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The Best Wide-Format Printers of 2021

By
Andrew Martins
,
business.com Staff
| Updated
Feb 26, 2021

Wide-format printers deliver large and highly detailed prints on a wide variety of materials. Check out the top reviews on the best wide-format printers of 2021.
Best for Small Business
Epson SureColor T2170
Sub-$1,000 price tag
Desktop-friendly size
Very lightweight model
Best for Detailed Applications
HP DesignJet T830
High-res printing capability
Mobile device compatibility
Fast printing
Best for Outdoor Signage
Canon Colorado 1650
Uses eco-solvent UVgel
Great for outdoor prints
Unmatched production quality
Best for Fabric Printing
Roland Texart XT-640 Dye-Sublimation Printer
Variety of colors
Can use fluorescent inks
Four- and eight-color options
Wide-format printers deliver large and highly detailed prints on a wide variety of materials. Check out the top reviews on the best wide-format printers of 2021.
Updated 02/26/21

This page has been updated to include general industry updates.

The best wide-format printers are more robust than traditional desktop printers. They can print detailed imagery, create outdoor signage and print on fabric. The best options offer a wide range of print sizes, high print resolutions, and quick printing without requiring too much space in your office or a mountain of cash. We examined two dozen models from six different manufacturers to determine the best wide-format printers for various small business needs.

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How We Decided
Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.
24
Considered
12
Researched
4
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Epson SureColor T2170 HP DesignJet T830 Canon Colorado
1650
Roland Texart XT-640
Dye-Sublimation Printer
Max print size 24 inches 36 inches 64 inches 63.6 inches
Max resolution 2,400 dpi 2,400 x 1,200 optimized dpi 1,800 dpi 1,440 dpi
Size

Without stand: 38 x 20 x 9 inches

With stand: 38 x 28 x 36 inches
55.2 x 24.8 x 45.5 inches 119 x 43 x 52 inches 111.7 x 32.7 x 65 inches
Weight

Without stand: 60 lbs.

With stand: 84 lbs.
137.8 lbs. 1,631 lbs. 471.8 lbs.
Approx. 
price
$749 $5,995 S60,000 to $70,000 $29,995

Our Reviews

Epson SureColor T2170: Best for Small Business

The T2170 is one of the most affordable models we considered.
Network security is baked into the T2170.
This machine can only handle a maximum print size of 24 inches.

When trying to find the best wide-format printer for small businesses, it's hard to reconcile the fact that most top-of-the-line models are behemoths that cost thousands of dollars. Yet when we found the Epson SureColor T2170, we were struck by its easy plug-and-play compatibility, its reasonable footprint and equally reasonable price tag of well under $1,000, making it a standout option for any small business looking to add wide-format printing capabilities to its arsenal.

Pricing

As the wide-format printer that could appeal to the widest range of small businesses, the Epson SureColor T2170 has an attractive price point. While most machines in its class have a suggested retail price around $1,000 and up, the SureColor T2170 can be purchased directly from the manufacturer for $749. In fact, most retailers that deal in wide-format printers list this machine at the same price, putting it more in line with high-end multifunction printers in terms of out-of-pocket costs.

Seeing as this was one of the most affordable machines in our research, we were unsurprised to learn that Epson does not provide a leasing option for cash-strapped small businesses. Other retailers offer promotional financing options for the machine, but those often have specific term lengths and the threat of interest if the balance isn't paid off in full.

Product Specs

One of the other major characteristics of wide-format printers is their sheer size. The larger the printing format, naturally, the larger the machine has to be to accommodate it. With a maximum printing width of 24 inches, the T2170 is on the small side, able to sit on a dedicated desktop or a specialized stand that shouldn't take up too much space in an office.

According to Epson, the T2170 is 38 x 20 x 9 inches without the printer stand and 38 x 28 x 36 inches with it. Of course, the machine is also heavier with the stand than without, weighing 84 or 60 pounds, respectively.

At its core, the T2170 is an inkjet printer with variable droplet technology, meaning it can "produce up to three different [droplet] sizes per line," according to Epson. That flexibility in how it applies ink allows for more detailed prints. The T2170 supports standard-capacity ink cartridges – 50 milliliters for black and 26 for color – with replacements costing $25.95 per color cartridge and $43.95 for black. Meanwhile, high-capacity ink cartridges provide 50 milliliters of each color and 80 milliliters for black ink at $43.95 and $59.95, respectively.

