Tips on Choosing a Large Format Printer

With SGIA right around the corner, many new shops are poised to purchase their first large format printer, while others may be preparing for growth by adding more equipment to increase their production capacity.  This is a great thing!  However, sorting through the sea of large format printers available in our industry can be an intimidating task.  Ask yourself these questions to ease the burden of your search, and you'll be well on your way towards choosing a printer that will be a great fit for your shop.


  • What types of graphics/applications will the printer be used to produce? 
    • Roll-to-Roll Printers: Great for printing vehicle wraps, banners, and general signage.  Also available in grand format sizes to accommodate large roll media.
    • Flatbed Printers: Looking to decrease production costs by printing directly onto substrates?  A flatbed printer may be your best bet.
    • Hybrid Printers:  Want to print directly to substrates, but also have a need to print larger banners?  Consider a hybrid printer.

The answer to this question will get you started on the right path.   


  • How important is speed & quality? 

It's amazing to see how fast printers are in the industry today.  Many entry-level large format printers produce quality output at 300+ ft2/hr (warp speed compared to earlier model printers)!  However, some printers may sacrifice quality at higher speeds.  It's important to know your volume and thoroughly examine print samples at various speeds to assess quality.  This will enable you to compare various models side-by-side and strike a nice balance of speed and quality perfect for your business.


  • What type of ink?
    • Latex:  Because of its low odor, green qualities, and large color gamut, Latex ink is really gaining popularity in the industry.  Best of all, prints are ready for laminating immediately after printing!  Generates a lot of heat when drying.
    • Solvent:  Great durability on vinyl media and banners.  However, high VOCs and intense odor (best if ventilated).  Requires outgassing (usually 24 hrs) before finishing.
    • Eco-Solvent:  A great alternative to true solvents.  Similar in durability and adhesion, but nearly odorless and low VOCs.  
    • UV Curable:  Many flatbeds utilize this technology.  Check different printer models for good adhesion (try scratching samples to check durability).  Low odor and VOCs.
    • Aqueous:  Best used for high quality, indoor graphics (backlit signage, posters, etc.). 


  • Service & Maintenance?  Setup and Installation?

Be sure to ask the vendor/manufacturer about their service plan.  In the event the machine goes down, this will assure the problem gets fixed by a trained professional in a timely manner.


Also be sure to have a technician run you through the general maintenance procedure (just to familiarize yourself with the process).  Some printers have automatic maintenance capabilities, which is an attractive feature if you're looking for a more hands-off machine. 


When preparing for a big delivery, check out my article in Sign & Digital Graphics magazine, What to Expect When Expecting a Big Delivery.


  • And of course....How much does it cost? 

After narrowing down your search, how do the prices compare?  Typically you'll find that price won't necessarily be the deciding factor (as most printers in a given category will be quite similar).  In addition to the printer cost, research ink costs, installation costs, service fees, etc. 


By asking yourself these important questions and thoroughly analyzing each machine, you'll find your shop with a great piece of equipment sure to provide a great return-on-investment for years to come.  Congrats and Happy Printing!

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