Croma24 shines – Encad Croma24 large-format printer – Hardware Review

Croma24 shines – Encad Croma24 large-format printer – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Ben Long

Croma24 4 (Very good)

Graphics users may soon find themselves able to afford more printing area for the dollar through new, inexpensive large-format printers.

Encad Inc.’s Croma24 is the first large-format printer that begins to approach the price of conventional, tabloid-size inkjets. Starting at $2,395, just a few hundred dollars more than high-end, 11-by-17-inch printers, the Croma24 offers print sizes up to 2 feet wide and 15 feet long using sheet or roll-fed paper.

For presentations, signs or large proofs – or simply to output really big, high-quality prints – the Croma24 is the most affordable large-format option available. Long a leader in the large-format market, Encad has only recently ventured into the Mac market. Although there’s little wrong with the Croma24’s hardware, the included software needs work.

Measuring 11 by 44 by 13 inches and weighing 45 pounds, the Croma24 is designed to sit on a desktop. An optional printer stand is $250.

Setup is simple: Just connect the printer using the included serial cable, install the software and load the ink by snapping the four ink cartridges into the printer’s cartridge carrier.

The Croma24 accepts either sheet-fed or roll paper; both are fed from the back of the printer. Although this provides a straight-through path for thicker sheet media, it makes loading a bit more difficult if it’s placed against a wall.

Loading and aligning either sheets or rolls is easy. Unfortunately, Encad’s paper rolls are rolled with the printable side facing out, so it can be hard to handle a roll without touching the emulsion. Encad recommends wearing cotton gloves when handling rolls.


There are several ways to print to the Croma24, depending on which hardware/software combination you purchase. The Encad Print Utility, included in the base price of $2,395, prints bit-mapped files in formats including TIFF and PICT. The utility has no editing features but does let you select ink and media types, and it can scale an image up to 24 inches wide. Because its RAM requirement is only 8 Mbytes, the program is an easy way to deal with huge files, even on low-RAM machines. Unfortunately, the utility offers no facilities for color correction or adjustment, so if you don’t like a print you must change the original image.

Also included in the $2,395 version is a Chooser-level QuickDraw driver for printing directly from any application. However, this driver is RAM-intensive, making it hard to print from other RAM-hungry programs such as Adobe Photoshop. While it’s well-suited for text and small jobs, we found the print utility easier for printing most images.

The $2,995 Croma24 includes the print utility and a software-based PostScript Level 2 RIP that you can print to through the standard LaserWriter 8 driver. As with the print utility, the Encad PostScript RIP includes no color correction controls.

Images that are 24 inches wide can tax even the fastest machine, and many programs don’t let you create documents as large as the Croma24 can print. Handily, the Encad PostScript RIP can automatically scale any document it prints up to the full paper width, so you don’t have to work with huge 300-dpi files.

Although it all works well, the Encad software has room for improvement. To its credit, Encad has done a good job making software that feels like Mac software and not a simple Windows port. In addition, the PostScript RIP is speedy, with performance comparable to other software PostScript RIPS, such as Birmy PowerRIP.


We were very impressed with the Croma24’s print quality, although results vary greatly depending on paper and ink choices.

Encad sells media, including matte and glossy papers and cotton canvas. We tested the Encad PhotoGloss and Canvas and were pleased with both. PhotoGloss had an even emulsion and nice texture, and it dried quickly with little rolling. The 20-mil artists’ stretch canvas was equally pleasing.

Encad sells two inks for the Croma24. GS inks offer SWOP-equivalent colors, while GA inks have a much broader color gamut, with brighter colors and a greater range of variation. If you’re not concerned about color matching, you’ll want to use the GA inks. The GS inks do a good job approximating SWOP colors, but the smaller color gamut results in substantially more dithering, producing grainier images.

Because the ink types use separate cartridges, you can swap them between prints. But if the printer runs out of an ink in midprint, it doesn’t stop and wait for a refill. This can be a big waste of ink and paper if you’re two-thirds of the way through a large print. There’s also no way to create custom paper-ink combinations for printing on non-Encad media. Instead, you’ll have to hope that you can get good results using one of the pre-existing settings.

The Croma24 displayed little or no banding and very little dithering. On close examination, no one will mistake Croma24 output for a photographic print – its output is grainier than what you’d get from a smaller desktop printer. But from at least a foot away -which is how most of the output will be viewed – Croma24 images look great, with excellent color reproduction across the gamut. Although not blindingly fast, the Croma24 is speedy enough, outputting a 23-by-32-inch image in 40 minutes at best quality.


While the Croma24’s software is underpowered, it presents no obstacles that can’t be worked around in an image editor, and the software does a great job scaling images up to large sizes. The $600 PostScript RIP is a good addition – despite its lack of color correction controls – for those who need PostScript output. However, it might be worth looking into more full-featured, third-party RIPs such as the similarly priced PhotoPrint from Amiable Technologies Inc. Still, Croma24 is impressive, and the price is hard to beat.

Encad Inc. of San Diego can be reached at (619) 452-0882 or (800) 453-6223; fax (619) 452-5618;

Score card: Croma24 4 (Very good)

Encad Inc.

List price: $2,395*

Hits: Good print quality; wide range of media and inks.

Misses: Software lacks color correction.

*PostScript Level 2 RIP version, $2,995; optional printer stand, $250.

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