The T2170 can output finished print jobs at a maximum resolution of 2,400 x 1,200 dots per inch (dpi). Its print speed is 325 square feet per hour in draft mode, though Epson estimates that it can finish a 22 x 34-inch plot in 43 seconds. Like most printers, the T2170 has a natural duty cycle, capable of printing up to 833 A1 pages (594 x 841 millimeters) per month.

While most of those specifications are beneficial to the machine's overall performance, we noticed that the machine doesn't have any sort of hard drive or memory storage, nor did we receive any information about the machine's processor.

Features

The T2170 has some features that add to its overall functionality. Its feature set may be in line with its relatively low price tag, but it still comes with a decent number of surprises in its svelte package.

With the printer's easy setup process, Epson estimates that it will take the average user 30 minutes from taking the machine out of the box to it being ready to pump out quality prints. One of the reasons for that is the intuitive 4.3-inch LCD color touchscreen, adding a smartphone-esque control scheme to an already easy-to-use wide-format printer.

When printing, the T2170 takes advantage of its PrecisionCore MicroTFP printhead that Epson says can offer "precision droplet control." The feature, according to the company, provides "outstanding clarity, plus commercial-grade reliability with Nozzle Verification Technology." If the prints use Canon's UltraChrome XD2, users can expect the pigmented ink to "produce durable, instant-dry prints."

We also found it impressive that the T2170 can accommodate paper rolls of up to 24 inches wide and sheets up to 11 x 17 inches through the model's Auto Sheet Feeder.

The T2170's SuperSpeed USB connection is compatible with the speedy USB 3.0 spec. Furthermore, this model supports wireless LAN connectivity over 802.11 b/g/n connections, which fuels the machine's Wi-Fi Direct feature. For businesses that would rather run their broadband connections through physical cables, the T2170 supports wired internet connections through its 1000BASE-T, 100BASE-TX and 10BASE-T Ethernet port. While connected to the internet, the printer uses advanced network security and encryption to keep your files and networks safe from external intrusion.

Customer Service

Epson provides a standard one-year warranty, with onsite repair (usually by the next business day after the request) or a whole-unit exchange. In addition to its standard repair plan, the company offers a Preferred Plus Premium Service, which adds two years of coverage for a higher price. Additional support packages are available from the manufacturer that can cover the printer for up to five more years.

Outside of repair services, Epson operates a toll-free phone support line Monday through Friday. The company's website also has an extensive knowledge base to help users find solutions to their problems in the meantime.

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HP DesignJet T830: Best for Detailed Applications

The T830 comes with printing, copying and scanning functionality.
This model can print on different types of media (coated paper, film, photographic paper).
HP doesn't accept returns for the DesignJet T830 – all sales are final.

The HP DesignJet T830 is our best wide-format printer pick for detailed applications. Boasting a line accuracy of +/- 0.1% with a 2,400-dpi printing resolution, the 36-inch model of the T830 stands out as an affordable option for users that need a machine that can deliver intricate prints for everything from ultraprecise blueprints to intricate photos and prints.

Read HP DesignJet T830 Review

Canon Colorado 1650: Best for Outdoor Signage

The Canon Colorado 1650 offers six different print speeds
It can print on porous and uncoated materials.
This printer is among the most expensive ones we reviewed.

The Canon Colorado 1650 offers tremendous versatility in a large-format printer. Thanks to its technological advances and use of UVgel technology, the Colorado 1650 offers flexible prints that you can fold and move without compromising the image. The prints it generates with the UVgel technology is one of the many reasons we consider the Colorado 1650 the best large-format printer for producing outdoor signage.

Pricing

While the price varies by dealer, the Colorado 1650 costs between $60,000 and $70,000. Unless your business can afford the one-time purchase cost, leasing might be the better option.

This printer is one of the most expensive we've reviewed. Given its size and versatility, though, the price point is fair. Its ability to produce large, durable outdoor prints is unmatched in the industry, which makes it a top option with one of the top prices.

