Wide format printers are such a niche product, businesses often find it hard to make an informed decision on buying the best model for their needs.
Unlike standard office copiers and printers, where buyers have to weigh up the pros and cons of inkjet and laser printing, the quality and precision required of wide-format prints means that most available models feature inkjet technology.
There are many other factors you should also be mindful of. This guide will arm you with all the knowledge you need on what a wide-format printer can do, the available options, and choosing the best one.
The dimensions of the media you want to produce are the most important consideration when choosing a wide-format printer. While many modern multifunction printers can handle A3 printouts, anything larger requires specialised machines.
The larger the format the machine can handle, the more costly it becomes, so the business must know its requirements exactly.
Broadly speaking, there are four categories of wide-format printers available: A2, A1, A0 and A0+. Therefore, if the biggest printouts produced by your business are A1, there is no need to upgrade to an A0 machine, as you will not utilise the capabilities you are paying for.
Another aspect to check with regards to paper size is adjustability. Some wide-format printers can handle variable printout sizes, while others can only process a single sheet size. This is necessary for businesses that produce media of varying dimensions.
Most wide-format printers can use roll paper feeds to produce printouts. Some printers can only print on a single roll of paper, and you must manually replace the paper when it runs out. Others can accommodate two rolls of paper and are able to switch to the second roll automatically when the first one runs out.
Most wide-format printers can also handle cut sheets, although not all of them, so it is worth checking if you need printing done in this format.
An exception to the above is the A2-only Canon iPF PRO-1000, which operates like a standard desktop printer and feeds cut sheets from a rear tray.
A final consideration is the thickness of the paper you intend to use, because if you are using thick photo paper, the printer must specify that it supports thick media. Fortunately, most wide-format printers can accommodate paper thickness of up to 0.8 mm (compared to cardstock paper thickness that ranges from 0.18 mm to 0.45 mm) so they should be able to handle your preferred medium. Some wide-format printers can even print on board as thick as 1.5 mm.
Another important consideration is whether most of your prints should have a matte or glossy finish. This is often determined by the paper that you use, which can obviously be matte or glossy, but also somewhere in between, such as semi-glossy or pearl paper types. If there are particular paper types that you use in your printing, make sure that the printer ink is suitable for that type of paper.
With the latest technology, it is also possible for printers to produce matte or glossy finishes through the ink that they use. Standard wide-format printers print in six colours, but top-end models can go up to 12 colours, helping you produce the exact finish you want.
Some are even able to produce matte and glossy finishes on the same print. These extras come at a price, so it is important to weigh what the business needs against the available budget.
Wide-format printers are built to produce display-worthy images, so resolution is usually not something you need to worry about, as a print resolution of 2400 x 1200 dpi is standard across the range. Therefore, a more important concern is ink strength.
Ink strength is the thickness of the layer of ink that is applied to the paper. This along with the quality and specifications of the ink, determines how resistant the image will be against factors such as scratching and fading from UV light exposure. If your prints are going to be outdoors or exposed to a lot of sunlight, decent quality ink strength is critical.
The other major influence on print quality is the printhead. Top-of-the-range, modern printheads are engineered to move at high speeds while maintaining excellent accuracy, and almost no mist spray. This means that you can produce detailed pictures with lines as thin as 0.02 mm.
Businesses that need to create wide-format images with clear, fine lines, such as technical drawings or building plans, would opt for the highest quality printheads.
If you have used previous generation wide-format printers, you know how long print jobs can take. If you need high quality and speed, the latest printheads can provide it.
The final consideration with regards to choosing a wide-format printer is its intended use. If most of your prints are designed and created in-house, then it is often sufficient to only set up one computer with the printer.
In other offices, you may need to be able to print from multiple devices, or from USB drives. You may also need additional features, such as copying and scanning. If so, you need to choose a printer that offers these capabilities.
Finally, you must be sure that your design language is compatible with the printer. Most printers can handle JPEG and PDF images, but when you use design languages such as CAD or GIS, you need a printer that can translate the quality of your designs onto paper.
The biggest disadvantage of wide-format printers is their size and noise levels. They cannot be near areas where workers need to concentrate, and you need to find an appropriate spot for them where they won’t be in anyone’s way. Once they are installed, they stay put.
With some models weighing well over 50kg, you need at least two people to move them without hurting people or damaging the printer.
Ink cartridges are also more expensive and sometimes more difficult to source. Add to this the additional support you need to set up the device, and it becomes clear that an SLA is even more crucial here than with standard printers and copiers.
The SLA also takes care of other factors, such as the additional care required by wide format printheads, although many of the latest Epsom models feature printheads designed to last the lifetime of the printer.
This guide covers the aspects of choosing the right wide-format printer for your business, but we understand that it is still a difficult undertaking, given the capital layout required. We stock the latest Epson and Canon wide-format printers, and we have years of experience in helping our clients to choose the model that serves their business the best.