HP DesignJet T120 ePrinter review

Pros

  • Prints from rolls, cut sheets, or ADF
  • Prints up to 24in wide
  • 4.3in colour touchscreen
  • Very good graphics quality
  • Impressive connectivity

Cons

  • Some issues with colour and banding

The HP DesignJet T120 ePrinter is a wide-format colour printer that can print diagrams and photos at up to D size (24in wide), and supports printing from rolls or cut sheets. The printer, which retails at £750, can either sit on a table, or you can get it with an optional stand, which is how we tested it.

According to HP, the printer is geared to AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) students and freelance professionals, and although it makes a decent job of printing photos, my testing bore out the notion that it's best as a plotter for printing graphics and diagrams.

The DesignJet T120 measures 990 x 530 x 285mm (WxDxH) and weighs 25kg. We tested it with the aforementioned optional stand (which costs £160), and that’s an accessory you'll definitely want to get if you're printing from paper rolls, as it has a cloth basket to catch the cut paper.

Unlike most of the wider-format near-dedicated colour printers (the others largely geared to photo printing) that we've ever used, the DesignJet T120 "only" has a normal complement of four ink tanks: Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The Canon Pixma PRO-1 sports a dozen ink tanks, including five of various shades of black and grey, while the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 employs nine ink tanks.

The T120 can connect via USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi, and with the HP Designjet ePrint & Share utility it can print from Apple or Android phones and tablets.

Stand assembly

I assembled the stand in maybe 20 minutes, using the simple instructions and tool (long-shafted Phillips screwdriver) that were provided. It was easy enough to build, except for one small detail. Per the instruction sheets that came with the stand, once the stand is assembled, two people need to lift the printer on top of it and screw it into place.

The printer itself was packed upside-down in a second box, with its own instruction book underneath it. It took two of us to lift the printer out of the box, flip it over, and fit it into two triangular guides on top of the stand. Then I went underneath and screwed the bolts into place. I then looked at the printer's instruction book, which detailed the simpler procedure of flipping the completed stand over while the upside-down printer was still in the box, and bolting the stand to the printer then. But there's no way that I would have known to do that, as the instruction book was buried underneath the printer.

Once completed, the printer sits on the wheeled stand, which can be moved or the wheels locked into place. From a distance, the all-black printer sat atop its stand sort of resembles a rock band's keyboard. Below the printer is the cloth basket that folds out to catch the cut sheets as they come off the roll.

Taking the T120 for a roll

In photo testing, I printed our standard test suite and also did some ad-hoc printing on different size paper, including printing from a 24in wide plain paper roll. Setting up the roll for printing was easy enough; there's a dowel that holds the roll, and you place caps on each end. Then you insert the dowel into slots on either side, and advance the paper until it catches. The printer will then automatically align and trim the paper.

For the ad-hoc testing I adjusted the printer driver for 22in wide paper and did the rest of the setup in Photoshop. Then I'd initiate the print command, it would print from the roll, and when done it would cut the sheet, which would fall into the basket.

Photo printing speed

When it comes to a near-dedicated graphic arts printer, printing speed is a minor consideration, as print quality is paramount, but we time photo speed nonetheless. Using QualityLogic's hardware and software for testing, I timed the HP DesignJet T120 at an average of 1 minute per 4 x 6 print, and 1 minute and 39 seconds per 8 x 10. This is a bit faster than the Epson 3880 (which hit 1 minute and 17 seconds, and 2 minutes and 21 seconds respectively), and notably faster than the Canon PRO-1 (2 minutes and 14 seconds, and 3 minutes and 53 seconds respectively).

Output quality

Although the T120 can print text and other standard office documents, using it to do so would be a bit like using a Rolls-Royce to go grocery shopping. Although I didn’t bother with our business printing tests, I did test for text and graphics quality, as well as photo quality.

Overall output quality was above par for an inkjet, with average text, above average graphics, and slightly above par photos. Text quality was good enough for almost any business use except for anything needing very small fonts. In addition to our normal graphics testing, I also output some plots and diagrams more in line with the printer's intended use. Graphics quality was above par, with the main flaw being some minor banding in the form of regular, very faint striations. The colours seemed off in some illustrations, as well.

Photo quality was good, but not without flaws. Colours were bright and well saturated, sometimes almost to the point of punchiness (as some people prefer them). Our monochrome test image showed traces of spurious colour – it's one place where the T120 could have used some of the Canon PRO-1's multiple black and grayscale cartridges (that printer excelled at printing black backgrounds). If you don't plan to do much monochrome printing, this may not be an issue.

Many prints showed a bit of dithering (graininess), which could be distracting in photos of faces, for example. Some prints with darker backgrounds showed traces of banding.

All that said, when I printed some of my own photos out at poster size on plain paper from a roll, the images still looked impressive. Although the T120 is not geared to fine-arts printing, it does a credible job in outputting poster-sized photos for more mundane use.

Verdict

The T120 doesn't have the photo printing chops of the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 or the Canon Pixma PRO-1, but it can print on larger paper. The HP DesignJet T120 ePrinter prints quality graphics at up to D size, and is an economical yet quite capable choice for anyone who needs to print out wide-format material, whether architects, engineers, graphic designers, or students. As such, it's easy to recommend.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

HP DesignJet T120 ePrinter

Printer Category

Inkjet, Printer Only

Direct Printing from Cameras

No

Maximum Standard Paper Size

Wide Format

Print Duplexing

No

Inkjet Type

Photo All-Purpose

Colour or Monochrome

1-pass colour

Connection Type

USB, Ethernet, Wireless