Large Format Printers - What to Look For
If you need to print the occasional banner, poster, or blueprint, your local print shop can do the job. But when it's time to print similar wide documents more frequently, you may want to consider purchasing large format printers.
Large format printers are application-specific, so you'll find different machines based on the type of business you run and the type of printing you want to do. For instance, architects, engineers, and construction personnel use these devices for computer-aided design (CAD) printouts like blueprints, floor plans or spec documents. These monochrome LED printers won't give you the best resolution, but they're faster and more appropriate for large volume jobs.
On the other hand, businesses like ad agencies, educational institutions, and retail stores that need large format printing for signage and posters can benefit from printers that provide the best resolution for color graphics.
Large format printer features
Once you know the type of printing you want your large format printer to work with, you can then focus on specific features such as:
- Size - How large are the documents you'll work with? Large format printers can commonly handle 24" to 60" sheets of materials, but there are special printers that can work with 72" documents or larger.
- Quality - The best way to gauge the output quality is to see what the printed documents look like. Have the dealer print a sample document on the exact material you'll use to see how it will look for your specific projects.
- Scanning/Copying - These features allow you to get electronic images of your printouts and create backups of master documents. Scanning/copying is not a cheap feature: if scanning/copying is important to you, find out if it's built-in or if you must pay separately.
- Networking - Make sure it connects properly to your network. This requires the right drivers to allow the printer to run on your PC, and printer language support to handle certain file types (like Postscript or PDF).
- Color matching - If you need to match specific colors, a Raster Image Processor (RIP) handles precise color work for prepress projects, but will add thousands of dollars to your costs.
- Additional features - Most vendors will be able to offer additional large format digital printing features such as:
- Convenience - Built-in paper cutters, sorters
- Accounting - Track which prints need to be billed to certain clients
- Multiple size support - Use different print sizes without changing paper or printers.
Deciding on the right large format printers
There are many different types of large wide-format printers on the market. The best wide-format printers from Canon give architects and developers all the space they need to put plans into effect. Machines offering 36-inch maximum widths can print up to 9 ppm in the small and medium format, or as many as 20 pages in a minute's time at the top of the spectrum.
Business owners who want to take their operation to the next level could benefit from this range and speed.
Classic printers take the command from computers to print materials, yet the newest machines double as scanners and support different media, including USB plugs. If you need to move quickly and only have a USB key chain to copy plans, this feature will come in handy.
Otherwise, you can take the extra step, download it to a computer, and send the command back to the printer. The scanner feature will give you increased flexibility when you don't want to reroute the materials through a computer.
When operating printers and plotters of this scale, paper size and capacity must be considered. Canon high-volume (9-20 ppm) printers hold as many as six rolls of 28-pound paper, the heavier variety ideal for printing plans. Medium-volume plotters also have space for additional rolls, but be careful when using recycled paper. The presence of dust in this paper might not work with wide-format printers.
If you are looking at entry-level machines, the Oce CS2224 offers up to 24-inch color prints for CAD users. You can print HPGL/2 files without opening them, giving graphic designers and engineers a quick, economical solution. Ricoh's wide-format analog printers are also very affordable when you are shopping for your first machine.
As business picks up and trips to the print shop become less viable, you'll have a genuine need for a large-format printer. Consider the volume of prints, color capabilities and paper capacity before buying.
Specialty dealers are great for their product knowledge but dealers who offer multiple brands are more likely to have a printer that matches your needs and budget exactly.
Lease vs. buy
One important criteria for choosing a quality vendor is whether or not the vendor offers lease options. These often include programs like a fair market value lease, a buyout lease, and a straightforward machine rental. When compared to purchasing the machine outright, the lease option can have some attractive benefits, especially for small businesses, including:
- A single contact for anything related to your equipment, including hardware, software, and all consumables.
- Service rates can be renegotiated to accommodate shifts in your business, preventing you from having to pay extra for something you no longer use or need more of.
- No additional cost for consumables and no interest applied to service and supplies.
- Hardware exchange that allows you to switch machines if your current model is under performing or simply too costly overall.
Given the hefty price tag these printers can carry, typically ranging between $4,000 and $12,000 for standard machines, leasing can be an attractive option.Ready to Compare Wide Format Printers and Plotters Price Quotes?