5 Factors to Consider When Buying a Wide Format Printer

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5 Factors to Consider to Find the Best Wide Format Printer


Regardless of whether you looking to replace your old wide format printer or if you are getting your first machine, you actually have a lot to consider to pick a wide format printer that is not only going to be good for your business right now but in the long run as well. What seems like a straightforward purchase can be more complicated than it appears. But, it doesn’t have to be if you know exactly what to look out for.

large format printer

5 of the most important things to consider to find the best wide format printer for your business are:

  1. Quality
  2. Capability
  3. Cost
  4. Size
  5. Support

Quality

Above all, superior print quality is probably the most important thing people tend to consider when choosing a wide format printer. There are three things that determine a wide format printer’s print quality:

  1. Resolution – Resolution has to do with the dots per inch (dpi) of an image being printed.
  2. Droplet size – Droplet size is most important for crisp lines because of how many passes there are when printing to achieve more coverage. Drop sizes are measured in picoliters or trillionths of a liter. A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the picolitre size of ink, the higher the resolution and the better quality of the print.
  3. Number of Ink Cartridges – Basic wide format printers generally have 5 pigment ink systems (yellow, cyan, magenta and two black); while mid-quality machines will use 8 pigment ink systems and 12 pigment ink systems are considered high quality. Basically, it’s a similar concept to the crayon boxes from your childhood. The kid who had the 100 crayon box always had more options than the kid with a basic box of 24 crayons.

Note: Keep in mind that a lower resolution printer with better technology can sometimes print better than a higher resolution printer. Before buying anything, take into account the type of printing you plan to do. If your business prints high-resolution images, make sure the wide format printer you are looking at can handle the quality you intend to print.

When weighing your options make sure that you run sample prints on the exact material you will be using, including your brand of blueprint paper, the exact vinyl banner stock or fabric. Printer performance can vary dramatically depending on the medium being used, so seeing a printed sample on a specific material is an important part of evaluating the printer’s ability to deliver top-notch prints on every sheet printed. If you cannot meet in person to test the machine, make sure to email the seller a sample you want to be printed. Have them print it out on the machine you are considering and on the medium you will be using and mail it back for your approval.

a wide format printer producing a high-quality print job

Capability

The capability of your copier mainly comes down to the speed at which it is able to print documents. Speed is important to keep in mind in order for your company to improve efficiency. Today, a toner printer is rated by how many D size prints, 24×36 inches, it can print per minute. Inkjet printers quote in square feet per hour or minute because of their long spooling time between prints.

Most printers have various print modes that allow users to trade speed for quality. The higher quality setting will take longer to print than the lower quality draft mode. If you always intend to print at the highest quality, knowing the speed of the printer at its lowest quality won’t be of much use to you. Make sure the supplier explains the printer’s speed in the measurements and at the print setting you need, so you are able to understand the comparisons.

Note: Knowing how long it takes the wide format printer to warm up after it has sat idle for a while is just as important as the print speed. For some printers, this can add minutes to your print time. Also, keep in mind that prints from an inkjet printer will need time to dry where toner prints will not.

Cost

Of course, cost is going to be a huge part of the decision-making processing when it comes to buying the best wide format printer model for your business. Typically, toner printers are going to be initially more expensive, but will last anywhere from 5 to 10 years; while inkjet printers are less expensive up front, but only last up to 4 years.

Below you will find a chart with some approximate cost estimates for different wide format printers.

chart showing approximate cost of various wide format printers

There are a couple of factors that impact how much you will pay for a wide format printer, such as:

  • Resolution
  • Accuracy of color reproduction
  • Rolls
  • Stands
  • Installation
  • Brands
  • Geography

Another important thing to keep in mind is how much ink the machine consumes for a typical job. Replacement toner is about 7 times less expensive than replacement ink. While inkjet wide format printers will cost you less initially, they need to be replaced more often than toner printers.

If buying used, make sure to compare the receipts for ink purchases against a regular output machine. Performance tends to decrease as the wide format printer ages, which justifies why older models are cheaper than newer ones. Don’t get stuck with a machine that you paid little upfront for because more than likely you will end up paying more in maintenance just to keep the thing running.

Note: More often than not, more expensive does not mean a better printer overall. Keep in mind that besides the machine itself, wide format printer suppliers will also offer you extras like a roll of media, additional ink supplies, or delivery and installation services to help win your business. Don’t be shy about negotiating price and asking about these extras when coming to a final price. A good supplier will work with you.


Lease or Purchase

Size

Before buying a wide format printer, it is important to consider the size of the documents you’ll be working with. The size wide format printer you need will be based on the size of the materials you print on. Generally, wide format printers print on rolls of paper that are up to 300’ long or on individual sheets of paper that are fed into it.

Wide format printers can generally handle 24” to 60” sheets of materials, the most common being 24”, 36”, and 44”. But there are custom printers designed for outdoor banners and larger-scale projects, generally called “grand-format” printers, which can work with documents 72” all the way up to 16’ wide.

Another major consideration for your office is how much available space you have for the device. While it is important to select a printer that meets your performance requirements, if it does not fit in your space, it is not much help to you anyway. Many models that accommodate larger dimensions are meant to be used mounted on a stand or even on a tabletop. Keep your office space in mind before signing a contract.


a wide format printer being serviced

Support

As important as it is to choose the right printer for your business, it is just as important to choose the right company to back it up. If your wide format printer isn’t working as it should or not at all, it’s definitely not making you any money. In fact, sometimes you could even lose money in the form of upset customers, missed deadlines, or material costs for a job re-print.

Because the wide format printer you buy is a valuable business tool and needs to stay in top working condition, you need to have knowledgeable support for any issues that may occur. To keep up the highest level of service and support, it is important to research the companies that fund ongoing training programs to keep their technicians up to date.

For day-to-day production and maintenance, it becomes a hassle to constantly have a technician come out to service your machine. Ideally, your wide format printer supplier should be able to provide you with training in all aspects of production, including file setup and color management to helping select the best performing substrates for your application.

Keep in mind that some companies will only service the printer they sold you and are not willing to provide training. If this is important to your business, make sure to ask the supplier upfront is this is a service they provide.

Want to Learn More?

Still unsure if a wide format printer is the right decision for your business? If you would like to learn more about your other options, read the Wide Format Printers Buyer’s Guide.

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