How do we define Wide Format?


This site is all about wide for­mat — but just what do we mean by wide for­mat?  Some folks refer to it as “wide for­mat”, oth­ers call it “large for­mat.” It all depends on who you’re talk­ing to! For con­sis­ten­cy we’ll stick to “wide for­mat” on this site.

If you search Google for a def­i­n­i­tion of either “wide for­mat” or “large for­mat” you’ll finds hun­dreds of arti­cles and def­i­n­i­tions. But most of those revolve around equip­ment — par­tic­u­lar­ly print­ers and scan­ners. The wide for­mat indus­try, once var­i­ous­ly called blue­print­ers, engi­neer­ing sys­tems, repro­graph­ics, print shops, and so on cov­ers many top­ics. Lets start our explo­ration of this mar­ket by defin­ing wide format.

Peo­ple buy cam­eras because they want pho­tographs, not because they want to spend the mon­ey for anoth­er piece of gear to car­ry around. Like­wise, busi­ness­es buy wide for­mat equip­ment and soft­ware because they have wide for­mat doc­u­ments they need to print, copy, scan, and man­age. It’s the doc­u­ments that count — they come first.

So, let’s define and cat­e­go­rize the kinds of doc­u­ments we con­sid­er as wide for­mat. And let’s do that from the point of view of the pro­duc­ers and users of these documents.

Doc­u­ment Samples

Here’s some doc­u­ments. Which of these would you clas­si­fy as wide for­mat? You can click on each illus­tra­tion to take a clos­er look and then decide. Note the dimen­sions of their print­ed sizes.

house-plan assy-dwg

poster rendering

tech-specs parts-list

All Of Them Are Wide Format

Just by look­ing at their print­ed size you can say that these three are very obvi­ous­ly wide format:

  • House Plan
  • Assem­bly Drawing
  • Poster

They’re print­ed on large sheets, two in col­or, one in black and white. The first two are con­struc­tion or assem­bly draw­ings, the third one a poster for wall mounting.

But why would you call the Ren­der­ing print wide for­mat? Even though this par­tic­u­lar copy was print­ed on a small sheet (at 8.27x11” or A4 size), it could just as well have been print­ed on a larg­er sheet. It shows an engi­neer­ing for­mat with title block, revi­sion block, locat­ing grid, and so on. Its con­tent clear­ly qual­i­fies it as wide for­mat regard­less of the size of the sheet it was print­ed on. It’s part of a larg­er set of draw­ings for an assem­bly — all cre­at­ed using a CAD program.

The Tech Spec and Parts List doc­u­ments would almost always be print­ed on a nar­row for­mat size. So why would you both­er to call them wide format?

Aside from their being print­ed as office-sized (nar­row-for­mat) doc­u­ments, let’s con­sid­er their rela­tion­ship to the oth­er doc­u­ments in these sam­ples. The parts list goes with the assem­bly and ren­der­ing draw­ings. The tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tion also cov­ers this equipment.

Engi­neers in the same depart­ment cre­at­ed then as they cre­at­ed the draw­ings they’re relat­ed to. And both doc­u­ments are num­bered con­sis­tent­ly with the oth­er doc­u­ments they go with. So, in terms of doc­u­ment man­age­ment, these tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments all belong togeth­er all man­aged by the same sys­tem. If you were using the assem­bly draw­ing, you’ll be look­ing at its parts list. If you print­ed the assem­bly draw­ing, you’d prob­a­bly print the parts list, too — although at a small­er size.

Con­tent Matters!

So, aside from print­ed size, be sure to con­sid­er doc­u­ment con­tent as well. Don’t over­look doc­u­ments based on their small size. Wide for­mat refers to a class of doc­u­ments, not nec­es­sar­i­ly just doc­u­ment sizes.

doc-mgmt-ladyFor exam­ple, if you were imple­ment­ing or oper­at­ing an engi­neer­ing doc­u­ment man­age­ment sys­tem would you ignore the nar­row-for­mat doc­u­ments? Of course not, you’d include all relat­ed doc­u­ments — regard­less of the size they were print­ed at.

Also, many wide for­mat print­ers and copiers can print these doc­u­ments at both large and small sizes. It might not often hap­pen that you would do that but they could be parts of col­lat­ed sets. For exam­ple, a project draw­ing pack­age might include all the larg­er draw­ings as well as the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions. They may all get all print­ed or copied togeth­er on the same sys­tem as part of a col­lat­ed set at their own respec­tive sizes and then distributed.


Like­wise, its very com­mon to print sets of draw­ings at larg­er sizes for dis­tri­b­u­tion on a con­struc­tion project and then print the same same sets of draw­ings at B- or A3-size (or small­er) for use in the office.

So, don’t let size alone be your guide. Size may be the most obvi­ous clue, of course, but just because it was print­ed on a small­er sheet doesn’t rule it out as a wide for­mat document.

Con­tent is equal­ly impor­tant in defin­ing wide for­mat documents.

Doc­u­ment Types

assy-dwg poster

One last dis­tinc­tion. Ear­li­er, we said that these two draw­ings were both wide for­mat. One’s an assem­bly draw­ing, the oth­er a great look­ing sports car. One is mono, the oth­er col­or, and both were print­ed on the same wide for­mat inkjet print­er. But they’re con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent. So what’s the distinction?

Tech­ni­cal Documents

The assem­bly draw­ing pro­vides instruc­tions for build­ing a piece of equip­ment. It describes objects and pro­vides instruc­tions with pre­cise details. It also con­tains data such as dimen­sions. Like­wise for the house plan draw­ing shown above. They’re Tech­ni­cal Doc­u­ments.

Graph­ic Communications

The sports car poster, on the oth­er hand, con­tains no details at all. It may have an emo­tion­al impact, but it con­tains no data and no instruc­tions. It’s a Graph­ic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions doc­u­ment. Large posters and signs may also con­tain some infor­ma­tion and details — but they’re usu­al­ly full of graph­ics and pho­tos. Take anoth­er look at the Scrumpy Donuts poster at the top of this page, it even con­tains a scannable QR code.


So, when you’re look­ing at doc­u­ments don’t let size alone be your guide when decid­ing whether they’re wide for­mat or not. Size may be the most obvi­ous clue, of course, but just because a doc­u­ment was print­ed on a small­er sheet doesn’t rule it out as wide for­mat. Con­tent is equal­ly impor­tant in defin­ing wide for­mat documents.

We’ll be talk­ing about both Tech­ni­cal Doc­u­ments and Graph­ic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions doc­u­ments through­out the Easy­Wider site, regard­less of doc­u­ment size.


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