First look: HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer

At Photokina in Germany, HP today announced the Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer, a wide-format inkjet printer for professional photographers and designers, with a new ink formulation, speed and paper-handling improvements and other enhancements over previous models.

The Z3200 is the successor to HP’s the Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer, which, when it first shipped late in 2006, was one of the most innovative photo printers we had seen in a long time. The Z3100 utilized 12 pigment-based inks (including a gloss optimizer) to produce high-quality, gallery-ready prints, but it was the printer’s embedded spectrophotometer (from X-Rite) and seamless integration with networked Macs and PCs that set it apart from competitors like Epson and Canon. HP spent considerable effort streamlining the process of printing: everything from unboxing the device to profiling and adding new paper types had been thought through by HP’s hardware and software engineers. The result was a printer that created top-quality prints and was a joy to use, day in and day out.

We’ve had a production version of the 24″ PostScript model, the Z3200ps, for about three weeks, and have tested it fairly thoroughly with a variety of papers and applications. Overall, we’re very impressed with the printer’s performance: HP is obviously determined to keep the pressure on Epson—the market leader—in the pro photo space. As was the case with the Z3100, we think that the Z3200 should be looked at by anyone seriously evaluating a wide-format device to create salable prints.

Seeing Red

Not wanting to make too many changes in an already solid product, HP kept most of the Z3100’s feature set when designing the Z3200, keeping (for the most part) the 12-ink Vivera inkset, the same paper-handling options, spectrophotometer, and on-board OS. Most of the Z3200’s enhancements are inside the printer. In fact, aside from the nameplate on the front of the printer, you would be hard-pressed to find a cosmetic difference with the Z3100. The biggest change is in the ink: to expand the printer’s color gamut, HP has swapped out the red ink found in the Z3100, replacing it with a newly formulated red ink, called Chromatic Red. According to HP, this new ink significantly widens the printable gamut, producing much richer color that is more true to life.

For designers, the ink change is also important. With the Z3200ps, the model with Adobe PostScript 3 built-in, HP claims that it can reproduce nearly 95 percent of the Pantone color library, and the printer includes a number of features for dealing with Pantone spot colors in layouts, as well as a utility for creating Pantone swatch books directly from the printer’s front panel.

In our comparison testing, the Z3200’s output was very similar to that of the Z3100; the reds were definitely more pronounced with many images, although other prints showed little differentiation. This isn’t surprising; we are now in an age where the generational changes in print quality are truly incremental. Prints made with desktop inkjets are of such high quality that the average consumer is more than satisfied. Professionals, however, continue to look for even the smallest improvements that will realize their artistic vision, and changes like those in the Z3200 ink set are the things that they’re looking for.

To us, the ink change in the Z3200 mirrors Epson’s change to the Vivid Magenta and Vivid Light Magenta inks last year. As was the case with HP, Epson claimed that the two new inks increased the color gamut of their Stylus Pro printers, but they also admitted that many customers wouldn’t be able to detect the changes between the old inks. We’ve seen a number of test prints from the Stylus Pro 7880 that show similar sorts of improvements in color rendition and fidelity to those we’ve seen in the Z3200.

Other improvements

While HP hasn’t done much to the paper-handling features with the Z3200, they have made some small usability enhancements throughout. Loading cut sheet media is a bit easier than before, thanks to some adjustments to the feeder. (We do wish, however, that HP would add a paper guide for feeding sheets.) And, when creating paper profiles with the integrated spectrophotometer, among the parameters you can now set is the height of the ‘starwheels’ that hold the paper in place while the printhead is laying down ink. This is another intelligent solution to a problem that can come up when you’re using thick fine-art papers.

Speedwise, the Z3200 was significantly faster than its predecessor in our testing, showing more than 20 percent faster print speeds at times. For example, a 24″ by 36″ image took only 16 minutes to print on the Z3200, while the same image took more than 22 minutes on the Z3100. For high-production shops, this alone will help sell the Z3200.

The whole process of adding a new paper type to the Z3200 print driver is (thankfully) identical to that of the Z3100. You simply put the paper in the printer, and, via the HP Print Center utility, tell the device to print and scan calibration and profiling charts. Depending upon how much time you want to wait for paper drying times, you can be up and printing with your new paper in as little as 30 minutes (we generally dry our papers overnight and profile them the following day). In the Z3200, HP has added the capability to export paper presets, which include hardware settings, profiles, gloss enhancer settings and more.

HP is also announcing new media types with the Z3200, including a fiber-based paper called HP Baryte Satin Art Paper, and two lower-priced photo papers, HP Everyday Pigment Gloss and Everyday Pigment Semigloss. The Baryte paper is especially nice, and initially will be available only in roll format. (It reminded us of Canon’s Polished Rag—another of our favorite fiber papers—in feel and weight.)

How will it play?

As we’ve indicated, the Designjet Z3200 is more of an incremental upgrade than a ground-breaking new model, but that’s not a bad thing. HP is playing the game the way that it needs to be played. With Epson’s well-deserved hegemony at the top of the pro-printer market, HP has to continue to innovate and make substantive changes to be perceived as a true competitor, and we think that the Z3200 does just that. We know that some photographers felt that the Z3100 wasn’t as good in the reds as Epson’s comparable printers, and the Chromatic Red should go quite a ways towards alleviating those complaints.