Product Specs

At 119 x 43 x 52 inches and 1,631 pounds, the Colorado 1650 is a behemoth. If you're a small business that just prints the occasional outdoor sign, this printer isn't for you. If you're a midsize business that expects to print a lot of outdoor signage, the size and price won't be as much of a concern. The printer will likely need its own room or take up a sizable portion of the room where you put it. Thanks to its size, it can produce prints of up to 64 inches.

The Colorado 1650 uses UVgel 460 ink, creating print resolutions up to 1,800 dpi. The 1-liter bottles produce prints with a standard CMYK color scheme. The printer uses UV light to create an instant drying effect at a low temperature. According to Canon's website, the UVgel technology helps with a few things, including control of the ink dots.

The printer uses UVgel printheads – two for each color. The roll width on the printer goes up to 64 inches, the print margin sits at 0.21 inches, and the roll weight can go up to 110 pounds. It's a heavy printer, and many of the materials are heavy as well. The setup process will certainly require a few people, and so might using the printer with certain materials.

The Colorado 1650 has six different printing speeds:

  • Banner/max speed mode: 1,720 square feet per hour
  • Banner production/high speed mode: 1,320 square feet per hour
  • Production mode: 610 square feet per hour
  • High-quality mode: 430 square feet per hour
  • Matte mode: 305 square feet per hour
  • Specialty mode: 215 square feet per hour

Designed to use ink efficiently, the Colorado 1650 prints quickly for such a large machine. The waterproof prints work well for eye-popping outdoor signs. The short wait for the prints is a bonus for businesses looking to produce major quantities of outdoor signage. The matte prints are another selling point for the printer: These colors allow you to produce outdoor signs that look sleek regardless of the weather.

According to Canon's website, the FLXfinish technology allows you to print on different materials and in different colors. The Colorado 1650 can print on both porous and uncoated materials thanks to this technology.

For maintenance, the printer automatically monitors itself, constantly looking for nozzle failures with its PAINT feature. When it detects errors, the printer can fix them automatically in seconds. This keeps the printer moving, without unnecessary idle time. The machine is more reliable thanks to its automatic maintenance system.

On the software front, the Colorado 1650 supports a few different types of raster image processors (RIPs). According to the Canon website, it supports ONYX Thrive, Caldera, and an API for third-party RIP vendors.

Features

You can refill the printer's ink during the printing process, boosting its overall efficiency – and if you're paying for a printer this size, you'll want it to work as efficiently as possible. The automation features also help make the printer efficient.

Much of the maintenance is automatic, and there's also an automated media feed. Not having to constantly monitor the printer is a tremendous asset for small and midsize businesses. Employees can work on other projects while waiting for prints instead of keeping an eye on the printer to fix errors.

After the initial purchase, this printer's efficient ink usage and automation keep future costs reasonably low. For a large-format printer of its size, the Colorado 1650 does a good job of reducing variable costs.

The Colorado 1650's versatility also makes it one of the top wide-format printers on the market. It can print on a few different materials, including self-adhesive vinyl, polyester textiles and paper. This makes it an ideal printer for outdoor signage, as you can print on different materials using durable color schemes.

Given its size and price point, this printer makes sense for midsize businesses that want to create a lot of outdoor signage. Businesses looking to host events and or create outdoor banners on a regular basis can benefit from this printer. It's reliable and consistent, able to produce quality prints regularly. The ability to print on different materials is a rare asset in the printer industry.

In our research, we found that many large-format printers create prints for indoor use. It can be difficult to find wide-format printers whose prints work well for outdoor usage, but the Colorado 1650 fits the bill.

Customer Service

Canon offers good customer service options should you ever run into an issue with your printer. You can make service requests online, email, or call customer service representatives for any problems. They respond promptly and adequately.

The printer offers a one-year limited warranty, which is standard for Canon large-format printers and other printers in the industry.

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Roland Texart XT-640 Dye-Sublimation Printer: Best for Fabric Printing

The Roland Texart XT-640 is one of the top dye-sublimation options.
It produces prints up to 64 inches wide.
The colors of the initial print might not match the final product.

The Roland Texart XT-640 Dye-Sublimation Printer is our best pick for fabric printing. This large-format printer can produce prints anywhere from 10.2 to 64 inches wide, and its versatility makes it a top option in the industry.

The prints are transferable onto clothing or merchandise. The versatility of the printer and the dye-sublimation transfer printing make the XT-640 a great option for companies printing a lot of merchandise or clothing.

