If you’re in the market for a large format printer, you actually have a lot to think about. What seems like a straightforward purchase is more complex than it appears. But, it doesn’t have to be complex if you know exactly what to look out for.
The goal of this guide is to help you understand the choices you need to make and what to look for when selecting a new large format printer.
The first 4 and main considerations in your selection process could be:
- Color and/or black & white
- Performance and speed
- Image quality
To our mind these are the more important areas to look at when investigating your options. However should you want to go one level deeper; you might want to look at other areas, such as:
- Ease of use
- Product options
- Floor space
- Environmental concerns
Take the time to read this guide when selecting a large format printer. There is no such thing as a one size fits all. Your choice depends on the number of people using the printer, the type of print, copy and scan jobs among others.
Each chapter in this Guide will highlight the main topics and considerations step-by-step. We are confident that this Guide will help you in making an informed choice based on what you need: the best quality large format printer that your work deserves.
1. Color and/or Black and White
When choosing a large format printer, one of the basic aspects you consider is whether to buy a printer that can print in color or a printer that prints in black and white. It may seem a straightforward choice, but even here there are issues to consider. For example a color large format printer can print in black and white for approximately the same cost as a monochrome printer especially at lower print volumes.
Why is it important?
The choice between black and white or color has consequences for how your users will actually use the printer. Analyzing what you need based on the type of print jobs that you do will help determine which in the end is the most cost effective.
The choice between a color and/or black and white large format printer is usually driven by how you expect to use the machine.
- Output: if are you printing posters, photos, technical documents or drawings, presentations, you will most likely choose color.
- Productivity: speed might force you to prefer black and white. A black and white printer generally performs faster.
- Print robustness: If your prints or copies are used outside on i.e. a construction site, you need these prints to be waterproof. You don’t want to see how the rain ruins your technical drawings. Prints made on black and white large format printers will provide this. Some color printers offer a solution as well. Color printers based on color toner, pigment ink or color printers that can print on special (waterproof) media will also suffice.
- Handling print costs: consider the following
- The cost of printing a black and white print on a color printer is approximately the same as on a black and white printer when your monthly print volume is low.
- If users will start printing potentially expensive color prints because a color printer is at their disposal, managing print costs will be difficult.
Choosing a color and/or a black and white large format printer mostly depends on what you expect your output to be, what print speed and print robustness you need. And last but not least consider given the above, what is most cost effective for you.
When you ask about the costs of a printer, you can get a variety of answers. The first and most likely answer will be related to the purchase price. Secondly, the running cost of the system will be addressed.
Although tempting, it is not wise to base your purchase decision on the purchase price alone. A cheap printer with costly toner cartridges is actually an expensive printer in disguise. And even when you have evaluated the running cost, you’re not safe. You may think you’re getting a bargain on the printer itself but if your machine breaks down frequently or simply can’t keep up with your copy demand, then you will be paying too much in the long run. So, hidden costs can completely change the picture.
Why is it important?
Cost is an obvious factor in your purchase decision. However, a printer is an investment in your work processes. To determine the return on this investment, all related costs must be taken into account.
- Initial investment: make sure that you compare similar configurations and delivery conditions. When investing in a new printer, it is worthwhile to consider costs related to switching to a new printer. Companies have hundreds of Euros of consumables in stock, which often cannot be used on the new system. Also installations of new drivers take time and therefore money.
- Running cost: printer running costs are the cost of consumables, media and eventually the service contract. These costs can be determined upfront by straightforward calculations. However, to make these calculations, you need to have access to relevant information. Vendors tend to provide indicative figures that are not representative for your actual day-to-day usage of the printer, i.e. the ink consumption calculations based on a ‘fast mode’ is meaningless if you always use the ‘normal mode’. Most people use ‘normal mode’ for either quality standards or out of convenience.If a service contract doesn’t cover spare parts or software updates, you have to estimate the additional costs for the short and the long term.
- Hidden Costs: Costs that are related to the printing process itself but are less obvious to identify include e.g.:
- Printing on the wrong media type or media size.
- Printing files twice because it is unclear if the printer is “working on it”.
- Printing multiple times to get optimal print quality
- Waiting time and frustration.
