I will soon be setting up a small office and we will be needing a 36" plotter. I am looking for recommendations for a good plotter that works well with ArcGIS. Speed is not important as long as I can produce good maps for field work and analysis. (Budget = < $5,000 CAD)
For the last few years we've standardized on the Epson 4880 (17"), 7800 (24"), 7900 (24"), and 9900 (42") series printers. Before that we standardized on the the HP designjet 2500cp, 500, 1055cm and 5500ps.
Epson is great for cross printer colour fidelity. Changing paper is smooth and easy, though the 4880 is more finnicky than it's bigger cousins. I prefer the Epson driver dialogs and configuration to HP. Engineering on the 24" and larger printers is solid: metal where it should be (plastic on plastic wears faster).
We loved the Designjets for a long time, a decade. However in the late 1990's they started manufacturing with more plastic and less metal and we ran into more and more problems. For our smaller printing needs we tried both the Designjet 120 and 130nr; when it got to the point where we were spending 2 hours of fiddling and maintenance for every 1 hour of printing we threw them out and switched to Epson across the board. HP tech suport started to go downhill at the same time which contributed to the decision. The final enticement to Epson was being able to take a single PDF and get near identical results across all devices, something we were never able to achieve with HP (and we tried hard).
Epson is expensive to fix, get the extended warranty. They don't make it easy for repair shops to get parts and it's harder to replace individual components. They're also expensive to run, Epson Inc. makes money on consumables not the printers themselves.
HP's are easier to work on and easier to get parts. Their ink carts seem to last longer, but that's just an impression, I haven't calculated it out. Get the UV inks, the dye inks fade even when not in direct sunlight in 6 months to a year (depending on conditions); Epson inks are pigment based and don't fade anywhere near as quickly.
My favourite plotter of all time is the 1055cm. I'd still use it today if it had non-fading ink and the improved resolution of today's devices. My favourite feature is the ability to feed a cut sheet without unloading the roll. I've no idea why HP didn't carry this ability forward.
For HP you don't need the postscript option if your workflow is to create PDFs and then print from those. This will shave a fair bit off the purchase price.
The best general purpose Epson is the 7800, sadly now discontinued. It doesn't use too many inks (8 rather than the 11 of the x900's) and we haven't needed to repair any of the 6 we have in service (not so the x900's).
In summary, I'm not entirely sure we made the right decision to standardize on Epson, chiefly because of the repair costs, but neither do I really think we made the wrong one. Both companies make good hardware for printing maps. If you're only going to have one printer and print mostly maps (as opposed to photos and other highly saturated designs) I lean to HP.
HP 5000ps (60") with custom ink system (bespoke 6x1 litre ink)
= continuous printing - only stops when the paper runs out...
Looks more complex than it is...
We've had good luck with an HP. I don't have the model number handy (and, frankly, it doesn't matter since the model we're still using hasn't been made for over four years now), but the HP Designjet Z2100 seems like a likely replacement for it and fits within your given price range.
(Check around before you purchase it, though, as prices appear to be all over the board.)
We switched from the HP 5500PS to the Canon iPF8100 two years ago. While it's a little more than $5000, (I think we paid around $6500) I feel it's worth it. The 5000 series of HP's are no longer supported (including the 5500), which can be an issue with maintenance costs and would be worth considering. The Canon would be a larger system than what you are looking for (44" and 12 ink tanks) but still works great for CAD and GIS line work (not to mention wonderful for aerial photos). Something to keep in mind is the 12 ink tanks, as that will raise the supplies cost. Overall for everyday work we have found the Canon to be much better than the HP's. We were worried when we purchased it that it wouldn't be the workhorse that the HP was, but have come to find it matches or exceeds the HP. If you're looking for vibrant colors, this would be a good system to go with. We compared it with the HP Z6100 using the same map and paper and found the Canon was much faster and the quality difference was amazing. So far the system is holding up good and other than regular maintenance we haven't had to do any repairs on it.