The Best Wide-Format Printers for 2018
Many printing projects require much more than your typical 8.5 x 11-inch sheet of paper. Whether you're an architect who needs to print out plans and renderings or an artist who wants to print and sell posters, outsourcing such large projects can be costly, and you may not receive a finished product at the quality you expect. Depending on how much you're willing to spend, a wide-format printer can be a useful tool for your at-home design business or an unflinching workhorse in your professional print shop.
When picking a wide-format printer for your business, there's a lot to consider, including its size, printing technology, accessories and stand. Start by deciding what you want to use it for. For instance, an ad agency that prints posters and banners might value color quality and use of specialty stocks, while a construction firm might favor plain paper for technical plans and blueprints, where speed and accuracy are key.
Dig deep into the features list and you'll have to decide whether borderless printing or the ability to use different printing stock and scan large items fit your business's scope. Try to get the most versatile printer you can afford, and if it can't do certain specialty jobs, send them to a print shop.
What Is a Wide-Format Printer?
Wide-format printing uses rolls of material instead of individual sheets, which means you can size your prints according to your needs. They're precise enough to use for tasks previously relegated exclusively to wide-format plotter printers like drawing up schematics or floor plans. You can print on a variety of media, including plain bond paper, backlit film, adhesives and fabric.
A good wide-format printer gets the job done quickly – some can print drafts at speeds of more than 5,000 square feet per hour. Different inks let you tailor your purchase for your business, whether you need output that stays bright and vibrant over time, stands up to outdoor weathering, or simply has a long shelf life.
Size matters, and these printers come in several widths based on the largest stock they can handle. For many, an entry-level, 17-inch model will be enough; others will want to move up to a 24-, 36-, 42- or even 64-inch model. The good news is that most can use narrower stock to reduce paper waste.
Some wide-format printers can print on huge sheets of paper, but most rely on rolls of printing stock that can be as long as 300 feet; the best models can use either. After the print is made, it either is automatically cut and lands in a catcher tray or needs to be manually cut off the roll. This setup works just as well for printing a 20-foot banner for a company's annual meeting as it does for the blueprints needed for a new building.
Although some printers have a USB interface for use with a single system, all wide-format printers connect via your company's networking infrastructure through Ethernet cables. This network connection not only simplifies initial setup but allows anyone authorized to use the printer to send it a job from a desktop, laptop or even tablet.
Wide-format printers have one big drawback: the cost. These aren't for simple around-the-house tasks, and their price tags prove it, ranging from $5,000 for a machine a lone designer might use to over $80,000 for a shop-ready printer with all the add-ons and accoutrements.
To provide a rounded view of each wide-body printer, we've examined the major aspect of these devices. Because of their complexity and tight focus, we take a holistic approach to the assortment of features and abilities. In addition to page width, speed and the variety of media it can print on, we look at what inks and consumables it uses and support options.
Depending on what you want in a wide-format printer, the price can range from $2,000 for a basic model all the way up to $100,000 for a flagship integrated printing system with all the bells and whistles. In between lies a world of models that come in several widths and include a variety of features, such as scanning, automatic sheet cutting and the ability to print on a wide variety of stock.
With this level of upfront costs, the hardest decision is which model to get. Here's a rundown of the major criteria that should go into the decision process.
Editor's note: Looking for a wide-format printer? We can help you choose the one that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
Wide-Format Printer and Plotter Features
These printers match the best office machines with up to a 2880 x 1440 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. While basic models paint the image with four or five inks, others can print with up to a dozen different colors and emulate Pantone standard colors.
Most use a combination of long-lasting pigment-based and vibrant dye-based inks. There are also wide-format printers that rely on latex inks (for outdoor use) or dye-sublimation technology (for photo-quality output).
One big difference with more pedestrian printers is that wide-format models can print on several stocks, including plain or bond paper, clear film for backlit advertising, and polypropylene and vinyl stock for outdoor installations. You can print huge photos on matte or glossy photo stock, or even print on fabrics with many of these printers.
The distinction that scientific and engineering wide-format plotters produce monochrome prints while graphics-oriented models use color is quickly disappearing. This is a result of lower prices for general-purpose wide printers and the increasing use of color in technical drawings, such as for highlighting areas of concern or including 3D renderings.
Most of these printers use PostScript and other popular printer languages, including an Office or Adobe plugin so you can upsize any document or image created at your desk for large-format printing. Some have apps for giving permission and accounting for the printer's use so it can be charged to budgets or departments.
