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The Best Wide-Format Printers of 2019

ByBennett Conlin,
business.com writer
| Updated
Jul 26, 2019
Home
> Technology
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Small businesses often need flexibility in printing. For architects, artists, professional photographers and clothing designers, 8.5 x 11-inch paper won't cut it. Businesses reliant on printing need affordable, flexible printers they can count on.

While it's not right for every business, some businesses benefit from the use of wide-format printers. A large-format printer gives them the confidence to print images and designs well above the standard 8.5 x 11-inch size many of us are accustomed to using.

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. The major companies in the industry normally make models designed with different use cases in mind. For example, Epson's best printer for architects likely isn't the same as its best printer for a small business printing marketing materials.

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. The "best" wide-format printers will vary from business to business. 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.

Best Picks

 

Editor's note: Looking for the right wide-format printers for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Reviews

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.

Our Methodology

To determine our best picks, we looked at a variety of factors. We placed an emphasis on size, printing speed, features and customer support. We wanted to find large-format printers on the market that could improve the operations of small businesses. We looked at customer reviews and spoke with company representatives to receive their recommendations for their company's best wide-format printers.

One of our first steps in the process was to seek out the major players in the industry. We found that HP, Canon and Epson are three of the top companies offering wide-format printers. Roland, Mimaki and Fujifilm also stood out as top wide-format printer companies. Once we'd found the major players, we dove deeper into their best offerings for specific use cases.

From there, we compared many different features and factors of each company. These are the main features we considered:

  • Printer size
  • Price
  • Printing speed
  • Printing quality
  • Types of ink used
  • Price of ink
  • Customer service options
  • Warranties
  • Durability

After reviewing those many different factors and looking at the features of each individual printer, we compiled our final list of best picks.

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 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.

Businesses from many different industries use wide-format printers. We found that professional photographers, construction and architecture firms, mapmakers, and companies creating marketing materials are the most common businesses using large-format printers. The ability to create high-quality photos and detailed line drawings makes wide-format printers valuable tools for small and midsize businesses.

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 of 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 aspects 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 they can print on, we look at what inks and consumables they use and the manufacturers' support options.

Wide-Format vs. Large-Format Printing

When researching wide-format printers, you may also see the term "large-format printers" a lot. For the most part, the two terms are used interchangeably. Some companies may call them large-format printers more often, but the meaning is the same. We use the terms interchangeably throughout our reviews.

Our research found that most companies also use "wide format" and "large format" interchangeably. When speaking with sales representatives, you won't run into any confusion if you use either or both terms.

Wide-Format Printers vs. Plotters

There's some confusion among consumers about the differences between wide-format printers and plotters. Both wide-format printers and plotters create high-resolution images, but the way they produce those images is different.

Plotters use vector graphics to create images, while wide-format printers use pixels. If you're looking to create extremely detailed prints with lots of lines, a plotter may be exactly what you need. For example, construction companies making blueprints of building designs may opt to use a plotter, because they create accurate and detailed lines.

Plotters are similar to wide-format printers, but the specific use case differs. Architects and engineers may prefer plotters due to the accuracy when drawing lines. This doesn't mean a more traditional large-format printer can't accurately draw lines, but a plotter nullifies the chances of minor errors.

Pricing

Depending on what you want in a wide-format printer, the price ranges from $1,000 for a basic model 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 various 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.

Buying vs. Leasing

Depending on the company and the printer model, you may be able to lease a wide-format printer. This decision depends on your business's needs and the cost-benefit analysis of buying or leasing a printer. If you're looking to use a wide-format printer to print signs and banners for major events over a few months, you might find that leasing is a better option. If you run a professional photography shop and expect to print frequently for years to come, buying might be the best option.

Leasing a printer gives you the chance to test it over a set timeframe. If a company won't send you a model to test out, leasing gives you a chance to use the printer without investing thousands of dollars in a model you may not like in the future.

Another benefit of leasing is the regularity of new makes and models hitting the market. If you buy a wide-format printer, you may find in five years that your model is multiple iterations behind the latest in the industry. Leasing allows you to upgrade your printer once your lease expires. Not all businesses will want or need the latest and greatest printer, but it's something to consider before you buy a large-format printer.

Wide-Format Printer and Plotter Features

Image Quality

These printers match the best office machines with resolutions up to 2880 x 1440 dpi (dots per inch). 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. 

Software

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.

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.

Design

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 interaction 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.

With small and midsize businesses in mind, we looked for printers with sleek designs that aren't overly cumbersome. A few printers on our list are difficult to move, but their other elite features earned them a spot in our reviews.

Finding the right large-format printer design for your business requires a thorough understanding of your needs. Some of these printers require multiple people to set up, and moving them is a near impossibility. If you have a team of 5-10 people that expects to use the wide-format printer only a handful of times per week, look for a smaller and more affordable option. Some of the smaller wide-format printers still produce quality prints. If you can find an affordable option with good print quality, there's no reason to buy one of the massive printers. On the other hand, some businesses can't work without the larger models. If that's the case for you, it might be worth dedicating an entire room or area of your business to housing the printer.

Performance

Speed is of the essence with wide-format printing. There's nothing worse than waiting for print jobs, and nothing better than finishing print jobs quickly (and correctly) and the printer moving on to its next task. The more you use a wide printer, the cheaper and more valuable to the company it can become. It can also be costly if the prints are inaccurate. Wasting ink on large prints can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Performance ratings consider both print speed and accuracy.

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. High-end photo paper or canvas, which require more ink, slow things 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.

Some printers connect to mobile phones or tablets. This can make the printing process more efficient. Many of the best wide-format printers offer Wi-Fi connectivity and the ability to work with mobile phones, tablets and other technological devices. Consider the connectivity of mobile devices when making your purchasing decision.

Supported Media

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.

Ink Types

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 cost less, are waterproof and resist fading, so they're the better choice for outdoor applications. Eco-solvent printers are a good option for businesses looking to create outdoor banners or signs.

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. For instance, 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. 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.

Consumables

Getting a wide-format printer is only the start of the costs. As with every printer, the costs of ink, paper and waste containers add up when you use it every day. Depending on how you use the printer and how often, you might need to replace the printheads.

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.

Some printers save ink better than others, which reduces the future cost of ink cartridges. This is an important consideration in seeking the best printer for your business, as ink can cost hundreds of dollars per cartridge.

Another factor worth considering is how you dispose of materials, especially ink. Ink waste is often considered hazardous, which means its disposal can be tricky. The EPA lists a few options for disposal methods, including using a registered hazardous waste transporter to send the waste to an approved disposal area. This process may include sending certifications and notifications with the material. This can be time-consuming and difficult, and it's worth taking a look at the ink you're using before making a purchasing or leasing decision.

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 offering dedicated support technicians on call 24/7 and a wide variety of resources online, including videos, tips, FAQs and downloads.

Some companies offer onsite maintenance as well. Many of these services are available within one business day of your request for maintenance. Businesses don't want their printer to sit idle, so this is a quality offering for many small businesses.

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'll buy a service contract that includes onsite repairs. This can run several thousands of dollars a year but might include installation and initial setup. Other companies offer multiyear warranties. These are rare but can be a nice addition.

You can also lease or rent a wide-format printer from various 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.

Additional reporting by Brian Nadel.

Common Wide Format Printer Questions & Answers

Have a wide format printer question of your own?
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What information do you look for from a printer's website when researching a print vendor?

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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.

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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...

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