Copy Craze: Think, Print Big

Large-format printers deliver more ways to use color.

July 1, 2005

With desktop printers being so reliable these days, the only limits to your use of color to produce marketing materials are your own imagination and the size of paper that can pass through your printer.

That’s changing, though, with the emergence of entry-level large-format printers. These units cost much more than a desktop printer ($700 and up), but they allow you more creative control and can save you money on color graphics for signs and other marketing materials. Plus, they plug right into your computer system or network and operate like the inkjet and laser printers you’ve been using.

Does a large-format printer make sense for you? To answer that, consider:

  • The limitations of your current printer. Desktop units usually can’t handle anything larger than legal-size paper, which is 8.5-by-14 inches. A large-format printer simply gives you more options, such as tabloid-size prints (11-by-17 inches), which make floor plans or survey maps easier to view.
  • What you outsource. A large-format printer can save you money on printing some of the large graphics you use on a regular basis. By bringing these printing jobs in-house, you’ll enjoy faster turnaround and photo-quality signs ready within hours of getting a listing.
  • Whether you have the time and space. No matter how fast your printer, printing graphics in-house adds another responsibility and drain on your time. These printers claim more space than desktop printers. Plus you’ll need space to store the variety of print media—paper, vinyl, film—you may want to use with the printer. Even more work area will be needed to mount adhesive-backed synthetic paper or vinyl and protective laminate films for more durable poster-board signs.

Some large-format printers currently available include:

  • Hewlett Packard’s DesignJetSeries. Includes several models available for less than $1,500. For example, the DesignJet 130 ($1,295) is a six-color printer with a 24-inch page width, image resolution of 2,400-by-1,200 dpi, and maximum print length of 50 feet. It can be used with sheet-fed or rolled print media. Even more affordable is the smaller four-color DesignJet 70 ($795), which prints on sheet-fed media up to 24 inches in length at a maximum resolution of 1,200-by-600 dpi.
  • Epson Stylus Pro. Starts with the entry-level Epson Stylus Pro 4000, a seven-color model ($1,795) that prints on rolled or sheet-fed print media up to 17 inches wide and delivers photo-quality resolution up to 2,880-by-1,440 dpi. The step-up Epson Stylus Pro 7800 ($2,995) is an eight-color printer with a maximum width of 24 inches. Both units work with sheet-fed or rolled print media.
  • Canon’s imagePROGRAF W6400. At $3,495, this printer features a maximum print speed of 158 square feet per hour in its draft mode at 1200-by-1200 dpi. This seven-color printer prints on rolled media up to 24 inches wide and maximum print resolution of 1,200-by-2,400 dpi.

If you decide a large-format printer is a good investment, look beyond the printer itself as you evaluate options.

  • Compatible media. Inquire about the selection of print media available from the manufacturer, as well as the thickness of the print media that can pass through the printer. The more options you have, the more uses you’ll find for the printer.
  • Print life. The vendor should be able to provide some estimate on the durability of prints on a range of print media. This is especially important if you plan on producing signs that will be left exposed to the sun and weather. In general, pigment-based inks hold up better than dye-based inks.
  • Total cost. Factor in the price of print media, ink, and regularly required maintenance, such as replacement of print heads—the part of the printer that transfers the ink to the printing media—for a realistic estimate of the total cost of large-format printers. Optional expenses, which add to the purchase price, may include a network interface, paper cutter, or extended service plan.

A large-format printer may not be practical for every real estate professional. But for the real estate office, salesperson, or teams who aggressively market listings with printed materials, investing in one of these units can reduce printing costs as well as give you more creative control and options in your use of color.

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