With over 90% of printers sold on the market limited to A4 in terms of paper size, A3 printers surely represent a niche. It’s a little different though when big office photocopiers, not just printers, are considered, as A3 printing is a common feature offered by these professional machines. Does it mean that cheap A3 printers are a fancy of the mind? Not necessarily.
A3 machines are vital for very specific needs and it’s essential to understand these needs to get precisely the right machine, at the right price, as different types of A3 printers cater to totally different needs.
What are these types of printers which manage A3 document management and how do they work? What are the purposes of these different types of printers and what professionals are they for? How much are these printers and what are the other usage costs? Is it necessary to buy an A3 printer, or are there any other recommendable options?
Understanding A3 printers and the different needs they serve
Although the number of models is limited, different types of printers supporting the A3 format exist, for very different uses.
Types of A3 printers
A3 is just a standard size for sheets of paper, which is half as big as the rare A2 format and twice as big as the common A4 format.
This difference in size may seem minimal, but this makes machines capable of printing or copying A3 paper sheets much, much bigger than the A4 versions.
Just as with A4 printers, A3 machines come in different types, single models combining each of the following categories:
- Colour or black-and-white only,
- Printer or multifunction printer (can also copy and scan, or even send and receive faxes),
- Using laser technology or inkjet technology.
With laser printers, electrically charged drums are discharged in precise areas, following the desired pattern by a laser. Positively charged paper is rolled onto this drum and received the negatively charged image from the drum. Another drum heats and presses the ink onto the paper for fixation.
With inkjet printers, thin droplets of ink are sprayed directly onto the paper through microscopic nozzles in the print head of the moving ink cartridge. Two technologies are used to control the ink spraying: ink bubbles (HP, Canon) or piezo electrical crystals (Epson).
How to compare A3 copiers and printers
The good thing with A3 printers is that they are much easier to choose than A4 printers.
By and large, and although some exceptions exist:
- A3 multifunction printers are almost always bulky, standalone office printers, most commonly associated with the idea of a typical office printer. The main point of these copiers is to copy lots of A4 pages extremely fast, usually in black-and-white only, and A3 printing is just a nice extra. This is the incidental A3 printer for most businesses in any field with heavy monthly copy needs (over 1,000 pages printed or copied per month). These are almost always laser printers.
- Then there’s the single function A3 machine which does only printing jobs. As these A3 machines are mostly used by professionals in the design or publishing industry, they are almost always colour printers, and more often than not inkjet printers because image quality is the chief concern of these professionals, much more than printing speeds.
- Tabletop A3 multifunction printers have started to emerge on the market though, for design professionals who wish to have the features of a scanner and copier in the same machine. They are usually inkjet printers but provide decent printing speeds (over 20 pages per minute).
Calculating the total costs of an A3 printer
Prices of A3 printers have come down quite much, and these machines are now affordable for most businesses. However, if an A3 copier is needed, the opportunity of renting the machine, rather than buying it outright, deserves scrutiny.
A3 printer prices – and related costs
The price of printers supporting the A3 paper format depends on the type of printer.
If single function printers are now quite affordable, multifunction copiers supporting the A3 format still represent quite an investment for small businesses.
Commonly observed low prices start at:
- £100 for single function, inkjet colour printers, with better models like the Canon PIXMA iP8750 selling for over £250,
- £200 for tabletop colour inkjet multifunction printers, or even slightly less for models such as the Epson Expression Photo XP-960 printer,
- £1,000 for tabletop colour laser single function printers,
- £1,000 to £1,500 for tabletop black-and-white laser multifunction printers,
- £2,000 for free-standing black-and-white laser multifunction printers,
- £3,000 for free-standing colour laser multifunction printers supporting A3 document management, printing and copying.
- For the best A3 printers, prices can be as high as £10,000.
However, related costs should not be neglected.
Total usage costs include (not even mentioning paper and staples):
- Ink cartridges, selling between £20 and £50, usually printing less than 500 pages. Colour inkjet printers normally require 4 different cartridges, sometimes even more,
- Ink toners are more expensive at £50 to £80 per unit, but last far longer (usually over 2,000 pages),
- Regularly planned maintenance with the replacement of key mechanical parts, mostly for laser printers – kits sell at about £200, but that’s without labour,
- Labour for unplanned interventions, which can cost over £100 per hour.
Better buy or hire an A3 printer?
Given the price of big, standalone, multifunction laser printers capable of printing and copying A3 documents, and because of these extra-costs and the hassle of maintenance, it’s very tempting to hire a copier rather than buy it.
A3 copier rentals can cost between £20 and £80 per month depending on model specifics, and sometimes up to £250 for the best professional machines.
Other than making the investment bearable, with little upfront costs, these plans can also bring:
- Complete maintenance and/or supply coverage,
- Purchase option at the end of the lease,
- Dedicated support,
- The opportunity to change the machine for a newer model at little or no extra cost.
- The opportunity to rent a model just for short-time needs (sometimes just for three days!)
However, there are some drawbacks:
- The fine print may prove that the “complete maintenance” is not so complete after all,
- Consumables are often sold by the provider at higher prices than if independently purchased,
- Depending on the original retail price of the printer, long-term rentals may be more expensive.
It’s therefore really important to know what type of printer is needed. Professional, heavy-duty A3 copiers make rental or leasing really interesting, depending on the contract and provider, while designers who just need to make a few fine colour A3 prints per month may prefer buying.
It’s also recommended to compare as many quotes in A3 copiers and printers as possible from different providers to make sure you choose the right option and the right device for your business.
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