How Much Does a Wide Format Printer Cost?

If you regularly make prints that are over 2 feet wide, you might want to consider buying a wide format printer. Wide format printers, which are sometimes called plotters, can generate oversized prints in color or black and white on a variety of substrates. Printing widths of 24” to 72” or more are possible. A wide format device can easily and efficiently produce large, attention-grabbing prints. From banners, to vehicle wraps, to signage, wide format machines can be a useful tool for producing oversized prints. If you are investigating wide format printers, you have come to the right place, as Virginia Business Systems is a leading seller of these systems.

Once you decide that you may need a wide format printer, the next steps are to research features, capabilities, and price. It can be a challenge to research wide format device prices, because they vary so much. But in this article, we will try to cut through the clutter and provide realistic and honest price estimates to help you develop your budget for buying a wide format printer.

What Is a Wide Format Printer?

Wide Format printer

The general definition of a wide format printer is a printer that has a maximum substrate width between 24 and 100 inches. There are several varieties of wide format printers, such as aqueous inkjet, solvent inkjet, UV inkjet, and toner-based.

The most common type is the aqueous inkjet printer, which is known for speed, quality of output, and lower costs. Solvent inkjet printers use durable solvent-based inks that make them appropriate for outdoor applications, as they hold up well to weather and extreme conditions. However, solvent inks may be toxic, and in many cases are not environmentally friendly. UV inkjet printers are commonly configured as flatbed models, which allows them to print on a very wide range of substrates. These devices use UV light to cure the ink in matter of seconds. The ink in UV inkjet printers tends to be very durable, much like the ink in solvent ink devices. Finally, there are toner-based wide format printers. Toner-based machines use dry toner that is fused to the substrate with heat and pressure, much like a copier or laser printer.

Wide format printing is economical for short-run or one-off projects such as banners, car wraps, engineering drawings and trade show signage.

Wide Format printer

Wide Format Printer Types

There are two general imaging systems for wide format printers:

  • Toner-based
  • Ink-based or Inkjet

Toner-based wide format printers use dry toner that is transferred to the substrate via a photoreceptor drum, and the dry toner is fused (melted) into the paper using a heated roller or fuser. Ink-based or inkjet wide format printers spray droplets of ink onto the paper, moving the droplets through a nozzle assembly using heat and pressure. Wide format printers are most commonly used in graphic design and the AEC (architects, engineers, and construction) industry.

If you are a graphic designer, you will likely prefer an inkjet wide format printer because you will be printing in full color on a variety of substrates (textiles and papers). A color inkjet wide format printer can print in color on a wide range of stocks in high-resolution. If you are creating outdoor signage, you will want an inkjet wide format printer that uses UV-based inks for durability and colorfastness outdoors.

If you are an engineer or an architect, you will probably prefer a toner-based wide format device. They are great for drafting and CAD applications. They’re faster than inkjet and are designed for higher print volumes.

What Size Wide Format Printer Do I Need?

Once you’ve determined what ink is best for your needs, next you will want to consider format size. Wide format printers come in following sizes:

Wide format printers generally print on rolls of paper or other substrates that are up to 300 feet long. Flatbed wide format devices can print on an amazing variety of substrates that are vacuum-mounted to a large table where the substrate is then printed on. Flat bed wide format printers can handle substrates as thick as 4 inches.

For most applications, 36 inches is the standard format size. A 36-inch wide format printer is large enough to handle most engineering drawings or blueprints. When determining the best size device for a graphic arts application, consider what you will be printing. Size your device based on the type of project you normally print or anticipate printing. For example, if you are in the outdoor advertising or billboard business, there are wide format printers that can generate prints up to 16 feet wide!

What Factors Drive Up the Cost of a Wide Format Printer?

Better Print Quality Almost Always Increases the Cost

Print quality has an influence on price. The cost of a wide format printer usually increases as a function of print quality. Consider the following factors:

Resolution

Droplet size

Number of ink colors

Print resolution is based on the number of dots per inch (DPI) the device can print. Droplet size is also a factor, generally the smaller the ink droplet size, the higher the DPI and the better the print quality will be. Also, the more ink colors, the higher the quality will be. A 12-ink printer will produce higher quality color images and a larger color gamut (gamut = range of colors) than a 6-ink printer.

The best way to judge print quality is to look at a sample printed on the device you are considering. Be sure the sample is printed on the same substrate with the same print settings you will be using as part of your work. Print quality can vary significantly with paper type and print settings.

Better print quality = higher price.

Faster Print Speed Usually Means Higher Price, But Not Always

Print speed is another critical data point to think about. Toner printer speed is measured by how many D-size prints it can output in a minute. A D-size print is 24 inches by 36 inches. It is the standard size for architecture and engineering applications. The speed of inkjet printers is measured by how many square feet they can print per minute. When comparing speeds, keep in mind the relationship between print speed and image quality. Most inkjet wide format printers print faster at a lower quality setting. Be sure the device you are evaluating can produce the quality you need. THEN evaluate the print speed!

