What is a Wide Format Printer?

27th July 2021

What is Wide-Format Printing?

Also referred to as large format or grand format, wide-format printing is a method of printing large, high-quality prints onto large rolls of print media. It requires specialised wide-format printer devices, which are larger and more powerful than commercial or office printers. Wide-format printers are designed especially for high-production capacity, functioning at much faster speeds which are unattainable with other types of professional-grade printer devices; the average wide-format device can print around 15 posters per hour. Typically, wide-format printers are those which have a maximum print width of 18 to 100 inches.

What is Wide-Format Printing Used For?

Due to the devices’ unmatched versatility, wide-format printers are capable of producing materials for a wide range of projects and uses. This method of printing is ideal for any materials that are intended to catch people’s attention from afar, as well as for the production of clear and high-definition materials such as visual references to be used by designers and engineers.

Some examples of the many uses for wide-format printers include:

  • Banners and posters
  • Signage
  • Business directories
  • Floor and window displays
  • Wall art
  • Stickers
  • Large-scale photography
  • Blueprints and charts
  • Large maps for malls, trails, or communities
  • Vehicle graphics and wrappings
  • Packaging
  • T-shirts

Furthermore, some of the more technical uses for wide-format printers are explained below.

PVC Vinyl Banners

PVC vinyl banners are a great option to create a durable, weather-proof, eye-catching banner. The banners can be up to 5 metres in length, and they also come with eyelets to enable easy hanging.

Roll-up Banner Stands

Wide-format printers are ideal for printing graphics onto roll-up banner stands. These promotional tools are extremely popular and can be found pretty much anywhere, from retail and business premises to events and exhibitions.

Prints on Self-Adhesive Vinyl

Self-adhesive vinyl is a durable and long-lasting substrate that can be used effectively for prints intended to be used both indoors and outdoors. Wide-format printers produce eye-catching graphics printed onto self-adhesive vinyl that can be used on windows, walls, and hoardings.

See-through Window Graphics

Wide-format printer machinery is able to produce see-through window graphics. This process involves the device printing a series of dots that have a black coating on the inside, producing a print that is see-through from the inside out. Anyone who views the print from the outside will be able to see the graphics perfectly, without being able to see into wherever the graphics have been printed on.

How Does Wide-Format Printing Work?

After taking the needs of your project into consideration, such as the intended purpose of the prints and whether they are to be placed indoors or outdoors, you should select an appropriate media to print on. This could be one of many different types of print materials, including paper, vinyl, fabrics and textiles, and even wood, metal and other rigid materials – refer to the following section for more information on these various substrates.

When you have decided on the best print media, as well as determining the size, shape, and design of the print, the wide-format printer will be programmed with the exact dimensions to ensure it prints the design accurately and precisely onto your chosen material. The printer will then spray the ink onto your substrate to match the graphics and dimensions exactly; the exact ink that it uses will depend on whether you’re using an aqueous inkjet, solvent inkjet, or UV-based flatbed printer. Many wide-format printers feature a rapid drying process, enabling you to make use of your print as soon as it comes out of the device.

Wide-Format Printer Specifications

Printer-Only vs Multifunction

Wide-format printer models fall under two main categories: either printer-only, or multifunction.

Printer-only: Printer-only models are solely designed to be capable of printing the files sent to it from a computer or USB drive.

Multifunction: Multifunctional models perform the same job, however they have the added functionality of a scanner, which is found either on the top or the side of the device.

Usually, the multifunction printers with a scanner on the top of the device tend to be smaller in size than the models that have a standalone scanner. You should take into account both the size of your office and your expected printing requirements when deciding which type of printer will be best for your operations.

Number of Colours of Ink

The number of different colours of ink that wide-format printers use in the printing process varies between models.

4 inks: A typical entry-level device will use 4 colours of ink – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black – to print designs onto the substrate. These 4 colours are mixed together during the printing process to produce prints in the full-colour palette. 4 ink devices will be able to produce high quality prints such as CAD drawings, posters, and other similar projects.

4+ inks: Some specialised wide-format printer models have more than 4 colours, which could include light cyan, light magenta, orange, and more. These models are better suited for fine art printing projects or similar, where the end result of the print is more colour specific.

Types of Wide-Format Printer Equipment

Aqueous Inkjet Printers

Wide-format printers with aqueous inkjet technology are the most common type of wide-format printing equipment available on the market. These models provide an inexpensive way to quickly produce high quality prints, as they typically provide the fastest output combined with the highest possible resolution. They can be used for both indoor and outdoor prints, and the longevity of the prints can be enhanced by laminating them after they have been cured. They are most commonly used in the photographic and fine art industries, in addition to being utilised in trade show printing, prepress proofing, and in graphic design.

