How to choose the best large format printer for your business?
The aim of this article is to help you choose the best large format printer for your specific business. Large format printing, also known as wide format printing, is widely used across many industries by organisations of all sizes. Here’s what you need to know:
- What do you need to print
- Reasons to invest in a large format printer
- The Basics
- Other considerations
The basic technology that underpins large format printers is the same as a smaller desktop printer: tiny inkjets are deployed to print the item(s) in question. A large format printer will not only print in a bigger size (ANSI F or A0), but preserve detail so that the graphic displays as clearly in a super-size as it would on A4.
The right wide format printer can be just as important to a local events company producing posters as it is to a large corporate needing to produce thousands of items every week.
Business needs for large format printers tend to fall into one of three groups:
1) The business has always outsourced its large format printing, but now wishes to purchase its own machine.
2) The business already owns an older model of a large format printer and now requires an upgrade.
3) The business owns one of more current models but wants to increase capacity by adding more machines.
Every buyer of a large format printer will have their own specific requirements, but this guide should give you a good overview of the points to consider when choosing the best machine for your needs.
What do you need to print
Irrespective of whether you are brand new to large format printing, or you’re already responsible for running several large machines, the starting point is always to consider what you actually need to print.
Some of the large format outputs you may be looking for include:
- Retail graphics & signs
- Posters & banners
- Exhibition graphics
- Technical drawings
- Floor graphics
And many more! With so many possible uses for a large format printer, how do you go about choosing the right one?
Reasons to invest in a large format printer
Let’s start with why you’re purchasing the printer in the first place:
To control the quality of the output
Perhaps you’ve had hit and miss experiences of outsourcing your large format printing and you want to bring it in-house to ensure consistent quality.
This can be especially important if you are an agency or other ‘middle man’, producing printed materials for clients.
The level of detail which can be achieved through using a large format printer can be exceptional. This is especially important for outputs that are likely to be examined up-close.
To improve turnaround times
The speed at which a large scale printer can operate is a real benefit to businesses that need to produce a high volume of work. This is especially relevant if you are already using wide format printers and you want to increase capacity by adding more machines. You may want to prioritise printing speed above other features when choosing the right large format printer for your business.
To move to a sustainable business model
Sustainability is a key focus for many wide format signage and graphics printing market businesses right now, both big and small. More and more organisations are becoming aware of their responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint, especially in regards to their use of traditional print solutions.
Modern wide format printers facilitate sustainable printing practices such as printing on non-PVC materials. When it comes to sustainable digital printing, particularly in regards to printed campaigns, the most important things to keep in mind are the target audience and the overall concept/goal. To maximise the results and ensure that the campaign remains environmentally friendly, both of these elements need to be well thought out in advance as part of the planning process.
Making the move from plastic and paper to materials which are more sustainable can have quality benefits too. The absorption rate of fabrics, compared to paper or plastic can yield richer colours on the finished product, and these materials are better suited designs for curved structures such as walls.
To make savings (cost, time and effort)
Investing in your own large format printer will prove far more cost-efficient in the long-term than outsourcing each job. It’s also far more convenient to print on your own premises rather than contacting a printing company to book in and brief each job, before waiting for delivery. Time, effort and money are all saved by having your own large format printer.
This is especially beneficial if your business works to tight turnaround times and deadlines, as you don’t need to worry about lead times for any last-minute jobs that need completing.
Therefore, as long as you have a reasonable expectation of printing a regular volume of large format items, investing in your own machine – or increasing capacity to deal with any overflow – is likely to be a good decision.
Choosing a large format printer: The Basics
When choosing a large format printer, there are certain basic considerations that you should take into account.
Colour versus black and white
The first is whether you will need to print in colour. For most organisations the answer will be an immediate ‘yes’ but it’s still worth asking the question. If your large format printing needs can be met by a black and white printer, this will save on budget.
Multifunction or printer only?
A large format printer will of course do just that – print – but there are multifunction or ‘all-in-one’ models on the market which providing scanning capabilities and touchscreens.
Depending on your primary business needs and budget, decide what would be best-suited in the longer-term. If you only require printing now, but you think it’s probable you will need additional features in the future, it may be wise to invest in a multifunction printer now, and save the hassle and expense of needing to upgrade a year or two down the line.
Various materials – or ‘substrates’ – can be used for large format printing, and the model of printer you choose will be heavily influenced by what you want to print.
