Wide-Format Printer Buying Guide

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It’s always a good idea to buy the most flexible wide-format printer your company can afford so that it can fulfill a variety of roles in your business. But with all the things wide printers can do, this notion can only go so far.

Beyond the basics (banners, posters and in-store marketing materials), there are several types of jobs that require specialized equipment to get the job done quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s creating photorealistic images for a product introduction, outdoor materials for a store opening or printing on fabrics for a fashion show, you need to use a wide printer that’s been designed for a specific task.

Editor’s note: Looking for a wide-format printer? We can help you choose the one that’s right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

To start, most wide-format marketing materials can be created with a workhorse printer capable of printing many different types of materials. With the ability to apply between four and six different inks onto a roll of media between 24 and 54 inches, it can do everything from store end caps to a wall banner that screams “SALE”.

Take Canon’s imagePROGRAF TX-4000, a $6,500 printer that spools out prints up to 44 inches wide. It uses five pigment-based inks that are sprayed through more than 15,000 nozzles for an overall resolution of 2,400 x 1,200 dots per inch (dpi). In addition to the expected variety of matte and glossy papers, the TX-4000 is versatile enough to print on polypropylene and vinyl, although its output will not weather well outdoors.

Credit: Canon USA Inc.

That’s where a dedicated printer for outdoor materials comes in. Rather than using inks designed for indoor use, these printers use formulations that are either solvent-or latex-based. The former melts the surface to seep in, while the latter creates a strong bond with the material’s surface. The result is a print that can live outdoors through rain, bright sunlight and wind without significantly bleaching, cracking or fading.

For example, the HP Latex R2000+ can work with stock of up to 98.4 inches, can print with nine different latex-based inks and has huge 5-liter ink cartridges that can cut costs. The R2000+ can print on anything from poster paper and vinyl to polyester, canvas and polypropylene. [Interested in wide-format printers? Check out our reviews on our sister site Business.com.]

Credit: HP Development Company LP

At more than $200,000, it’s a lot of printer, but its output is sharp and glossy, perfect for billboards, event graphics, bus shelters and outdoor posters. By contrast, the $55,000 Roland VersaUV LEC-540’s inks use a mixture of solvents that penetrate the media’s surface forming a tight bond. While Roland’s Eco-UV inks come in cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white, the printer can also apply a protective clear top coat.

Credit: Roland DGA Corporation

On the downside, the solvent ink requires a blast of ultraviolet light to cure the image, which slows the process. The prints emerge dry to the touch, flexible and fused to the substrate’s surface.

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The 54-inch wide printer is just as good at making outdoor banners that hold up well in the wind or for stick-on appliques that need to adhere to a curved surface.

When it comes to making photorealistic prints, the more colors the printer can marshal, the richer, sharper and more vibrant the output. While a poster printed on a basic wide-format printer might appear OK, next to one created by a photorealistic printer, it would look crude and garish.

With the ability to spray up to nine inks onto 44-inch wide media, the $3,200 Epson SureColor P8000 can work with the choice of four different blacks, cyan and light cyan, vivid and light magenta, yellow, orange, green and violet. The ink can be purchased in 150-, 350- and 700-ml cartridges for a good mix of flexibility and economy.

Credit: Epson America Inc.

The best part is that the P8000’s 2880 x 1440 dpi resolution translates into big prints with pinpoint accuracy, smooth gradients and rich colors. In fact, when museums need to print digital material for exhibitions, they often choose the P8000 for its faithful color reproduction and assortment of media.

With a traditional loom, getting a custom fabric take weeks if not months and can cost thousands of dollars in setup fees. You can produce your own textiles in an hour by either printing directly onto the fabric or using the two-step dye sublimation process.

Happily, Mimaki’s TS300P-1800 and TX 300P-1800 fraternal twins do both. The TS300P uses a two-step dye sublimation process, while the TX300P prints right onto a variety of fabrics. Both are good for a variety of textiles, including fashion, drapery, personalized sports uniforms and instant flags. They cost $32,000 for the TS300P and $36,000 for the TX300P.

Credit: ITNH

While the two printers share a common print engine, they differ in the details. For instance, the TS300P’s maximum print width is 76.4 inches while the TX300P maxes out at 74 inches. On the other hand, the TX300P can deliver 1,440 dpi graphics while the TS300P is limited to 1,080 dpi printing.

The big differentiator is ink, with the TX300P’s textile pigment ink available in black, two magentas, two blues and yellow. By contrast, the TS300P can also use fluorescent pink and yellow inks that really stand out for vibrant designs. Both come in two-liter containers for quick and economical refills.

While large companies that do a lot of wide printing can afford to take a “one of each” approach, smaller ones will find it hard to justify getting specialty printers. The best strategy is to get the printers required for the high volume use and farm out those specialty print jobs that can’t be done in-house.

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