Pricing

Unsurprisingly, this massive printer is expensive. It costs $29,995 to buy it, and leasing it costs $600 a month for 60 months. Depending on where you purchase it from, the leasing terms may vary.

The price and features take a standard small business working from an office out of the customer pool, but clothing shops, Etsy stores, and businesses generating a lot of merchandise should consider the Texart XT-640.

Product Specs

At 111.7 x 32.7 x 65 inches and 471.8 pounds, the Texart XT-640 is on the larger side of the wide-format printers available. It can print at speeds of 1,098 square feet per hour, which is about 18.3 square feet per minute. (That's the printer's highest speed – not all prints will take that short a timeframe.) It supports media of up to 110 pounds.

The printer uses Texart ink, which comes in four- and eight-color packages. The wide range of colors, listed below, helps the printer produce eye-catching fabrics and clothing materials:

  • Cyan
  • Magenta
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • Light cyan
  • Light magenta
  • Orange
  • Violet
  • Fluorescent pink
  • Fluorescent yellow

By using so many different colors, especially fluorescent colors, the XT-640 produces eye-popping prints. These prints are ideal for transferring to fabrics, as the different colors create gorgeous patterns on clothing and merchandise. Most printers we researched don't offer the same variety of colors as this Roland model. By including fluorescents, orange, and violet, you can create exceptionally bright and vibrant prints.

The maximum resolution on this printer is a respectable 1,440 dpi. This isn't the highest resolution of the printers we've seen on the market, but it's plenty for producing prints for clothing. This type of printer doesn't require the same resolution or accuracy as printers designed for mapmaking or line drawings.

To save power, the printer has a setting that allows it to shut off automatically. This is helpful if you plan to use the printer intermittently. The printer does require about 5-20 minutes to warm up after being turned on, so turning the machine on and off will likely cause some delays in the production process.

When you order the printer, you will receive stands, a power cord, media clamps, a media holder, a software RIP, a replacement blade for the separating knife and a manual. This is a standard set of items to receive with a printer order.

Features

The Roland Texart XT-640 is designed for dye-sublimation transfer printing. That, unsurprisingly, is where it excels. If you're looking to use dye sublimation and transfer those prints onto merchandise or different fabrics, this printer is a quality option.

Sublimation printing requires the use of transfer paper. By printing the designs or colors on a special transfer paper, you can then move the designs onto your desired fabric. This process normally involves a heat transfer, as sublimation inks rely on heat to create the desired color. Your initial print might not accurately reflect the eye-catching colors in the final product, as the heat transfer with the transfer paper and fabric will bring out those colors.

The transfer can make the entire printing process more complicated than using other printers, but the added difficulty is often necessary to create colorful designs on fabric. With the XT-640, the extra work is worth the end result.

We consider this the best wide-format printer for fabric printing because you can transfer the designs onto sportswear, soft signs and even items like couch cushions. That versatility in fabric printing makes it an excellent option for anyone producing clothing, merchandise or furniture designs.

The printer uses dual printheads and seven-droplet technology, both of which are designed to speed up the production process while ensuring efficient and effective color creation. You can expect quality prints in a timely fashion with this printer.

The seven dot sizes – which you won't find in many printers – help the XT-640 create detailed prints with staggering displays of color. Whether you're creating sports jerseys or merchandise, the ability to transfer vivid colors onto different fabrics is a big plus. Given the printer's great color gamut, using multiple dot sizes to showcase the different colors is a good decision by Roland, helping the XT-640 produce high-quality graphic images.

A unique offering of the printer is its four- and eight-ink modes. If you're in a hurry, you can use the four-ink mode for more basic prints that come out quickly. This mode's automatic bulk ink-switching system is particularly noteworthy: Once a packet of ink runs out, the printer automatically switches in the new ink, which keeps the print process running quickly. If you want greater detail and coloration and don't mind waiting a bit longer, the eight-ink mode is more effective.

The iPad printer assist is another feature you might enjoy. Coupled with the automatic ink switching, this feature allows the XT-640 to print without being constantly monitored. This can save businesses valuable time, as employees don't have to worry about switching the inks or adjusting the printer frequently.

To use the iPad printer assist feature, all you need to do is download Roland Printer Assist, a free app in the App Store. This allows you to manage the printer from an iPad, which can be a convenient way to take care of printing needs without monitoring the printer from right next to it.

