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What kind of printer/plotter would be best for a small start-up firm? Is anyone really happy with their choice?
Looking to print plans or renderings?
I recently bought a $300 HP DJ 650C. It's the old (at least 10 years) 36" wide workhorse that so many small firms have / had. It's slow, but it does a great job with black and white. I haven't even tried color on it yet, but I assume it'd disappoint. It came with a free 24" HP DJ 800 which needs new print heads. Haven't used it either, but would guess the color is better.
Over the years, I've been partial to HP but think that (if you can afford it) getting a big OCE with a wide format scanner is the nice option. But that's big bucks.
Really, run a comparison for the dpi you need, and the cost of running the machine. The print heads and ink are what will kill you in terms of price. Epson, Canon & HP all make decent machines, but cost of operation is critical. My cheap old HP plots for about $.10 per square foot, making it cheaper than shopping out my prints. But if had more/bigger jobs it's just too slow to keep up.
FWIW: I'm a small start up firm. Most of my work is fairly lowbrow & I am not (yet) doing color plots for presentations to anyone. All I need is black and white for now. Once larger jobs start coming in, I'll get color working on one of the two plotters. If that's not good enough, then I'll shop out the color until I can afford a new plotter. Craigslist was my friend on finding a good cheap used plotter that serves my needs.
Seems like most firms go with either Arc, ABC imaging, or another local printing service and put it in the invoice to the client. Printing for client meetings consists of a wide format printer (usually Epson 1430) on half sets (either 12 by 18 or 11 by 17)
For renders/color I've found that Canon plotters are fantastic. When working in the media center at my school they got HP Designjets to replace the Canons but we found that they are $20K more, print slow, are finicky, the default color profile wasn't spectacular. (The Designjets have been at every school I've visited.)
For cheap black and white printing, look at an Océ printer. I don't know how much they cost but the cost per sheet is a few pennies.
Lease... On the books a lease is a full writeoff and doesn't have depreciation. Plus you don't need to maintain, can upgrade, etc. I'd also look at one with scanning capability...
That said, our plotter died two years ago. Haven't looked back even though it's just a $40 belt to fix it. Just use a copier with 11x17 for checksets/renders and everything is pdf distributed anyway. We send out for final sets to stamp which get charged as reimbursable to the client. And more and more building departments are accepting pdf submittals too. Plotters are dying just like print shops. Not worth the money... use it instead to get a high speed color copier that collates, sorts, scans, etc.