If one of your goals is to move to sustainable digital printing, there are plenty of options for responsibly sourced paper, as well as digital inks such as UV-curing. These can be used on a variety of materials and are often de-inkable for recycling.
Polypropylene vinyl provides a great environmentally-friendly alternative to PVC vinyl for large format printing.
From foam board and PVC materials to light and heavyweight paper and card, the ink will take differently to each, so keep this in mind when choosing your large format printer.
Inks and image quality
Ink quality is important when choosing a large format printer. Each model of printer will be compatible only with specific inks, so do consider whether these are the right inks for the type of printing you require.
Dots Per Inch (DPI) is a key metric for successful, quality printing. Put simply, the greater the DPI, the higher quality and sharper detail in the result, which is crucial for photographers, for example.
In our experience cheaper inks sometimes print to a lower DPI, but this may not be an issue if the resulting piece isn’t going to viewed up close.
There is a wide variety of large format printing software available, and the type that you choose will depend on the industry that your business operates in.
- Display graphics workflow software: From prepress to finishing, this type of software streamlines workflow and helps to ensure that colour management and output is consistent. Best suited to retail, print shops, photographers and designers.
- CAD / GIS workflow software: This type of software is best suited to architects, those working in engineering or construction, or manufacturers. It allows for large format documents to be optimised and printed from web, mobile and CAD/GIS applications.
- Print shop management software: Print shops and reprographers will require streamlined print production software.
Cost is important to all businesses, and should be a key factor when choosing a large format printer.
It’s best to conduct thorough research, but costs can start anywhere from a few thousand pounds for a basic model, up to tens of thousands of pounds for something much more advanced and powerful.
When costing your new large format printer, there are several factors outside of the machine itself to consider. Running costs need to be factored in too. These include the cost of the materials, the ink, and the people-power required to operate the machine(s) on your premises.
Choosing a large format printer: Other considerations
The basics have all hopefully been covered, but if you’re still seeking a bit more detail before arriving at a final decision, you may also wish to consider the following:
Any large format printer will boost productivity as it saves on the ‘admin time’ of outsourcing. However, if you anticipate printing large volumes of work on a regular basis, it can be worth investing in a more advanced model that has the flexibility you need.
For example, a higher-end large format printer will be able to print large graphic files including portrait photos, technical real-estate blueprints and CAD or GIS maps, as well as every-day posters. The technology that is used within more advanced models has also been designed to ensure that every detail is preserved, regardless of how large the paper size is.
Ease of use
A large format printer shouldn’t prove too complicated to use. However, if you have multiple staff who will need to operate it, it’s best to make sure all receive full training to do so, especially if it’s not the most simplistic design.
Any time spent trying to operate the printer is time lost, and delays in printing could have financial implications too, especially if deadlines are missed.
If the large format printer will be sat in an open space in the studio or office, consider whether the noise level will prove distracting. Depending on its placement (or the patience levels of those working around it) look for printers with reduced noise levels. Alternatively, consider whether there is a space within your premises where the printer can be situated away from where staff are working.
Again, depending on the size of the work area the printer sits within, you’ll want to make sure it’s easily accessible and doesn’t take up unnecessary floor space. If you have limited space within the premises, look for a compact model, not a behemoth!
Plan where you are going to put the printer and measure everything fully before making your final choice.
Large format printers are very efficient when operated correctly. For example, some models come equipped with their own in-built spectrophotometer, which helps to ensure that the need for reprints is reduced.
In addition, a range of print modes also allow for a queue of heavy-duty jobs to run on their own without the need for manual input, and user-friendly digital displays make it easy to establish which individual inkjet cartridges need replacing at a time.
Servicing and support
If you buy your best large format printer from a reputable dealer or retailer, it will likely come with a service and support plan. It’s advisable to stay on top of the recommended servicing schedule to avoid breakdowns in the future – you will probably want to make sure at least a couple of years’ servicing is included when you purchase your machine.
You should also check the details of your support plan carefully so you are clear what is and isn’t included.
Hopefully the above has provided some insight into the world of large format printers, and you feel ready to start researching the most appropriate models for your business.
The benefits of opting for a large format printer for your business are plentiful, especially when compared to outsourcing. Not only will having your own wide format printer result in high quality, professional printing for all kinds of jobs, such as banners, photography, business posters, and POS, but it can add to the bottom line too by delivering cost and efficiency savings.