A new media feed is another selling point for this printer. It accepts a range of thin to thick papers, which is an important feature if you're looking to transfer prints onto fabric. The printer uses a vacuum to keep the paper flat as it's being loaded into the machine.

The XT-640 is one of the better sublimation printers on the market. The image quality, color range and versatility are among the best you can find. While the high price might keep some small businesses away, renting the printer can ease the financial burden. It's a top wide-format printer whose numerous features set it apart from the competition.

Customer Support

Roland offers a two-year warranty on this printer, which is one of the best warranties of any printer on the market. To ensure you get the second year of the warranty at no charge, you need to register your printer within 60 days of the purchase, and you must exclusively use Roland inks for the duration of the warranty. Both are standard warranty requirements, and some companies include those same guidelines to receive just a one-year warranty. While you likely won't buy a printer because of its warranty option, the additional year of a free warranty is a nice bonus on top of this printer's other features.

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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 with several widths and 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 depends on your business's needs and your 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 is probably your 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 try 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 need or want the latest and greatest model, but it's something to consider before you buy a large-format printer.

Buying Guide

What Is a Wide-Format Printer?

The most basic definition of a wide-format printer is a machine that prints on large paper, though some models can print on plastic, vinyl, fabric or a flat medium. Depending on the use case and the business's needs, wide-format printers can get significantly large – more than 12 feet wide in some cases. As such, the price of a wide-format printer can go anywhere from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands. [Would a multifunction printer better suit your needs? Check out the printers and copiers we recommend for small businesses.]

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 interchangeable. 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 printer companies 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 want 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 often use plotters, because they create accurate and detailed lines. Architects and engineers may also prefer plotters for their accuracy in drawing lines. This doesn't mean a traditional large-format printer can't accurately draw lines, but a plotter nullifies the chances of minor errors.

How to Choose a Wide-Format Printer

Purchasing a wide-format printer for your small business is a big decision. These machines often require a lot of real estate in an office and a large financial commitment, whether it's from a single lump payment or through other financing options.

When you choose a wide-format printer to purchase or lease, the most important thing to consider is your potential use and your business's needs. If your company only needs to print high-quality posters at a maximum of 24 inches, you probably shouldn't finance a $70,000 wide-format printer that can print on vinyl or fabric. Naturally, the same concept works in reverse. Knowing what you need out of a printer will be integral in ensuring you don't waste office space or money.

Here are some other things you should consider when choosing a wide-format printer.

Key characteristics

  • Color spectrum. How your completed prints will look is incredibly important. One way you can make sure your work comes out exactly as you intended is to ensure that your printer and accompanying software use the right color spectrum. The two common spectrums are CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) and RGB (reg, green, blue). Certain printers prefer one over the other, so if color accuracy is important to you, this is something you should consider.

  • Ink type. There are several ink types on the market, and some printers use only certain types. As we discussed above, aqueous, pigment-based, UV and latex inks are good for different uses. If you know how you want to use the printer, you can select one that uses the best ink type for the projects you have in mind.

  • Size and weight. These machines can get big and heavy. If a wide-format printer is absolutely what you need for your office, size is an important consideration. Your office space is limited, so measure the space you have for the printer and compare it to the specs. If you plan on moving the machine around, make sure it doesn't weigh nearly a ton.

  • Print speed. Time is money, so you can save on costs in the long run by selecting a fast wide-format printer. How quickly a printer functions depends on many things, but most manufacturers publish an estimated speed, so look for a printer that can put out a high number of square feet or pages per minute.

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 making 3D renderings.

Software

Most of these printers use PostScript and other popular printer languages, and they include 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 certain budgets or departments.

Some manufacturers require you to pay extra for software that enables these extra features if you want them. For instance, it's not unusual for the 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, up to 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 do their 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 of dollars, if not thousands. Performance ratings take both print speed and accuracy into account.

Wide-format printers not only supersize prints but create beautifully detailed output for various 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 more.

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, 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 is 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, an orange portion of a banner might end up looking yellowish over time. 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.

These are some other types of ink:

  • Aqueous ink. Any water-based ink falls within this category. It's great for photos, posters, canvas and indoor applications. It could work outdoors but will likely fade out because of exposure to the elements.

