by Mike McNamee Published 01/04/2012
It is some time since we have had a serious look at dye-sublimation printers although they are an important tool in some sectors, particularly event photography. The upside of dye subs is speed (38s for a 10x8 in this instance), ease of use, transport and robustness (some are even 'militarised' for use in theatres of war). The downside is cost, if you need to print text, it costs exactly the same as a full colour image, indeed every print costs exactly the same regardless of image content. Up until now we have had problems with colour bleed from one solid block of colour to an adjacent one - this has been sufficient in the past to fool the spectrophotometer and prevent us making profiles.
The DNP DS80 has shifted the goalposts. The weight has been halved over previous models and at 31lbs this is significant - you can carry the new machine into a venue, previously you had to be a weightlifter! The image quality has improved, especially in regard to a lack of colour bleeding. There were colour management issues with the machine we tested, a privately purchased one by member, Martin Sellars. Indeed, until we had fettled the profiles, Martin was minded to return the unit. The colour audit data make interesting reading when you compare RA14, dye sub and ink-jet and we got a particular shock when we observed and measured metamerism (more on that later).
The printer is 12.7x14.1x6.7 inches and weights 31lb. The paper and donor foil may be loaded by withdrawing the front cover and tray. This front loading ability is important to the events guys (and gals) because this enables you to stack a number of printers should the need arise. Connectivity is via USB, there are no network capabilities built in.
The paper roll is 8" wide delivering 12x8 or 10x8 prints. The paper roll is 110 feet long delivering either 130 10x8 prints or 110 12x8 prints. The printer can cut 5" prints from 10x8 media, 6" prints from 12x8 media and 8x4 prints from 12x8 media. A 10x8 was produced in 35 seconds according to the specification we measured ours slightly faster than that.
There are three mechanically similar printers available, the Mitsubishi CP 3800, the DNP DS 80 and the Citizen CXW. They share a chassis design but have different firmware and media (and the media are incompatible). Overall our experience of dye subs teaches us that they will all have different colour biases and generally we have found that they benefit from bespoke profiling for optimum performance. A considerable body of experience resides with Photomart who specialise in event equipment and you are certainly advised to talk to them before embarking on a purchase.
The printers costs £1,690 (Calumet) but we found no mention of media on their website, the Amazon website said 'media currently unavailable'. Photomart do have media quoted at £130 ex VAT for a double roll kit, ie 260 10x8 prints that works out at 50p per print, a very competitive cost.
The media is moderately fluorescent (5.0%), about halfway to the higher values we have recorded in our database. The base tone is lightly cool (4 points blue). The calliper is 240 microns, the grammage is not reported (it feels about 220gsm).
The tables detail the findings when we audited the output. Bear in mind that the printer ended up in our office because Martin Sellars was unhappy with the output. This was confirmed by the audit, the average error was 6.7?E00. The output was between 5% and 10% too dark across the gamut, the mid-grey tone was 8% too dark. The greens suffered most in terms of both hue and saturation component of the errors. The density error improved when using the High Quality settings but there was a blue bias to the prints.
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