ethernet, as well as nonnetwork USB and parallel interfaces). Printer maintenance is also a snap: the printer hosts its own Web site, which you can access via a Web browser and then easily perform maintenance and diagnostics tests; if your network has Internet access, HP technicians can perform remote diagnostics if necessary.
The print quality is some of the best we’ve seen from an HP printer, much better than that of desktop printers such as the PhotoSmart 7550, and entirely comparable to that of competing Canon and Epson desktop dye-based printers such as the Canon S9000 Photo Printer and Epson Stylus Photo 1280 Inkjet Printer.
However, graphic artists may find that the standard printer driver’s color-matching abilities leave a great deal to be desired — the driver ignores any color profiles embedded in files, and tends to shift blues toward cyan. (The driver offers some slider-based controls that let you adjust the output, but we found them ineffective.) HP offers an Adobe PostScript 3 software RIP ($335) that claims to provide full support for ColorSync and for Pantone color matching. If color matching is important to you, plan on either buying the RIP or building profiles yourself — we were able to get great color by building custom profiles for the papers we used.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you need an all-round color printer that can handle a wide variety of paper formats, the HP DesignJet 120nr is a qualified contender. But if color matching is important to you, plan on adding the optional RIP unless you’re experienced in color management and building profiles.