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Wide format plotters are used in a number of industries for printing jobs that are too large for normal printers to handle. They are commonly used for engineering designs, mapping, graphic art, posters and banners.

The term "wide format plotters" is actually incorrect. Technically, it refers to the old-style of plotters that created designs using a pen attached to a traveling arm. Improvements in printing technology have made those machines obsolete. But then again, the term is still used to refer to modern wide format printers.

Many dealers and manufacturers use the terms interchangeably. However, some use both, reserving the term wide format printer for higher end printers that are used for advanced graphics. In this article we'll use the terms interchangeably.

Types of Wide Format Plotters

Wide format plotters are generally at least 24" wide. The most popular size is 36". But, plotters range all the way up to more than 15' in width. Any plotter wider than 60" is known as a grand format printer.

There are two basic types of wide format plotters:

  • Ink jet plotters use a liquid ink to color the printing surface. They offer the highest resolution and are capable of printing on many types of materials and surfaces, making them popular with print and graphic design shops.
  • Toner-based plotters use heat to fuse dry toner onto the paper or printing material. They are more expensive upfront than ink jet printers. However, toner is far less expensive to replenish than ink. Toner-based printers are designed for faster, high-volume jobs. It's common to see them used in the architecture, engineering, and construction fields.

Some wide format plotters come with a scanner, which greatly increases the price - sometimes by double. Some print only in black and white, while others offer full color.

Wide Format Plotter Average Costs

Wide format plotters begin at around $1,500. For that price, you can buy a low-end ink jet printer without a scanner that is 24" wide.

A 36" wide format plotter without a scanner costs anywhere from about $2,500 to $10,000. Most inkjet printers in that size are $4,000 to $5,000, while toner-based printers cost san cost an average of $8,000 to $10,000. If you opt for the scanner, plan to spend anywhere from $12,000 to $16,000.

The largest varieties of wide format plotters are designed specifically for commercial mass production. They are far more expensive, starting at around $50,000 and running upwards of $200,000. However, those plotters are only necessary for companies with extremely high volume printing needs.

Used Wide Format Plotters

Used wide format plotters come at a significant discount. However, if you go that route then you run the risk of purchasing outdated technology. Sometimes you are better off spending a little extra for a new printer that won't be obsolete in a year or two.

If you do decide to purchase a used printer, be sure to find out if the original warranty or service plan is still in place. If it isn't then you may want to keep looking. Wide format plotters are expensive to repair. It can save money to buy used equipment. It can cost you money in repairs, as well.

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