  • If you print 2000 D-size prints or more per month, you will probably want a toner-based wide format printer
  • If your print volume is lower, say less than 2000 D-size prints per month, an inkjet printer will likely be a better choice
  • Toner-based wide format printers usually cost more than a comparable inkjet model, but toner-based devices almost always cost less to operate

Printer Features Will Add Cost

Another important factor to consider is the functions and features that are included with the wide format printer:

  • Scan/Copy Function allows the printer to scan hard copy originals and make a specified number of copies
  • Paper Cutter automatically separates each print from roll of paper
  • Multiple Paper Sources hold more than one size roll at a time to allow for printing of different sized documents, or different substrate types
  • Media Bins and Catch Trays will automatically gather and sort output to allow for unattended operation of your wide format printer
  • High-end DFE/RIP such as Onyx, Caldera, or EFI Fiery will add speed, functionality, color management, and the ability to drive multiple wide format print engines

Size is Important, and Larger Usually Costs More

There is not much to say here, other than there is a direct correlation between larger format size and cost of the device, no matter what type of wide format printer we are talking about.

What Factors Drive the Cost of Wide Format Printers Down?

New Versus Used

New Versus Used

Like pretty much everything else in life and business, buying used can save you a bundle. However, it is important to consider a few factors. What type of wide format device are you considering? Toner-based devices tend to last longer and have a longer service life than inkjet wide format printers. A lightly used demo unit from a wide format printer dealer will almost always have fewer impressions and a longer projected service life than a used device from a busy production shop. Be sure to ask questions about age, how many prints, and what environment a used wide format print device is coming from before you buy.

The technology used in toner equipment has generally stayed constant. Toner-based wide format printers are usually more durable and last longer than inkjet printers and there are many used toner printers on the market. If you want a toner-based printer but can’t quite cover the up-front cost of a new model, a used toner-based printer can be a wise choice. Some dealers will even offer the same warranties and service agreements that they offer for new devices.

New Versus Used
Ink Versus Toner

Ink Versus Toner

The acquisition cost of an inkjet wide format device should be less than that of a comparable toner- based device in most cases. However, the overall operating cost of toner-based technology is usually less expensive than inkjet, especially UV-based inkjet. Consider your applications (engineering instead of graphic arts), substrates, and print volumes before making a cost-based decision on the type of colorant you will be using.

Roll-fed is Usually Cheaper Than Flatbed

If you do not need to print on three-dimensional substrates, or on items that are less than 1/16 of an inch thick, you can generally get away with a less expensive roll fed wide format printer instead of a flat bed machine.

OK, So What Do Wide Format Printers Actually Cost?

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Below are some estimated costs for some different varieties of wide format printers:

Why are Some Wide Format Printer Dealers More Expensive?

Printing Dealers more expensive

As you begin to research wide format printer costs, you may realize that there are substantial cost and price differences between dealers, even for the exact same wide format device. You may ask yourself why. Here are some possible explanations:

  • Some dealers are more expensive because they have more skilled and experienced wide format printer technicians who command higher salaries which equates to higher cost. This will actually work in your favor as a customer in the long run, as a cheap wide format device will end up costing you more in the long run if it is down and not running.
  • Some wide format printer dealerships charge more because of the brand of production printer(s) that they represent. Much like automobiles, some brands command a higher price. A Mercedes is going to cost more than a Ford. A similarly featured Mimaki wide format printing device may cost more than an HP. Be sure to understand and communicate your device requirements when discussing wide format print costs with a dealer. Be sure to understand your consumable and service contract costs as well.
Printing Dealers more expensive

Why are Some Production Printing Dealers Less Expensive?

Printing Dealers less expensive

Much like the question about why some production printer dealers are MORE expensive than others, consider the following:

  • Some wide format printer dealers have high turnover of their service technicians which means that they may have less experienced techs on staff. Less experienced techs can mean that they are paid less and may have lower service overhead costs. This is actually a bad thing for customers, as they may suffer more downtime as the less experienced technicians learn on the job.
  • Some dealerships may represent less expensive brands of wide format machines.
  • Other dealers may be high-volume sellers of wide format devices which means they may have more experience placing wide format machines, and the efficiency they have developed allows them to charge a lower price.
  • Some less-than-honest companies may be selling a wide format printer as a new device, but it may be refurbished or may be a demo unit with some number of prints already on it. Be sure to ask your wide format sales professional to tell you about the history of any wide format machine you are proposing to buy.

Where does Virginia Business Systems Fit?

Virginia Business Systems tend to sit in the center of the price range for wide format printing devices. Not too cheap, not too expensive, but just right. We employ experienced, skilled wide format technicians and we pay them a salary that is commensurate with their abilities. We also sell a consistently high volume of wide format systems, so we understand our processes and can sell and service with a high degree of efficiency. We also have some used wide format devices in our inventory and showrooms that are available as more cost-effective options for your wide format printing requirements.

So if you are interested in learning more about wide format printing, please fill out the form below and an experienced member of our wide format printer sales team will reach out to you.

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