HP’s new Z3100 is a 12 ink large format printer with some great features.
In this article I look at setup and initial use of the printer and my impressions of ease of use and print quality.
My Z3100 is the 24 inch wide model. Even so, this is a large printer when it is delivered. A huge box and very heavy (around 105kg) makes this a setup job for two strong people. When you open the box there are well written and accurate setup instructions right in the top of the box. Physical setup is very easy. You put the stand together first. The actual printer comes upside down in the box, so you actually turn the stand upside down and bolt it to the printer itself. Two people are then needed. If you follow the instructions it all works perfectly. The assembled printer and stand at tilted over to lay on their side and then the printer is lifted upright. The combined assembly is very rigid, so flexing will not be an issue with this printer. Physical installation is amazingly fast.
Installing the heads and ink is also very easy. You then turn the printer on and it runs through its setup cycle. Configuring the network connection (if that is what you are using) happens virtually automatically and you have a working printer in an amazingly short period of time.
The printer software installation installs profiles for all the HP papers ( and the supported third-party ones). My first print happened within about an hour of starting the installation process and I was hugely impressed. Even without doing an individual profile on the paper in use, the color was excellent, BW images neutral and the prints crisp and sharp.
Doing a custom profile on HP paper or any other is very easy. You do this from the HP control software you install on your computer, rather than from the control panel on the printer. It takes awhile, but you don’t need to be involved at all. I did this on a number of third-party papers and the results were impressive. What I love is that the supplied printed documentation that comes with the printer (a decent size manual) takes you step by step through not only the printer functions but what settings to use in Photoshop and the printer driver to get accurate color. The printer driver and profiling system give you all the functions you need to dial in exactly the color you want. I do not believe anyone would find that they could not achieve the color they want with this printer, no matter how exacting they were, because all the tools are there to get it right.
Physically controlling the printer is very easy. The paper handling is excellent. When you load a sheet or roll of paper the printer attempts to auto align the paper. If it can’t the LCD screen instructions take you step by step through the process. It works every time. I have not once had to unload the paper and start over. Interacting with the printer is easy. When you load paper it asks you what paper you are installing. It all works well. Printing is fast, though I do find the printer a little noisy in my very small office space. It is not objectionable, just louder than I would like. In a larger studio I suspect you would not notice.
You also have a great range of software utilities and also a web interface for controlling various functions of the printer. You can get reports on print jobs that have been run through it, including an estimate of how much ink was used (great for billing), ink levels, etc.
I then set about printing a variety of images (color and monochrome) on a number of papers (both HP and others) and I am hugely impressed by the results. Print quality is stunning. Color is bright, accurate and has great subtlety as well. Monochrome looks fantastic too. Text and graphic printing produces sharp, crisp lines without visible dots or raggedness at normal distances. Up very close (as my short-sightedness allows and with a good loop) there is slight roughness and a little softness to text and lines, but I think well within what you see with other printers. Tonal graduations are smooth. What I love about this printer is that switching paper is so easy. Hit the unload button and the current paper unloads. Swap the roll or load a sheet, let the printer align it, select the paper type that is loaded and off you go. Having separate matt and gloss black inks means there is no purging. This was especially noticeable as I had the Epson 3800 in for testing at the same time as my initial testing of the HP and it would take forever (and a lot of ink I suspect) every time I swapped over. None of that with the Z3100. Prints look stunning. Handing the resulting prints to a variety of people produced no negative and only positive comments.
This is one great printer. I love it and look forward to a lot of happy printing.