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Budget Printers

It doesn’t take a ton of money to add printing to your shop.

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WE’VE WRITTEN A number of times about how you can start a sign business on a shoestring budget by buying a vinyl cutter. But what if you want to do full-color images that are impossible to do with a cutter? Believe it or not, you can actually get in the game without breaking the bank. A lot will depend on what you want to offer and what your wallet’s pain point is. So, let’s look at some areas where you can begin a search and what you can expect for the money.

For around $1K and up to $2.5K, you can get a wide-format aqueous-inkjet printer. At the low end, you’re looking at 24-in. widths. These printers will allow you to offer indoor-poster work, stickers, canvas prints and, depending on the model, fine-art prints. Some models may offer pigment-based inks that can provide some outdoor-weather resistance as well. You will be giving up long-term outdoor-image durability, but this solution does offer a low-cost entry point into full color.

What if you want to work with garments and/or soft signage? You can purchase a 24-in. dye sublimation printer for $2.5K. These machines will let you print large garment graphics and produce soft signs close to 24 in. wide. These printers are not direct-to-fabric, so you will need a calendar and/or the appropriate heat press(es), so be sure to factor that into your budget.

Going Large and Outdoor

Thus far, we have described printers that cost $2,500 or less. However, these printers have limitations (indoor only or used just with fabrics) that may not fit your shop. In order to get into full-color outdoor printing, you will need to bump that budget up a bit.

The good news is that not so many years ago, you were looking at spending at least $10K to even think about getting into the outdoor game. That buy-in has now fallen to under $7K. That’s still a lot of dough, but you can do quite a bit of work at that price point.

For that kind of money, printing widths will be in the 20-24-in. range. Vinyl rolls in these widths are readily available and the machines typically use eco-solvent inks. Don’t expect blazing speed, but heck, look at the money you will save. You can produce virtually any size graphic if you have good tiling software. Banners, magnetic signs and effectively anything you can do with a larger printer can be done with these budget models. There could be added finishing time to allow for tiling, and you won’t be able to knock out prints as fast, but these are great products and can really help to start or grow a sign business.

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As a final note, maybe you absolutely need wider format. You can actually get a 54-in. latex printer or an eco-solvent printer in the range of $9K to $15K. While these are significantly higher prices, you get the greater widths and faster speeds at prices that won’t break the bank.

As you can see, you don’t need to spend big bucks to add full-color printing to your shop. You need to really look at your goals and see if you want to make the leap now or wait until you can afford a wider, faster solution. You may be able to do enough business with a budget printer to finance the “dream” printer in very little time.

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

Chris and Kathi Morrison own and operate The Image Specialists, a full-service graphics company based in Clements, CA. Chris is also a Microsoft-certified systems engineer. Contact the Morrisons at [email protected].

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