Would you like to see your work larger than A3 or tabloid size? There are several ways of obtaining bigger prints, the choice depending on the quantity, the actual purpose and the budget envisaged. Photo : Epson Stylus Pro 9000

Of course, the small enterprise which requires a banner for a trade show or the association which has taken a stand at a fair is advised to call up a service bureau, quick printer, pre press shop, etc, which is equipped with a wide-format printer and can turn out prints in widths of 36, 54 inch and even greater (65 to 72"). It is best to research locally (Yellow Pages, back of computer graphics magazines, etc.). On the Internet, over 70,000 web sites are listed worldwide under 'Quick Printers' or 'Copy Shops', many of whom offer this service.     

Not all that long ago it appeared that large-format inkjet printers were used solely by CAD engineers, architects, advertising agencies and suchlike. Since they have now come down in price, more people are finding a reason to buy one instead of sending out work of this kind. As a director of Raster Graphics pointed out, "time is not wasted waiting for color proofs to return and changes can be made more quickly.." It all depends on how often you use such a machine whether it is worthwhile from the cost point of view. Perhaps the greatest argument for having one of these wide-format printers on the premises is that the designer gains greater control over the appearance of the final print.

Although prices are declining, it would be foolish to expect the level to descend to anywhere near that for the tabloid-size desktop inkjets. The print-head principle may be the same in some cases, but everything is larger and the paper feed mechanism more complex.


The majority of desktop printers are made to handle A4, letter or perhaps legal-size paper. Even those which can print on A3/tabloid are not all that numerous (e.g., the Kodak DCP 9000, QMS Colorscript 330, Tektronix Phaser 380, Epson Stylus Photo 1200 or the model 3000 and a few others). Color copiers and most flatbed desktop scanners also stop at 12 x 17 inch, so it looks like a kind of graphic arts frontier. If one wishes to go further, it may be possible, but an extra effort is required.

Beg, borrow, steal

There is a basic difference whether you are only interested in realizing your own creative ideas or prepared to subordinate creativity and print out work for other people, professional colleagues, club members - not to mention 'customers'. As elsewhere on this site, we prefer to focus attention in this column on the individual needs of photographers, graphic designers, artists and those people in the liberal professions who sometimes need big prints.

So how often will you require prints of really large format? Photographers, how large is the next exhibition portolio? If the requirements are not all that frequent, the best solution appears to be to print your own work in-house as far as A3/talboid (perhaps A2 with the Epson 3000) and hand any larger work to a service bureau or, better, to one of those firms which specialize in producing fine-art work with durable materials (more at the end). After all, these wide-format machines still represent a considerable investment. That means about $3000 to $12,000 for the thermal type and $20,000 to $50,000 for a piezo-electric printer. As with any other item of office or studio hardware, the individual user has to consider whether it is justified from the business point of view and not just be carried away by the prestige and promising possibilities!

As you will doubtless have seen in some design magazines as well as on the Web, certain up-and-coming computer artists manage to obtain a loan of such a big machine from Calcomp, Hewlett Packard or Encad. The larger the group of artists (e.g., Unique Editions, USA, had five members at the time), the more worthy your project, the more effective the publicity for the manufacturer, the greater the chance the latter will put a machine at your disposal.

Justified or not

For the majority of individuals, however, the answer is likely to be negative. 'No', that is, to the question whether is worth buying for studio or private use. It is probably better to look for a fine-art printer who comes up to your expectations, can cope with the inherent problems of color management and with whom you can establish a good working partnership. So this column is therefore going to be concerned in future with such as issues as how can one be sure that a tabloid-size print, correctly balanced on a desktop printer in your own studio (your 'proofer'), will turn out as desired on a remote wide-format printer. In other words, it is above all a question of communication, color calibration, color profiles and establishing a mutual working standard. More to follow in the coming months.

Which process?