  • Latex. Used primarily for outdoor prints, latex ink is a quick-drying type of ink that can speed up production. It can be applied to a wide range of surfaces while creating high-quality images.

  • Solvent ink. If you plan on printing things like banners and vehicle wraps, then solvent ink is the type you'll likely use. It's an affordable option that will need proper ventilation, since it consists of volatile organic compounds that can be detrimental to your health.

  • UVgel. Canon's UVgel technology requires the use of LEDs to properly cure its industry-leading ink type. According to Canon's website, it creates UVgel ink with "maximum flexibility" in mind, seeking increased "stretchability" for every cured ink droplet. Through the use of LED curing, Canon's printers – like the Colorado 1650 – allow you to choose between matte and glossy finishes for each print job without changing the type of ink or media you use. Depending on the media and laminates you use, UVgel inks are covered for up to five years for outdoor applications and up to eight years with indoor applications.

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 outsource it to a local print shop. For instance, a 24 x 36-inch print on plain paper would cost about $2 to print in-house – one-tenth of what a print shop might charge.

Some printers save ink better than others, reducing your future costs 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, such as 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 you make a purchasing or leasing decision.

Technology

Though the main function of a wide-format printer is committing images and text to a variety of surfaces, today's machines have additional features that make the entire process quicker and easier. Depending on the model you consider, you may be able to take advantage of the following:

  • Wireless access. The ability to connect to and access your wide-format printer without long and cumbersome cables is a major benefit of most modern devices. Whether it's internet and network connectivity via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth functionality for mobile devices, wireless access is a big help.

  • Compatibility with mobile devices. With most mobile devices operating on Android or iOS, innate compatibility with those systems can open up new and convenient functionality that enriches and simplifies your experience with a machine.

  • Memory capacity. As your wide-format printer gets multiple jobs in a queue, it will benefit from internal memory to store each job. Without it, printing will slow down.

  • High-capacity or efficient ink cartridges. If you've ever used a home or office printer, you know that ink replacement can be costly. By selecting a printer with larger ink capacities or more efficient ink yields, you can reduce that cost.

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 by 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 maintenance request. You don't want your expensive printer to sit idle, so this service is important to many small businesses.

However, while the one-year warranty is still standard in this business, some vendors only cover their hardware and software for a short 90 days. Their expectation is that you'll buy a service contract that includes onsite repairs. This can cost several thousands of dollars a year but might include installation and initial setup. Other companies offer multiyear warranties, but these are rare.

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), after which 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who uses wide-format printers?

There are many uses for wide-format printers, with a multitude of products that can be made thanks to them. For example, architects rely on these printers to create high-quality blueprints and site designs for projects, while photographers use wide-format printers to create massive, high-resolution prints of their work.

The most common use of wide-format printers is in the marketing space. Thanks to these machines, marketers can get large, colorful advertisements out into the public square quickly and relatively affordably. If you see large signs, banners, or promotional window advertising, you've probably seen the fruits of a wide-format printer.

Which types of media can wide-format printers print on?

Along with different grades of paper products, wide-format printers can apply text and graphics to a variety of media, such as vinyl, PVC, fabric, metal and ceramics.

How can a large-format printer benefit your business?

A large-format printer can be a huge boon for your business – in the right circumstances. If you run a printing shop, for example, the benefit is immediately obvious. However, other uses are equally beneficial for certain businesses. The benefits depend largely on your need for the machine.

Production companies use a wide-format printer's vinyl application function to create colorful, realistic backgrounds without the need to construct physical sets. If your company exhibits at trade shows or produces collateral items for its customers, having your own wide-format printer allows you to create high-quality banners and signage. As long as the cost doesn't outweigh the machine's usefulness, a wide-format printer is a strong tool in a business's arsenal.

Is TIFF or JPEG better for printing?

With a wide-format printer, it's always best to use the file type with the least compression, so you should use TIFF. Though they are usually considerably larger than their JPEG counterparts, TIFFs are lossless image files that offer higher-fidelity graphics with minimal compression.

What color format is best for printing?

As with most printed materials, it's best to use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) as your color format. The other major format, RGB, is great for things like TVs and computer monitors, but CMYK prints by using different sizes of ink dots to display an image.

What is an inkjet printer?

