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Buy, Lease or Farm Out Your Wide-Format Printing?

Brian Nadel

Assess your needs to decide whether you should buy, lease or hire out your printing tasks.

Your decision to buy, lease or partner with a print shop depends on how much control you want over the process.

As is the case with all equipment expected to last several years, when it's time to get a wide-format printer, the big question is whether to buy, lease or outsource your company's printing. Each approach has its pros and cons, so there's no right or wrong answer. It all depends on the details of your business. 

It's hard to make decisions for far into the future, but start by deciding how much large printing you plan to do over the next three or four years. The more printing you do, the more sense it makes to buy the printers you need, because it's not only the cheapest method but the one that provides the most flexibility. In contrast, leasing is a good option that doesn't require much upfront money, but it can be more expensive in the long run. Finally, if you want to avoid a commitment, farm out your wide-format printing to a print shop. It can be the most expensive of the three approaches, but it also has its benefits.

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A large-format printer can cost a bundle, but it lets you print posters, banners and large items whenever you want. It means you can create everything in-house on your schedule and fine-tune the output exactly how you want. 

Need to do something right away, like reprinting a stack of posters with a typo before a big introduction? You can do it on a priority basis because you control what gets printed when. 

If you print a lot, you're better off buying the printer outright and letting it pay for itself. The more you use the printer, the higher its capacity utilization rate and the lower its per-print cost. 

On the other hand, the purchase of a wide-format printer can tie up five or six figures of valuable cash that might be better used elsewhere. You'll also need to dedicate space and personnel for it. On the other hand, having the printer in the same building or on the same campus means that it's there to make your business more efficient at responding to quick changes.


Leasing is an attractive alternative that doesn't tie up as much cash and transforms what was a capital cost into a monthly expense. However, leasing may negate some of the tax advantages of buying the new equipment. 

It works like this: Rather than buying a Roland Soljet EJ-640 printer for $22,000, the company will lease it to you over five years at $440 a month. This adds up to $26,400 or nearly $5,000 extra to finance the lease. The downside is that if you want to lease it for a shorter period, say a year or two, the monthly payment goes up. 

In one important respect, it's like owning the printer: It's nearby, you control its use, and you can use it as often as needed – that is, unless you fall behind on your payments and the company repossesses it. 

As with car leases, there's a bonus. Some manufacturers have generous trade-up options midway through the lease, letting you switch to a newer machine on a new lease. 

Outsourcing to a contractor 

The final option is to not have a wide printer at all and work with a reliable and conscientious print shop, hopefully nearby, to do the work for you. Someone else owns, operates and maintains the machinery, so there's neither a purchase cost nor a monthly lease payment. 

However, using outsiders to print your material is usually more expensive on a per-print basis, and they generally stay the same rather than dropping the more you use the printer. 

The employees of a good printing company will likely go out of their way to do your orders correctly in a timely fashion, but they control the printing process. This means that another customer might sneak in front of you in line or there might be extra charges for rush jobs. In other words, they control the schedule, not you. 

Most print shops won't allow you to be there to fine-tune the printing process, although they will often send you a proofing sheet for complicated jobs. This can help get it right but slows the process. 

An owned or leased machine will be close at hand, while using a print shop puts some distance between you and the output. You can upload the digital images you need printed, but once they're produced, getting them will entail a messenger, overnight shipping or picking it up. This can further slow the process. 

Having outsiders do your printing is attractive because you don't need to dedicate space, personnel or cash flow. Because they work for many clients, print shops typically turn their equipment over faster than a business can afford to. That means shops will have newer printers with a wider variety of features than an aging in-house printer. 

Whether you lease, buy or use a printing service to produce your large-format materials, it comes down to how much control you require. If you need to keep to a schedule and want to tweak the process, then buy or lease your printers. If you can stand to let others do the dirty work, are flexible on timing and not concerned about the extra cost, by all means, have an outside shop print your items for you. 

The printer predicament



Farm Out

Pro: Flexibility to print on your schedule

Pro: Flexibility to print on your schedule

Con: Not flexible

Pro: Printer onsite for rush jobs

Pro: Printer onsite for rush jobs

Con: No emergency jobs and need to ship prints

Pro: Can save over leasing or farming out work

Con: More expensive than buying printer

Con: Can be expensive on a per-print basis

Pro: The more you print, the cheaper it gets

Pro: The more you print, the cheaper it gets

Con: Pay per print

Con: High upfront costs

Pro: Little or no upfront costs and turns capital cost into monthly expense

Pro: No upfront costs

Con: Need space and personnel

Con: Need space and personnel

Pro: No space or personnel needed

Con: Locked into technology

Pro: Can sometimes trade up

Pro: Printers usually have the newest tech


Image Credit: 3d_man/Shutterstock
Brian Nadel Contributing Writer
Brian is a technology writer based north of New York City. He writes stories for, Tom's Guide, ComputerWorld and Scholastic Magazines. He is the former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.