It was Epson which made the piezo-electric technique popular on the desktop (A4/letter). The main difference between this device and a thermal print-head is in how the ink is ejected. In the former, a slice of piezo-electric quartz flexes when it is subjected to a pulse of electric current. In the latter, the ink is heated to about 400° C to form a bubble which bursts, ejecting a droplet of ink. Afterwards, the ink chamber requires a split second to return to normal, imposing a limit on the firing frequency. Whereas the rate here was reported by one manufacturer to be 20 Khz, the piezo-head is now on its way from 50 to 100 Khz. So the gain in printing speed must be obvious. A further advantage is the greater flexibility in the choice of inks for the piezo process which involves less heat. This is opening the way to more viscous, solvent-based inks, pigmented sets and so on, which will stand up to exposure for longer.

The buzz word

To side-step the vendor's spam and be sure of obtaining top image quality, it is very important to know what kind of equipment a fine-art printer is using. If you read the current issues of magazines in the field of digital imaging and wide-format printing as well as surfing the graphics sites on the Web - and perhaps attending a seminar on the subject - there seems to be general agreement now about which printers provide the kind of quality which will stand scrutiny on the photography and fine-art market.

Certainly, the reputation of the Iris Giclee is established here. The new alternatives include the Hi-Fi Jet FJ 40 + 50 from Roland with its 64-nozzle Micro-Piezo Head and long-lasting pigmented inks, the PiezoPrint 5000 from Raster Graphics, the CrystalJet 7042 from Calcomp, the Giclee Printer FA from ColorSpan (8-color thermal) - not to mention, of course, the Iris GPrint produced by Scitex Corporation. A promising newcomer here is Epson's Stylus Pro 9000 which uses the latest Micro-Piezo DX3 print-head. It features a six-color ink system and a resolution of 1440 x 720 dpi and is claimed to provide astonishing photographic quality.

These are serious 'alternatives', because the above machines offer fine-art results at less cost than the classic Iris Gicleé.

In the meantime I am including the URL (or E-mail address) of an number of relevant sites where you can obtain further information on the wide-format printers mentioned, companies which offer fine-art printing services and organizations which tackle the issue of print permanence.

Publishers of Limited Edition Art Prints

J. Arthur Davis:  8960 Bridge Road , Hummelstown, PA 17036. E-mail: [email protected]

Hunter Editions:  Situated in Kennebunkport, Maine and founded in 1994. Uses Iris and Roland giclée processes. The company states:

"Giclee printmaking at Hunter is more cost-effective than traditional fine art printing methods. Initial costs are affordable, and the fact that prints are stored electronically and can be produced in small quantities on demand means you can reorder whenever you need them and be assured of a consistent product."   E-mail:

Pearl PublishingGiclee Fine Art Printing. 503-242-4994 333 NW 11th. Avenue Portland, OR 97209


Makers of Iris 3047-Prints:

Artificial Image, Lützowstraße 100, 10785 Berlin; Fax 030 - 25 79 99 16:

Dunz-Wolff GmbH, 20146 Hamburg; Fax 040- 432 43 100:

Salon Iris: Fiedler & Duerr OEG . Lindengasse 26 . A-1070 Wien . Tel+Fax (0043-1) 522 72 92 . e-mail [email protected]

Avanti Fargstudio AB, Box 30165, Stockholm 10425; Fax: 46 8 6188990;

Claes Photo Lab, Antwerpen B-2030; Fax: 323-541-7977

Metro Imaging, London, England EC1M 5QA; Fax: 171 865 0001

Diavographie: Print und Service, Kiel; Fax 0431-5578792:

Inkjet printer manufacturers:

Archival permanence:

International Association of Fine Art Digital Printmakers:  At the moment a new series of tests is being conducted for the Association IAFADP by Wilhelm Imaging (below).The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 2000 in Miami. The event will cover both technical and aesthetic issues in the form of workshops, seminars, panel discussions, technology presentations, etc.  Watch . for developments

Info on print and ink permanence: Wilhelm Imaging Research Inc.

Magazines on the subject:

Print and Online magazine for giclee printing:

Digital Fine Art Magazine:

Digital Graphics Magazine:

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