Musings on Photography

Another HP Z3100 Report

Posted in equipment, hp z3100 by Paul Butzi on March 31, 2007

My friend Rob and I spent quite a bit of time on Thursday, experimenting with the HP Z3100 built-in profiling, profiling a bunch of different papers and comparing the profiles using the free profile tools on the Mac, and making a few comparison test prints to see if what we saw in the profiles was reflected in the prints.

The big breakthrough came earlier this week when Rob found this HP article on using third party papers with the HP Z3100.  The important thing is that this document is a Rosetta stone that translates dialog box items “HP Premium Instant-Dry Photo Gloss” into settings for Gloss enhancer, what black is used, what ink limit is hused, what print mode is used, and what print speed is used.  In other words, when you’re loading your printer with, say, Epson Enhanced Matte, you can use the tables in this document to figure out what lie to tell the printer to coerce the printer into using the right ink load, the right black ink, and the optimal printing mode.

And, it makes a difference.  Rob downloaded a new firmware revision for the printer (more about this anon) and was already profiling papers when I arrived.  (profiling a paper takes one half hour, start to finish).  Comparing the profiles with the old, incorrect lies to the profiles generated with the new, correct lies, it turns out that learning to lie to the printer convincingly (actually, when the paper type becomes ‘Fine Art Paper”, maybe it isn’t a lie) makes a HUGE difference in the achievable gamut that the profile gives you.  We’re talking a difference that’s easily visible in the prints.

About those firmware updates – I’m very deeply impressed at the ongoing improvements HP are rolling out via firmware updates.  Each firmware revision fixes problems and expands the capabilities of the printer.  With this latest revision, HP introduced several new paper types that will make it easier to get excellent results with 3rd party papers.  It’s abundantly clear to me that HP want to be a major player in the fine art inkjet market, and they intend to do it by continually improving the performance of the printer by improving the firmware.  The architecture of the printer (with a built in hard disk and processor) means that HP have plenty of computing power at their disposal to make these improvements.  I think this is one of the most persuasive reasons for buying an HP Z3100.

One interesting result that we found was that the gamut I get with Bill Atkinson’s profile for Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art on my 9600 is actually a bigger gamut than what you get with Ultrasmooth on the HP Z3100.  It’s not clear if this is because Bill Atkinson is a profile wizard, or because Ultrasmooth was designed specifically to look awesome with the 9600, or both.  But it did alert us to the fact that a paper that is a stellar performer on one printer is not necessarily going to be a stellar performer on another printer with a different inkset.  This came as a bit of a surprise to me.

In the end, I came home with comparison prints on Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art, Crane Museo Max, and Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl (which is one of the new paper types added with the firmware revison.

If I were picking a paper and my goal was to have it match the ‘air dried glossy gelatin silver’ print look, Hahnemhule Fine Art Pearl would be my pick.  It has an incredibly wide gamut on the Z3100.

The Crane Museo Max likewise has an incredible gamut and much better color separation in the low values than what I get from Ultrasmooth Fine Art on my 9600.  This paper has too much texture for my taste, but if you’re looking for a cold-press watercolor sort of surface and you’re printing on an HP Z3100, this paper is right up your alley.  This is apparently the paper preference of lots of high end custom printers doing work for lots of high end photographers, and looking at the print it’s easy to see why – not only does it have incredible performance but the paper itself is lovely and has great ‘object’ properties – stiffness, etc. that make it a delight to hold in your hands.

I did some timings, too, while the test prints were printing.  It turns out that the Z3100 is just about 4 times as fast as my 9600.  That would make it about double the speed of the Epson 7800/9800 printers.  This isn’t critical for me but faster is generally nicer than slower.

My thinking on the HP Z3100 has started to move from the ‘if I buy one of these’ into the ‘when I buy one of these’ stage.  I’m impressed with how flexible the printer is with third party papers, and how quickly and easily you can generate a profile for an arbitrary paper.  I’m impressed by HP’s commitment to constantly improving the printer and by their responsiveness to customer concerns (like the red gamut brouhaha).  I’m impressed with how quickly Rob has come up to speed with the printer and reached the point where he’s cranking out beautiful prints.

And I’m really impressed by the prints.

