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!






Create a Real-Time Production Job Board

Having trouble keeping up with all of the jobs in production?  Wish you and your team had access to a shared, birds-eye view showing the status of jobs in real-time?  This can be a common problem of most sign shops, and luckily has a relatively easy fix: The Production Job Board.


The Production Job Board is a customized, shared, and real-time dashboard showing every job's status, due date, salesperson, and any other information you would like to include.


The board is a shared Google Spreadsheet customized for your shop.  (click image below for a brief example of how effective a production job board can be for your team) 


Click Image for Full Size
Click Image for Full Size

Jobs can be color-coded and conditionally formatted to suit your needs.  Your team can collaborate on the board, making changes on-the-fly as the job progresses through production, with changes refreshing as soon as they're made.  


Interested in getting a better understanding of your workflow and jobs in production?  Contact me today to create a fully custom Production Job Board for your shop! 






How Did I Print That?! Keeping Track of Print Jobs

I'm sure you've come across this scenario before.  A customer of yours has a large banner order for their yearly event this weekend.  Great!  The only catch is they need to match the colors of last year's order....exactly!  Uh oh.  What profile did we use?  What material?  What printer?  If you don't have a system in place to track print specs, read on for an easy way to keep your sanity in this situation.


As jobs flow through your shop, it's important to keep track of all job information to allow for easy reference in the future.  A great way to do this is by using a basic word processing program (I prefer notepad for its ease of use and uncluttered appearance).  Have your print operator record the following information for every job as they are printed:


- Date

- Job # (to reference to POS system, such as SignVOX)

- Client Name

- Brief Job Description

- Material 

- Printer (if you have multiple printers)

- Profile

- Additional Info (Pantone numbers, specific CMYK or RGB color values to achieve desired color, or any other info needed for reference)


I like for this to read horizontally so each job is on a single line.  You could also have the print operator record this information on the work order and input the information in the job file on the front-end as it is completed.  ***Note: Be sure to save this file in a secure location and save frequently to prevent data loss!***


This process also works great when repairing vehicle wraps!  Although the prints may be faded slightly due to weathering, you can closely match the colors of the original wrap with ease.  


So when your customer comes back next year requesting the same color banners, a simple CTRL+F on the Print Log document will allow you to search for the previous order number or client name and easily retrieve the job information, allowing you to reproduce the order accurately and efficiently.  Another satisfied customer!