Pros: Wide carriage, Networkable, inkjet technology.
Cons: Does not ship network-ready; i.e. with a network card, or paper.
In the realm of printing, there are a plethora of printer to meet normal desktop, workgroup, and network printing needs. These printers are fine for 8.5" x 11" /14 or smaller printing, but for large format wide carriage printing (24, 36, or 42 inches), there are really only two choices; take the print job to a professional printer, or make an investment and purchase a color plotter. In the world of plotters, there are only three principle manufactures: Canon, Epson, and the ever-present Hewlett Packard (HP).
Our facilities management department (Office of the Building) needed a plotter to print out blueprints of the building, electrical & sewage schematics, network wire runs, and grounds layout. Up until recently they had been working off of outdated professionally rendered blueprints, or up-to-date hand drawings. But with more and more space within the campus being used for specialized tasks, a more workable system of rendering drawings had to be found. They asked me to recommend a plotter, or large format printer; I went with the HP DesignJet 500ps (Postscript) 42 network capable color inkjet plotter.
HP markets the HP DesignJet 500ps to small and medium sized businesses, and describes the plotter as one that can be used for [P]rofessional, personal large format printing for technical and graphics professionals.
The DesignJet 500ps is a full-featured PostScript printing device that utilizes inkjet printing technology to provide detailed and accurate illustrations, for the end-user. Using a combination of four separate inkjet cartridges (Black, Cyan, Red, and Yellow) and four separate print heads, the DesignJet 500ps is able to deliver outstanding image and or text quality with resolutions of up to 1200 x 1200-dpi.
Be prepared, the DesignJet 500ps is not light, in fact it is ships in a re-enforced cardboard box enclosure with a wooded sled attached for easy moving by a forklift. Once unboxed, the plotter must be assembled by placing the main unit on top of cart assembly (it has wheels), and secured via twelve screws. Once completely assembled, the plotter can be moved into place and the wheels locked, and the tape removed.
Next the four separate inkjet cartridges can be installed; do this BEFORE powering on the unit for the first time. I also added a Jet Direct 600n internal print server to the plotter; there is a place for it on the left rear of the printer. If you are going to install a Jet Direct card make sure you install in the right slot; i.e. there are two slots in the back, the Jet Direct should be placed in the slot on the left (inside). Note: the printer can be connected directly to a workstation via a standard USB cable; there is no parallel port.
Once the Jet Direct card and cartridges were installed I powered on the unit, at which point the DesignJet 500ps went through a rather lengthy process (at least tem minutes) of preparing the ink system for use. Once this process is complete, I was prompted to install the print-heads (included) into a carriage that slides out from the right side of the plotter. Dummy print-heads are inserted in the plotter for shipment and will have to be removed before the real print-heads can be installed. Another rather lengthy ink system preparation takes place, and then the DesignJet 500ps is ready to align the print-heads; this process requires paper. Note: paper does not ship with this plotter; it will have to be purchased separately. Paper installation is a two man job since it store on a large roll that is quiet heavy.
Once the paper was installed, I started the print-head alignment process, which at the end prints a test page. The DesignJet 500ps printed a page very similar to the ones printed on other inkjet printers, and when it was finished automatically cut the paper, which fell into the tray that runs the length of the printer from just below the printer body to the bottom of the cart.
I then proceeded to configure the Jet Direct print server. I gave the card the necessary IP information and then installed the necessary print drivers (standard PS drivers for Windows 2000/XP) on the print server, attached to it, and printed out a standard Windows XP test print page. I was tempted to install the included AutoCAD drivers as well, but decided to wait until we have the software installed on each workstation. That and I wanted to make sure I install the latest AutoCAD drivers.
Of course with DesignJet 500ps you can print from any program, but thus far we have confined the group to printing from Microsoft Visio. The results of course have been outstanding. There has been a little waste of paper while the group that will utilize this plotter becomes accustomed to the nuances of the DesignJet 500ps. I have heard stories from other Network Administrators that the drive belts on these plotters are prone to failure so I will have to keep an eye on that for the foreseeable future, and make sure we keep up with the warranty. The basic warranty is only a year, sub-standard in my book for a unit that is a considerable investment.
Rendering, Plotting & Printing
I loaded AutoCAD 2006 (an evaluation copy which arrived by mail a day after I installed the plotter) onto my personal workstation. And using sample drawings from the program did a number of printouts from the DesignJet 500ps, the first of which was a three-sided elevation of a Hummer dealership that just happens to be going up not to far from where I live. The blueprint is faithful to the building being erected; I drive past it everyday on my way to work. The lines were clean and precise; there was no banding and the text was remarkable easy to read, even the smallest of print show no signs of jagged edges or smearing.
The second rendering was of a two story house plan in color, with considerable text. Again the DesignJet 500ps rendered the drawing faithfully and without banding, jagged edges or smearing. Both drawings were dry when they emerged from the plotter, and the DesignJet 500ps automatically cut the page when it was done rendering the drawing; it dropped into the output tray below the plotter.
The DesignJet 500ps is not fast; indeed the first rendering took some ten minutes to complete. The drawing was over 4MB in size but it spooled to the printer quickly over the network (via the print server) and started printing almost immediately. The second rendering was only 2MB and took half as long to render. You are afforded a modicum of control over the plotter however via the printer properties dialog box; you can for instance control the quality of the output; e.g. economy, normal, and best are choices just like any other HP printer.
Checking in at some $3000.00 plus shipping and tax, a decision to purchase the DesignJet 500ps was not taken lightly. However, the plotters specialized use and the incorporation by HP of standard inkjet technology will help hold down the cost of ownership. I like that the plotter is networkable, but for the amount of money we paid for it, it should have shipped network ready. Nevertheless, if you need a relatively inexpensive (enterprise-class plotters can cost in excess of $10,000) networkable plotter solution, look no further then the DesignJet 500ps by HP.