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GIS workhorse plotter for maps, CAD and imagery
Written: Jul 16, 2009 (Updated Apr 15, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Ease of Use:
Pros:Good printing size, speed and quality
Fairly easy to change paper rolls
Panel help screen
Cons:Sometimes wastes paper
Expensive ink cartridges and print heads
Requires periodic maintenance
The Bottom Line: I'm very pleased with this plotter at my office and recommend it to anyone in the GIS or mapping industry.
As a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Specialist and Cartographer (map maker), I have worked with many plotters over the last two decades. Mainly, I have used plotters to print maps, PDFs, CAD drawings and aerial photographs in large format sizes. Since I started a new job with a consulting firm last August, I have used my firm's HP Designjet 4000PS Inkjet Plotter to print hundreds of maps and images for presentation to clients and in-house analysis. Overall, I have been impressed by the speed and quality of the plotter's output, and find it more than suitable for my needs. My usage ranges from 0-2 plots per day (I work part time) to more than 10 in a single day. My average plots range in size from 20x24 to 36x48 and beyond.
If you're considering the HP Designjet 4000PS, I will describe this plotter's features and how well they have worked for me. Since I'm not an IT guru, my review mainly covers my experience and thoughts about using it in a GIS environment. I'm a typical user with average requirements, and I probably haven't explored all the capabilities this plotter has to offer. Systems requirements will vary depending on your networking situation, so I'll leave that to the experts to configure. I'll also add that when I started working, the computer, network and plotter were already setup and functioning, so I don't have experience with that aspect.
The plotter comes with 256 MB memory. I am not sure how to check the plotter to see if I have a memory upgrade, so I recommend checking with your dealer to make sure your memory requirements are taken care of before purchasing. I try not to overload the memory by not sending multiple plots simultaneously.
I print to the DesignJet 4000 directly from Adobe Acrobat or ArcView using Windows XP and the DesignJet HPGL2/RTL printer driver. Even for my very large maps and images, it generally takes about five minutes to spool a file of around 50 MB to the printer. Most of my maps get sent much more quickly, at around 1-2 minutes. (You'll read more about memory and file size later). I have successfully spooled maps containing imagery that are more than 100 MB.
The HP Designjet 4000 is compatible with Macs, but I access it from my Windows XP computer over an ethernet network using the HP DesignJet printer driver and Windows printing spooler.
Description and Output
The Designjet 4000 is a large piece of equipment. It's 76" wide x 31.5" deep x 53.2" high and weighs over 250 lbs. We keep it in a wide hallway so there is plenty of room to maneuver the plotter paper rolls and reload the paper. This model has a very generous 42" width, which is actually larger than we currently require. Luckily, I'm able to load 36" wide paper rolls instead. I prefer loading the smaller rolls because I find there's much less waste, since I often need to plot maps with smaller dimensions.
At my office, I plot all output that's 11x17 or smaller on a color printer. Anything larger gets sent to the DesignJet 4000, and that can mean quite a bit of wasted paper if the plot is smaller than 36" in both length and height. I have not been able to figure out how to nest multiple plots during the spooling process, which is something I have done on previous job sites with different models. The printer driver can automatically rotate portrait files to maximize paper usage, but be sure to specify the roll dimension. Also, I can design and plot custom sizes on the plotter which are longer than standard E size (36x48). The only limitation is the plotter memory itself. Sometimes, the file size can actually be too big (in Megabytes), and I'll have to reduce it before plotting. (Adobe Acrobat can shrink PDFs in this type of situation).
This can be a sticky issue. I noticed that cancelling jobs in the Windows print queue before they are completely spooled to the plotter can result in the plotter wasting paper, by feeding paper through for no reason. But, this doesn't happen consistently, so I'm not sure exactly what causes it. If I spool a job to the plotter completely, but then decide I don't want the print, the most effective way to cancel it is with the cancel button on the plotter. That usually does not result in wasted paper. Jobs can also be cancelled on the plotter after plotting has begun.
