CAD, AEC, GIS: FLAAR specializes in evaluating wide-format inkjet printers for technical drawings.

FLAAR is an institute with an architectural background for decades. Our heritage is in mapping, CAD, and technical drawings of archaeological remains, especially architecture. At our university for six years we were in the same building as the architecture program, so we provided wide format scanners and printers for the students and faculty. This digital imaging lab also has a laser engraver and 3D rapid prototype machine. So we can do technical drawings in three dimensions too.

The university campus also has a geology department, geography department, so we handle GIS, maps, cartography of all sizes.

Any large corporation, whether it be a university or other, needs to have electrical circuit drawings scanned and printed. So overall, FLAAR has experience in technical drawings.

HP 1055 printer
HP Designjet 1055 CAD / GIS pinting some samples..

We also have 23 different wide format inkjet printers, including Canon, Encad, Epson, Mimaki and HP. So we read with amusement some of the claims for the Epson 1520. I can’t believe a printer with that many problems is still being sold for so many years; or the Epson 3000 either. These printers were not good for Epson’s reputation. Fortunately the Epson Stylus Pro 4800 is better. The Epson printers in 2009 are improved also, but these are not really for CAD or technical drawings. Most people in the world of AEC prefer HP Designjet.

But, our lab had a QEA image analysis system to look closely at letters and line quality. We analyzed and compared an Epson 7600 and an HP Designjet 30 and HP Designjet 130 image of text and photograph. I was very surprised at the result. You can order the FLAAR Reports from www.wide-format-printers.NET.

Most architects recognize the name Hellmuth as being associated with architecture. Almost everyone in the Hellmuth family is an architect. So we have experience with which printers are best for architectural drawings. Nicholas Hellmuth, of FLAAR, studied architecture at Harvard; his brother, George Hellmuth, studied architecture at Yale and was head of one of the offices of HOK Architects for years; a company their father founded (Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Architects). Daniel Hellmuth has his own architectural company in St Louis: Hellmuth+Bicknese. Their grandfather and great uncle were both architects.

FLAAR also evaluates the printers for manufacturers as well as serves as consultants for end-users. So if you want some factual information before you perhaps buy the wrong printer, you might wish to acquire our FLAAR Reports, or hire our staff as a consultant.

If someone is trying to “sell” you a piezo printer for AEC or specifically for CAD or other technical drawings, such as Epson, be wary of exaggerated claims. Piezo printers are inherently slow, and specific HP printers such as the HP Designjet 130 have significantly better quality for text at small fonts. The Epson piezo printer we tested (Epson 7600) did poorly in comparison in our university lab tests for text and line quality (poorly defined; hard to read small text).

Epson ink tends to be more costly than ink for other brands as well. So when a printer advertising brochure or PDF claims it is “economical to use” and “faster print speed” and “precise line accuracy” this is because advertisers tend to stress as excellent precisely what a product is weakest in. This is why we evaluate printers, and with our family background in architecture definitely know what printers to utilize. We really like Epson printers, for what they were originally made for (photography and giclee); Epson are not the plotters we would consider using for CAD.

HP 1055 CAD printer
HP Designjet 1055 CAD / GIS printer.

Applications for technical printing with a wide format CAD plotter.

Typical applications include CAD floor plans, electronic and electric layouts, engineering drawings, scientific drawings, designers drawings, monochrome, 3D graphic design, 3-D visualizations, graphs, AEC, CAM, GIS maps, cartography. Some printers that can do CAD and technical drawings are also good enough for aerial photography for geological resources exploration and geography.

Printers you should look at would include the HP Designjet 4500. If you need your drawings to last for years outside, then the HP Designjet 8000s or HP Designjet 9000s would be what you might consider. But beware, because HP dropped those lite-solvent printers. You would be better off looking at the Seiko ColorPainter V-64s, H-74s, or H-104s (new since 2008-2009).

We have successfully used the HP Designjet 800 for CAD and technical drawings and currently utilize both the HP 5000ps and HP 5500ps (we have three of them among our 23 printers in our evaluation facilities at two locations).

Epson is attempting to advertise their Stylus Pro 4400, 7400, and 9400 printers for CAD and GIS, but piezo printheads are poor with text. Thermal printheads do noticeably better for text. Our Epson 7600 is great for photos but not impressive for text. This kind of a printer could be a mistake for CAD or GIS.

New CAD printers since 2006.

Mutoh is trying to enter the CAD market with their new DrafStation RJ-900 and RJ-901. Unless we can test these and find that those piezo printheads are improved, our test results stand: HP piezo printheads (in the DesignJet 30, 90, 130 generation) are visually better. You don’t need a lab to show the difference. If the newer model piezo heads are different, as soon as these are sent to us, we will be glad to compare them with thermal printheads again.

Actually, some resellers of the Mutoh DrafStation have learned it can do better as a dye-sublimation printer on transfer paper (for heat transfer sublimation onto polyester).

Canon is also trying for the CAD market since 2006-2007, with their iPF 600. Now, in 2009, Canon has launched at least two more iPF printers for the technical drawing, CAD, and general AEC markets. But when I asked HOK Architects which printers they used for CAD, I was told not only are they HP users, but they are advisors or otherwise part of a committee with HP on CAD printers (as is logical, since HOK is the largest architectural company in the world, with several thousand architects around the globe).

But FLAAR is not part of HOK (other than by accident of birth). So we can evaluate any other brand of printer that we wish to.

If you wish assistance in deciding whether to select HP, Canon, Epson (or an aged used Encad), if you fill out the Inquiry Form we can assist you via our partners in this field who also know all the different brands. It is crucial to avoid a place that only knows about one brand. You want a place that knows all the brands, and their pros and cons.


Most recently updated May 5, 2009.
Previously updated Jan. 17, 2006, Jan 23, 2006, and April 10, 2006.


The complete reports are in full-color PDF format. Our research institute has comprehensive FLAAR Reports on over 73 different wide format inkjet printers, RIP software, color management, scanners, digital cameras and on countless markets such as wide format inkjet printers for photography, giclee, proofing, CAD, GIS, graphic design, signs, and specialty applications too. All FLAAR Reports by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth and his team are available on www.wide-format-printers.NET.