5 Responses

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  1. Howard Slavitt said, on March 31, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    I am thinking about getting the HP Z3100 or the Epson 7800 (or probably it’s replacement within a year or so). The profiling capabilities of the HP sound great, but really, how many different papers does one need to use? Isn’t the paper chase thing something of a waste? Aren’t we all better off getting to know 2 or 3 or 4 papers really well and using those papers to the limits of their capabilities? It’s relatively easy to use different papers in the digital age, much easier than it was to get good prints out of different papers in a darkroom, but isn’t it a trap? Given the way one can see I’m leaning, then the Epson 7800 may still be better than the HP (other than not having the capability to easily change between matte and glossy inks, but no doubt the replacement will address that issue). Because with the Epson 7800, one can use the Bill Atkinson profiles. Also, the Epsons are reputed to have much better machine to machine consistency, so “canned” profiles, like Bill Atkinson’s should work better across different machines with the Epson than the HP.

  2. Bryan Willman said, on April 1, 2007 at 6:46 am

    The whole “rosetta stone” thing demonstrates once again the classic error of trying to hide detailed controls from users hoping to make things simpler. What actually happens is a lot of hair pulling as people try to figure whether “home wall poster” or “soda machine front screen” will do the right thing for the blueprint they are trying to print. This error has been repeated over and over in computer human interface design.

    As for Howard’s question – I think on the spot profiling would be a big deal, but not necessarily for photo work. If your totally certain that you will never want to print anything else, atkinson on 7800 will surely be fine. But what about drawings? Signs? Labels? Transfers? All of these high end photo printers are, automatically by their very nature, great candidates for plotters, sign makers, and so on. I think the utility value of such use should be carefully considered. The world is full of papers that will stick to walls without leaving marks, make good transfers for making t-shirts to pc-boards, and so on – but they’re very hard to use on a 7800.

  3. Charles Gast said, on April 7, 2007 at 4:15 am

    I am very disappointed to discover that in order to create a high quality profile with the built in spectro system it is necessary to spend about another $800 on the Advanced Profiling Solution(APS) from HP. This is a marketing misstep and here is why;
    A) Under Features on the HP z3100 webpage it mentions the APS but I did not realise it was something not included with the package. It calls it an optional profiling method but I did not know it cost another $800 or so. **I can’t find a price on it anywhere on HPs’ website.** I now have a z3100 on its way and just found out that I need nearly another $1000 to get it to do what I expected it to do right out of the box. I had a hard time coming up with the $4000 to purchase the printer in the first place. Now this?
    B) Any buyer who spends $4000 on a printer is a buyer who is very serious about image quality. I certainly did not expect to discover that the only thing HP provides with the z3100 is a system with a 500 chip profiling target. Its like buying a Ferrari and finding out after the sale it comes with a 100hp engine unless you want the upgrade.
    B) Providing the monitor calibration tool with the APS shows they don’t know their customers. I am certain that like me anyone else serious about color has already been using a monitor profiling system for years. They can keep their monitor tool. I already have the same one they put in the kit.

    In addition to this as it currently stands the larger 1000 chip target with APS requires the use of 24 inch roll paper. When I am trying out new papers I use A3 11×17 inch stock. I can’t be buying 24 inch rolls every time I want to try out a paper guys!

  4. Paul Butzi said, on April 7, 2007 at 6:10 am

    Charles, my friend does NOT have the APS. The profiles he’s gotten are excellent – capable of producing perfectly neutral greyscales without a hint of color cast or color shift thru the tonal range. Monochrome printing is a severe test of a printer profile, and yesterday I looked at B&W prints made (using RGB printing and photoshop toning) on the the Z3100, and they were outstanding.

    My understanding is that the standard profiling on the Z3100 is done in two stages – the first stage allows the printer to calculate rough results, and the printer then apparently adjusts the sample set to be used in the second pass based on the results of the first pass. This allows the samples from the second pass to be just the right samples to let them get the profile right.

    I’d recommend that, before you get upset, and certainly before ordering the APS add on, take delivery on the printer and then try the profiling. I think you’ll be very pleased with the results you get.

  5. jim lyle said, on February 11, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    the link to the technical article you referenced is no longer valid- i’ve spent several hours trying to find it via search and am getting nothing. does anyone have a copy of the article or know the link where it can be found. willing to pay extra. jim/atlanta

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