Primera Signature Z1 review: Primera Signature Z1

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MSRP: $139.95
3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Makes neat text and line art CD and DVD labels quickly; portable.

The Bad Can't decorate the whole disc; prints only one color at a time; the prints smudge when they get hot; PC only.

The Bottom Line This portable CD/DVD printer is useful and utilitarian but more businesslike than artistic.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Service and support 7.0

Intro

The Primera Signature Z1 thermal ink transfer printer is a small, useful, and somewhat pricey gadget for labeling CDs and DVDs. Unlike the Epson R200 inkjet printer, which is four times larger and costs about $50 less, the Signature Z1 doesn't rely on special printable CDs and DVDs. Instead, it prints water- and (presumably) beer-proof designs directly onto standard lacquer discs. But don't spill tea on them, because heat can smudge the prints. Artistic types will prefer the six-color printing skills and CD Print software of the Epson R200 over the Signature Z1's one-color-at-a-time output and limited Primera Print design software, which supports only text and line art. For disc labeling, your choices are still limited to either one of these consumer-priced gadgets, or $1,000-plus bulk labelers such as the Primera Bravo II AutoPrinter--that is, until devices that laser-burn images onto CDs and DVDs come onto the market. For now, the Primera Signature Z1 is your only portable option. The Primera Signature Z1 printer is roughly the size and shape of a fat novel, so it slips easily into a backpack or a briefcase. This gadget ships with a power cord, a small laptop-style power adapter, an installation and software CD, and one black-ink cartridge. The exterior is deadly dull, putty-colored plastic, with a smoky gray, matte-and-clear-finish plastic cover. While it may be slick to own a machine that relieves you of a permanent marker, the ho-hum looks of the Signature Z1 won't turn heads at a party.

This printer has a dedicated on/off button in the upper-right corner, with ports for power and a USB 2.0 connection in the back. Inside the front cover of this device rests a disc holder for one CD or DVD, with the print cartridge holder to the left. Simple instructions for installing ink and removing discs are printed on the cartridge holder for your convenience.

As its simple design would indicate, the Primera Signature Z1 printer is easy to set up. The 30-page user guide has clear, step-by-step instructions for installing the software and the USB driver and connecting the Signature Z1 to your computer. The only tricky part is preparing the ink ribbon cartridge: you have to travel backward in time to the era of cassette tapes and typewriter ribbons and find a pencil or another long, thin object with a sharp end to tighten the ribbon. We're not kidding; that instruction is in the manual alongside the warning, "The printer will malfunction if the ribbon is slack." But don't worry, if you're just going to use the black cartridge, you won't have to bother with this often. However, if you order the three color cartridges (red, blue, and green), you'll have to keep that sharp object handy.

Even if you have all four black, red, green, and blue cartridges, you can print with only one at a time. To make a multicolored label, you'll have to switch cartridges for each color, which brings us to our biggest gripe with the Signature Z1. The Primera Print software divides the printable surface area of a disc into four rectangular zones: top, right, bottom, and left. Cartridges cost $19.95 each, built to last for 200 print areas, each area being one-fourth of a disc. Printing one color onto one-quarter of a disc's surface will cost you nearly 10 cents; add an additional dime each time you include another color or quarter of the disc. That would bring a one-color disc printed in all quadrants to 40 cents, or a four-color disc to $1.60, not to mention the cost of the disc itself. When filled, those quadrants do cover a significant portion of a CD or a DVD, but they also leave empty triangular spaces between the fields and circular gaps around the inner and outer edges. By contrast, the Print CD software for the Epson R200 lets you cover an entire disc with designs or text or superimpose one over the other.

The Primera Print labeling software is simplistic but good for text. With it, you can access all of your computer's fonts and import JPEG, BMP, PNG or TIFF images from anywhere, including programs such as Windows Paint or Adobe PhotoShop . If you want to rotate, stretch, or invert your images, you'll have to use image manipulation software such as Windows Paint, because the only image tinkering Primera Print allows is to choose from one of three dithering intensities: Threshold, a high-contrast version of the image; Error Diffusion, which renders everything in dots; and Edge Detection, which outlines images.

The Primera Signature Z1 has a maximum print resolution of 200 dots per inch (dpi), which is fine for text and simple line drawings but won't display photographs with much detail. Printed text was a bit ragged around the edges but still better than handwriting. In our informal tests printing on all four areas of a disc, it took about one and a half minutes for the Signature Z1 to print a mixed text and graphics label, about one minute for text only, and half a minute to cover half of a disc with text. The slower Epson R200 , on the other hand, spent nearly three minutes to label a CD's full surface with graphics.


The Signature Z1 breaks printing into four zones of a disc.

Can you see the dogs? Graphics and photos print crudely and lack detail.
The Primera Signature Z1 comes with a one-year limited warranty, standard fare for peripherals. Technical support is free via a toll phone number for the first 30 days after your first call for help. Make sure to ask all of your questions in that first month because after that, service calls cost $10 each. Support hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday, which snubs night owls and weekend users. Technical support via e-mail is provided free, and Primera's uncomplicated Web site offers software upgrades, drivers, manuals, and answers to FAQs.

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