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How do I Choose the Best Large Format Printer?

By A. Rohlandt
Updated May 16, 2024
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Choosing the best large format printer will depend on the type of work you will be producing. You should evaluate quality, speed, ease of use and color reproduction. The printing of posters, especially those that have color graphics, will require a different type of large format printer than producing blueprints or large spreadsheets. You also might consider the costs of operation and maintenance in your selection.

A large format printer comes in four types: inkjet, laser, dye sublimation and plotter. Wide format printing covers paper sizes from 11-by-17 inches (28-by-43 cm) to paper rolls 100 feet (30.5 m) long with widths more than 60 inches (1.52 m). The latter are primarily used for blueprints or other templates. Inkjets are the most common in the field, and they are similar to the ones found in homes or businesses, except that they are larger and have different ink cartridge configurations.

Dye sublimation printers are less common in the larger formats, because they are used primarily for small format photo printing. They work by impregnating cyan-, magenta- and yellow-colored dyes along with a clear coat on a roll of cellophane film. A heated print head vaporizes the dye and transfers it to a specialized paper. The head makes four passes for each image, layering each color on the paper and finishing it with a clear coat. Although it produces top-quality photos, it is not very flexible for other applications because the specialized paper and the frame holding the film must be the same size as the sheet being printed.

Laser as a large format printer option offers several advantages, including speed and cost per sheet. Plotters are used for blueprints, engineering documents and simple banners. They might use a stylus or pen-type print device or an inkjet print head. Inkjet printers are the most versatile because they have the ability to handle a wide variety of printing media — foil, clear plastic, textiles and a wide range of papers in various sizes.

A very large format printer is usually found in a print shop or photo processing plant, but homes and small businesses can use the smaller models. For poster printing or banners, an inexpensive inkjet printer can be obtained, and because of the ease of use, it can be a good choice. If speed and cost per print are your main concerns, laser printers will offer the best option despite the higher initial cost.

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