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The Best Printers for Graphic Designers in 2016 & How To Choose What’s Right For You

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This article has been contribute by Nicholas Brown.

Graphic designers work with print more than most other creatives today. Once everything is approved and sent out for printing, your commercial printer will do an amazing job for sure, but until then you need to show your client that it’s worth the investment long before your design goes into full production.

Effectively presenting your vision to a client is next to impossible if your final product doesn’t look like a final product. The in-house printing of proofs will give you more control and a more accurate visual of what the final printed product will look like. How do you get started?

Best Printers for Graphic Designers

There are always new models coming out with fancy new features, but below we look at the best printers for graphic designers in 2016, and guide you through choosing what is right for you.

Choosing between a laser or inkjet printers

Deciding whether your needs are better served by an inkjet or laser printer used to be easy. The differences between speed, color, and image resolution between the two used to be stark, but in the past several years the technological weaknesses of each have largely caught up with the strengths of the other. The question now is less about choosing between the color and sharpness of inkjet versus the speed and ruggedness of laser, but more about selecting a printer with a higher pages-per-month capacity and lower cartridge replacement price ratio for your business.

A lot of your choice comes down to the type of imagery you commonly work with. If you occasionally print proofs for in-house review, or it’s but a small part of what you do, the low material cost of a laser printer may appeal to you (especially if you are sharing your printer with others who print a lot of text documents). Still, the majority of today’s recommended professional photo printers are inkjet, and the improved results you get from even mid-range inkjets printing images is stark. As you get closer to photo quality images in your proofs the likelihood that you’ll be shopping for an inkjet (with pigmented inks, usually) goes up considerably. A lot of this comes down to the type of work you are doing and how efficacious, convenient, and budget-conscious bringing a print-shop quality printer into your studio or office will be in the long run.

Individual ink tanks

Ink Tanks

Your inkjet printer head should have individual tanks for each color. If your printer has one cartridge for all three colors, not only is there a higher likelihood of them clogging, but the chance of color bleeding and casts is much higher. If you require photo quality images in your design, choosing a photo inkjet printer with more than four color pots will improve the color and sharpness of your images. There are some printers with as much as 12 color pots capable of producing images with a vast range of color and deeper dark tones. Remember: especially when you are working with photographer-grade pigmented inks, the paper you choose to pair it with makes a big difference. Understanding how your ink will react to the paper you decide to print your proof on can spare you a big inconvenience later on.

Inexpensive ink and toner cartridges

Replacing cartridges is a major inevitable expense that many people don’t consider when shopping for a new printer. Understanding the number of pages you can anticipate from each cartridge and price shopping the cartridges themselves can throw back the curtains on future expenses you can be saddled with. Laser toner cartridges generally produce more pages and is more efficient–despite being more expensive–than ink cartridges. But for designers who will mostly be using inkjet cartridges, choosing a printer that works fine with compatible ink will make cartridge replacement a lesser pain on your budget.

Dye-based inks or pigmented inks for inkjets

Dye Pigmentation

Dye based inks for inkjet printers are generally less expensive and more vibrant in color than pigmented inks. Yes, dye inks tend to fade quicker than pigmented inks, but thanks to the fast paced nature of graphic design chances are your prints are not needed in the long term. Unfortunately, the difference between dye-based and pigmented inks mean they are not interchangeable between printers. Some use dye-based ink, others use pigmented and trying to swap them out isn’t an option at this time.

When you are shopping for a printer, you should consider the type of printing you’ll be doing most and be mindful of the ink it uses when making your choice. To illustrate the archival benefits of using pigment, Photo.net printed two identical photographs using dye-based ink on one, and pigment-based ink on the other. After leaving the photo exposed to sunlight for 18 months, this is how the photos turned out.

The one on the left was printed with dye-based ink and the one on the right was printed with pigment-based ink. As you can see, in terms of fade resistance, pigment ink stands superior to dye.

