Epson Stylus Pro 7700 and 9700 review

Epson Stylus Pro 7700 and 9700 review

With the help of our CAD expert, Sam Tomlinson, we put the new Epson Stylus Pro 7700 and 9700 printers to the test.

Epson says: The Epson Stylus Pro 7700 and 9700 are packed with the latest Epson technologies that add precision, reliability and productivity to a wide range of professional printing needs. Together they give you the finest quality output without compromising speed.

Sam says: Each time a new printer is launched onto the market it always promises the latest and most advanced technology, so your cynicism is understandable. But from the print samples I have seen, these printers do exactly what they say on the tin! The Epson Ultra Chrome Ink (which now includes vivid magenta) makes the prints clear and they precisely match the colours on screen. Epson have also assured us that prints should last around 75 years, (though we clearly didn’t have time to test this) and that is perfect for archiving. The Micro Piezo TFP printhead is probably to blame for the bulkiness of these printers which seems to be an issue with a lot of Epson printers. However, a look under the magnifying glass revealed perfectly accurate little dots that didn’t mist or have any satellites. Even after long periods of inactivity, it still produced perfect prints immediately, with no nozzle issues.

Epson says: These printers are designed to give you faster output without compromising print quality. They do this by using advanced compression and decompression technologies that speed up data throughput during printing.

Sam says: When it comes to printers, the faster they are the better, but that is only if they can maintain the quality. Of course the level of precision is reduced when you print at faster speeds, but even at the highest speed, these are perfect for drafts and sketches. The slower, higher quality prints are outstanding and would probably give you that competitive edge when pitching for new business. Whilst the highest quality prints do take considerably longer, these models are conveniently equipped to deal with overnight printing.

Epson says: A range of features make the printing process as easy as possible, and gives you the flexibility to match your printer to the way you print. Fast network connection, clear, simple control and straightforward operation and maintenance are built-in.

Sam says: With new ways of monitoring and controlling print jobs, you don’t have to hit print and hope for the best. The control panel screen isn’t your usual multifaceted gadget that scares even the most technical of minds; it is simple, easy to use, straightforward to understand and it genuinely makes a difference to the level of control you have over printing. If anything does go wrong – for example, if you run out of media half way through a job – barcode printing allows you to back-track just as far as the problem, without having to start over (saving both time and money). Different departments can track their printing too.

Buy it if: you do a lot of professional printing. An on-site, high performance professional printer is a worthwhile investment, especially given the cost of external printing. In terms of price, both of these models compare quite favourably to similar printers on the market. These have been crammed with all the latest Epson print technology but, despite all of its technological glory, the 7700 model only takes print sizes up to 24″ and that could be quite restrictive. If you’re not going to exceed this size, great but, if larger prints are what you are after, I would recommend the 9700, which takes paper sizes up to 44″ wide.

Get in touch with our CAD experts on 03332 409 306 or email for more on our printing solutions.

The benefits of QuarkXPress 8 for teachers and students

The benefits of QuarkXPress 8 for teachers and students

When it comes to desktop publishing, Keith Martin really knows his linking tool from his Bezier picture box. Senior lecturer in publishing at the London College of Communication, Keith has extensive experience under his belt, with a degree in graphic design and numerous books published about digital media. He also juggles the role of technical editor at MacUser magazine at the same time as teaching!

Keith has been using QuarkXPress for desktop publishing since he was at university and now teaches his own students how to use the latest version. He explains the way its logical design makes it easy to produce quality layout for anything from leaflets and posters to full-blown magazines and newspapers: “You make a box, you put a picture in it. It’s as if you are working with pieces of cut paper on a big poster-size page on a desk.”

Quark’s flexibility makes it really user-friendly according to Keith, and he says it is really easy to make Flash content without having to get involved with coding. “Today we are in a situation where, if designers want to actually work in digital output, they have to learn programming. But with QuarkXPress 8, you can actually get Flash done quickly and you don’t have to look at code, so I think it’s a great option for designers,” Keith added.

