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Toner vs Inkjet – Plotter Technology

Toner vs Inkjet

Toner vs Inkjet. Historically, this has been relatively easy to examine. The cost of ink jet printing is higher, but the price of the toner-based equipment was more expensive than their ink jet counterparts.

In the past, the break-even point was when the printing output reached 2,000 square feet per month. However, the playing field has changed.

Ink prices have dropped, ink jet systems have gotten faster with the introduction of new single-pass ink jet systems. So, how do the two plotter technologies compare now?

The comparison between which wide-format plotter technology is better, toner or ink jet, has been questioned within AEC companies for years.

Typically, when investigating a new large format system, the buyer’s criteria usually focuses on the actual price of the equipment.

This generally leads them towards an ink jet type printer – and logically so. But, like other business decisions, a deeper analysis should be explored.

Factors such as number of users, printing demand, the need for color, and types of files printed, should all be considered. While traditional ink jet printers are great for general purpose CAD printing, there are some limitations.

Things to consider when choosing between a Toner or an Inkjet



Believe it or not, today’s ink jet plotters are only designed to last a few years.

The price for a replacement ink jet plotter today is less than half of what they used to cost. So, it becomes justifiable to buy a new ink jet plotter or MFP every few years to keep up with the technology changes. Canon recently announced their latest additions to their imagePROGRAF line of large format inkjet printers with new hybrid solutions, the imagePROGRAF TZ-30000 Series.

Toner-based plotters, on the other hand, are much more durable systems that are made to last for years. For example, the estimated life expectancy of an Canon Océ PlotWave system is seven to ten years on average. You would have to purchase several ink jets in the same time span.

PlotWave 3000

Print Volume

Traditional ink jet plotters just can’t handle consistently large print volumes. Obviously, there are some people who are able to push their ink jet plotters past the norm.

Ink jet plotters, on average, they are only rated for about 3,000 square feet per month. Anything in excess of that is considered “outside of normal operating parameters.”

Toner-based plotters, however, can easily handle many thousands of square feet of printing per month. For instance, both the Canon PlotWave 5000 and PlotWave 5500 are capable of producing 25,000 square feet of printing per month. That is 4,167 D-size sheets.


A cutting-edge ink jet plotter, such as the Canon TM-305, is still only capable of printing about two sheets per minute.

Comparatively, the Canon PlotWave 3500 will print six sheets per minute and Canon PlotWave 5500 will print ten sheets per minute.

Just like with volume duty cycle, LED-toner machines are much more robust.
Canon imagePROGRAF TM-305 MFP T36

Comparing the Overall Costs

Based on research, we find that the operational costs of ink jet tends to hover around $0.203 per square foot, while the cost of LED toner averages $0.116 per square foot.

Considering that, plus the initial cost of the equipment, toner machines are a better value once the total volume printed reaches approximately 100,000 square feet.

Given that a typical office now prints 3,500 square feet per month, the resulting ROI happens under 29 months. Durability is also a factor.

The Case for Traditional Ink Jet

Honestly, this article is not about bashing ink jet plotters. There are some fantastic, traditional and high-speed, ink jet units out there and in the right environment, they are a great fit.

Traditional ink jet plotters offer the lowest cost of entry regarding wide-format equipment and they can print in color. Most toner systems only print in black and white.

Still, companies need to be smart about their wide-format investments. They need to consider all the factors before deciding on a system.

In the case of professional environments, ink jets can easily be outclassed causing further issues and inefficiencies.

Therefore, it is imperative that companies analyze all aspects of their wide-format needs before deciding on which technology to pursue.

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