Size

Unless you print exhibit sized media, chances are you won’t need a 44 inch wide large format printer for any average presentation. But not every proof is standard A2 size either. Perhaps one of the more important considerations that goes unmentioned among most techy features is the maximum print size each model can handle. While laser printers have caught up in quality, one major detriment is that they often can only handle 8.5 inch width—your standard computer paper or legal size. Your individual needs will vary of course, but if there is one factor that weighs towards inkjet this is an important one. Finding one at an affordable rate that’s able to print at least 13 by 17 inch proofs does help make your design more presentable.

Paper

Paper Stock

Your printer needs to be able to accept light, heavy, and double sided pages easily. This allows you to run drafts of your presentation on cost effective light stock, then transition to a presentation grade without changing printers. Front feed printers like many of the popular inexpensive models (and most affordable HP models) don’t accept heavier grade paper stock and therefore are not ideal choices. Many color laser printers are limited in the paper weights they accept as well.

Let’s go back to looking for a printer that can give you sharp results but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. There are dozens of printers with various bells and whistles from which to choose, but only a couple meet the rigorous standards of what graphic designers need. Here are a couple of my personal favorites that will help you get top grade results without breaking the bank.

Inkjet printers:

Canon Pixma iP8720 Inkjet Printer

Canon Pixma iP872

Canon makes some of the best printers for photo and graphic design. For designers looking to replicate print shop quality without spending an arm and a leg, the ip8720 is a great choice. Like most other Canon printers, this model features a sturdy feed system that can accept a variety of different paper weights and finishes. This gives you the versatility to use both economical office paper for drafts and pull together professional-grade presentations without leaving your desk. As Red River Catalog notes, Canon’s dye based printers almost never experience head clogs. It is available on Amazon for $222.

Epson Artisan 1430 Wideformat Color InkJet Printer

Epson Artisan 1430

This Epson printer is another high quality photography and design workhorse designed for consistent results. It features six individual dye ink tanks for ultra-realistic image print results. The Artisan 1430 can print paper as large as 13” x 19” and it can handle most every standard paper weight and finish. This Epson model is compatible with high-yield ink cartridges that can print upwards of 800 pages per color. It is currently $262 on Amazon + $21 shipping.

If you feel like you need high-duty capacity more than vibrant prints, a laser printer would best accommodate your needs. Here are some recommended models to try:

Laser printers:

Lexmark CS410dtn Color Lase Printer

Lexmark CS410DTN

This color laser printer offers solid print results for small and medium-sized design firms. The CS410dtn is fast, printing over 30 pages per minute, with a recommended monthly output of up to 75,000 pages. This makes it an excellent choice not only for printing proofs, but also keeping up with everyday printing. This Lexmark model starts at $649 on the official Lexmark website but you can get it for $458 on Amazon. If you are going to be printing a lot of pages, be sure to take into consideration the toner cartridge yield for this model however, which tops off around 1400 pages according to the print experts at One Extra Pixel.

Brother HL-L8350CDW

Brother HL-L8350CDW

A bit more expensive than the Lexmark CS410dtn, the Brother HL-L8350CDW retails at $289.99 on Amazon. It’s ideal for small and medium-sized firms who are looking for fast and efficient results for networked printers. Each toner cartridge yields approximately 3500 pages, keeping down monthly operation costs, and thanks to AirPrint and Google Cloud print options it can easily network several people from a single location with ease. The HL-L8350CDW prints at a maximum resolution of 2400 dpi.

Best Printers for Graphic Designers Summary

Choosing the right printer is an efficient way to get exactly the results you want while saving money at the same time. While differences in office size and the types of tasks you undertake will make some printers more favorable than others, knowing what’s important before you get started is the first step to securing years of quality in-house printing.

Nicholas Brown is a content editor for LD Products where he frequently writes about the ways businesses in various industries can leverage printer technology for improved efficiency in design, marketing, and overall office operations.







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