Now in its eighth version, Keith believes that QuarkXPress’s “pedigree” means it has a longevity that will see it carry on developing. He said: “Tools change, but design never does. I think the future is going to be that the software does the difficult stuff for you behind the scenes while you get on with the creative work.”

Find out more on QuarkXPress for teachersand students by calling our education team on 03332 409 333 or emailing learning@Jigsaw24.comFor more news on technology in Education, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter and ‘Like’ Jigsaw Education’s Facebook page.

NVIDIA’s 3D Vision glasses

NVIDIA’s 3D Vision glasses

We recently managed to get our hands on a couple of pairs of these glasses and the associated hardware to use in our demonstrations at BVE. Having wanted to see them for quite some time, I was excited about seeing them in action.

Seeing an image in 3D on the screen requires each one of your eyes to see a slightly different image, there are several different ways to achieve this. Most systems use passive glasses; these take the form of either the coloured anaglyph glasses (which require no special display technology) or clear polarised glasses (requiring a matching polarised display).

Regardless of the technology used, the theory is the same: the glasses and display work together to ensure that your left eye only sees the left image and your right eye only sees the right image. Your brain does the rest, fusing these two separate images into a 3D picture.

The NVIDIA glasses work on the same theory but achieve it in a slightly different way. They are based on active technology and are powered by a small battery. The glasses work wirelessly, although they are charged over USB. Each lens of the glasses contains a liquid crystal display similar to those used in old calculators and this display changes the lens from black to clear at a rate of 60 HZ (60 times a second). While this is happening, the display flicks from the left image to the right image at a rate of 120 HZ. This is synced with the glasses via an infra red emitter to ensure that when the left image is being shown the right eye is blanked out and vice versa.

To make all of this work, you will need the following equipment:

  • The NVIDIA 3D Vision starter kit, containing a pair of glasses and the infra red sync emitter.
  • A compatible NVIDIA graphics card with a DIN connector for the sync emitter. A Quadro is needed for pro applications such as Maya. A Geforce is needed for Games.
  • A display that is capable of displaying an image at 120HZ – the Samsung SyncMaster range is a good place to start.
  • Software that is capable of using active stereo. In games, this is taken care of by the Nvidia driver. With regard to pro apps, any app that supports Quad Buffered OpenGL will work.

So, enough of the technical stuff – what are these glasses like to use? I was lucky enough to test them extensively, using them both for gaming and within Autodesk’s Maya. I was very impressed with them, I had expected to see some flickering of the picture as it switched from the left to right images but, with each eye being displayed at nearly 3 times the frame rate required for smooth viewing, the picture was extremely smooth. The glasses do make the screen appear a little dimmer but this can be fixed easily by turning up the brightness a little.

The experience of getting the glasses to work with my professional applications was a smooth one also, and just required enabling stereoscopic support in the NVIDIA control panel. It is even possible to display 3D output from two different programs at the same time.

In summary, these glasses are ideal if you want to preview and edit stereoscopic content in programs like Maya, or view stereoscopic movies. Imagine being able to show your 3D film or game in full colour progressive 3D, or showing off your product or building designs to clients in full 3D. With most major modelling packages including 3ds Max Design, Maya, CINEMA 4D and others at least able to create stereoscopic content even if you can’t directly edit in 3D, these glasses offer a great way to show your work in an immersive way. Content can be exported from this software and played back using Nvidias stereoscopic player and you can even use them for a bit of gaming after work!

If you’re not sure about the best way to create or view stereoscopic content, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email

3D rendering – What’s more important: Memory, processor speed or access to storage?

3D rendering – What’s more important: Memory, processor speed or access to storage?

At Jigsaw we’re frequently asked by customers, “What’s the most important facet of a render farm – memory, processor speed or access to storage when it comes to 3D rendering?” Unfortunately this question doesn’t have a simple answer – the best way to explain is to use a metaphor:

In a restaurant’s takeaway delivery service, what is the key factor influencing our appraisal of the service? How quickly the chef prepares and cooks the food? The efficiency of the person taking orders over the phone? The time it takes the guy on his moped to deliver the food? How about the quality of the food?!

