A reader sent me an email asking why I chose the HP Z3200 printer as opposed to the Epson 7900. This was a difficult decision for me to make and I debated with myself for a long time over which printer I should get. Ultimately, both printers can produce superb quality prints and my decision was made based on other factors:
HP Z3200 Pros
- Spectrophotometer. The Z3200 has a built in spectrophotometer allowing me to create my own ICC profiles easily with the press of a few buttons. There is a spectrophotometer available for the Epson but it is expensive (an additional $1500).
- Price. The HP Z3200 usually sells for less than the 7900 and at the time I purchased my printer HP offered a $500 rebate. Both Epson and HP offer rebates (and the details change frequently) so you should check to see what the price difference would be for you.
- Clogging. The HP Z3200 has very little problems with clogging whereas this appears to be an issue for the 7900. In the past, other Epson printers I’ve owned had clogging issues whenever I left them unused for an extended period. I imagine if you have a high print volume and print regularly, this would not be an issue but it is a significant concern for me.
- Replaceable Print Heads. HP Z3200 has user replaceable print heads so if the print heads were ever to clog on the HP, they could be replaced at relatively low cost. The HP print heads come in pairs (about $50) and this adds only a small additional cost amortized over their lifespan. The print heads are rated for a liter of ink (a normal cartridge is 130 ml).
- Size. The HP Z3200 is lighter and physically smaller than Epson which makes it easier for me to move around (143 lbs versus 220 lbs for the Epson).
Epson 7900 Pros
- Consistency. One argument I’ve heard about the HP Z3200 is that it includes a spectrophotometer because it needs it. I.e., there is more variability and drift in the printing process and the Z3200 needs to be fine-tuned more frequently. My experience with having to recalibrate the printer supports this. (The HP driver lets you know when the calibration profile is old and I’ve needed to update the profile multiple times in the past six months )
- Paper Loading. Paper loading on the Epson is superior to the HP Z3200. On the Z3200 you have to reach around the back of the printer to load it. On the Epson you can load paper from the front.
- Build quality. The HP Z3200 is made mostly out of plastic and feels very flimsy. The Epson is a solid piece of machinery. It’s like the difference between today’s $10 plastic keyboards and the old IBM clickety keyboards.
Factors that didn’t make a difference
- Image quality. Both printers can make superb color and black and white images. I couldn’t really tell much of a difference looking at prints and many other reviewers have stated that each printer has some strengths/weaknesses.
- Bronzing. The Epson 7900 may have slight bronzing in its prints. HP deals with this using a gloss enhancer but in my opinion the bronzing on Epson 7900 prints is not an issue in practice.
- Print Permanence. Wilhelm research rates the longevity of the Epson K3 inks for 45 years unframed and 83 years framed under regular glass for the luster paper. The Z3200 achieves 102 years unframed and over 250 years under glass for the satin paper. While the Z3200 has better numbers, the permanence ratings for the 7900 are more than adequate.
- Ink Usage. I’ve heard a variety of claims that the Z3200 is more frugal on ink and has lower operating costs. However, this is difficult to substantiate and even if one printer were more expensive to run than another, the total cost of ink and paper is negligable compared to the sale price of fine art prints.
Although I chose the HP printer, I would probably also be very happy with the Epson 7900 as long as I didn’t run into the clogging problem.