This is the dreaded chore at my office! I always hope I'm absent on the day the plotter needs a new roll. Actually, that's mainly because at my rate of use, the paper doesn't need changing more than every two to three months. Therefore, by the time a roll is finished, I've already forgotten how to do it. Luckily, the Designjet 4000's integrated front panel help screen has detailed instructions for changing the paper. It walks me through every step of the process, and even shows basic diagrams to help you remember which direction the roll goes and how to feed the edge through the plotter correctly. I can actually change the roll by myself, but it goes quicker when someone else is helping. I find the 36" rolls cumbersome enough; I might need a tall assistant to help with 42" rolls.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with my finished products, and I don't use fancy paper. I use a medium weight, non-coated, non-glossy paper. The Designjet 4000 uses HP Thermal Inkjet technology with 4 Ink Cartridges in the standard colors (black, cyan, magenta, yellow). Note that if you're primarily printing photographs, you won't get the depth of color that you would obtain from a 6 color printer that includes light cyan and light magenta inks. For the mapping and aerial photo printing I do, the color depth is more than acceptable.
With regard to the print quality setting and speed, I use "normal" print quality almost all of the time. That gives adequate results, even for my presentation maps, so I guess that choosing "draft" mode would print quicker, and "enhanced" mode would probably be slower.
According to HP, "Resolution is as high as 2400 x 1200 optimized dpi from 1200 x 1200 dpi input on glossy media".
Quality and Maintenance
My own experience with print quality is that it's very good, until the print heads need to be cleaned and/or changed. After about 7 months of solid use, I started noticing random bands of black ink showing up on my plots. This didn't bother me on drafts, but it totally ruined our presentation maps. So, we consulted HP online help and learned that our print heads needed cleaning. We used the special print head cleaning sponge tool and followed the instructions on the printer's message screen. Cleaning the print heads helped for a short time, but when the marks came back, we replaced the print heads. That has solved the banding problem for now.
The Designjet 4000 provides fairly detailed, step-by-step instructions on its front panel screen for maintenance and other tasks like loading paper or recalibrating the print heads. It was a little tricky to figure out how to perform maintenance tasks at first, but eventually we got the hang of it. By the way, a new set of print heads was very expensive, although the plotter comes with a spare set, so make sure you factor in the cost of changing these.
I have not had to change the ink cartridges since I started working last August, so in my experience they have lasted a pretty long time. I've only gone through about 4 rolls of plotter paper, though, which is probably lower than average for most offices. Color cartridges contain 400 ml of dye-based ink each, and the black cartridge contains 775 ml. of pigment based ink. That's a lot of ink! Maybe that's why I haven't had to change the cartridges yet.
I tested a print by smearing water on it, and the ink didn't smear, but it did blur a little. This is with average paper, though. I don't know if glossy or coated paper would react the same way.
Considering the cost for a color cartridge is $184 and black cartridge is $284, the total cost to replace the ink is almost $900. I'm glad it lasts a long time!!
Overall, the HP Designjet 4000 is one of the easiest plotters to operate, and I have used at least a dozen different models during my career. My maps print relatively quickly ~ a 36x48 size plot prints in 5 minutes or less. The printer rarely "hangs" on jobs, and that saves me a lot of headaches and aggravation. Prints are cut automatically and drop into the holding bin at the front of the machine, so I don't have to be there to monitor the device. Changing the paper is not too difficult, thanks to the panel help. Cleaning the print heads should be done every few months to ensure consistent print quality and avoid stray marks. Replacement print heads and ink cartridges are expensive, so budget these into your printing costs. I've been pleased that the ink cartridges have lasted longer than I expected. Overall, this large format plotter performs excellently for most GIS needs, and meets all the requirements of this ArcView and ArcGIS user.
Read about my favorite GIS software ~ ArcView GIS ~ if you're a cartographer or GIS analyst, or just wonder what GIS could do for your business.
UPDATE: I've reviewed another plotter which I've been using more recently, at a different client site: HP DesignJet 510 plotter
Can't afford a plotter, but need large format prints? Check out the Epson Stylus 1400 inkjet printer ~ it prints up to 13 x 19 and costs around $200. What a bargain!
Please leave me a comment if you have any questions (not too technical) about the plotter which I didn't answer.
Also, in case you are interested, my souped-up PC has the following specs:
Intel Core 2 Quad CPU
Q6700 @ 2.66 GHz
2.67 GHz, 2.75 GB of RAM
Looking for a GIS Laptop? Please read: Sony VAIO Laptop Awesome For GIS ~ Includes Best Buy Laptop Purchase Experience
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Amount Paid (US$): leased
Operating System: Windows
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