How to Find the Best Wide-Format Inkjet Printer for Your Business
There is an endless selection of wide-format inkjet printers on the market, and many brands and models claim to offer the same benefits and capabilities. So how are you supposed to make the right decision?
This guide will help you prioritize your business’ specific needs so you can find the right wide-format printer for your application and production requirements. Read on for background information and six important factors to consider before making a decision.
What applications do you need the printer for?
Why are you looking for a new wide-format inkjet printer? What will you be printing? Here’s a look at a few of your options:
- Vehicle wraps
- Signs and banners
- Fine art
- Tradeshow displays
- Retail displays
- Textile printing for soft signage
- Wall coverings
If you have several applications in mind, try to prioritize them. You may be able to use the same printer (and ink type) for different applications, which will save your business money in the long run.
If the equipment is for a photography studio, you’ll need a printer that is compatible with photo paper. If you’re planning on making vehicle wraps, you’ll need a printer that works with adhesive print vinyl.
Substrates Determine Ink Options
Ink technology is what makes the printer work on the substrate. If you have the wrong ink chemistry, your materials won’t take to the ink properly.
With this background information in mind, here are six features to consider during your search for a new wide-format printer.
1. Production Speed
Setup and operational efficiencies can vary by brand and model. The time between starting a print job and holding the finished product in your hands may be different from the time listed on your printer’s technical specifications. Consider the following:
- Production Capacity: If you need to print 100 vinyl banners a week but your printer can only handle 20 to 30, you’re likely to fall behind in production.
- Rush Jobs: Rush jobs can provide an incredible amount of revenue. Having equipment that can tackle quick orders with ease can be well worth the investment.
- Throughput Speed: Pay attention to a printer’s throughput speed, especially if you’re looking for a machine that can handle a continuous flow of print jobs. Check if the printer’s RIP software offers concurrent processing, which is the ability to process new files while printing others. This can help minimize downtime since you won’t have to wait for a job to complete before beginning a new one.
2. Ink Technology
The ink type you need for your application is non-negotiable. Below are the four most common ink technologies, the applications they are used for and an equipment recommendation.
Solvent ink is designed for printing on vinyl. It’s the go-to choice for banners, decals, and vehicle wraps, and is the industry standard for these applications because it yields great print results and is highly cost effective.
You may need to ventilate the printer, depending on how aggressive the solvent is. Also, there is usually a 24-hour gas out period required before laminating the printed graphics.
Aqueous ink is a water-based ink used on photo paper, poster paper, canvas and other indoor materials. This type of ink is the ideal choice for goods that will be used indoors or goods that do not have a long outdoor longevity requirement. The most common applications are fine art, photography prints, and retail signage.
These inks work on most substrates that are also used with solvent inks. However, there can be higher operating costs with this technology. Heat is required to cure the ink on most substrates, which could lead to high electricity costs from running the heaters.
Many UV curable inks are ideal for vinyl substrates, soft signage fabric, tradeshow, and retail displays. This ink technology allows for immediate ink curing upon exposure to ultraviolet light, and prints can be laminated immediately without the emission of odor.
Wide-format inkjet printers are digital, so you’ll likely encounter touchscreen interfaces more frequently than traditional hard buttons. To avoid production delays, make sure that the interface and operation of the machine is easy to learn.
Also consider these logistics:
- Will there be enough room to remove the prints from the machine without damaging the print, the machine or anything else in the area?
- Does the printer need constant attention, or can it run on its own?
- Will replacing heavy rolls be too strenuous for the operator?
For usability, remember that there’s a great difference between that 54˝-wide Epson printer and 10-ft.-wide Mimaki printer when it comes to changing rolls or removing substrates. Make sure your team can handle complicated or strenuous tasks, or choose a brand and model that has an easy take up system.
You don’t want to outgrow your printer before it’s even paid off. It’s crucial to have a clear idea of your company’s priorities and where there may be growth potential in the future.
Would it be worth the investment to purchase a wide-format printer that has higher capabilities than what you currently need? If you’re concerned about scalability, look at high-end models that could best support your company’s goals for growth.
Wide-format printers are usually at least 54˝ wide. Printers for fine art and photography that are at least 24˝ are often considered wide-format. Wide-format printers can take up a lot of room when you consider the space needed for the machine and the operators.
Will you be able to change rolls without bumping into a wall? If your printer needs ventilation, you also need to make sure your space is prepared before you purchase a printer. Where will you mount, fold or finish the prints? Take measurements of your space and try a test run-through to see how big of a machine will make the most sense for your operations.
6. Environmental Impact
The environmental impact of your printing processes will depend on the ink technology. For example, aqueous inks are water-based so they have less of a negative environmental impact than solvent inks.
How you buy your ink can also have an environmental impact. For high production volumes, it makes more sense to buy ink in bulk containers instead of throwing away small cartridges more frequently. Make sure to consider the running costs of your wide-format printer. Some models might require an air conditioning unit for cooling, which means higher utility bills.
Throughout your search for a wide-format printer, ask for product samples, demos or references for each of the brands you’re considering. Vet your reseller too, since they will be your partner throughout your ownership of the printer.
Since 2001, Mike has been involved in every aspect of ITNH — from business development and marketing to sales and equipment acquisition. As a partner, Mike uses his unparalleled knowledge and expertise to continually expand ITNH’s offerings and help customers across every industry find the printing equipment and consumables they need to be profitable.