Inkjet printers are a type of printing machine that effectively shoots tiny droplets of ink onto a piece of paper or other medium to display an image. Most home and small office printers are of the inkjet variety.

Is inkjet or laser better for printing photos?

When considering an inkjet or laser printer specifically for handling photos, you must remember how either works. While an inkjet printer sprays droplets of the appropriate inks at the right ratio to get the image onto the medium, a laser printer uses toner, meaning it's either only printing in monochrome or much more expensive for the color variant.

As long as you use a coated piece of paper designed for photos, you should always see better results from inkjet machines, especially since they provide darker black levels and feature a much wider range in the color packet.

What are the best software programs to prepare artwork and graphics for wide-format printing?

Unlike with normal printers, which can commit nearly any document or image to common printer paper, it often takes specialized software to create larger files to transfer to a much larger medium. The best software to prepare artwork and graphics for wide-format printing can handle vector formats like EPS and Adobe Illustrator (AI). Raster images, bitmaps, and other file types are also viable options, but they often cause additional problems if you need to make any changes.

As for the types of software you should use, Adobe's InDesign and Photoshop are staples of large-format printing. They are both stellar programs for designing large images without compromising clarity. If Adobe's programs are not your style, consider alternatives such as CADlink SignLab, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite 2020 and EasySIGN.

Community Insight

There are many reasons why a small business would want to invest in a wide-format printer. They can be a great investment in the right circumstances, such as for an architect's office that needs highly detailed blueprints at a moment's notice or a signage company that needs to print out fabric banners for a client brand's upcoming promotion. We surveyed some small business owners to learn which printers they use and like.

Stephen Light, co-owner of Nolah Mattresses, said the Roland Texart XT-640 printer and its dye-sublimation printing process was a perfect fit for his company's needs. That process, he said, allows the machine to print "high-quality images with a wide gamut of colors" thanks to its four-ink and eight-ink modes. "We love using the Roland Texart XT-640 Dye-Sublimation Printer for printing out logos on our products, especially our wide mattresses."

That machine's dye-sublimation process is important to Nolah Mattresses because other methods "won't be vibrant and vivid," Light said. "Since the colors would be dull, the brand logo wouldn't significantly impact people who view the product."

Some small business owners need versatility in their wide-format printers. In one such instance, Matt Scott, owner of Termite Survey, said his company's reliance on the Canon imagePrograf Pro-1000 affords it the highest variability in output, from a 6 x 4 glossy print to a borderless A2 poster with a matte finish. He said the machine can achieve "a professional-quality picture finish" for all those projects.

"This amazingly versatile picture printer can produce everything," he said before touting the machine's inkjet cartridges. "From the front of the unit, you can see and view the 12 ink shades, and you can replace them one at a time, instead of trying to purchase a brand-new package when one wears out."

Other companies rely on latex-based inks for their prints. Tyler Roark, president of Kentucky Printing, said the HP Latex 115 printer speeds up the production process while being "more environmentally friendly." He also like that the latex ink doesn't usually clog printheads as easily as other inks often do.

"Latex ink also features extreme ink durability, which means we don't necessarily need to go through the additional step of laminating to produce an outdoor-worthy product," Roark said.

Our Methodology

Given the nature of this category, it would be impossible for us to personally evaluate every printer on our list. To get an in-depth look into these wide-format printers and how they could benefit small and midsize businesses, we reached out to some of the top companies in the industry to see what models best fit our use cases.

Despite numerous attempts with some of the largest manufacturers, we were largely unable to receive the data directly from the source. Only one company provided the data we requested. For the companies that did not get back to us at all, we reverted to other data collection efforts, such as collecting information from their websites and specifications sheets. In the event that pricing was unavailable, we tried to get prices from third-party vendors.

After compiling a list of eligible machines and their defining features, we determined our best picks: Best for Small Business, Best for Detailed Applications, Best for Outdoor Signage, and Best for Fabric Printing. We took that data, noted the pros and cons of each machine, and weighed them against one another. Here are the main criteria we used to evaluate each wide-format printer:

  • Pricing. In most cases, price is the most important factor for small business owners; before even looking at the machine's other qualities, they want to know how much it costs. However, we didn't remove a machine from consideration if it had a large price tag. In many cases, a leasing option was available, making the printer more affordable for small businesses.

