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5 Factors for Finding the Best Wide Format Printer

Regardless of whether you are looking to replace your old wide format printer or if you are getting your first machine, you have some important things to consider. Taking some time to research and think through your decision will help you find the best type of wide format printer for your business in the long-term.  We’re here to help you make a great decision. In this guide, you will learn about 5 of the most important factors to consider to find the best wide format printer for your company:

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

1. Quality

Above all, print quality is probably the most important thing 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 when printing is most important for crisp lines. They are measured in picoliters or trillionths of a liter. A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the picoliter size of ink, the higher the resolution and the better the 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). Mid-quality machines will use 8 pigment ink systems and 12 pigment ink systems are considered high quality. Typically, with more ink cartridges, you’ll be able to print with more color variations and details.

Note: Keep in mind that high resolution isn’t everything. A lower resolution printer with better technology (ie. small droplets and more ink cartridges) can sometimes print higher quality images than a higher resolution printer with low-grade technology. 

When weighing your options, make sure that you run sample prints. Use the exact material you will be using, including your blueprint paper, and the exact vinyl banner stock or fabric. Printer performance can vary by material, so it definitely helps to see a printed sample. If you cannot meet in person to test the machine, you can always email the seller and ask them to print a sample for you. Have them print it out on the machine you are considering and on the medium you will be using, Then, ask them to mail it back for approval.

2. Speed

Ultimately, the capability of your printer comes down to the speed at which it can print documents. Speed is important to prioritize 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. On the other hand, the speed of an inkjet printer is determined by square feet per hour or minute because of their long spooling time between prints.

Keep in mind that most wide-format printers have various “print modes,” which can be adjusted to trade speed for quality. Higher quality settings will take longer to print compared to lower quality settings. This fact might be useful for businesses who prioritize speed over quality, but want to adjust the speed occasionally to get a higher quality print. However, if you always need to print at the highest quality, speed may not be the most important factor to consider. Either way, make sure your supplier explains the printer’s speed in the measurements at the print settings you need. 

Note: When considering speed, it’s important to know how long it takes the wide format printer to warm up after it has sat idle for a while. 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.

3. Cost

Cost will probably be a huge part of the decision when it comes to buying the best wide format printer for your business. Typically, toner printers are going to be more expensive up-front. However, they will last anywhere from 5 to 10 years. On the other hand, inkjet printers are less expensive up-front, but only last up to 4 years.

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

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

There are also a few factors to consider in terms of ongoing expenses. For instance, keep in mind 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 a used printer, compare the receipts for ink purchases against a regular output machine. Performance tends to decrease as the wide format printer ages. This is why older models are cheaper than newer ones. Be careful of getting stuck with an inexpensive machine that causes you to pay more in maintenance just to keep it running.

Note: More often than not, more expensive does not mean a better printer overall. In addition to the machine itself, wide-format printer suppliers will 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 prices and asking about these extras. A good supplier will work with you!

4. Size

Before buying a wide-format printer, consider the size of the documents you’ll be working with. Your ideal size 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”. There are also custom printers designed for outdoor banners and larger-scale projects, generally called “grand-format” printers. These can work with documents 72” all the way up to 16’ wide.

Another factor to consider is how much available space you have for the device in your office. Many models that accommodate larger dimensions are meant to be used mounted on a stand or even on a tabletop. Make your decision accordingly.

5. Support

Choosing the right supplier is just as important as finding the best wide-format printer. If your wide-format printer isn’t working properly, you will need a great support system. 

Ideally, you will want to find a supplier that can support you with all aspects of production. It can become a hassle to constantly have a technician come out to service your machine or support your printing efforts. For instance, many suppliers offer support and training in file set-up and color management to help select the best performing substrates for your application.

Note: Some companies will only service the printer they sold you and do not offer additional training or support. If this is important to your business, make sure to ask the supplier upfront is this is a service they provide.

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. To learn more about these kinds of printers, take our article on types of wide format printers.

If you are ready to get price quotes for a wide format printer, you can fill out our form and we will put you in touch with up to 5 reputable suppliers. They will give you free price quotes and answer any further questions you may have.

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