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Choosing a Desktop Printer

Choice is a fine thing, but it takes time. Branko Miletic shaves hours off your research with a survey of desktop printers, and looks at questions business owners should ask to find the desktop printer for the job.

Printing is essential for a raft of business tasks, but finding the right desktop printer for your needs can be a minefield of choice. According to companieslike EasyPost, 1.8 billion lettersflow from business desktops in Australia every year. Around 41 percent are generated on desktop printers. This figure of course omits the billions of printed sheets which are not only mailed letters, but also reports, memos, plans, emails, graphics and the like.

Furthermore, according to respected IT industry analysts IDC Australia, about 20 million inkjet cartridges were sold in Australia in the 2005–06 financial year, worth about $600 million. Recent figures claim that the annual global printer market is worth around $52 billion, which is a lot of printers in any language. With today’s marketsaturated with more desktop printers than you can poke an ink cartridge at, it’s not always easy to find what is right for your business, and making the wrong choice, although not initially an expensive mistake, can lead to time-wasting reprinting, productivity hiccups, and even problems with deadlines, image and business goodwill. Printer manufacturers don’t make this task any easier. With competing claims and counter-claims, the choice of which printer is good for your business is usually as clear as a pool of black ink. So, let’s get down to basics.

Desktop Printer Questions

When shopping for a new desktop printer, the nine questions that need to be asked are:

1. What will I use my printer for?

2. How many sheets will I print per day/week/month?

3. Do I need colour printing or will black and white suffice?

4. How much do I want to spend initially?

5. Will I need to network my printer(s)?

6. How fast (measured in pages per minute or ppm) do I need the printing to be?

7. How expensive are the cartridges?

8. Do I need dot matrix or laser printing?

9. How important will printing be to my overall business processes?


Active ImageConsider what the printer will cost to run, not just the buying price. For example, Lexmark’s basic Z617 inkjet printer retails anywhere from $45 to $48 per unit. But when the time comes to buy a replacement colour ink cartridge, be prepared to pay anything up to $50 per cartridge. It’s not unusual for cartridges to cost the same as the printer itself. Moreover, manufacturers such as HP, Canon or Epson all claim that using a recycled cartridge will void your printer warranty, which is just not true. Under the Trade Practices Act they can’t void your warranty, they can only insist that you buy an original cartridge before any work is carried out on your printer. A point to note here: while your printer is still under warranty, it is always a good idea to buy original cartridges, it can save a lot of heartache if something goes wrong. When it comes to claiming printing quality, the mud, or should we say the ink, becomes even murkier. When talking about printing quality, we’re quite literally splitting pixels. For example, the quality required by a florist to print out invoices would be quite different to the quality required by a professional photographer printing proofs. Yet printing technology has evolved such that this difference in quality between two laser printers or two dot matrix machines has become hard to gauge with the naked eye. As laser printing costs anywhere between six and eight cents per copy including capital, maintenance and consumables, the stakes can become high over time. So picking the right printer is an important task.

Some people have found the secret to choosing a desktop printer that works wonders for their company and have shown this task is easier than it looks. For example, Autobarn national IT manager, Chris Panagiotou, says one of the challenges he faces on a daily basis is ensuring that every element of the entire Autobarn IT infrastructure—corporate and franchise-based alike—functions in a manner that best supports the ongoing efforts of the company and its franchisees. "Essentially," he says, "every piece of hardware and software that we use within Autobarn has to be the very best in a mixed corporate and retail operation. In addition, everything has to work together seamlessly. This is absolutely critical in our highly distributed IT environment." With increasing demand for in-house colour printing capabilities, Panagiotou says he was faced with the need to identify a networkable colour printer that was fast, had quality colour printing—important for use in retail where absolute adherence to corporate branding standards is essential—and could be used and maintained by the users themselves.

In late 2005, Panagiotou tested an Epson AcuLaser C2600N colour and monochrome laser printer. "I’ve seen over the years that Epson has established a strong reputation in the laser market," he says. "And I was keen to see how that reputation, in combination with the company’s leadership in colour printing, would suit our corporate and franchise requirements." In the Autobarn retail environment, effective use of point-of-sale (POS) materials, such as brochures and shelf-signage, is an important part of the business, and it’s one where the Epson colour laser printer is set to have significant impact. Panagiotou explains: "Just as with many other high profile retail environments, the consistent use of correct branding throughout Autobarn is an absolute must. "This means that when one of our retail stores prints shelf signage, the colours have to be an almost perfect match to what’s shown on the computer screen." Panagiotou regards this as being a major justification for recommending the printer to Autobarn franchisees. "We discovered very early on that the quality and speed of the printer were of such high levels we were able to produce our own software procedure manuals and brochures for a fraction of the price it was previously costing us with an instant print supplier," he says.Another devotee of a desktop laser system is David Maerz of Handsome Prints, a small business in Fairfield, Victoria, that specialises in restoring ageing and damaged photos. They recently purchased an HP colour LaserJet printer. The company services all of Australia and printers are very important to their business, with the HP LaserJet being used for the production of flyers, colour brochures, invoices, quotes and general correspondence. They also use colour inkjet printers for printing photographs and CD/DVD labels.

"It has taken me almost a year to find a colour laser printer that is simple, economical and high quality as well as being easy to install and configure for our small network," Maerz says. "In comparison to other products we tried, the HP CLJ 2605dn is small, quiet, extremely high quality, and installed on our network perfectly. I did not have to create ports or configure IP addresses on the printer, the software installer included did it all for me! This is impressive, and helpful in a small business without a dedicated IT expert." In the end, the best way to choose the appropriate desktop printer for your company is to follow the 3-F rule: functionality, functionality, and functionality. Put another way, if the printer you choose has all the functionality you need, in principle you can’t go wrong. At the end of day, one of the things that you are trying to achieve here is to remove the outsourcing of your printing needs. And if a desktop printer can do that with quality, reliability, and within your budget constraints, then you have managed to solve the dilemma of choosing the right desktop printer.

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