- Cost of overtime or courier service for timely delivery.
Some printers are fully engineered to avoid or minimize these hidden costs; others have no tools/features to deal with those issues.
Lease or Buy: if your preferred large format printer has a high initial price and you lack available cash, consider leasing as a powerful alternative.
When selecting a large format printer, don’t forget that there’s actually more to it than what is on the price tag. Start by taking a look at the cost of all consumables: ink, toner, media and service. Remember not to overlook your hidden costs – there can actually be a hefty price behind wasted resources and lost time. And, keep this simple tip in mind: the more automation you have, the less hidden costs you will have. In the end, a system that is more automated may help to prevent printing problems before they occur.
3. Performance and speed
When judging the performance of a large format printer you tend to look at the speed of the printer listed in the technical specifications. However, the time needed from the sending a print job to the printer and actually holding the print in your hand is something totally different. Compare it to the maximum speed your car can do and the time it takes you to drive to your local store downtown.
Why is it important?
Optimizing the performance of your large format printer is obviously important. To continue with the car analogy: don’t spend money on a formula 1 car when all you need is a car to get your groceries downtown. Optimization does not automatically mean a faster printer.
When looking at speed and performance of a large format printer look further than the initial specs. There are several factors to consider in order to gain a complete picture of a printer’s performance. If you have a continuous flow of documents, throughput speed is most important. If the machine is used incidentally, then the first print out time must be short.
- Short first print out time
- Processing time: before the printer can start printing, it must process the files to be able to print them. There are huge differences in processing capabilities in large format printers in the market today. Although the size of the internal memory is an indication, the proof is in the number crunching.
- Warm up time: any machine, when not used for a while will turn into sleep-mode. When you push a print button however, you expect the printer to start printing straight away. In some cases it may take a large format printer several minutes to be ready to print.
- Speed vs. print quality mode: when using a black and white large format printer, print speed is constant. This is not the case for ink jet printers. The print speed varies depending on whether you are using a draft mode or a higher quality presentation mode. This time difference can be more than 10 minutes.
- If you have a continuous flow of prints, make sure that the printer can process new files while printing previous ones (concurrent processing).
- Consider inter page time as a factor for print speed: This is influenced by drying time (only ink jet), roll changes, maintenance during print jobs, such as calibration, print head cleansing during print jobs.
When evaluating speed and performance of your new large format printer, look at how you use your current system. For a true evaluation, take your own print files to the demo floor and measure the performance of the printer.
Remember a formula 1 car will not get you to a downtown store any faster than a family car, assuming that this is what you need your car to do!
4. Image Quality
When thinking about large format printers and image quality the first thing that springs to mind is resolution, expressed in dpi (dot per inch). High resolution however does not necessarily offer the best quality. Compare it to digital cameras. Nowadays high dpi is no guarantee for high quality photos. When printing, the way the large format printer interprets the data is as important as the print technology itself.
Why is it important?
When printing technical drawings, it is essential that dotted, fine lines are printed clearly. You don’t want to loose information. Losing a dotted line that represents electrical wiring at a construction site can have catastrophic consequences.
Also when you are presenting concepts, images say more than words. Insufficient print quality may lead to losing a bid, order etc. Obviously in this case as well, sufficient image quality is essential to your bottom line.
When looking at image quality, consider the following:
- Resolution versus image processing: instead of looking at the resolution of a large format printer, take into account the way the printer interprets the data. The quality of this ‘interpreter’ is especially important when you work with fine or dotted lines and detailed prints.
- Quality and media dependency: for black and white large format printers, no matter what media you use, the print quality is more or less the same. When using an inkjet printer however, quality can vary tremendously. When printing on glossy or photo paper versus normal paper, differences can occur in color output and quality of thin and fine lines.
- Scan technologies: when copying the original is first scanned. The challenge manufacturers face is to suppress wrinkles and folds of the original drawing while at the same time enhancing and maintaining weak information such as pencil lines. There are definite differences in quality for scan technologies by the different printer manufacturers.
The best possible way to judge image quality is to see it for yourself. Take a typical file to a demo and print it out. However, make sure when comparing image quality of large format printers, that the prints are made on the same material. Judge the quality on the aspects that are important to you.