Using the Fargo Primera Pro Printer with the Amiga

Dye Sublimation printing, and the Amiga

By Bill Graham, Graphics Editor,

I've had the Primera Pro Dye Sublimation printer hooked up to my Amiga 1200 for nearly two years now. I use it to output Imagine-rendered super bitmaps for gallery sale and exhibition. This review is a summary of my experiences with this printer.

Firstly, I have to say that if you are serious about getting the maximum quality output from this printer, then you'll need ImageFX 2.6 or later to drive it. Put simply, the Amiga printer driver that comes with the printer is barely adequate to print roughs. If you want the best quality you can get, use ImageFX. It has separate output modules for both the Primera and Primera Pro printers. The modules give you exceptional control over all of the output parameters, including being able to gamma-control the thermal print head. They allow you to choose among all the various paper sizes and Primera ribbon options, such as 3-color and 4-color wax thermal, monochrome or grayscale, and 3- or 4-color dye sublimation. The modules also allow you to accurately position and scale your image on the paper. And since it operates directly from within ImageFX, you can enhance and modify the image while testing for the best settings for output.

The printer is a compact unit, measuring 14 inches wide by 10 inches deep by 6 inches high. The various plastic appendages for holding paper extend another 7 inches or so from the front of the printer. Also, this printer has an external DC power supply, a black cube about 5 inches on a side. This is pretty clever on the part of Fargo, since by shipping a different power supply they can sell the same printer regardless of a particular country's electrical system. You will need to purchase a printer cable. The manual says no longer than 6 feet; I found these hard to come by, and gambled with a 10-foot cord. It works on my 1200, not on my 3000; go figure. The 1200's AGA display is much more suited for working with the Primera anyway.

The printer also ships with a small initial supply of ribbons and paper. These supplies should be considered for experimental use only. The Primera requires special paper available from Fargo for dye sub output, but can use plain paper for wax thermal output. All manner of supply configurations are available from Fargo. When I purchased my printer from my local dealer, Fargo gave him a $250 coupon for supplies. He graciously gave it to me in turn. Fargo has mug-printing and t-shirt printing kits for this printer, as well as special acetate for printing dye sub transparencies.

In two years I've had no mechanical problems with the printer. It does, however, use a rather strange ribbon, which looks for all the world like a multi-colored roll of Saran Wrap. This ribbon fits into a plastic tray which then lies inside the printer. The printer ships with a nice illustrated manual, and setup is a breeze.

When I render an image for output via the Primera, I render it at 2000x1600 pixels or thereabouts. The printer can handle up to 300x600 dpi output, but due to the way dye sublimation works, there is no noticeable difference between that and 300x300 dpi. Wax thermal, though, is a different story; the higher resolution is very discernible. Non-square pixel output of various aspect ratios is old hat with Amigas. Not so with PC's, which is why I have my 1200 and not my Pentium 166 driving this printer. The downside is that at 2000x1600 pixels, which is an IFF file about 7 to 10 megs in size, it takes more than 30 minutes to print a full bleed 8.5x11 dye sub image from my '030-powered A1200 with 32 megs. Wax thermals take maybe 5 or 6 minutes.

The IFX printer module allows you to scale and dither any picture to fit the page without bothering with Postscript. This is good since that although a Postscript module is available from Fargo for the Primera Pro, it is not Amiga-compatible. However, I have spoken with several Mac-based output services using other dye sub printers, and they have told me candidly that Postscript/dye sublimation is not exactly a match made in heaven.

In terms of output quality, dye sub images are breathtaking to behold. They tend to be dark and color-saturated, though, hence the advice above about considering the initial supplies to be for experimentation. I've read that dye sub prints are more sensitive to UV than regular photographic prints, but I have prints on my walls almost two years old that have been in galleries several times, and they show no signs of degradation. Wax thermal output is much brighter, though not nearly as photorealistic. It should be noted that you'll need the 4-color dye sub supply package for 8x10 or higher work (max is 8.5x11.5) and it uses special 8x14 paper for that. The 3-color dye sub package will only do 8.5x9.3, a PITA size for framed output.

One anecdote here. The ImageFX/Primera Pro combo has been the only output method I've come across that will allow me to take a high-quality video framegrab and make a decent-looking print from it. Anyone reading this who has tried to output a video framegrab to film or print will know what I'm talking about. I've made 4x5 prints from video grabs that looked pretty good. Not fantastic, but serviceable. It took quite a bit of massaging with ImageFX also. But it is doable.

All in all, the Primera Pro is a great color printer if the very best in output quality for a relatively modest amount of money is your primary concern. But it is not a fast printer by any means (I recently aquired an '060 for the 1200; I have not installed it yet, but this may speed up things a bit). And, dye sub output can be expensive (about $275 or so for 100 prints, I think). But overall, I am very pleased with this printer.