New piezo inkjet printer for printing on thick and/or rigid media, substrates or material: the Mammoth Printer from Gradco.

The Mammoth Printer from Gradco is a little known piezo electric printer that can print on thick and rigid material. How does the Gradco Mammoth Printer compare with the Durst Rho 160 or the Vutek PressVu solvent ink printers? All have adjustable printheads to accept thick rigid material such as heavy industrial canvas, wood, corrugated cardboard, as well as traditional inkjet media of all kinds. The Gradco Mammoth printer reportedly can print on uneven surfaces as well.

The Durst Rho and Vutek PressVu use solvent ink. The Durst Rho handles media up to 62" wide and 1.58 in thick (40mm), costs over $160,000; The Vutek PressVu is even more expensive. Neither the Vutek nor the Rho use Epson printheads so their dpi is a bit low. This makes the Gradco higher quality output yet still easier on the budget.

Unfortunately we have never seen this Gradco printer at any trade show; not at DRUPA, not at SGIA. Perhaps one of our editors will spot it at upcoming trade show . No matter how many trade magazines you read, there is always some unusual little known printer that pops up such as the Gradco Mammoth. The Gradco company is a place we had never heard of until our of our readers mentioned it. So we checked out their web site. Looks like an American branch of a Japanese company which also sells in Europe.

As with virtually every other printer even from the well known international companies, they don't fully identify the specs up front, but you can figure out the basics with a little basic knowledge of the world of large format printers. For example, it says the dpi is 1440 x 720. That means it's using 720 dpi heads from Epson; more or less the same heads that are in the Bellise as well as comparable to the heads of an Epson 9000, Mutoh, Mimaki, and older Ronald.

Thus the printheads have all the benefits of a piezo-electric printhead from Epson. Plus, regrettably, all the downsides. Those are generic, inherent in the printhead directly from Epson. Such piezo printheads, however, are about the only choice, since Lexmark-Encad heads are not top quality, Xaar heads are even worse, and Hewlett-Packard makes its printheads available primarily only to ColorSpan and Western Graphtec.

The kind of ink used is not specified directly on the site but Epson printheads tend to use water-based dye inks and water-based pigmented inks. Benefit is no venomous fumes of the kind that solvent ink printers belch out. Downside is that solvent ink will adhere to untreated vinyl and last outdoors two years or more with no lamination necessary. Water-based inks require lamination to last outdoors more than 3 months.

Conclusion: a flatbed inkjet printer is clearly the direction that inkjet printing is going to. There is no reason other than bullheaded tradition that restricts inkjet printers to roll-fed media (other than that the printer manufacturers earn a hefty percent of their income from the selling of roll-fed media). Thus most printer manufacturers have considerable incentive NOT to make a flatbed printer. Of course a clever printer manufacturer knows that you can still feed rolls of expensive inkjet media through a flatbed system, but that reality has not sunk in, yet.

If Roland, Gretag, Encad, or Gerber produced this machine it would be an instant success. It's hard to tell whether a company that is perhaps known in the paper industry but not in digital imaging can make a success by being unaligned.

FLAAR is opening up a printer evaluation center at Bowling Green State Univesity. As we have time to get these printers into our facility we will be able to report back details about their capability. Until then, the best printer for rigid material that we know of is the 52" ColorSpan Esprit. It can take corrugated cardboard for example. The new Encad NovaJet 880 is another option, but Encad faltered as its Lexmark printheads failed to improve over the last five years. Every other printer manufacturer came out with newer, better technology. Encad just continued with adaptations of its basic age-old NovaJet concept. The remnants of Encad were bought up last month by Kodak. Kodak itself is in the same fix as Polaroid and Ilford, namely they don't yet have a viable survival plan to face the reality of digital imaging. They waited too long; everyone else got all the valuable patents in inkjet technology first.

Both the ColorSpan and the Encad are far from the 3.1 inch thickness capability of the Gradco Mammoth, but the ColorSpan Esprit is a mature model from a well known company with technicians available across the USA, Europe, Asia and most of Latin America. I can't imagine finding a Gradco technician stationed in your own hometown ready to come out on 4 hours notice to get your printer running again. However this is precisely what a university evaluation center can establish. Perhaps the Gradco is so well designed and carefully constructed that it does not require a standby technician.

Before we had a ColorSpan, we presumed it's complexity required a trained technician to run it. But after we got our own ColorSpan installed here at the univesity, we found out that the students could run it just fine. The printer has never required a technician at all. So the same may well be true for the Gradco, Mimaki, and several of the other printers we don't yet have in-house. Tough to have much incentive for adding a new printer, since the Hewlett-Packard DesignJet 5000ps and ColorSpan Displaymaker XII that we already have do so nicely. The Epson 9000 across campus at the art department has not functioned adequately for months. So all the students from the art department flock over to FLAAR in the Technology Dept to use our HP 5000ps.

If the art department found out about the capabilities of the Gradco Mammoth, the faculty and students would be in paradise. Imagine a printer that can print on glass (of any thickness); a printer which can print on bricks, on stone! If this kind of information got out to all the other art departments and museums, there might be a revolution. Since FLAAR just received a $97,000 digital camera system from Cruse GmbH of Germany, we can produce awesome images. Imagine images of this quality available to the Gradco for printing on wall panels. Think of the murals you could create, physically printed on the wall material itself.

The art department at Bowling Green State University encompasses ceramics, fibers (textiles), glass, jewelry, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, graphic design, and computer art. So far FLAAR at BGSU has formed alliances with photography and computer art. The printers are housed in the College of Technology since FLAAR has the necessary computers, RIPs, know-how, and facilities to handle printers of any size or shape.

If you wish to print on anything, that's correct, if you want to print on ceramic tile, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, window shades, concrete, metal, a surface slick as glass, or your desktop, then check out the Mammoth from Gradco. Contact Roger Sullivan, [email protected]. Their website is, slightly different than their e-mail address.

For additional information and for help making your decision, ask for the FLAAR report "Inkjet Printers for Thick and Rigid Material." This is a public service of our university; there is no cost. The report is in PDF format, readable with Adobe Acrobat.

While you are at it, you can also ask for the "FLAAR report on inkjet printers for signs, posters, banners" (specify whether for indoor signs with normal inks or outdoor signs in the rain and sun with solvent inks on vinyl). If you are unsure which, then just tell us what you intend to print, whether this is your first (or second) printer, and what kind of help you need.

You can also ask for the report on "Media and Inks for Sign Printing with Large Format Inkjet."

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.

No, we can't save you from printer problems that we don't know about, and yes, even the worst printer has some redeeming usefulness. Thus you need to make the final decision yourself. But at least we can provide plenty of helpful tips and warn you about the more subtle kinds of bait-and-switch advertising. We have seen printers advertised as "photo realistic" when in fact a photographer would be embarrassed to see his or her images on that printer. The slowest printer of all is flagrantly advertised with hype claiming it is the absolute fastest. Our tests also demonstrate that the output is so pathetic that you would throw the prints in the trash. You would also lose your clients if you attempted to charge them for such awful output.

On the subject of unusable output, if you wish to learn which inkjet printers won "worst in show" category, ask for the FLAAR evaluations of large format printers at trade shows: DRUPA, Seybold, Photokina, PhotoEast+SGIA, The Big Picture SHOW, and others.


Most recently updatedDec 8, 2001.