|Encad Chroma 24|
The Encad Chroma 24 was a good idea many years ago, but today Epson 7600 is better in every respect.
Five years ago we recommended the Encad Chroma 24" large format printer as an entry level printer. However by 2002 this printer has been surpassed by Epson. But since people still buy used Encad Chroma 24 printers, occasional complaints have come in, mostly about weak drivers, poor RIPs, and other comparable problems. If you seek a low priced 24"printer with pigmented inks, neither Encad nor Kodak nor Canon and not even HP makes one in this size class. Only Epson has recognized the need for a 24"entry level printer for home use, pro-sumer, newbie, and new business on a budget.
But since oldies such as the Encad Chroma 24 are available by the hundreds in the used printer arena, it is necessary to provide suggestions. If you find an Encad Chroma 24 at $500 or under, consider it if it actually works. Just realize that you may need a RIP which costs twice the price of the printer. What is a RIP? Get the FLAAR Premium Report Series on RIPs.
When we print a reader's unhappy comment on any printer, just recognize that sometimes the problem is not in the printer, but in an owner who has not taken the trouble to read the instruction manual. The other common cause of a headache is using the wrong media. This is not entirely the blame of the printer (but is the fault of the printer company who does not inform end-users of this aspect of reality). However here is a typical complaint. Keep in mind that if this person had patience he could tweak acceptable output even from an oldie such as the Encad Chroma 24. Besides, few manufacturers update drivers of outdated plotters.
"I have a Encad Chroma 24 but the drivers are "JUNK" the company has not upgraded them since Win95 and I use Adobe Photoshop 5.5 but the print quality of my pictures are really bad and I do mean "BAD" (even on good paper) What would do you think I am doing wrong???? I have seen your Web Pages and the pictures that are coming off the Encad seem to look good. I know I must be doing something wrong but I am new to these and would love some help!!!!!!"
Yes, FLAAR gets museum-quality photo-realistic prints even at 300 dpi on an Encad. Its the Encad NovaJet Pro 36" but the printheads should be the same on the Encad Chroma 24. Difference is the RIP. (RIP is the software that tells the printer whether to do a quickie print at low quality or a slower print at top quality) However the poor quality may not be the fault of the printer, or the drivers (however outmoded they may be).'The reason FLAAR can get museum quality prints from an old 300 dpi relic is because FLAAR is an institute dedicated to professional museum photography. So our photos can make any printer look great. We know, we have plenty of photos hanging proudly in museums and boardrooms from our old NovaJet Pro (vintage 1996).
You may be resizing using the wrong options in Photoshop (get appropriate books; don't write FLAAR for remedial assistance; get books from Peachpit Press). FLAAR uses a $15,000 large format digital scan back (BetterLight) to obtain its test images.
If you too wish to learn how to take museum quality photographs, FLAAR offers a training program "Digital Photography as Input for Wide Format Inkjet Printing" through our partner university. But we offer this via the Internet so you can take the course in the comfort of your home, anywhere in the world, in Spanish, auf Deutsch, or in your native English.
Other images we scan on a $54,000 CreoScitex EverSmart Supreme scanner. In other words, the test images are top quality to begin with. Nonetheless, even our test images from a sub-$2,000 Nikon CoolScan turn out acceptably. This is a polite way of saying, if you enlarge a weak photo to 24" in size, you enlarge every defect in your image. So if you bought an Encad Chroma 24" on the cheap, it most likely came with just printer drivers and no RIP whatsoever. Or, the RIP itself was a "lite" or simply inadequate. The entire range of Creo (Creo-Scitex) scanners is available from Parrot Digigraphic. The Creo Eversmart flatbed scanner range includes the Jazz, Jazz+, Pro II, Select, and Supreme.
We recommend the people at Parrot because they have years of experience with Scitex scanner equipment. Even with the brand name change from Scitex to Creo Scitex to Creo, the Eversmart scanners are the same (now with better software).
The acceptable RIPs are PosterShop, Wasatch, PosterJet but there is no way for us to keep track which of these work on an older printer. The Chroma 24 is, technologically at least, considerably out of date. You will have to ask Encad, your re-seller, or the RIP companies what RIP works on your printer. Cheap RIPs are hardly worth their purchase price but if you find one that improves your quality and speed, let us know. We are gradually updating our evaluations of the Encad Chroma 24 to reflect the current situation (summer 2002).
So what are the alternatives? The HP 500 (you add your own RIP) or 500ps (has onboard RIP) is the most economical of the new generation of 24" printers. Downside is that no UV pigmented inks are available. This economy printer comes only with dye based inks. They fade outdoors after a few weeks; indoors they last perhaps 6 months and then gradually fade. By the second year you would need to reprint them. Same for the HP 800 and 800ps. Only the HP 2xxx, 3xxx and 5xxx DesignJet printers have the option of UV pigmented inks.
Two other alternatives are the Epson 7000, the Epson 7500, or the new Epson 7600. The Epson 7000 allows you to use any ink that is available from aftermarket sources, as well as the bright colorful dye-based inks from Epson. The Epson 7500 allows you to have longevity with UV protection with pigmented inks. Minor downsides are slowness, possible green tint on grayscale images under some conditions, possible bronze tint on some glossy papers (but most pigmented images are printed on matte paper anyway). To out knowledge no other company offers a 24" printer that accepts pigmented inks. So by default the choice is Epson. This printer will operate on its native drivers though we strongly urge you to add an after-market RIP. We look forward to adding both an Epson 7000 and an Epson 7500 to our arsenal of equipment. Each model has advantages; each model will do a few things uniquely (no dye sublimation inks for the 7500, for example). Of course you can buy these Epson printers on the Internet cheaply. But then you get zero installation assistance, zero backup, and no one can provide capable answers on questions of color matching, color management, or related problems.
Another advantage of the Epson 24" solution is that you do not need a RIP (unless you include text with your photos; text requires Adobe PostScript or an emulator which is in every RIP but not in most basic drivers). But save yourself and don't buy an Epson from a P.O. Box company on the internet.
Because if you go for a Chroma 24, there is no one you can count on to assist you. Most sales reps have never even seen an antique such as this model.
Experience demonstrates that it is well worth the investment to order a value-added package from a reputable dealer who has the years of experience to assist you during, and after, the sale. We have inspected several companies that sell Epson printers and have the following reports available that review Epson piezo printers and suggest where might be a good place to purchase them if you wish (FLAAR itself does not sell printers, nor any other hardware or software; FLAAR is a non-profit research institute at a university).
In summary: when your output does not look museum-quality it is sometimes not entirely the fault of your printer. Remember, we have a head start of several years of practice (and we also still make mistakes nonetheless).
Wide Format Printers