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Mutoh Falcon II Large Format Printer from Agfa Print E-mail

Agfa rebrands Mutoh piezo inkjet printers as the GrandSherpa. Their RIP is rebranded, from (Oce) Onyx PosterShop (same as Ilford does). What you get is Agfa service. In other words, if you are in Guatemala, then Agfa would be a good brand to buy because there is an official Agfa dealer (but no full-scale Hewlett-Packard or full-scale Encad dealer, or at least not last year).

Grand Sherpa 64 large format printerKodak used to sell the older generation six-color Mutoh Falcon (Kodak 3043, Kodak 3038, Kodak 3062); they were probably counting on the own Kodak 5260 to replace the Mutoh, but the Kodak 5260 could not be manufactured to meet expected claims.

Agfa and a few other companies have picked up the newer Mutoh Falcon II. Accuplot seems to have disappeared. I-Jet OEMs of Mutoh Falcon of two years ago is not really available any longer either. Output from the I-Jet version of Mutoh was really beautiful, but Improved Technologies switched to featuring the Mimaki JV4

How does a Mutoh printer compare with a ColorSpan, Hewlett-Packard or Encad large format printer?

Although ColorSpan, Encad and Hewlett-Packard are the three traditional best-selling large format color inkjet printers for doing signs, posters, and banners, Mutoh is also an upcoming entity. Mutoh used to also be the manufacturing company for Epson, that means, Epson makes the print heads, Mutoh made the body. When you buy a Mutoh Falcon II (or Agfa GrandSherpa) then you get a sturdy Mutoh body (we presume Mutoh puts more money into its own Mutoh body). About a year ago it was rumored that Mutoh lost the contract to manufacture the Epsons but we have not yet heard confirmed statements of who the new manufacturer is (it was at one time rumored to be Mimaki, but none of this is certain).

So when you buy a Mutoh, you get Epson printheads but with Mutoh software drivers and a Mutoh sheet metal frame.

For years Mutoh sold well in Europe but poorly in America, a result of lack of strong reseller system in the USA. Now Mutoh seeks to sell directly, a tough assignment. Canon has found it difficult to find dealers and sell direct, hence low sales of their Canon BJ-W9000 and newer W8200, etc.

Most individuals who seek to produce fine art giclee prefer Epson or Roland (which also uses Epson's older heads). Increasingly fine art printing companies prefer Mimaki JV4 so that they can utilize aftermarket inks. The art department on our university campus prefers the HP DesignJet 5000ps and 5500. They have an Epson 9000 and an Epson 7500 available but prefer the output from the HP's pigmented ink color gamut unless they have to use very thick media, in which case the HP can't be used at all). Mutoh is capable of producing fine art and decor but Epson does not allow competition in these markets. Since Epson controls who gets to use their printheads, Epson can also decide which Epson-printhead clones can enter which markets.

Mutoh offers an older 4-color ink system and a slightly less old six-color system such as used in the Epson 9000. One of the Creo Iris printers (one of their proofers) is a Mutoh under the hood.

inks for large format printersI see a few Mutoh printers at various trade shows and the quality looks okay. But until time permits actually having one in my own studio to test I can only report what I see at trade shows (not much) and what feedback I get from end users (not much because few people have them). Since I have more experience with ColorSpan, Encad, Hewlett-Packard, and Mimaki large format printers, and as these brands are by far the most popular, it is best to stick with them for doing signs, posters.

HP DesignJet is also capable of doing fine art prints (photo realistic) unless you need thick paper (which will not fit through HP's media path). Encad has too grainy a dot structure to accomplish true exhibit-quality prints in comparison to the HP prints, which use stochastic printing as well as error correcting to achieve a superior quality in photographic enlargements. Earlier model Encad printers have the advantage, however, that you can use whatever ink you wish, such as the Ilford Archival inks, which have a high rating from knowledgeable end users. When you eventually might want to sell off your wide format printer, you will more likely get a better price for a used HP because people respect this brand name and are hence likely to want to buy them used. Encad has been losing market share steadily every year as people found out the HP DesignJet was more reliable and had less quirks. ColorSpan is best for speed. There is nothing wrong with a Mutoh but I would doubt they fetch as much when you try to sell them used. Mutoh, Roland, and Epson printers are all slow since they use the same Epson piezo-electric heads.

At Print '01 (September 2001), Agfa prematurely showed the new Mutoh Falcon II (as the Agfa Grand Sherpa). Like all beta versions of future piezo printers it had severe banding problems. I can never understand why a billion dollar company shows an unfinished printer that has serious defects.

Anyway, in the subsequent months the Mutoh Falcon II (and the Agfa Grand Sherpa version) have steadily improved. At ISA 2002 and IPEX 2002 (April 2002 in Birmingham, England), I noted that the Mutoh and Agfa had gotten rid of the serious aspects of banding. But it was interesting to note at IPEX that the most eye catching media at the entire show was on dye ink with the Canon BJ-W9000; at ISA best media was Oce (Arkwright) on an HP 5000 in the Reece booth. Since Agfa sells their printer primarily as a proofer, you don't want or need the spectacular glossy appearance that the Canon can produce with its dye inks.

It will be interesting to compare the finished Mutoh Falcon II and the Mimaki JV4, since they both use the same printheads. Falcon II however can use six colors (or dual CMYK). Although the Mutoh and Agfa have 8 ink lines, they do not use 8 different colors. Instead they allow only 6 colors and 2 cleaning fluids. The Mimaki is has six colors, albeit in dual set (12 ink lines, but neither eight nor twelve colors, only ColorSpan printers can do a full 8 or a full 12 colors).

If you seek comparative data on the ColorSpan, HP, or the Agfa GrandSherpa, we have reports in PDF format on all of these.

Summary on Mutoh printers

FLAAR editors have personally inspected an Agfa GrandSherpa at work in a prepress shop. The owner was content, though he did indicate a few features were still be worked on by Agfa. He said he preferred this printer due to the service he got from his local Agfa dealer. There was no HP, Encad, or Mimaki dealer near him which had the level of tech support that Agfa could provide.

So check out who is available in your home town. The dealer may be as important a decision as the name brand of the printer. Of course with our other brands of printers we don't need a local dealer since those other printers are so easy to use and such a workhorse.

Your main decision will be whether a piezo printhead or a thermal printhead can work best for your company. They are as different as night and day. Mutoh, Agfa, Epson, Roland, and Mimaki are all the same identical Epson printheads. ColorSpan and HP both use HP thermal printheads. Canon makes its own thermal printheads. Encad and Kodak get their printheads from Lexmark.

 

 

Last updated: July 17, 2004.
Previous updates: Sept. 2, 2002, Oct. 20, 2001 Feb. 20, 2003.

 
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