The first time I saw the HP Designjet 90, I remember being very impressed by the machine's sleek look, 18-inch wide paper handling, and its sharp, saturated output. HP has also broken the $1,000 price barrier for the base model of this machine. And considering the price of most other photo-quality printers capable of printing on an 18x24-inch sheet of paper, that's pretty amazing. Of course, ink and paper costs should also be considered, and they are discussed later in this review.
SETUP & INSTALLATION
The specific model I tested was the Designjet 90r, which adds a roll-feed holder and cutter to the base model. The Designjet 90gp, adds a colorimeter with display profiling and calibration software plus ICC profiles made with GretagMacbeth products. I did all my testing on a Mac PowerBook running OS 10.3.9, so there may be a few slight differences with regard to driver settings for Windows users.
The printer box is large, but not overwhelming, and I was able to unpack and set it up with relative ease in under an hour. Everything was very well packed inside and there is a step-by-step, well-written 11x17-inch multi-lingual illustrated guide that I believe is absolutely necessary to get the machine setup properly. I placed the printer on a medium-size table that I purchased at Costco. If you don't plan to feed sheets manually from the back, it can be placed on a desk near a wall. At least a 20'' table width is suggested, with about 36'' of space needed from the back of the printer to the front of the adjustable paper tray to comfortably use the paper tray with 18x24 inch sheets.
The box contains a USB cable, roll-feed spindle assembly, a full set of 6 inks and separate printheads, and three 13x19-inch sheets of HP Premium Plus and Proofing Gloss; HP Premium Plus Photo Satin; and HP Photo Matte. I recommend cutting these into letter-sized sheets to run calibrations and to make color test prints to determine whether you want to purchase additional paper. There were also two CDs: one with printer drivers and documentation and the other with a very well-produced training video.
The printer is very similar to HP's 13-inch-wide Designjet 30 and 24-inchwide Designjet 130. All three printers share the same 6-color Vivera inkset, with the K, Lm, Lc, and Y inks sold in 69ml cartridges and the C and M sold in 28ml cartridges. Compared with other 17-inch wide and larger inkjet printers on the market, HP's cartridges have considerably less capacity. However, cost per ml is comparable to many competitors' cartridges for most of the inks. With regard to cost per print (ink, printhead, and paper), it is difficult for me to make an exact calculation, but HP has released a document which addresses this, and they include images of the exact files used to make the cost estimates. In their tests, based on the suggested retail prices of their supplies, an 18x24-inch print with medium to heavy ink coverage will cost between $5.45 and $6.73.
On HP's training CD, they recommend setting the Color Management Policies (in Photoshop CS, under Edit>Color Settings) for RGB to "Convert to Working RGB," and turning on all of the profile mismatch boxes. This is not necessarily wrong, but instead, I recommend setting the RGB, CMYK and Gray to "Preserve Embedded Profiles," and also turning on all the profile mismatch boxes. It is often necessary to preserve working space profiles for some clients or projects, and HP's printed manual also recommends this setting.
RIPs & COMMENTS
HP offers two professional RIPs for the Designjet 30, 90 and 130 printers, including the EFI Designer Edition RIP. These RIPs are commonly used for proofing by graphic artists using CMYK files and other third-party RIPs are also available.
I had very good, but not stellar results on the matte papers I tested. However, many of the semi-gloss and gloss papers looked fantastic, with bright color, smooth gradations, and a very photographic look and feel. From the papers I tested, Premium Plus Photo Satin stands out as my clear favorite because of its heavy weight, sharp detail, and very natural-looking color. Skin tones, such as those in the print of my son Tyler (above, right), reproduced especially well. Black-and-white prints were also very even-toned, with very little metamarism. It took 8 min. 22 seconds to print an 18x24 print at the "Best Quality" setting in the driver and 8 min. 5 seconds at "Normal Quality." Both prints were virtually identical, but the Best Quality print had slightly more detail.
To sum things up, the HP Designjet 90 is an excellent printer. Prints made on HP's gloss and semi-gloss papers have been rated very favorably by Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com) and I recommend visiting the site to learn more about the longevity tests.