HP built its reputation on the backs of its printers, so it’s no surprise the company has a quality wide-format printer in our top three. The Designjet Z5400 is one of the cheaper machines in the category, one that strikes a delicate balance between performance and flexibility. While it’s one of the slowest large-format printers we reviewed, that helps keep it within the budgets of even the smallest businesses.HP Designjet Z5400 balances solid quality with wide media and a dual-roll feed – making the device more flexible than many of its counterparts.
The Z5400 supports dual rolls in its feeder. Two rolls means twice the active print time between paper refills, since the printer automatically switches between them mid-job. It’s also rather wide for a budget printer, supporting rolls up to 44 inches across – only four printers we reviewed support wider prints, and they cost between two and 10 times as much.
The Designjet also supports borderless printing at resolutions up to 2400 x 1200 dpi, the same density as our number one pick. To put that number in perspective, it calculates out to 2.88 million dots of color per square inch of paper. Denser resolutions mean finer gradients with less banding, but there’s a downside: Printing at such quality is a painstakingly slow process.
Even at draft speeds, the Designjet Z5400 manages just 570 square feet per hour – equivalent to about one standard D-size poster (24 inches x 36 inches) every 40 seconds or so. Draft print speeds aren’t exactly sellable, however, so you’re looking at just a fraction of that speed for a decent-quality print. While the output looks wonderful, it’s far too slow to be used as a meaningful centerpiece in a popular print shop; you simply won’t be able to churn out copies quickly enough to meet demand. This makes the Designjet best suited to engineering firms or all-in-one graphics houses that want to control the entire production pipeline, from design through to delivery.
The Designjet comes with an integrated 320GB hard drive, which is useful if you want to load in a long print job that makes use of those multiple rolls and then disconnect your computer or use it for other tasks. It does not, however, come with an integrated scanner, which means you can’t use the machine as a multifunction device. The hard drive is strictly for loading large image files or multi-roll jobs that take up lots of digital space.
Since the Z5400 can handle edge-to-edge prints, it doesn’t need a trimmer for the left and right sides of each sheet. Instead, it uses a simple page cutter that can chop through most media you might feed through it, with two exceptions: polypropylene banners and heavy fabrics such as canvas, both of which are simply too thick for the blade.
HP designed the Z5400 to work with a diverse array of media, from simple bond paper or satin paper to more exotic materials like adhesive-backed paper, translucent film, and the aforementioned canvas and vinyl. It uses pigment-based inks to print, which are significantly more durable than dye-based inks but still won’t stand up to hard weathering. As with all pigment-based printers, we recommend using the Z5400 for indoor jobs rather than outdoor banners or other prints that need to stand up to the elements.
Buying a machine that can manage large-format printing with a dual-roll feed and a 44-inch roll width usually means spending a pretty penny, which is why the Designjet is such an eye-catching option. Slow though it may be, it offers borderless printing, a manual sheet bypass, automated roll switching and pigment-based inks for greater longevity, all for less than $5,000. As the children’s tale teaches us, slow and steady often wins the race; if you don’t need incredibly fast turnarounds on massive print jobs, it’s worth considering this turtle.
How Does Your Business Stack Up? Get a Free Business Report Card!Get My Report Card