If you’re a graphic designer and you work with large-scale prints, obviously you’re going to need a printer that’s capable of delivering your images. One option is to use a commercial printing service, but as your business grows and your output increases, having your own artist printer makes much more sense from an economic standpoint. Using a commercial printing company can also cause issues with consistency: what happens if the final version doesn’t match up with the proofs that you printed in-house?
If you’re serious about your graphic design business, you need to seriously think about investing in a printer.
How to choose
- Cost – prices can run incredibly high on large format printers (more on that in a minute), so you need to know that the initial financial outlay makes economic sense to your business.
- Software – check whether you’ll need to purchase additional graphic design software to run the printer, as this could blow your budget if not factored in.
- Quality – dots per inch (dpi) is a good indicator of the quality that you can expect from your printer. You should be looking for resolutions of 1000+.
- Media size – we’re only covering large format printers here, but that can could mean 20” or more than 60”. Only pay for what you’ll use.
- Inks – for greater gradation, look for models with more inks and specialist ones such as whites and metallics.
- Speed – as well as the actual print speeds, think about how long cleaning and media changeovers can take to get a more accurate page per hour (or square foot per hour, if more relevant to you).
- Media type – large-format printers can handle various materials, from rigid substrates to vinyl and canvas.
- Usage - will your work be used indoor or outdoor? Do you create vehicle wraps, or is your work used for signs? Different uses require different print capabilities.
Best budget option
The best consumer printer for graphic designers on the market right now comes from Canon and delivers stunning quality and performance for a surprisingly low price.
+ Six color inking system
+ Lots of connectivity options
+ Great affordable price
- Slower than similar models
- Print size: 13”
- Resolution: 9,600 x 2,400 dpi
- Number of inks: 6
- Dimensions: 23.3 x 13.1 x 6.3 inches (W x D x H)
The resolution delivers impressive quality, and the Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) fires tiny ink droplets for superior detail and accuracy. The six inks deliver superb color accuracy and can be replaced individually which will save you money. The extra gray ink gives incredible detail in monochrome designs, and the pigment-black will give you line work and text that’s as crisp as it comes.
This printer isn’t lacking in connectivity options: as well as wireless connectivity it also supports mobile printing through Canon PRINT, Apple AirPrint, and Google Cloud Print. You can also print photos directly from your camera with PictBridge, or plug in via USB for a speedy wired connection.
This Canon is a little slower than some comparable models, and you’re looking at around 36 seconds for a color photo. You’ll also need to feed paper manually most of the time, so you’ll need to factor this in when calculating how long print jobs will take you. But for the price, it offers an incredible level of quality that graphic designers will love.
If you need to print large-format, but your budget is more modestly sized, HP’s T120 is our favorite affordable option.
+ Flexible media options
+ Compact footprint for small spaces
+ Mobile connectivity is easy to use
- Prints can sometimes be grainy
- Print size: 24”
- Resolution: 1,200 x 1,200 dpi
- Number of inks: 4
- Dimensions: 38.9 x 20.9 x 11.2 inches (W x D x H)
If you want to spend less than $1,000, spend it on this compact and flexible inkjet printer.
Although mainly targeted at the architecture industry, you won’t get better large format graphic design prints for the price.
Setup is easy and is much more user-friendly than some of the higher-end products on the market. Print speeds are faster than others in the same price range, and apart from some occasional faint banding, prints are bright and vibrant.
The four inks cover the usual CMYK range, and the pigment-based black ink is rich and long-lasting. Prints can be done on rolls, cut sheets or via its ADF (automatic document feeder), and it’s possible to print on coated paper, film, and photographic paper.
This printer doesn’t have the multiple black and grey-scale cartridges that some other models have, so if you use a lot of monochrome in your designs it might be worth looking for a printer that performs better in this area. But, if you’re looking for a large-format printer that won’t break the bank, the T120 is a great choice.