The Z3200 has some strong attributes that should appeal to the pro photographer, but its best attribute is its print quality, which—for both color and black and white images—rival those made by Epson’s Stylus Pro wide format printers. When you add the advanced paper-profiling and usability features, the Z3200 becomes a very compelling printer for this key market segment.

While we think HP has the goods, they still need to execute, and, in the U.S. at least, it’s been a tough road for them. In addition to Epson’s well-earned reputation for products, they are firmly entrenched in the professional photo retail channel, and have a much greater mindshare among professional photographers and artists than HP and Canon combined.

In the coming months, we expect that Epson will make a U.S. announcement of the Stylus Pro x900 series, which include the Vivid Magenta inks, a 9-channel printhead that eliminates the matte- and photo-black ink swapping, printhead improvements and—like HP—an optional spectrophotometer. Given Epson’s position in the market, we have high expectations for those models, and HP needs to use any lead time it has to push the Z3200 hard in the market, and make sure that there is ample support in the channel.

As we repeatedly say, competition and change is a very good thing, especially at the high end of the market. As print quality becomes less and less the differentiator between products, other factors— usability, price, ink efficiency, and so on—enter into the equation, which help drive innovation. And, as innovation sticks, key features move on down the line to the consumer space, where an even greater group benefits.

The Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer will ship in October, priced at $3,395 for a 24″ model ($4,695 with Adobe PostScript 3) and $5,595 for a 44″ model ($6,795 with PostScript).

18 thoughts on “First look: HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer”

  1. Hello,
    I found your review very useful. We are considering buying a 44″ Z3200ps not only to print our material but also to service photographers who want to print High Quality images. Could you help me out by letting me know where or how can I calculate printing costs based on ink consumption? Thank you very much!

  2. Bradley: No, you need to purchase the ‘ps’ version if that’s what you want. There are some RIPs that will work with the Z series printers, including PosterJet and EFI, but I’d recommend purchasing the PostScript option up-front unless you already have an integrated proofing workflow.

  3. Nicole:

    The Z3200 ink cost works out roughly to 45 cents per ml, and our test chart, when printed at 23 inches by 29 inches (to fit a 24×30 print size), uses approximately 6 ml of ink, which works out to a per print cost of $2.68. That’s for the ink only – paper costs will inflate that accordingly, but for most paper types, the ink usage will be roughly the same.

    That works out, for this image, to about 58 cents per square foot of coverage – for all the printing I’ve done, one a range of media types, I’m spending about 67 cents per square foot of coverage.

    HP (and Epson as well) have very good utilities for managing job accounting. Because HP is using an embedded hard drive in their printers, the job log is always present; on the Epsons, you need to remember to have the printer logging utility on to track job costs, but that’s not a big deal to most shops.

    Hope this helps.


  4. Why did the DesignJet Z3200 mysteriously disappear from HP’s website as “discontinued?” Didn’t this printer just come out?

  5. Are you able to roll inkjet prints from the Z3200 without causing damage to the print surface?

    How does the quality compare to the Lightjet 5000 laser printer?

    Thanks to all you respond….

  6. I’m new to the inkjet printing format. How does it compare to the silver halide prints? I’ve noticed a few years ago i had a photo printed on an inkjet based printer and had one printed also on a photolab store. Colorwise, i’ve noticed that the inkjet has a wider gamut but i wasn’t impressed with the black tones compared to the halide based. Did this improve as well with the new inkjet based models? One last question, with regards to the media supported, does the z3200 support other types of paper aside from the HP ones? Will this affect print quality? For example, if i use both HP matte paper with an canon matte paper, would the print in the HP be better than the other? Thanks so much for your review…

  7. The Z3200 is truly a great printer. And it is likely meant as an answer to the latest vivid magenta models from Epson.

    Yet where are the Z2200, Z6200 and B9280? HP printer sales are faltering because they can’t produce new products and their current models are years old and fading (to put it mildly, when others are surpassing them).

    Epson’s only failure is the ink swapping, and that’s not huge but significant. If Epson manages to cure that and stop charging $1000 for models that include a paper cassette for those of us printing volumes not on rolls, then HP can wave goodbye to the market.

    HP drivers are a mess, and almost never get rewritten, just basically patched. They dropped the ball on Vista support and now we have Win 7 coming and they still haven’t even beta drivers ready. And now you have Vivid Magenta printers at high, (soon) mid, and low ends of the market to compete with.

    What do you think will happen to the Zxxx market when HP basically loses interest? Support? Updates? Forget about them.

    HP seems to give the writing the wall that this is the last gasp of their acknowledgement of this market by bringing a single printer to market and saying “hey look at us, look at us”.

    Impressive results? Perhaps, but one product does not a market make.

