Commercial photo printing, whether for the consumer or professional markets, relies on the sale of low-cost, high-quality products that can be sold with a healthy profit margin. Printing Press has covered small and large printers for photo books, calendars and other photo products, but what about oversized displays, like posters, wall portraits and canvas prints? Wide-format printers, in the 13- to 64-inch-wide output range, are manufactured and sold by only a handful of companies that play a critical role in the retail photo lab.
Epson has a long history of developing wide-format printers for photography, graphic arts and signage. The SureColor P series comprises Epson’s most popular wide-format photographic printers.
“SureColor P-series printers are what Epson is known for,” says Reed Hecht, senior product manager, Epson Professional Imaging. “They tend to be 8- to 11-color systems that are versatile and capable of use in unique applications. The P stands for ‘photography,’ but it also includes graphic designers, illustrators and scrapbookers. It even has industrial applications, like proofing for commercial printing.
“The P series incorporates the core technology Epson started in the 1990s. Technically, it presented challenges because we made a conscious choice to go with a pigment-based ink,” he explains. “Over the 18 years we’ve been developing printers, we’ve solved those problems. We’ve also constantly pushed forward on speed, cost, quality and black-and-white quality, which we resolved with our advanced black-and-white mode.”
Due to pigment-based inks, Epson color prints are rated durable for 200 years; black-and-white prints last 400 years, according to Wilhelm Imaging Research.
“Some of the world’s greatest photography is produced on Epson P-series printers,” says Hecht. “While these prints are very valuable in terms of dollars, for many they’re also valuable in terms of the photographers’ legacy. At Epson, we refer to those prints as ‘printer legacy.’ Our goal is for photographers, graphic artists and illustrators to use our printers as the tool that best achieves their vision.”
Fujifilm North America
Fujifilm is an Epson partner/reseller for photo labs and retail applications. Adds Hecht: “Fujifilm had products they could market and sell for small-format printing, so they looked to us to help fill the wide-format gap.”
“We act as an Epson channel partner inside the photo retail space, marketing and selling their units inside photo retail channels,” says Steven Vallario, director, Product Management, Hardware Solutions, Fujifilm. “Fujifilm has relationships with a lot of retailers, to whom we provide complete, fully integrated photo-processing solutions—some with Epson printers.”
“For the retail environment, Fujifilm is most successful with the Epson 24-inch SureColor P6000,” adds Hecht. “It uses our professional-level HD ink, with three levels of black, so you get amazing black-and-white prints, and a nine-ink system for vibrant colors.”
The 24-inch P6000 and 44-inch P8000 printers incorporate Epson PrecisionCore TFP printheads and UltraChrome HD eight-color pigment ink sets. Retailers can choose from Epson photo, matte and textured inkjet papers, plus a 1.2mm poster material coated for inkjet.
Wide-Format Printers for Pro Photo Labs
For professional photo labs, Epson focuses on productivity. “Our 44-inch SureColor P10000 and 64-inch P20000 are production-level printers for professional photo labs and some retail photo labs,” says Hecht. “We created a printer that’s 2.5x the speed of previous generation Epson printers, while providing the same level of image quality.”
Both high-production printers include 2.6-inch-wide Epson PrecisionCore MicroTFP printheads. In addition, they employ UltraChrome Pro nine-color pigmented ink sets, with four levels of gray.
“There are two things that drive Epson to develop printers,” Hecht explains. “One is the printhead, which is the printer’s engine. It’s what achieves the quality, accuracy, consistency and speed our printers produce. The second is the ink technology, which we develop in our labs in Japan. The other piece that’s critically important is the media. You can have a really good printhead, great ink and an excellent printer, but if you’re printing on low-quality media, your print isn’t going to look good.”
Canon introduced its first imagePrograf Pro printer, the Pro-1000, in 2015. The Pro-2000 and Pro-4000 followed in 2016 and the Pro-6000 in 2017. Moreover, all employ Canon’s Lucia Pro 11-color plus chroma optimizer pigment ink system, a 1.28-inch-wide 12-channel compact printhead, a high-precision mechanical platform and the L-COA Pro high-speed image processor.
Matte black and photo black inks have dedicated nozzles, so no switching is necessary. To eliminate waste, a sub-ink-tank system in the Pro-2000/4000/6000 removes all the ink in the tank before it is replaced, and tanks are replaced on the fly.
“Canon Pro printers come standard with a densitometer. It allows the printer to calibrate to optimal settings,” says Rich Reamer, senior director of Canon’s large-format solutions. “The photographer gets the best print every time—even from printer to printer if they have more than one.”
The 17-inch Pro-1000 is the most popular model for retail photo printing, says Reamer; retail printers who require larger output on roll-fed media prefer the 24-inch Pro-2000.
“The Pro-4000 is popular for professional photo labs,” he continues. “The 44-inch size allows a variety of print sizes. It also has an option for a second roll, for greater productivity and convenience.”
Canon supplies its Professional Print & Layout software free with the printers. It’s a stand-alone RIP or plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
“These unique Canon technologies and innovations establish the foundation for an ultrahigh-quality photography solution available only from Canon,” says Reamer. “Powered by a Canon-to-Canon workflow that links images captured with EOS digital cameras and printed on imagePrograf Pro printers, the solution delivers prints that capture the moment as well as the emotion of the original image. The overwhelmingly high print quality produced by this input-to-output solution is called Crystal-fidelity.”
HP released its DesignJet Z9+ PostScript printer series in 2018. Available in 24- and 44-inch formats, the Z9 series also includes a dual-roll, 44-inch version with a vertical trimmer. In addition, all three tightly integrate materials, hardware and software to produce maximum photo quality and print permanence with fewer inks. The result is a more manageable workflow and reduced costs, according to company.
HP’s Pixel Control color technology features an expanded color gamut. It uses nine RGB HP Vivid photo inks (compared to 12 inks previously). Moreover, printers employ dual drop technology, powered by HP Nozzle Architecture and high-definition printheads, to increase color gamut by 10%, especially in dark colors. The combination of small and large ink droplets eliminates the need for separate light-color inks.
“The DesignJet Z printer series radically enhances the customer experience. It also reinvents printing possibilities for professional photo and signage, to ignite growth and adapt to future needs,” says Guayente Sanmartin, general manager/global head, HP Large Format Design Printing. “We thoughtfully designed the printers to deliver impressive photo quality without compromising time resources and output speeds with the new vertical trimmer and innovative color technologies.”
Looking to offer large-format posters, wall portraits or canvas prints in-house? Check out this sample of wide-format printers geared for the retail photo lab.