Obviously, there is no one clear answer. We haven’t considered the different types of food on offer, the distance it needs to be delivered, the number of inbound order calls, or even if the guy taking the calls has to write them by hand or has an automated electronic system. We don’t know how many grills the restaurant has, how long it takes to cook each dish, or if there is a pattern for ordering. It becomes very clear that the answer is usually “It depends,” and the conditions that it depends on are nothing if not dynamic.

To relate this to 3D rendering, simply replace “chef” with “processor”, the person taking orders with “memory” and the delivery guy with “shared storage”. Now you have a render farm scenario.

Just like the example of the takeaway restaurant, in order to get a specific answer to the question about your 3D render farm, your query itself needs to be much more specific.

The question should be “what’s the most important element in a render farmrunning ABC 3D application,” not simply “what’s the most important element in a 3D render farm.” After all, one chef could churn out edible dishes every few minutes while another could be doing no better than one every 10 minutes because he works more methodically and presents dishes of a higher standard.

The answer lies in recognising and measuring what the key bottlenecks are when performing your job:

How long does it take to render a given jog unit (e.g.10 frames) on a given processor with your 3D software application of choice?

–   What is the volume of data going into the image and how long does its take to retrieve this data from the drive?

–   How reliant on memory speed is the rendered frames’ delivery?

–   What is the time frame on delivering your frames to a designated drive?

Once these have been answered for one system (processor/memory chip/shared drive) we can start to think about the render farm as a whole. What starts happening to our render performance if we add more processors, memory storage or speed? Or in terms of our takeaway analogy, what happens if we add more people to take orders, more chefs to cook the food, or more people on the phones to take more orders and to prioritise jobs?

We have to be careful at this stage to try to keep all parts of the farm balanced. For example, you don’t want to be in a situation where all jobs are coming in too quickly for processors to handle but, on the flip-side, we don’t want jobs being processed so fast that the storage can’t read and write frames fast enough.

If we look at this sensibly, we’ve already established roughly how long it will take each processor to get its next set of instructions, render 10 frames and then save them to a location. Using these figures, we can estimate capacities and rates, allowing us to work out the best way to spend our money.


Render farms are usually CPU bound, processing large amounts of work compared to the data coming in, so fast I/O is often a good thing. A large cache can also be beneficial, depending on the size of the frames being rendered.

With data transfer rates at the speed they are, it’s unlikely that SAN speed will be the first bottleneck but this is very dependent on the size of the render farm. For example, there will become a point where there will be too many nodes rendering in parallel, resulting in the processors waiting on the storage. At this stage, things start to depend on how big the image is, how long it takes to render a frame, and if frame completions are synchronised.

Visit Jigsaw24, or feel free to call 03332 409 306 or email with any CAD-related questions.

Rendering in Revit Architecture 2009 with Mental Ray

Rendering in Revit Architecture 2009 with Mental Ray

With the new release of Revit Architecture 2009 came a lot of excitement, due largely to the inclusion of Mental Images’ Mental Ray in place of AccuRender for the Revit rendering engine. But how does Mental Ray perform in Revit, and what exactly does it add to your workflow.

As an avid 3ds Max user, I was keen to address the question or how Revit’s Mental Ray compares to that of the one in 3ds Max. So, I did a little testing and can safely say that, in my opinion, it fares very well; it has all the Pro Materials from 3ds Max (so the setting up of objects for rendering is very straight-forward), lights are a breeze, and all the photometric or IES light data contained in your Revit Light will be used in rendering calculations in Revit.

The Mental Ray interface is a lot more streamlined compared to the Max version, with simpler controls and a more user-friendly, less menu-intensive feel. Although this does restrict some of the finer settings available in 3ds Max, it makes picking up and producing good quality images – even for the complete beginner – very simple. As a general rule of thumb I’d say that Mental Ray in Revit achieves about 80% of the image quality in 20% of the time you’d expect from 3ds Max.

