How To Choose The Right Fine Art Photo Printer Model
What Is The Right Model Printer
If you’re reading this, you find yourself at the crossroads of which many-a print’n professional have stood. There are so many printer options to choose from, how do I know which is the right one? After all, it’s a printer, so it prints things… if it says photo printer, that should be ok, right? Wrong! Printers are not one-size-fits-all.
In this post, I will break it down into 3 categories to help give you a better understanding of which printer works best in different types of situations. By the end of this page, you’ll feel more confident about how to choose the right fine art photo printer model and identifying a printer that will perform well for you without breaking the bank.
Why Choose A Printer Based on Usage & Volume
The most important focus should be usage and print volume when comparing printers. Unfortunately, many people start by looking at the price and physical size. Though they are also important, they’re on the lower end of importance when comparing printer models. An under-powered printer not only limits your workflow, it actually costs significantly more money. At ProPrinting Systems, we classify photo and fine art printers into 3 categories.
Each of those categories is defined by things like media and supply handling, capability, durability, cost-effectiveness, and physical size.
I promise not to deep dive into features and benefits – but I will quickly draw attention to important elements that help determine a printer’s category.
The decision is not as simple as “if you print this, you need that printer” (though I’ll try to stick as close to that as possible).
Home Studio, Freelance, & Hobbyist
The most easily defined category is the home studio, freelance, & hobbyist printer category. Very simply put, these printers were designed for those that want to casually print their work for personal use, or to offer smaller prints as an upsell to their clients. They are attractive because a photographer at any level can quickly deliver a print to a customer at any moment of the day or night.
They do have some limitations, but if your only deciding factors are the print size, only a few prints a month, or physical space available, a home studio, freelance, & hobbyist photo printer can be useful.
But wait, I mentioned limitations… what exactly is a limitation of a printer? I need a print, just hit print, and it prints… Done deal, right? Not exactly.
The first limitation is media handling. If you’re just getting into printing, paper is called “media” in the industry. Small, entry-level printers may not facilitate the use of certain types of media like canvas, silk, or thick rag style media. Additionally, some of the entry-level models may only have cut-sheet media as an option as opposed to roll feed models. It should be noted that roll media typically costs less than cut-sheet, and it’s more efficient.
Speaking of cost, smaller printers are known to have a higher cost per print based on the use of smaller, more expensive, ink tanks (higher cost per ml).
Printers are available in different widths at this level, but large format printers are usually 17-inches and up. Some are also designed to sit on a desktop, while others can be mounted on a stand. Going the desktop route may save a few bucks compared to the models that mount on a stand but looking at the other things discussed here (particularly cost per print) may persuade you to go with a printer in the next category up.
Small to Large Studio
The most common model photo printers we sell fall into the studio printer category. They offer the same easy access to print – any time day or night, but they can handle a higher printer volume, a larger variety of media, larger ink supplies, and some models can handle multiple rolls of media for expanded print capability.
Because printers in this category have larger widths (24, 44, 60, and even 64-inches) and they work with more media types, you can print your own advertising graphics for the studio windows, banners for roadside signs, backdrops, props, and much more. When considering the options available to you with such a powerful printer, the opportunities are seemingly endless.
Long story short, the studio level printers save money on marketing and design and earn more money with every image sold.
Giclee & Print Shops
This category has similar criteria to the studio printer, but best serves a commercial environment with longer print runs and maximum efficiency. Printing in this category requires a printer that can handle large capacity ink tanks (up to 700ml), multiple rolls (and types) of media, and in some cases a take-up reel that can accommodate long runs.
Dangers of Getting The Wrong Model
When looking at the 30,000-foot view, any printer can produce a quality print quite easily. The difference-maker for which is the right model comes in the overall cost associated with every sheet delivered by the printer, the pace at which you need it to operate, and the amount of time you have to dedicate to interacting with the printer.
Each of the categories has printers available in various widths, but the 2 most common sizes are 24 and 44-inch printer surfaces. They all accommodate multiple roll sizes up to their max-width.
Need Help Determining Your Need, Print Volume, or Choosing A Printer
I’m glad you’re still reading! Every customer is different, and every printer is different.
Check out our photo printer buyer’s guide that helps identify things to look for (or look out for) when considering a printer purchase.
A large format printer should work for you as a resource, almost like an employee. Choosing the wrong model printer will slow you down, cost you more money, be extremely discouraging, and ultimately send you back to the expensive print shop… which is most likely what sent you looking for an in-house printer in the first place. Getting the right printer will pay dividends and take your business to new heights!
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