If you have more of a budget to spend, Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF770 printer delivers high-quality, large-scale printing that graphic designers will love.
+ Matte black ink delivers fine, accurate lines
+ Economic modes keep costs down
+ Caters to a wide range of media
- Paper can curl in the hammock
- Print size: 36”
- Resolution: 2,400 x 1,200 dpi
- Number of inks: 5
- Dimensions: 51 x 34 x 42 inches (W x D x H)
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a commercial printer but you want professional quality, this Canon has got you covered. Setup is fast considering the spec of the printer, and it’s a pleasure to use.
The five-piece dye ink set adds matte black to CMYK for enhanced linework and text. Bleeding is minimal, keeping your prints as crisp as you designed them to be, and the print-head delivers these inks with exceptional accuracy
Draft mode is great for printing proofs, and they only take approximately 25 seconds which is ideal if you have clients on-site waiting to see your work. Economy mode uses less ink than standard mode and is also good for keeping costs down when producing check plots.
It’s possible to print on photo paper and coated paper, as well as film and vinyl, giving you plenty of flexibility as a designer. Your media will curl in the hammock that’s intended to catch it though, so don’t let your prints build up for too long before moving them to a flat surface.
For large workloads and extra-large prints, this Epson SureColor P9000 has the pro-grade specification needed to make your prints shine.
+ Outstanding color reproduction
+ Precision print head delivers incredible accuracy
+ Powerful onboard controller makes operation easy
- Doesn’t wake itself to do scheduled cleanings
- Print size: 44”
- Resolution: 2,800 x 1,440 dpi
- Number of inks: 12
- Dimensions: 26 x 74 x 48 inches (W x D x H)
Designed for professionals, this Epson printer packs a precision print head and powerful controls into one awesome package. Setup is more complex than with the cheaper printers, but with it comes great features like the internal print server which is great if you have large batches of printing to do.
12 inks deliver lifelike shades and tones that produce your work exactly as you intended it to be produced. The color gamut is wider than previous Epson large-format printers too, and the violet ink gives you up to 99% Pantone formula guide matching, so you won’t be disappointed with the final results.
The printer can handle rolls and sheets of varied thickness, and at a maximum width of 44” there aren’t many projects that this printer won’t cover you for.
The main drawback with this model is the fact that it won’t wake itself to do scheduled cleaning which is far from ideal as forgetting to do it can lead to the print head drying out. It’s possible to schedule an automated daily print job which will at least keep the nozzles active during periods of low usage. There are no other significant drawbacks for us though, so if you have the budget and space, Epson’s P9000 is a very good option.
It’s worth noting that Epson’s P7000 has the exact same spec but prints at 24”, so if you don’t need the entire 44” it’s worth considering instead.
Consumer vs industrial
If you print large-scale pieces you’ll know that industrial printers that are capable of doing the job often have a huge price tag. But, are there lower-priced options out there that allow for large-scale printing? And if so, what’s the difference?
As with everything, you get what you pay for, and $30,000+ will buy you all the printer that you could ever need. But, if you don’t have that kind of money there are some incredible options available for a tiny percentage of the cost. Cheaper consumer options will usually be limited to around 30” rather than the 60+” that industrial models are capable of, and not all of them will have the extra inks that can deliver more accurate color reproduction. You may also lose a little bit of quality due to less advanced print heads, but it’s still absolutely possible to create complex designs on large scale without noticing a drop in accuracy.
It’s also worth noting that if you do decide to go for a commercial model there’s usually the option to lease rather than buy, which may be a more budget-friendly option if you don’t want to settle for semi-industrial.
The following three printers are our favorite consumer and semi-industrial large-format options for smaller budgets.
On a final note
Contrary to popular belief, it certainly is possible to buy a large format printer without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, you sacrifice some of the perks that come with spending more, but you can enjoy a high level of quality and productivity at budget-friendly prices.
Which large format printer do you swear by for your graphic design work? Let us know in the comments.