  • Features: The overall functionality of a wide-format printer is what separates one model from another.

  • Ease of use: A wide-format printer should be intuitive and convenient for a small business to use. This presents itself in many forms, such as touchscreens and workflow solutions. Ease of use also applies to the system setup and initial user training.

  • Dimensions: Wide-format printers are physical machines, so their footprint in an office environment is an important consideration. While some machines are small enough to fit on a desk, many others are massive machines that can take up too much space in an office setting.

  • Speed: How quickly a wide-format printer can complete a job is important to its overall usefulness in a business setting.

  • Duty cycle: Like most machines with moving parts, each wide-format printer has an expected monthly allotment of how many print jobs it can churn out.

  • Warranty: Wide-format printers generally have a manufacturer's warranty to help cover any malfunction incidents. These usually guarantee your machine will remain in fine working order for the duration of the warranty.

What to Expect in 2021

The Printing Industry's Response to the Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic and corresponding shelter-in-place order is still in effect in many areas around the world, and as such, the wide format printer industry has had to make changes to keep its workforce safe.

Multiple major players in the industry have pledged to maintain safe work environments during the crisis, opting to keep their workers safe at the risk of maintaining profits.

"As a business community, we are all focused on managing the unprecedented Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation with both urgency and a deep sense of care," wrote Enrique Lores, president and CEO of HP wrote in a recent press release. "I know our teams have been in regular contact with you, and I'm personally reaching out to express my support for your teams during this difficult period."

Along with HP, leaders at Xerox, Canon, Roland, and others have committed to ensuring a safe and healthy work environment. In addition to following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some companies have extended warranties, established work-from-home initiatives, provided remote support options when possible, and limited domestic travel.

If your small business utilizes wide format printers in some fashion, it would be best to reach out to your service provider or the manufacturer of your device to learn how your small business could be further impacted.

February 2021: Despite the many challenges and setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic, the wide-format printer industry is expected to grow significantly by 2026. The industry was valued at $8.2 billion in 2018, but it's expected to reach $11.6 billion by 2026. The main companies involved in this growth are HP Inc., Canon Inc., Epson, Fuji Xerox, Agfa-Gevaert and Konica Minolta. While concern is mounting for consumer-level printers in a digital landscape, commercial wide-format printers are growing in demand with advertising, marketing and textile industries.

May 2020: Companies around the world have recalibrated their expectations for 2020, thanks to the pandemic, and Xerox is no stranger to that concept. According to WideFormatOnline.com, the international corporation has pulled back its 2020 revenue and profit forecasts due to the virus.

This news comes after its first quarter earnings saw a 14.7% drop. Officials said the global lockdown and social distancing measures have severely cut into the company's earnings, with revenue falling "to $1.86 billion in the first quarter ... [while] $173 million of operating cash flow from continuing operations was down $49 million year-over-year; $150 million of free cash flow was down $57 million."

"Our operations are being negatively affected by a range of external factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic that are not within our control," Xerox Holdings said in a statement. "Such restrictions [like the widespread quarantines and lockdowns] limit our ability, as well as that of our channel partners, to sell, install and service our equipment for our customers, negatively impacting our operations and financial performance."

Just two months ago, Xerox put its plans for a $35 billion corporate takeover of HP on ice because of the growing COVID-19 threat. With the disease expected to continue for a few months more, it's unknown when that effort will start back up again.

Regardless, Xerox CEO John Visentin pointed to past financial decisions made by the company as to why he believes it will weather the storm.

"While Xerox saw an immediate impact to our business due to the rapid implementation of lockdown measures globally, the disciplined approach we implemented over the last two years provided a foundation to move quickly to preserve cash, continue operations, provide support to our many clients on the frontlines, and apply our manufacturing and R&D expertise to help save lives," he said. "I’m incredibly proud of the Xerox team's dedication and ingenuity during this extraordinary time."

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
business.com Staff
Andrew Martins has written more than 300 articles for business.com and Business News Daily focused on the tools and services that small businesses and entrepreneurs need to succeed. Andrew writes about office hardware such as digital copiers, multifunctional printers and wide format printers, as well as critical technology services like live chat and online fax. Andrew has a long history in publishing, having been named a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner.
Image Credit: wir0man / Getty Images
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