  8. Hi
    i’m italian
    i have a chemical kodak minilab for print from 4″by6″ to 12″by36″.
    now I must buy a plotter but epson x900 or hp Z3200

  9. I have been following this for a long time. As a result of the review of the Z3200 published here I went to a local dealer and had many test prints output on their demo printer. This was in December of 08. I am a long, long term user of Epson products and have owned a lot of their equipment – both printers and a scanner. While the output is good, the functionality was always quite frustrating – clogged heads and software issues at times. I currently still have both a SP7600 and a SP4800.

    To make a long story short, I purchased the Z3200 – net cost after rebate $2250.00. An equivalent SP7900 would have been over $4500.00 to $5000.00 at the time. Also, the idea of having full profiling and user replaceable heads was desirable. I also was assured that the inks that came with the printer would last for some time. I didnt believe them and promply ordered 12 double ink sets from my ink supplier. This may e a mistake (see below).

    After six months plus of usage I could not be more pleased overall. Ethernet linkage and some quirks in the printer control have given me some frustrating moments, but a power off and on has always cleared everything in one cycle.

    As for printing, I am ecstatic!!! The output is phenomenal. The paper versatility is infinite and very high quality and I am only now replacing my first ink cartridge after more prints than I can even calculate (hundreds of sheets of letter and 11×14 as well as over 60 Super B and C Epson SmthVelvetFA and an entire roll of HPprofsatin). On my 4800 I would easily be on my 4th set of inks (330+ml vs 70ml on the HP). In addition, I have never had to run any kind of cleaning cycle, nor have I had a bad print because of a printer malfunction. (I did have an issue with some 11×14 paper early on, but discovered that I was loading it improperly).

    I have had one issue with the software at installation but HP service was prompt and efficient. I cannot speak to any driver support issues over multiple operating systems but will ask about this if and when I need to contact customer support for any future issues.

    To say that I am happy with the printer would be a bit of understatement. I like not having to switch and waste matte vs photo inks. I love the use of the gloss enhancer (the first ink replaced) and have fallen in love with glossy output again (I was an avid darkroom user for a couple of decades many years ago) and I love being able to buy any paper that I want to use and know that I will get terrific output.

    Thanks Ric for this site and thanks for the review on the Z3200. It has changed the way I look at print output!!


  10. We have two Epson and a Z3100 in our shop. The Z3100 was porly designed and poorly supported. We spent untold number of hours trouble shooting the Z3100 for the HP technical support people. The major flaw with the system is that bunch of engineers that have not used a printer have attempted to build a printer (with a workflow) that will ensure a novice can make a great print. While that is good and fine for new users, the design will hunt you for ever. For example to load a single sheet of 8X10 test paper into an Epson takes 8 seconds and press of a single button. The same task takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes (avg 1min 20 sec) and requires pushing more than 10 buttons. Bth machines are on line all the time and you hardly see any jobs being send to the HP by our designers. I consider Z3100 a hard product to use. Before buying Z3200 try and find a honest comparison of the product and better yet be sure to make several prints before buying it.

  11. I have owned a hp.5500 for 4 years,decided to “UPGRADE” to the new hp.Z3200,I have been sticking with hp.until now,this is the most over rated printer I have ever used.I am so sorry that I bought it that I have asked hp. to refund my money. To add insult to injury,the driver was designed for a child,is very time consuming and basicly usless

  12. Good lord. HP printers are absolute junk. I waste a huge amount of ink on cleaning cycles. Sometimes I feel that I get only five 8×10 prints out before I need to replace yet another ink cartridge.

    I contacted HP about my printer. Their response to me was:

    1) They make the best printers,
    2) but my printer is a few years old,
    3) so I should upgrade immediately!

    Stay far far away from their products. They are built to fail. I think that their bad reputation is starting to catch up with them. They’ve been discontinuing papers and it looks like other products are hard to find.

  13. I live in the Cincinnati area and am looking for someone with first-hand experience to help me make great prints with a 3100. I have been having problems getting going using the device and have not received the kind of help needed to get things moving. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  14. FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2010

    z3100 faulty belts
    Before considering buying an HP printer please be warned that the belts that they use are faulty.

    Whether this is planned obsolescence or simply HP using junk parts, I have tried contacting HP to let them know about it and find out what they could do….. of course….nothing but ignore my correspondence.

    It’s very “curious” that the belt, although an inexpensive part, is the most difficult on the printer to replace. You literally have to take the entire printer apart to get at it. That the belt only lasts just over one year and is likely to disintegrate right after your warranty expires. You will first notice little black pieces appearing on your prints, which is the belt falling apart little by little.

    You can attempt to replace the belt, but you will need approximately 8 to 12 hours and take the risk of breaking something else in the process.

    My first belt “EXPIRED” one week after my warranty did. My business was down for two weeks while I found the belt and did the repair. Luckily everything went well…..for another year, and now the belt is disintegrating again. My friend also has the machine and exactly the same thing happened to his belt.

    Please let me know if you’ve had the same experience, I’m sure there must be many of us SUCKERS out there.

  15. I’ve had the z3100 for over a year and have had one problem after another – I’ve had over 50 hours of tech support and am frustrated and exhausted. My belt hasn’t gone yet, but…

    I sure would love it if someone had a RELIABLE printer they could recommend that is capable of 24″ printing, and that does not waste black ink when switching from Matte to Glossy.


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