Plotters, or Wide Format Printers, are interchangeable names for printers that can print designs wider than 24 inches. The standard size for a wide format printer is 36 inches, although they are also available in a few other widths.
Wide format printers for CAD fall under 3 categories; entry-level, professional-level, production-level. I’ll just focus on entry-level and professional-level for this post.
An entry level printer is a good choice for a home office or single user. They range in price between $1500 and $3000. One reason they’re considered entry level is the small ink cartridges and limited paper capacity. You should keep in mind, the larger the ink cartridge, the lower the price per print. Also, if you try to use an entry level printer in a workgroup setting, somebody is going to be changing ink constantly.
An entry level plotter can only hold a 150 foot roll of paper, the frame or printer stand is not as sturdy as on a professional level printer, and prints drop in a basket under the printer.
A professional level plotter is engineered for workgroups that print less than 3000 square feet per month. Unattended printing is possible because they can hold large ink cartridges (>300 ml), stack prints flat, and have beefy processors for processing complex files quickly. Professional-level printers are more reliable and durable than entry level printers.
Prices for professional level-printers range between $,3000 - $10,000. Price per print is considerably less than entry-level printers at about $0.08 per sq.ft. The price of the printer is determined by its capabilities, i.e. single-roll, dual-roll, width, integrated scanner, Adobe PostScript, overall productivity.
It’s been my experience that all too often, businesses wait until a plotter crashes, then place the buying criteria more on what can be purchased for less than $3000 than on what truly fits their needs and end up with an entry-level printer trying to meet the demands of a busy design department. The plotter is a critical business tool. Spend some time with an experienced printer provider to help you find a wide format printer that aligns with your workflow.
A final word that factors in to the cost – maintenance. While inkjet plotters include a limited time warranty – usually 1 year, plan to extend the warranty or purchase a service plan. This is the best way to extend the life of your printer and avoid costly downtime.