Be aware that some manufacturers require you to pay extra for software that enables some of these extra features if you want them. For instance, it's not unusual for automated workflow to be an optional extra.
Wide-format printers are the heavyweights of the printer world, reaching up to 1,000 pounds, although some are meant to sit on a desk. Many include a stand and a tray to catch the prints. Then there are the workhorse printers that can easily measure 7 x 5 feet, which are built around a huge cabinet and often set up in their own room.
Most of the newer models have a touchscreen for interacting with the printer. Some flagship models include a powerful processor such as an Intel Core i7, as much as 64GB of RAM, and large hard drives or flash storage for images.
Speed is of the essence with wide-format printing. There's nothing worse than waiting for a print, and nothing better than a printer finishing a job quickly (and correctly) and moving on to its next task. The more you use a wide printer, the cheaper (and more valuable to the company) it can become.
Wide-format printers not only supersize prints but create beautifully detailed output for a variety of purposes, from event graphics to those oversized checks for lottery winners. On the downside, the more detail the print requires, the slower the printing. Using high-end photo paper or canvas, which require more ink, things slow down even further.
While the current speed demons can pump out roughly 5,000 square feet per hour in draft mode (for checking, proofing or marking up a print), most slow down to under 500 square feet per hour for final prints. That's still fast enough to pump out dozens of D-sized (24 x 36-inch) prints an hour.
All wide-format printers can work with plain, heavy bond, and photographic paper and automatically adjust how much ink is used to prevent bleed-through and missed spots. Many go a step further with the ability to print on less common stock, like film for backlit advertising or vinyl for an outdoor banner or poster. Some devices can even print on textiles for an old-master look or to simulate what a new textile would look like.
Like an office printer with several paper trays, to support this variety of media, the larger printers can hold up to four separate rolls of paper, ready to switch on demand. Most entry-level wide printers have a single roll, though.
Most inks either are water- or solvent-based, with the former generally being more expensive and subject to degradation if left outside. Solvent-based inks are less expensive, waterproof and resist fading, so they're the better choice for outdoor applications.
The ink's color comes from either a dye or a pigment, but this constitutes only a small portion of the formula. Dye inks are made from organic compounds and are generally bright, but often transparent in thin layers and degrade in bright sunlight; over time, an orange portion of a banner might end up looking yellowish. Pigment inks are made from opaque minerals that provide better coverage. They look duller but tend to last longer.
A third class of ink includes a curing agent to solidify the liquid ink before it leaves the printer. The way it works is that, after the ink is laid onto the paper, intense ultraviolet lights are aimed at the ink, curing it in less than a second. It is dry to the touch and good for outdoor use.
Getting a wide-format printer is only the start as far as costs go. As with every printer, the costs of ink, paper and waste containers add up when you're using it every day. Depending on how it's used and how often, the printheads might need replacing.
The good news is that these wide-body printers use ink tanks as large as 700 milliliters, so they're cheaper on a per-ounce basis than desktop printers, and the paper rolls actually work out to be fairly inexpensive on a square-foot basis. Regardless of which printer you choose, it'll be cheaper to print this specialty material in-house than have it done by a local print shop. For instance, a 24 x 36-inch print on plain paper might cost about $2 to print in-house – one-tenth of what a print shop might charge.
Used by designers, marketers and architects to deliver point-of-sale items, promotional posters and technical drawings, wide-format printers deliver large and highly detailed prints on a wide variety of materials. Read our reviews of the different models.
HP Designjet Z5600 Review
HP PageWide XL 4500 Review
Epson SureColor P20000 Review
Epson SureColor T5270 Review
Roland VersaUV Review
Roland Soljet EJ-640 Review
Fujifilm Acuity Review
Mimaki JFX200-2531 Review
Contracts and Service Support
With four- and five-figure price tags for these printers, you'd expect top-shelf help and your choice of support via phone, email or live chat. That's generally what you get, with the larger companies fielding dedicated support technicians on call 24/7 and offering a wide variety of resources online, including videos, tips, FAQs and downloads.
On the other hand, while the one-year warranty is still standard in this business, some vendors only cover their hardware and software for a short 90 days. The expectation is that you buy a service contract that includes onsite repairs. This can run several thousands of dollars a year but might come with installation and initial setup.