Getting into the interface

The render dialogue is easy to find and is represented by a teapot icon in the bottom toolbar when in your perspective view.

Once the dialogue window has loaded, first impressions are very good: endless drop downs and menus within menus are defiantly a thing of the past, with all options sensibly labelled making for quick and easy adjustments.

Even without going under the hood or into any of the custom quality settingsgood quality renders can quickly be achieved by simply choosing from the listed pre-sets on this screen.

The Quality pre-sets (i.e. those dictating how good your image will look) include options for draft, low, medium, high and best. From what I’ve seen and played with I don’t think you’d want to be showing customers renders with anything less than the medium setting. The draft and low settings are great, though, for quick test renders, making sure that your lighting is correct and ensuring that the overall composition of your image is right before waiting for the higher quality renders.

A nice feature from this dialogue is the ‘region’ tick box, which allows you to specifically render a user-defined area of your scene. This is an excellent time-saver when assigning materials to your design because it allows you to quickly produce renders with the ‘best’ quality setting in order to see how objects are going to look textured without having to wait for your whole image to render.

Looking under the hood of the Quality settings takes you to a customisable screen for tweaking your settings. Again, hats off to Autodesk: these options areextremely easy to use, with a nice interface explaining what each option does and a simple slider adjustment to make any changes. If I had one complaint it would be that it’s too easy to make changes! There have been a couple of times when I’ve become ‘slider happy’, maxing out all the settings but then realising that I’m going to have to wait a week for the image to render.

For those of you familiar with Mental Ray in 3ds Max and Viz, all the usual options for Anti-aliasingReflectionsShadows etc. are here, so if you know what you’re doing then you can play to your heart’s content. For the average user, though, I think the ‘high’ and ‘best’ options will provide more than enough realism without having to worry about these settings.

As briefly mentioned earlier, Revit Architecture 2009 now includes the Mental Ray Pro-Materials. For those unaware, the Pro-Material library was officially introduced with 3ds Max 2009 and provides fast access to pre-set materials that are ready for rendering in Mental Ray. Again the user interface is spot on, with easy-to-use modification options and thumbnails depicting how the material will look when rendered, thus giving you the best possible insight to how your objects will look. The Pro-Material library is extensive and really does make texturing a design very quick and simple.

– Materials Library (below)

– Render Appearance Library (below)

The realism in any render is usually down to two factors: light and shadows. It’s incredible how a 3D-looking scene can be made photorealistic with the effective use of lights and subtle inclusion of shadows. As we’ve discussed, setting up lights for rendering is extremely straightforward; all Revit Light data is available to the Mental Ray engine, so if you are using photometric or IES data the lights in your scene can be visualised as they would be in the real world. Again, lighting settings are pre-set driven in Revit 2009 with 6 available options; 3 for exterior lighting and 3 for interior. Below, we’ve depicted the lighting of a simple room with a large curtain wall and a floor lamp to show the effect of the different pre-sets.

Exterior: Sun only

Exterior: Sun and Artificial

Exterior: Artificial only

Interior: Sun only

Interior: Sun and Artificial

Interior: Artificial only

All of these work very well, and once again the pre-sets reduce the learning curve needed to get good quality renders.


The industry feedback we at Jigsaw have received so far is very good, and I’m personally very impressed with the Mental Ray inclusion. Customers I have spoken to have all been blown away with the ease and quality with which renders can be set up. One firm has even said that they no longer need to outsource their visualisation but instead can save the money and get all their images produced from Revit in-house!

I think it’s great that Autodesk is extending its traditional media and entertainment products into the architectural space. As we all know, average 3D renders are no longer cutting it with customers, so in order to get those bid-winning presentations technology from the film, TV and game industries needs to be utilised. At a time when a growing number of dedicated visualisation firms are being set up, Autodesk’s introduction of Mental Ray into Revit has opened up to its customers the possibility of good quality, in-house visualisation. Who could ask for more?!

Visit Jigsaw24 for a range of professional CAD solutions, and call 03332 409 306 or email if you have any related question.