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Friday
Mar042011

Big Printing: First Experiences with the HP Designjet T770 44" Wide-Format Printer

Despite my love of all things digital and virtual and pixels on the screen I admit that I am charmed by printing on old-fashioned paper – especially when it's something large and that captures a complex concept. After years of dreaming about it I finally purchased a wide-format printer for my own personal in my home office. In this post I'm going to share my initial few days of experiences.

BACKGROUND

Several years ago a previous team in Microsoft, I managed a 7-person UX team made up of developers, program managers, and designers and this highly product team was suffering the inability to quickly produce large poster-sized prints for scenario workflows, UX designs, conceptual maps, etc. So my team did some research and convinced me we had to purchase a HP 42" Designjet 510. This was my first exposure to wide-format printing and after seeing how great a big difference it made in our ability to communicate and collaborate – I knew this would become part of my design workflow from that point on.

Eventually I moved on to other teams, but that experience stayed with me and as I continued to develop my personal sense of technical communication, I knew one day I had to get one of my own.

 

THE CHOICE

Instead of going with the 42" HP Designjet 510 again, I chose the slightly more expensive and newer model. The 44" HP Designjet T770.

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Some key differences that drew my attention:

  • faster printing
  • it is a network printer – import for me because although I want it close to my desk, I didn't want to have it too close
  • improved print quality – there are some extra inks available beyond the normal CMYK ones

I ordered direct from HP and my total cost including shipping was about $4200 – keep in mind that as a Microsoft employee I received a small employee discount.

 

ARRIVAL AND ASTONISHMENT

FedEx delivered it to my house about two weeks later. I expected a large box and I wasn't surprised. The 510 box was huge but most of the volume was not occupied by the printer. This box was smaller – so what happened next was surprising. I opened the box and – WOW – this thing is heavy. It is almost twice as heavy as the Designjet 510 (180lb vs 100lb). It's dimensions also visually seem much larger though the official specs on HP's website don't seem to bear that out.

The weight and size was a serious issue. As the instructions plainly state you will need two and at times three people available to set this printer. The overall procedure is very simple, and I have to say that HP's instructions are excellent but it will require some real strength to lift up a stairs if you don't have a service elevator and to rotate it so that it can fit through a normal-sized doorway. Even getting it on the stand is hard and will certainly require the coordination of three people.

It took five days to get the assistance of two strong humans, and so during that time I had a $4200 paperweight occupying my garage.

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PROTIP: DON'T FORGET TO BUY PAPER

The printer does not come with any paper, just ink. So make sure you have some available – I forgot and had to wait a few extra days for Amazon to deliver several rolls.

 

POWERING UP

Off…

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On…

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The glossy gray surface of the printer *loves* fingerprints.

 

HOOKING IT UP

I connected the printer via the USB cable provided. Windows had no problem recognizing it. Then I used a network cable to connect it to the nearby router. Using the HP software I found it on the network and it was quickly added as a printer. To be clear it appeared to Windows as two printers: one via USB and one via the network.

 

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The connection at the bottom of the picture is the USB cable to my windows machine.

The USB connection at the top is - I believe – provided to allow a USB stick to be used to deliver firmware updates. It may have other uses of which I am not aware.

INSTALLING THE SOFTWARE

The setup CD experience was irritating. There are three components that have to be installed: (1) the driver (2) the HP Utility, and (3) some ICC Profiles. The installation of these components is done by a single application that always failed to install the driver no matter what options I chose. Before frustration fully set in I simply find the three separate install programs for those components on the CD and manually installed them.

At this point I had all the software installed and the printer connected via USB, I did a simple test print to confirm the system was basically working via USB.

CONNECTING VIA NETWORK

Then I launched the HP Utility and selected Find Other Printers

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Now I had the printer connected via both USB and Network.

 

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THE FIRST PRINT

I took a screenshot of my desktop and loaded into Xara Extreme Pro and printed. The output was fuzzy and misaligned. Click on the image to see a larger version.

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Here's a detailed view…

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THE SECOND PRINT

I went to the printer and started the printhead calibration. After a few minutes it was done and I printed again. (click on the picture to see a larger version)

The quality was then terrific. Please note that the output had a vibrancy to the eye that isn't fully captured by the photos I am showing here.

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Here's a detailed view…

image

 

PROTIP: CONFIGURE PRINT PREVIEW AND CUTTING

In Control Panel, find the printer and select Printing Preferences,

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Then go to Features and make sure You have checked

  • Show preview before printing
  • Remove top/bottom blank areas

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The Show preview before printing setting is critical for printing on paper rolls. The print driver will exactly show you what the output will be – and combined with the Remove top/bottom blank area setting - this makes it easy to avoid wasting paper.

For example here is what it looks like below. (click for a larger image). You can see on the right side, it shows exactly where the image will appear on the role and where the cuts will be made.

SNAG-0020

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

If you are thinking about wide-format printing I hope you've found this post helpful. Take care and good luck printing.

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