Independent review on Ilford printers.

How can you figure out which is the best ink wide format color jet printer? How about independent tests. The Digital Imaging Technology Center uses its own photographs, its own imaging methods, to prepare a wide variety of colorful photographs to test, review, and recommend wide format printers (and everything else that you need along with your printer).

Trade magazines just repeat what the company PR department issues. Magazine tests are done in a lab, not in a real-life studio. And who is doing the test? A writer or other magazine employee (whose salary is paid by the wide format inkjet company's advertising).

FLAAR is nonprofit and we do not accept money for advertising. We select the best printers at trade shows (and naturally we read the trade magazines and company's web sites also). Then we go and visit actual digital graphics studios to see what real people are using. Rather than accept what the company PR department issues, we go directly to the company office, right inside, and find out what the equipment is really capable of. In other cases the equipment is sent to our studio, where it gets "real life" testing. Here are results on two printers from Ilford Imaging.

Ilford currently offers four wide format printers, the 4-color Encad, the 8 color Encad, the 12-color ColorSpan, and a Vutek solvent ink printer.

The 4-color Encad is a successor to the popular NovaJetPro and other NovaJet models. Encad has sold 100,000 wide format printers, so they must be doing something right.

This is the Ilford NovaJet 600i

Ilford wide format printer
The second offering from Ilford is the IJT wide format printer. Since we tested last year the model was the 8-color model.

Results from a ColorSpan are more traditional, closer to what you expect in an exhibit print made in a professional photo lab.

The Encad, in distinction, is more for displays for trade shows, signs, or any display where you need dramatic color, bright colors, and contrast to attract attention. Downside is fast-clogging heads.

Larger copy shops, service bureaus, advertising agencies and comparable professional digital imaging studios would tend to buy one of each, since each of these two printers offers distinctive advantages (for example the Encad is faster). Ilford IJT offers better quality.

Colorspan being test at flaar offices

The advantage of Ilford's printers are the Ilford inks and Ilford media. You get the ICC profiles when you opt for the Ilford version of the popular Onyx PosterShop software RIP (IlfoStar RIP, which we have in the FLAAR facility). The bonus in selecting the Ilford version of Encad or ColorSpan is mainly in the Ilford media, especially if you do photographic prints.

But you can also utilize Ilford media even if you have a non-Ilford printer. Indeed Ilford Imaging now offers a range of "universal media," which means inkjet media that works equally well with a piezo-electric printhead system (Epson, Roland, Mimaki, Mutoh and all rebranded equivalents) and with a thermal printhead system (Hewlett-Packard, ColorSpan, Encads and all rebranded equivalents such as Oce and some Kodak and Graphtec models).

For additional information and for help making your decision, ask for the "FLAAR report on signs, posters, banners" (specify whether for indoor signs or outdoor signs in the rain and sun) or for the FLAAR report on "Piezo vs Thermal printheads, fact vs fiction, pros and cons of each kind of inkjet printhead."

You can also ask for the report on "Inkjet Printers for Photo-Realistic Quality," or "Which Inkjet Printer is Best for Producing Fine Art Giclee Prints." You only need one, or the other, since both describe the top quality printers. You can use the same printer for photos and also for fine art. However you need a ColorSpan; the Encad is not quite good enough. The Vutek is solvent-based inks, for basic signs, not for photo-realistic quality.

If this will be your first printer, then we have a special report that holds your hand and leads you through all the basic questions that will assist a first-time buyer of a large format printer. Purchase the FLAAR report on "RIP + Help." This explains what RIP software is, why this is useful, and includes tips, warnings, information, and help for a wide range of matters for a newbie. Here you will really appreciate that FLAAR is based at a university; Professor Hellmuth has plenty of experience writing in a manner that explains what you need, and why.


Most recently updated June 1, 2002.
Previous updates:
August 02, 2001.