Pro Review: Hi-Touch P710L and Mitsubishi Electric CP-3800DW Dye Sublimation Printers
Sports and event photographers need fast, reliable printers with crowd-pleasing output. The HiTi P710L and Mitsubishi CP-3800DW fit the bill.
By Stan Sholik
Although photographers in general purchase far more inkjet printers than dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printers, it’s quite possible that they’re actually outputting more dye-sub prints. Event photographers, who might print an average of 500 prints during one event, are the largest market for dye-sub printers. They need reliable, easy-to-set-up printers that output photo-quality prints quickly, at a consistent cost per print—precisely the qualities of the new Hi-Touch Imaging Technology (HiTi) P710L and Mitsubishi Electric CP-3800DW dye-sub printers.
Dye-sub printing is radically different from inkjet printing. Rather than propelling droplets of opaque ink onto a paper surface, dye-sub printers use heat to transfer transparent dye from a ribbon onto paper. Having varying the temperatures across the printer head, dye-sub printers can produce 256 shades for each of its cyan, magenta and yellow ribbon, yielding a true 16.8-million color gamut. The transparent dye is laid down in layers, producing smooth color gradients and print quality that’s virtually indistinguishable from chemical photo lab prints.
Each color requires a separate pass through the printer, followed by a fourth pass to lay down a laminate layer, which protects the print from UV fading and water damage. When I splashed water on prints from each printer then wiped them dry, the prints were undamaged. HiTi estimates print life of 50 to 100 years, while Mitsubishi quotes 20-plus years in dark storage.
Despite the four-pass system, dye-sub printers also have an advantage over inkjet printers in speed. The HiTi P710L produces 4x6-inch prints in less than 7 seconds; the Mitsubishi CP-3800DW prints 8x10s in 30 seconds.
Another advantage is reliability. In dye-sub units, only the paper and the ribbon move during printing, not the whole print head, so there are fewer moving parts. Dye-sub printing is also very clean. The thermal head turns the dye embedded in the ribbon into a gas that’s immediately deposited onto the paper—no liquid cartridges to deal with—and the prints are completely dry when they exit the printer.
Finally, dye-sub printers produce a known number of prints per paper roll/ribbon, so you can calculate the per-print consumables cost exactly. This is a real competitive advantage in bidding on jobs.
For photographers other than event shooters, there are really only two disadvantages in using these two dye-sub printers. One is the limited size and type of the compatible media. Only glossy paper is available for both the HiTi and the Mitsubishi printers, and the size of the ribbon and the media must match. This became clear when I set the Mitsubishi for 8x12-inch output. The front panel lights began flashing and I went scurrying for the manual, then for the consumables box, only to discover that the only ribbon I’d been sent was the 8x10-inch. Presumably, with an 8x12-inch ribbon and 8-inch paper roll, it’s possible to print 8x10s as well as 8x12s, but that wastes ribbon.
The other disadvantage with using these models—and I suspect all dye-sub printers—is their inability to print a rich black. It’s not that the lower tones come out brown or muddy, they just don’t have the richness of inkjet black, due of course to the lack of a black section on the ribbon. But as long as the lower tones are neutral, and they were with both printers, clients will be pleased. Dark, featureless tones would be a more serious problem at black-tie events where everyone’s wearing a tuxedo or a little black dress.
Although there’s a slight overlap in print sizes with the HiTi P710L and Mitsubishi CP-3800DW printers, they’re not really in competition with each other. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but they’re comparable in quality, features and price. And while they’re designed for the event market, they’d make excellent studio printers. The deciding factor comes down to your required print size.
Hi-Touch Imaging Technology P710L
Most professional dye-sub printers are large and heavy, and at 44 pounds, the P710L is no exception. My evaluation unit didn’t ship with a setup chart or manual, although both do come with new units. Clear diagrams are printed inside the unit, which opens from the front with a press of a button when the power is on. Setup was simple. The ribbon and paper spools are color coded, making loading them even easier. The printer connects to your computer with the USB cable provided. After loading the printer driver and waiting a couple of minutes for the thermal head to heat up, I was ready to print.
The front panel has an LCD readout and minimal controls. Pressing the menu button allows you to print a test print, displays the number of prints remaining on the roll and the number of prints output, and allows you to set standard or fine printing. Both standard and fine modes print at 300 dpi, but the fine mode sharpens the edges in the print more. The test print looked great and the black was good.
The P710L can print 6x4-, 6x8- or 6x9-inch prints on 6-inch paper, or 5x7-inch prints on 5-inch paper. You can adjust the automatic print cutting alignment with a setting in the tools portion of the printer properties settings. I could perfectly center the cuts by using the lowest setting (1 to 8) on the long dimension, and the middle setting (5) on the short dimension.
I printed from Photoshop and Lightroom, although HiTi says any program that allows printing is compatible. Presumably, this would include the popular event software packages TriPrism TEPS-X (Mac) and ExpressDigital (Windows).
Although the HiTi P710L will print from event software, I used Photoshop. You access the printer driver by clicking on Page Setup. I found it easiest to let Photoshop Manage Colors using the HiTi printer profile.
HiTi includes a printer profile in its software, but the first prints were slightly dark and low in contrast with the P710L color profile. I could correct it by adjusting the brightness to 25 and the contrast to 5 in Photoshop’s printer driver, but I had to do it manually for each new print I output. Tech support pointed me to the calibration software in the printer driver that would eliminate this manual procedure.
