Choosing the best, large format substrates is an important decision that can affect the quality of your print, and the price of the process.

In fact, the sheer available quantity of different substrates is part of what makes large format printers such an economically viable solution, increasing the total number of applications and thus ability to achieve a return on investment.

That being said, not all large format printer can utilize every substrate available. Choosing the correct printer for your needs is an initial consideration that will eventually affect your substrate options. For example, some printers can only handle a certain type of ink or thickness of printed material.

Important factors to consider before choosing a substrate are as follows:


  • Application
    If the product will be displayed outdoors there are some considerations related to moisture exposure, as well as UV exposure. Likewise, depending on how the printed material will be exposed, certain substrate considerations will need to be made.
  • Installation
    Depending on how the printed material needs to be installed different substrate considerations need to be made, specifically whether a rigid or soft material should be used. Also, the mechanism used to mount the printed material may affect substrate choice, such as reactions to glue or whether mounting hardware can be used.
  • Size
    Size considerations are relevant for choices of substrate because of price and difficult of installation. Likewise, certain applications for signs will be impossible depending on size i.e. the expected viewing distance.

Large Format Substrates: Rigid vs. Roll

The main difference between printed materials is how they are fed to the printer.

The two main options are either roll-fed or a rigid printing system. (There are additional options such as printing on 3-D objects, but the full list of all potential 3-D objects that can be utilized is endless.)

Of course, whether or not you are familiar with large format printing, the utilization of rolled flexible material is common in smaller format printing techniques. Similar to those applications, the different flexible substrate chosen will still have to reflect the type of imagery, size, and ink choice. These substrates are typically limited to papers, or flexible plastic composites, which can be sold and shipped on a roll.

Alternately, large format printer applications can also produce rigid products with an extremely large variety of different options. This process is known as direct to substrate printing.

Again, certain printers will only be able to accommodate certain thicknesses of rigid printable substrates. But, the rigid substrate should still have a surface texture that supports the full color gamut of the printed image in order to capture the full resolution of the images.

1) Paper
Coming in a wide variety of colors, weights, and textures, using paper is a ubiquitous solution to printing large format products. Paper is typically sold in rolls, which may add a certain amount for shipping from one region to another due to weight. Depending on the resolution of the image being printing Paper may be a good choice as the sheer variety of options present a low-cost solution to nearly any need.

2) Vinyl
This wide format printing material is often sold by the roll, and can feature a removable or non-removable application process. Vinyl is often used for large banner or wallpaper, and can be easily cut and shaped for your application. Vinyl can also support full color images, and though more expensive than paper, is still a low cost alternative.

3) Textiles
Large format printing on textiles can be used to create clothing or signage. Specific textile substrates may need to be pretreated depending on the printing process. Organic printing options can also be used depending on the product specifications. Dye-based, Acid Printing, and dye sublimations are some examples of textile printing processes.

4) Canvas
Large format canvas prints are often the ideal solution for extremely high resolution printing needs. This substrate is typically used for art or photographic prints which will endure a heavy degree of scrutiny. It is often also sold by the roll and depending on the material is on the more expensive end of rolled substrates.

5) Aluminum
Aluminum substrates which are 100% aluminum or made of a composite with other materials can be printed with or without initial treatment. Though it is possible to print aluminum from a roll, depending on thickness, general this substrate is used in direct to substrate printing on a rigid body.

A variety of colors and finishes are available for the composites, though the overall cost of aluminum substrate is much higher than paper or vinyl.

6) Styrene
This rigid substrate is essentially a thin PVC sheet that can be used indoors or outdoors for inexpensive sign solutions. Different thicknesses or stocks can be picked depending on installation preferences, such as freestanding displays or temporary signage.

7) Foam Centered Material
This substrate can be used in a limited variety of thicknesses, good for indoor signs, or interior displays. This substrate is cost effective and a good solution for advertising material, and can utilize extremely high resolution images depending on the surface treatment.

8) Magnetic Material
Magnetic material substrates are essentially foam centered material that also features a layer of ferrite magnetic material. This is a unique option for any situation where impermanent magnetic objects need to be placed on the substrates surface.

9) Acrylic
Acrylic printing is often one of the most expensive options for large format printing, largely due to the extremely vivid nature of the image resolution. A certain degree of depth and color gamut is possible with acrylic that would be difficult with paper. Also, the longevity, durability and colorfastness is nearly unparalleled with any other substrate.

10) Renewable Material
100% natural substrates, or printing material which is comprised or recycled components is an exciting new option for large format printing. These substrates can feature all of the same parameters of acrylic, paper, or aluminum depending on the recycled material utilized.

Some recycled substrates may be on the more expensive side, depending on constituent parts, but the environmental implications (especially if the product will be disposed of) should outweigh the monetary adjustment.