Running cost and Printer size
Printers are available in a variety of sizes from desktop A4, A3 & A2 printers through to the 24”, 44”, 64” & 96” wide, large format printers. The most popular size is perhaps an A3+, this is due to the high uptake from the semi professional and amateur hobbyist market. For professional photographers an A2 or larger is probably a better choice, for both versatility and running costs. The greatest expense will be the cost of ink, A3 cartridges generally contain between 16 to 27ml of ink, whereas larger format printers use larger capacity cartridges, generally 80 – 120ml of ink. Working at a cost per ml of ink, smaller capacity cartridges are noticeably more expensive than larger cartridges.
Besides ink choice you should also be looking to the media type the printer can handle. Most printers use a rear gravity feed, stack the media, single or multiple sheets, in the rear tray and it is fed through the printer path at a 45 degree angle making a small bend before exiting out on the front tray. The small bend may limit the media thickness that can be used, generally media up to 160gsm can be fed through a rear feed tray. Some printer models may have a front loading tray, this requires you to place the media face down in the tray. The media is then drawn into the printer making a severe U turn in order to ensure the coated surface is face up to the print heads. The front loading tray has limitations especially if you want to use some of the thicker Fine Art media.
Thick or heavy weight media and board require a straight paper path. The straight paper path on most printers is located at the front of the printer, not to be confused with a front loading media tray. The tray is normally a drop down flap, once this is activated the print heads automatically raise to a higher position, this is important when using board media which can be up to 1.5mm thick. Load the paper or board into the straight feed tray, it is then drawn into the printer making an exit at the rear, you should ensure there is plenty of un-obstructed space behind the printer. The media is then drawn back in during the printing process making its exit at the front.
Large format printers also have the ability to use roll media. Roll media is available in a variety of widths and lengths as well as different surface types. Media is loaded onto rear holders. Using roll media is a very economical way of printing. However, if you only require an A3 or smaller size print then it goes without saying you are going to waste a lot of paper. The print or media length is determined by the image size, but the width will always be the width of the media in use. The most cost effective way to print using roll media is to print multiple images using RIP software such as Shiraz RIP Server V8. This software will arrange print jobs to maximize the print area available thereby ensuring a minimum amount of media waste. Large format printers have a cutter built in which cuts the finished printed area from the roll, but when printing multiple print sizes, you will still have to trim the prints manually.