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How to choose a printer

Is it for shop drawings or to an impress a customer?
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Remember blueprints? Some of you younger readers probably don’t, but for over a century they were the principal specification drawings used in the construction and woodworking industries.

Introduced by Sir John Herschel in 1842, a blueprint is a reproduction of a technical drawing onto light sensitive paper. You ended up with the white lines of the drawing against a dark blue background.

Whiteprints came about in the 1940s, made using a process known as diazo which used a newer form of light sensitive paper and chemicals that were simpler and less toxic. This process left the background white and the lines blue or black. It was a faster and less expensive process but required the use of an ammonia-based chemical. The smell did not go over well.

In the early 2000’s, faster ink pen-based printer/plotters came about to keep up with the speed of CAD drawing. Then the technology of the xerographic printing process found its way into copiers that could produce full-sized prints, up to 48” wide x 36” high.

For woodshops to effectively use CAD-based drawing programs, a plan-sized printer/plotter, known as wide-format printers, are appropriate. But the choices are many, including inkjet, laser and LED models. They are also available as combined scanners and copiers, and with numerous accessories to increase productivity. Prices range from reasonable to mind boggling.

As you begin the buying process, start by examining what is needed for in-house and selling purposes. Black line prints are adequate for shop use, but customers will be more impressed with color printing.

Also consider if your CAD software requires a specialized print driver, which means the computer and printer can talk to each other, and whether your shop uses a WiFi connection, an option on some wide-format printers.

Support and service is also important. Fortunately, most major manufacturers produce dependable wide-format printers and can solve most problems over the telephone.

Inkjet wide-format printers are the least expensive option out of the box. It’s a mature technology, responsible for countless sets of plans. They are available with four, six or eight color cartridges. The catch is the high cost of the replacement cartridges, which is where the printer manufacturers make their money.

Laser wide-format printers are another mature technology. They have high upfront and replacement cartridge costs, but the print quality is excellent and the cost per page – compared to inkjet printers - is significantly less.

LED wide-format printers have the greatest life span. The technology incorporates a semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it. Thus, there are fewer moving parts and no filaments to replace. They also have the advantage of producing a higher dots-per-inch (DPI) output, which translates to a very high-quality color print.

Laser and LED wide-format printers have the capability to can scan, copy, store multiple paper rolls, and send DXF files. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.

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