Due to the nature of aqueous inkjet wide-format printers using water based ink, they don’t require ventilation as they don’t produce harmful fumes in the same way that solvent-based inks do. There is a choice between either a UV/water-based ink, which makes the print resistant to sunlight and fading, or a dye/water based ink, which produces prints in brighter colours that may fade over time. These models of printers usually have a thermal pad that dries the print as it’s leaving the device, which speeds up the curing process and eliminates the time that is usually spent waiting for the print to dry before it can be used.

Solvent Inkjet Printers

Solvent inkjet printers are ideal wide-format printing devices for projects that require the production of prints intended for outdoor use, as the ink that they use in the printing process is durable and resistant to extreme conditions such as high heat or heavy rain. These devices use either a petroleum or petroleum-substitute ink system, meaning that once the ink on the print has completely cured, it becomes highly durable and will be resistant to scratches, weather conditions and UV damage.

The main advantages of solvent based inks are that they are less expensive than the inks used in aqueous inkjet printing, in addition to creating highly durable and weather resistant prints. However, the biggest drawback of these inks is that they produce highly noxious fumes, and will require special venting to be installed alongside the printing equipment. For this reason, solvent inkjet printers are not recommended for office use, and are more commonly installed in plants.

UV-based Flatbed Printers

UV-based flatbed printers offer the most amount of versatility in their printing functionality, and produce high quality, vivid prints that are extremely durable and weather resistant. The process that these devices use to cure the prints differs entirely from other types of wide-format printers, as they utilise an ultraviolet curable ink system that cures prints almost immediately, resulting in vibrant, embossed and water resistant printed designs. UV printers have many of the same features as solvent inkjet printers, and require less expensive inks than aqueous inkjet printers.

UV-based flatbed printers use latex and resin-based inks which both require ventilation. However, there is also the choice of water based latex ink which doesn’t require ventilation, in addition to being more environmentally-friendly. The ink system works by projecting UV light onto the design printed in UV curable ink, transforming it instantly from a liquid to a solid on the substrate of choice. The print will be fully cured almost instantly, resulting in a design that is embossed, vibrant, and fully water-resistant without the need for lamination. Many of the models are configured to be flatbed systems, meaning that users are able to print designs directly onto rigid substrates such as wood, metal, glass, and ceramic.

What Materials Can Be Used For Wide-Format Printing?

There is a huge variety of printing materials or ‘substrates’ that can be used in wide-format printing, including on paper, vinyl, and even on metal and fabrics – typically, as long as the material fits into the wide-format printer’s carrier, the device will be able to print onto it. The exact type of substrate that you choose for your prints will depend on the specific needs of your project. For instance, retail graphics require a slightly less durable, but more affordable vinyl than would be necessary for outdoor hoarding or vehicle graphics. For graphics that are to be placed in city centres, an anti-graffiti vinyl could be used to prevent vandals from degrading the visual impact of the prints.

Printing materials can be categorised as either rigid and need to be fed into the printer flat, such as metal sheeting, or those that have to be fed into the printer from a roll, such as vinyl. The most common types of wide-format printing substrates are:

Paper

Paper is one of the most popular substrates used in wide-format printing, and this is due to its versatility and abundant availability. Despite the major benefits of paper being low-cost and easy to get a hold of, it isn’t suitable to be used when making prints for outdoor or long-term installations as it isn’t extremely durable.

Vinyl

Vinyl is the ideal substrate for producing graphics to be used in outdoor and long-term installations as it is highly flexible and very easy to cut and shape. Vinyl substrates are available in a variety of different finishes, including matte or gloss finish, or reflective mirror vinyl. The versatility combined with the affordability of vinyl is what makes it the perfect choice for projects that require a more durable printing substrate. For example, vinyl tends to be used for outdoor advertising campaign materials and vehicle wraps. Vinyl prints are usually adhered to a rigid background to provide them with extra support and enhanced durability.

Fabrics and Textiles

Fabrics and textiles can also be used as wide-format printing substrates. With the increase in usage of wide-format installations such as tension fabric frames, the demand for wide-format printers has also increased. These substrates can be used in a wide range of projects, from simple frames, to large acoustic treatment panels.

Wood, Metal and Other Rigid Materials

Wood, metal and other rigid materials can be used as substrates in specialised wide-format printer equipment. Although these materials aren’t as commonly used in wide-format printing projects as vinyl or paper, they are often utilised in unusual projects such as art and photography exhibitions.