Encad wide format ink jet printers with EFI Fiery PostScript RIP server (hardware RIP) was a practical combination in bygone days.

Today (winter 2003) new printer technologies render into obsolescence printers which were once top of their line.

The Encad NovaJet 36 inch wide format ink jet printer produces colorful prints that attracted attention at exhibits in its day, which was between 1996-1998. Admittedly it does help to start off with large format digital images from a high-end digital camera such as Better Light, but even enlarged 35mm slides come out vividly with the Encad large format printer. We show our wide format prints at lectures on digital imaging both in Germany and in the USA.

In April 2000 we received an e-mail from Encad indicating that rather than the photo and art graphics market that Encad would instead concentrate on printers for making signs, such as for selling vegetables and fruits in grocery stores. This was the era of Nova Xsell and NovaJet 500. Encad will also concentrate on simple printers for CAD, architectural plotters for architects and engineers. Interviews in the trade press sent the same message, namely that Encad was concentrating on printers for Wal-Mart and Anheuser-Busch beer distributors. This is a market that requires a simple workhorse more than a sophisticated system. Encad subsequently sent us a second e-mail several months later and indicated that it was indeed still interested in the graphics market, though we saw no new printers at DRUPA 2000.

At that very same time Hewlett-Packard was already producing better printers for the graphics design market (photographers, museums, fine art, advertising, and other markets which require a higher quality). As a result of Encad withdrawing from the high end photo-quality applications, the FLAAR Photo Archive and Digital Imaging Technology Center switched from Encad to ColorSpan, Epson and Hewlett-Packard printers to obtain the better dithering pattern.

We would have switched to Epson earlier, but the Epson 9000 and the Epson 7000 had severe fading problems with their dye inks. Epson printers are also notoriously slow (up to an hour to do a single print), and the print heads may clog if you use pigmented inks. Besides, Epsons don't print on some kinds of media, so that alone is limiting. However Epson gradually overcame these problems so we have begun to evaluating their models, such as the Epson 7500 , 5500, and 7600 . It would be nice to be able to list all their benefits instead all their actual deficiencies. For example, Epson printers have the capability of printing on thick material, a real asset for many users. No HP printer can handle thick watercolor paper for example. But the new Encad NovaJet 880 can handle media up to half an inch thick. Visit our page on the NovaJet 1000i.

If you need help deciding what wide format color printer to buy, send an e-mail to the review editor, Nicholas Hellmuth. Please be sure to mention what kind of images you reproduce, what your market is, your level of experience such as whether you are new to digital printing, and what printers did you consider before reading the reviews on this site.

This is the now 4-year old Encad Nova Jet Pro wide- format ink-jet printer in the F.L.A.A.R. offices. We were printing photographs for exhibit at a symposium on the use of advanced digital imaging in archaeology.

If you prefer to access our entire library of additional FLAAR Reports, these are readily available on Wide-format-printers.NET.

The reddish picture at the bottom is a circumferential rollout of a Maya vase photographed in the Museo Popol Vuh, Guatemala. This picture is still on the wall of the museum, 3 years later, and is still holding most of its color.

No stock photos, no clip art, all the images used by F.L.A.A.R. are from our own photography on location world wide. These photos make great posters.

Product Comparisons

Changing ink is MUCH easier with the Hewlett-Packard DesignJet printers. I was so used to the messy Encad ink system that when the HP wide format printer arrived I had mops, rags, floor coverings, and gloves all ready to clean up the room so my girl friend won't divorce me over the ink splatter all over the place. The HP man laughed the whole time because with an HP you never see, or touch, the actual ink. Not one single drip anywhere!

Changing inks on an older Encad can take several hours, sometimes up to 6 hours if you had never done it before! Of course the sales reps can change it in an hour or so, but they do this every day. If you try yourself I promise you it will be needlessy messy and take an unnecessary among of wasted time. I tested this with my own staff: 3 to 5 hours just to load the ink...that did not count removing the earlier ink and cleaning the ink holders. Of course the newer Encad wide format printers have a double ink systems so you don't have to waste so much time, but still, HP is far superior in ink loading and changing from dye-based (interior) inks to archival pigment inks for outdoor use (archival inks). Actually HP itself has inks that last for more than a century under museum conditions.

The other problem is that Encad printers may tend to have problems for running unattended overnight. Because the inkheads do not clean themselves a variety of problems can occur. For example, if a head gets clogged or the ink lines fail then all the prints done overnight will have flaws. Encad printer are known to have occasional problems of maintaining the ink passing through the plastic tubing from the main ink supply to the heads. When air bubbles get into the system (which may happen frequently) then that color no longer prints. The result is that all your prints are missing yellow or cyan or magenta, for example. I have these problems with my elderly Encad NovaJetPro all the time. I had wanted to upgrade to a newer better Encad but found out that the HP printers were easier to operate so now we have two new HP printers, one for CAD (HP DesignJet 1055 CM) and one for photo-realistic quality (HP 2800). Once we experienced this technology we asked for the HP 800ps, HP 5000ps, and more recently the HP 120nr and HP 5500ps. Regretably we have not received any recent Encad printers for evaluation. But we have 19 printers now, so keep busy testing and evaluating them all.

The main advantage of Encad printers is that because they are of such simple construction they last for a long time. They have no automatic head cleaners, few sensors, etc. Just a basic work horse. If you need consistent production the newer models are okay, but we would we wary of the NovaJetPro 50 as it has all the same flaws of the NovaJetPro 36" which we still have. If you need some help figuring out which Encad printer is better, ask the review editor.

If you need to print unattended overnight, be sure to check whether your printer skews the paper to an angle. Skewing was a recognized problem for about a year with several models in the 700 series. Several people have spoken to us about skewing in the paper feed system.

But for printing signs where you don't come close enough to see the unattractive printing pattern, then Encad is an acceptable choice for a basic printer. If you only need simple four-color CMYK, most recent Encad printers allow you to have one set of dye and one set of pigmented CMYK ready at all times. Downside is that you need six colors to escape the dotty grainy appearance in highlights.

However I know several printshops which have multiple Encads, all in a row. They have become used to them and feel that this printer does just fine.

Be wary of older models in used state. The important thing is to compare carefully. Check with other sign shops to find out the pros and cons of each make and model.


Most recently updated Nov. 18, 2003.
Previous updates: July 12, 2001
, June 1, 2002, August 22, 2002.