You can also lease or rent a wide-format printer from a variety of brokers or third parties. Most provide the same services for a monthly fee. There are generally two types of leases: a buck-out lease or a fair-market value lease. In the first, you lease the equipment for a set amount of time (36 months or so), and after that time you buy the equipment for $1. In an FMV lease, you also pay a monthly fee for a set amount of time, at the end of which you can either purchase the equipment with a final balloon payment or upgrade with a new lease.
Common Wide Format Printer Questions & Answers
I look for relationship, reliability, flexibility, and timeliness to delivery - long before price. Cheapest price does not always mean business. What are your core values, what is important to you to provide to your customers, etc...I ask this because, for example...as a consultant, coach - with tons of us out there, I could deliver on my core values and go inexpensive..but that is devaluing my work, and customers will see that - therefore it works against me - it certainly doesn't work for...Read More ▼
The professional print companies I have used, when working for a design team for a corporation, have always been local. It's very important to be able to visit the facility, deal with the employees face to face, and of course their equipment. Being able to physically show your printer what you want as a finished product is key. I spent a lot of time creating comps on our Xerox machines and then driving to the shop to show the printers what I want. As a designer, it's really important to be able...Read More ▼
Hi Alice, Printing labels is trivial in many programming languages, including Java and C which would run on a Mac. There are however a number of variables to be taken into consideration, pertaining to the layout, data source and interface to the printer's driver. I see that Etsy has an option, that you may already be aware of, for printing USPS labels purchased from them at : https://www.etsy.com/help/article/3148 By the way, I checked out your store there, cool jewels.Read More ▼
I like to highlight this: 1. Clarify startup business ideas - to sell 3D printers or to use 3D printers to provide services or to rent 3D printers or to run other business but using 3D printers to enhance the results. 2. I suppose you wanted to use 3D printers to provide services - this is the most capital intensive model. Different targeted customers required different types of 3D printers and material investment will be onerous if the mixture of customers are not correct. 3. 3D business...Read More ▼
If you are laying out a project for print you need to use a combination of software. Adobe CC includes InDesign. InDesign on its own is a okay program. It works best with Photoshop and Illustrator. It is a layout program. Illustrator is great for vector graphics and a specific kind of illustration. Logos and branding work great in Illustrator. Photoshop is for photo retouching and getting creative with pixel based images. Photoshop is also a illustration tool. Now when you have your...Read More ▼
List of 12Wide-Format Printers
Fujifilm Acuity LED 3200R
The Fujifilm Acuity LED 3200R is huge even for a wide-format printer, with the capacity to print on a variety of stock up to 128 inches wide.
Canon imagePROGRAF iPF840
Canon's imagePROGRAF iPF840 leverages dye-based ink to print on a variety of large-format media. We investigate whether that tradeoff is worth it in our review.
Epson SureColor P20000
With both high-speed drafting and 24-pass printing, Epson's SureColor P20000 offers tremendous output in a focused package. Our review details its features.
Epson SureColor T5270
The Epson SureColor T5270 is an affordable 36-inch wide printer that creates surprisingly sharp and accurate prints. A good starter wide-format printer, the $3,995 T5270 can be upgraded, making it one of the most flexible and adaptable wide-format printers around.
Mimaki's JFX200-2531 excels at creating large items for indoor and outdoor use. Rather than spooling its media from rolls, the JFX200 flatbed, wide-format printer is able to print on large sheets of just about anything flat.
HP PageWide XL 4500
The HP PageWide XL 4500 delivers multifunction printing and scanning for nearly every corporate use. Fast and capable of printing a variety of wide items, this imaging powerhouse holds four rolls of media and has an optional 1,200-dot per inch scanner.
HP Designjet Z5600
Affordable and flexible, HP's Designjet Z5600 offers a dynamism usually reserved for pricier wide-format printers. We break down its features in our review.
Roland Soljet EJ-640
Roland's Soljet EJ-640 prints brilliant imagery, on a variety of media up to 64 inches wide, with weather-resistant solvent ink.
Roland VersaUV LEC-540
Roland's VersaUV LEC-540 can handle any large printing task you give it, including printing on leather.
The customizable Mimaki CJV300 is a wide-format printer that can be tailored to many different needs.
Xerox Wide Format IJP 2000
The Xerox Wide Format IJP 2000 has some rather specific use cases, but it excels at them. Editor's note: This product is no longer sold new.