Blue prints in your own office
For small architect firms or contractors, or anyone else looking for a wide-format printer, the choices pretty much come down to Oce, Xerox, and KIP. But most people don't have a way to choose intelligently between them. Company representatives aren't exactly paid to tell you what problems you can expect from their machines. What if you get stuck with something awful and can’t afford to replace it for years?
Well, how about hearing from someone who’s used machines from all three companies, during 18 years of professional printing? I talked with Ewan Tallentire, owner of Albion Repro & Graphics, an independent Denver-area reprographics shop. He’s seen the attitudes of each company toward customer support, good manufacturing, and new technology.
What follows is just his opinion, and past performance doesn’t guarantee the future. Still, this perspective from outside the big three large-format printer companies may help you decide on your favorite printer, and/or the one least likely to cause disaster.
With a half inch to spare
Your own blueprinting service in your office
Most big contractor or architecture firms already have their own printing department or contract out their printing. Smaller firms used to go to a reprographics shop because printers were expensive, smelly, space hogs.
But prices have dropped, technology has advanced, and now you can probably afford a printer for your small office and not asphyxiate everyone with fumes. Actually, due to these advances, along with the construction slowdown, many independent reprographics shops have closed recently, and their loss is your gain – you may get an especially good deal on a used printer right now.
Options with a printer
I want the perfect wide format printer
To pick the best machine for your situation, let’s pretend to be a really demanding customer. Then let’s look at how real printers compare to the ideal, and you can decide which features really matter.
- I want a printer that will last until the day after its software is outdated.
- I refuse to pay for a printer body that outlasts its brain by five years.
- I want it to produce results for even the stupidest person in the office.
- I want it to survive that person’s efforts.
- It better not break.
- If it breaks, I want a technician helping me within five minutes.
- The technician better not charge me beyond my level of gratitude for his efforts.
- I don’t want ink, toner, and paper to be major items in my budget.
- The ink, toner, and paper need to be available in my small town in the middle of nowhere the minute I notice we just ran out.
- There better not be any other weird supplies needed to keep the machine running, unless I can get them overnight for next to nothing.
- I think the right price for a wide format printer is what I have in my pocket right now.
- It has to fit in that low-ceiling corner behind the water cooler.
- When I move offices, it’s going to have to fit in the trunk of my subcompact car.
- It better work after the move.
- I want it to print 8 sheets per minute. No less, and I’m not paying for more.
- I don’t want a scanner with it. Or maybe I do. I’m not sure.
- And if I decide on a scanner, it can’t take any more floor space.
- I’d like it to do folding and stapling too, but only if it doesn’t cost anything.
Sound like everything you could want in a printer? Here’s how the printers from Oce, KIP, and Xerox stack up against the ideal, in Ewan’s experience:
Rank Xerox, Oce, and KIP - hard numbers
Available instantly, 24/7
Inexpensive and easy to get
As long as needed
Similar to others
Needs a lot
Available in 1-2 days
Least expensive, easiest to get, needs developer every few months
A couple years
Built like a tank
Most expensive, needs developer every few months
10 years at least
Moderate expense, doesn't need developer
Rank Xerox, Oce, and KIP - other features
|Company||Performance||Copy quality||Ease of use||Breakability (touchiness)|
Keeps up with office output
Can't tell from original
Anyone can use it
Nobody can break it
Has been known to leave unprinted line on page
Not very user-friendly
Most problems solved by a restart
A bit faster than KIP & Xerox
Can't tell from original
Can't tell from original
Overall comparison: Xerox, Oce, and KIP
Ewan considers Oce the leader in low maintenance and durability. Other printers' repair bills cost several times as much as the Oces, and Oce printers were outdated in capability long before they wore out. (That's a good thing. It means great resale value.) But Oces weren't easy to use, so they were best suited to a professional reprographics shop with high volume.
Ewan recommended KIP for ease of use. That's important for two reasons: less time spent training employees and less chance of untrained employees breaking the printer.
Xerox, unfortunately, was the leader mainly in repair bills.
A very small shop that only prints one or two sheets at a time may save money by buying a monochromatic plotter rather than a printer (see this article for the difference.) Ewan recommended HP plotters; the ones he worked with lasted well and still weren't outdated after 10 years; amazing in this high-tech world.
Overall, for a small office with light printer use, Ewan recommended the KIP. It is easy to operate, and also easiest to do things like change the toner. It has a closed toner system, which reduces waste of toner (other printers lose toner with every print), so you can change a toner cartridge without taking out a bag of toner waste. The 3000 series is probably best for a small office, as the 5000 is made for the hard use of a reprographics shop.
KIP 5000 printer in a repro shop
In-house reprographics: good or bad decision?
Why getting your own printer could be the best decision you make this year:
- After the initial cost of the machine, you can print for cents instead of dollars
- You can see how the print turned out without waiting for it
- You don’t have to pay shipping costs
Why you could rue the day you got your own printer:
- It takes time, and wasted supplies, to train employees to use it, and some employees will think printing is for free now, and will print EVERYTHING
- It takes somebody’s time to do the printing. it will waste time to collate by hand when 5 sets of 30 pages are printed in the wrong order. Then there are those times of “Oh, you meant the other one?”
- The printer could well be outdated before it’s paid off
- These are serious machines; you might need electrical work done for a suitable plug-in
- You’ve allotted space for the machine, did you remember space for paper, toner, etc.?
Architectural reprographics options
If you do a lot of printing, a printer will probably pay for itself quickly, but if you just do a few pages now and then, it’s not something to rush into just because every other office has one.
There are other options, such as on-line printing companies and local reprographics shops. On-line printing may be the most convenient if you’re not in a hurry and can pay for shipping, but local shops give you many of the advantages of your own printer without having to invest money and training in machines.
Recent changes to the "big three" blueprinting supply companies
I got some news from another (maybe the only other) independent reprographics shop in Denver, Hope Reprographics, that Canon bought Oce last year. I haven't heard yet what changes that may make in company attitude, product, or service, but will update this page as I find out anything. Also, here is another reprographer's thoughts about Xerox, KIP, and Oce.
Update May 2012: Oce is apparently out of the North American market at this point.
Other articles about printing and printers
- Architecture Plan Copying: A History of Reprographics, or, Why Blueprints Aren't Blue Now - Part One
History of reprographics, types of originals architects have used, and why.
- Architecture Plan Copying: A History of Reprographics, or, Why Blueprints Aren't Blue Now - Part Two
History of papers used in reprographics; difference between blueprint, blueline, and bond.
- Architecture Plan Copying: A History of Reprographics, or, Why Blueprints Aren't Blue Now - Part Thr
History of reprographics printers. What room-sized cameras were for, how fast printers go now, and how funny it is to watch a pen plotter work.