Print quality was consistently excellent, with natural skin tones and accurate colors. The P710L runs cool, but the printing is fairly noisy. When it’s not printing, there’s some fan noise.
The HiTi printer software includes tabs for Settings, Paper, Color and Tools. The Color tab (above) gives you options to match the output to your taste. I added Brightness and Contrast, but found the colors matched my monitor and needed no adjustment. Unfortunately, you must make these adjustments for every file you open, as they are not saved.
The P710L is large and heavy, a consideration for location photographers, but the hand-size indents at the front and back of the unit ease lifting it. HiTi recommends removing the ribbon and paper roll during transport, so you’ll have separate pieces to move and will need a few extra minutes of setup. The unit looks and operates like it will last through years of steady use, and its size and mass would discourage rough handling. The large size also accommodates the large paper roll, minimizing downtime to change paper and ribbon.
Mitsubishi Electric CP-3800DW
At 30 pounds, the CP-3800DW is no lightweight, but it’s fairly compact and easy for one person to manage, despite being designed to output full-bleed or bordered 8x10- or 8x12-inch prints, depending on the ribbon. It will also print and trim full-bleed or bordered 4x8- and 6x8-inch prints. The printer driver has options for other sizes printed in “packages” on a single sheet, which requires manual cutting.
The start-up guide poster wasn’t particularly helpful. Its too-small illustrations, the lack of color coding or diagrams inside the unit, and my confusion over the proper orientation of the paper and ribbon cassettes led to a couple of false starts. Once you’ve got it figured out, you should be able to reload in a couple of minutes.
The start-up guide on the CD is way more clear and definitely would have been the better place to start. The CD contains the Windows driver; Mac users must download the driver and profile from the Mitsubishi Web site.
Initially I had problems printing from Photoshop. Mitsubishi tech support figured out that the problem was the print resolution I was using, 300x600dpi. Once I reset it to 300x300dpi (or 600x600) I was fine.
While we were getting to the bottom of this problem, I was able to print using a procedure recommended by Mitsubishi. You navigate to the folder where the image is stored using Windows Explorer, then right-click on the image to bring up the Windows Photo Printing Wizard. A few more clicks gets you to Printing Preferences, and clicking on it opens the CP_3800DW printing options. You need another click to enter the advanced tools, where you choose print sizes or adjust color. A couple more clicks and you’re printing.
Event photographers running Windows can use Windows Explorer to navigate to the folder containing the photos. Select images and right-click to select Print, which brings up the Windows Photo Printing Wizard.
Although I found this inelegant, once you've made your way through the choices, you don’t need to revisit them unless you want to change print size. You can select and print an entire folder of images during the process, without further attention. Mitsubishi says both TriPrism (TEPS-X) and ExpressDigital are presently coding the CP-3800DW to run with their software.
Clicking Printing Preferences brings up the Mitsubishi CP-3800DW properties software window with tabs for Layout, Paper/Quality, Options and Color Adjustment. The Color Adjustment tab contains sliders to adjust print output to your personal taste and save them for future use. I found the color profile supplied with the printer was an excellent match for my monitor, so I made no adjustments here.
Once the simply beautiful prints started to appear, thoughts of the printer driver hassles vanished. The color management delivered prints that perfectly matched my screen image, as Mitsubishi profiles the printer with GretagMacbeth Profile Maker and I profile my computer with GretegMacbeth i1 software.
The CP-3800DW runs cool, is fairly quiet during printing, and delivers the first print in about 30 seconds. When it’s not printing, there’s minimal fan noise. Mitsubishi does not caution the user to remove the ribbon or media for transport. The computer connection is via USB 2.0, cable not provided.
Stan Sholik is a contributing writer for NewsWatch Feature Service. He is also a commercial photographer with over 30 years of large format studio and location experience.
Print method: Dye diffusion thermal transfer
Resolution: 300x300 dpi
Paper size: 6x4, 6x8, 6x9, 5x7 inches
Printing time: 4x6, 6.8 seconds; 6x9, 13.2 seconds
Printing area: Edge-to-edge
Driver software: Windows XP/2000/Vista; Mac OS 10.2 or later
Dimensions (WxHxD): 11.7x13.5x16.4
Weight: 44 pounds
Power Supply: AC 100V ~ 240V 50/60Hz
MSRP: $1,899. Media: 4x6 paper/ribbon for 700 prints, $279; 6x9 paper/ribbon for 310 prints, $449; 5x7 paper/ribbon for 400 prints, $429
Print method: Dye sublimation thermal transfer
Resolution: 300x300 dpi standard; 300x600 dpi high-quality mode
Paper size: 4x8, 5x8, 6x8, 8x8, 8x10, 8x11.7, 8x12 inches
Printing time: 8x10 approx. 30 seconds; 8x12 approx. 35 seconds
Printing area: Edge-to-edge
Buffer memory: 112MB
Driver software: Windows XP/2000; Mac OS 10.3.9, 10.4.11, 10.5.2 (download)
Dimensions (WxHxD): 12.67x6.69x14.41
Weight: approx. 30.8 pounds
Power Supply: AC 120V ~ 240V 50/60Hz
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor, 12 months or 7,000 prints whichever comes first on thermal head
MSRP: $3,495. Media: one box (two rolls of paper and two ribbons) for 130 8x10-inch prints or 110 8x12-inch prints, $350.