By Neil Bennett | on May 07, 2004
Price: 1100 . 1600 . 1780
Pros: Exceptional output quality for photographs and artwork. Low-cost for printer. Small size relative to output. Flexible output options.
Cons: High-quality media can be expensive. Unhelpful LCD display. Irritating error noise. Top-notch paper smells of biscuits.
HP’s Designjet 120 was a revelation when we first looked at it back in September last year. A 24-inch inkjet printer that combined the best from HP’s wide-format and photo inkjet divisions, the 120 was inexpensive to buy – though not to run – and was small enough to be considered a desktop printer.
Epson’s recently-released A2 Stylus Pro 4000 raised the bar for the desktop wide-format printer, adding output image quality that matched all but the best dedicated A4 photo inkjet. HP’s response is to take the ‘all but’ out of that sentence with an upgraded 120, the Designjet 130.
Like the 120, the 130 can print up to A2 from the front tray, though it’s just as happy producing 4-x-6 prints – though watching them appear feels rather surreal. The 130nr variant adds an A1 roll feed and cutter (as well as an ethernet card), while the 130gp tops this with a GretagMacbeth Eye-One monitor calibration unit.
Most of the advances HP has added to the Designjet 120 to create the 130 will appeal to those who want to print large-scale photographs and other artwork. The 130 offers the same colour-space output as the 120, but is much better with darker shades – and its blacks are among the richest we’ve seen.
Artwork and photographs from the 130 look phenomenal. Images are both vibrant and full of subtle detail – and owners of the 120 and Epson’s Stylus Pro 4000 are likely to be jealous.
Behind this is the combination of some great new inks and paper. Six inks may be less than the 4000’s eight, but the 130 has the edge for colour prints. The 4000’s light black cartridge gives it much finer granularity for black-&-white photos though. HP has improved its inks’ lightfastness, which independent tests at the institute that Epson always quotes show almost match that of the 4000.
HP’s new Premium Plus Photo Satin paper is as important to the quality of the output as the inks, as prints on older HP papers are much less impressive. It’s not cheap and smells strongly of digestive biscuits, but you’ll need it to get the best from the 130.
Nothing has been added to the 120 to make the 130 a better proofer. We couldn’t test it with our usual choice of RIP – EFI’s Best Designer Edition – as it hasn’t been updated for the 130 yet.
Our only other complaints about 130 are that the 120’s niggles haven’t been ironed out. The icon-driven LCD display is unhelpful – flashing a printer-jam icon whenever anything’s wrong – and it squawks far too often. Plus, if you buy the nr version, you have to build the roll feed mechanism onto the printer yourself, Ikea-style.
However, if print quality matters, the 130 is the best option around.