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Choosing the right printer

There’s more to choosing and buying a printer than price. Let’s face it, the image of your business is reflected in the quality of your printing. Here’s some fine print to consider about choosing a printer and subsequent running costs.

Your printer impacts on your business in subtle ways. Every printed document that goes out from your office carries with it subtle messages about your business—size and professionalism. So it’s important to select a printer that helps you convey the right impression to customers and clients. Closer to home, the printer you choose can even affect employee morale—if your printer is responsible for an endless litany of crumpled paper and botched print jobs it will be seen more as a source of frustration and annoyance than a valuable office tool.
Making the right choice is important for a number of reasons, tangible and intangible. With so many of us having a love-hate relationship with the office printer, this month we consider what you should look for when choosing one.
There are basically two types of printer technologies: laser and inkjet. Laser printers work in a similar way to a photocopier, using toner that is heat-fused to the paper forming a strong bond between the two. The text remains crisp looking even if the paper gets damp. Laser printers are available in both colour and monochrome versions and both are priced at an affordable level for business use. Inkjet printers operate by spraying minute drops of ink onto the paper. This process is more susceptible to humidity and, if the paper is damp, the ink has a tendency to bleed particularly on lower quality paper. On the other hand, inkjet printers can produce photographic quality results on special paper, a feat most laser printers can’t achieve.
When deciding between monochrome and colour, Tom Lewis, national marketing manager of ANZ Printer Channel Operations for Fuji Xerox Printers, is an advocate of colour printing. “At a document cost level, colour printing is more expensive than black and white but it can dramatically improve the impact and effectiveness of documents to deliver real value,” he says. “If a business is wondering if it can afford to print in colour our answer would be: an SME looking for cut-through in a crowded market can’t afford not to print in colour.”
The choice of printer is not, however, as simple as choosing between a laser and an inkjet. There are many other considerations that affect your choice of what’s best for your business. One is the quality of the printed output. This involves not only the ‘stickability’ of the ink or toner to the paper but also the quality of the printing. For example, your marketing or advertising department may require an inkjet printer for making high quality proofs particularly where there is a need to match Pantone colours or proof commercial print jobs.

Long-term Print Cost

If there is one thing almost everyone comments on in terms of printers it is the relatively high cost of consumables. When you consider that many retailers offer printers for less than a couple of hundred dollars, the price of consumables can easily amount to many times the price of the printer over its lifespan. So factor in the cost of consumables and, to do this, compare not only the price of the cartridges themselves but also their anticipated lifespan, typically identified as a number of printed pages. Some printers may use more expensive cartridges but if they last longer you may find the printer has a lower cost per printed page, which is a truer indication of cost than the price of cartridges alone. Also factor in other parts which may need to be replaced on a semi-regular basis, such as the drum in a laser printer.
While many printers found in retail stores will satisfy the needs of a very small business, most businesses should consider purchasing a printer that is rated for business use rather than home and SOHO use. “Businesses typically print many more pages per month than home users, and require a higher level of reliability and robustness in printer design as the printer will be used by multiple people,” says Graham Harman, general manager, Oki Printers.
Printing speed is also an important factor for business use. Be aware, however, that there is no single accepted measure of a printer’s speed and most manufacturers calculate printing speed as pages per minute achieved in a larger print run, where the printer has already gone through the warm up process and the document data has already been received by the printer. Expect the actual printing speed of most printers to be less than the optimum value stated, and the speed of colour printing to be significantly slower than that for black and white, particularly in less expensive printers.

Printer Network & Features

While many businesses allocate a printer to each individual user, this can be wasteful of resources and consumables. Often a better solution is to locate a single more fully featured and faster printer in a central location so it can be shared by a number of users. Not only can you provide a higher quality printer because you’re only buying one, but you’ll also only need to purchase one set of consumables. This central printer might include more advanced features such as a higher print resolution, faster speed and, if it is attached to the network, you may be able to manage the printer from the network to monitor its use—identifying users who print excessive numbers of pages and even limiting those users who can print in colour to keep costs down.
Ease of use is another consideration. If the printer is difficult to use you run the risk of it being a source of frustration in the office instead of the useful tool it should be. Ensure the printer you choose includes the options you need for your office–for example, additional print trays so you don’t have to change them every time you need to print on a different size paper. Other features such as a straight-through paper path will let you print on thicker than normal papers, A3 size printing is useful for newsletters and large brochures, and finishing features such as automatic double-sided printing, sorting, collating, saddle stitching and stapling can save users the time it would take to perform these tasks manually.
Consider too that having access to a high quality printer in-house can save money on jobs that you might otherwise send out to the local print shop. Short-run print jobs and those which need to be performed on an ad hoc basis, or which incorporate changeable information and have a short lifespan can often be produced in-house if you have a printer that gives the desired high quality result, explains Harman.
Penny Santis, head of lending and operations at Mortgage Watch, settled on an HP OfficeJet Pro 850 workgroup inkjet printer for her business needs. “Our biggest issue was finding a printer for our advertising material,” she says. “We wanted to produce it in-house but we needed a printer that would produce high quality documents cost effectively. With a print run of 1,500 pages every couple of weeks the OfficeJet gives us high quality prints at an acceptable cost.”
Harman also advises SMEs to consider the appropriateness of MFD or multifunction devices that incorporate a scanner as well as a printer. “Many business people still fax documents, but with a MFD they could use options such as scan to email, to scan the document and email it direct from the printer’s scanner, thus saving paper and the cost of sending the fax.”
Like any technology purchase it’s important to determine exactly what you want from a printer and to be clear about the types of documents and the number of pages per month you will be printing. Armed with this information you can more accurately compare printers and ensure they offer the features you need at an acceptable price.

Printer Comparison 

Printer

Features

Price

Suitability

Dell 1320c colour laser

Prints 16ppm in black and 12ppm in colour

Management systems alert users to low toner levels and allow administrators to designate printing rights, set print volume quotas and track printer usage

Free toner cartridge, recycling service

Energy Star certified

$349

Small businesses

HP Officejet Pro K850 colour inkjet

HP thermal inkjet

Print quality up to 1200 x 600 dpi (black and white) and 4800 x 1200 dpi (colour)

Print speed up to 4ppm (black) and 3.6ppm (colour)

Standard media sizes—A3+, A3, A4 and B4

Maximum input capacity (sheets)—up to 150

Standard output capacity (sheets)—up to 100

Network capable

From $599

Small office, home office and SMEs needing to produce high quality colour in-house

Brother HL-4050CDN colour laser printer

Up to 20ppm colour and black-and-white printing

Built-in Ethernet, network ready

Built-in automatic duplexing,

high-Speed USB 2.0 and parallel interface, USB Direct Interface for PictBridge and USB flash memory drives compatibility

Expandable paper input capacity with optional 500-sheet paper tray

Regular or high yield colour and monochrome toner cartridges to meet user needs,

12 Months on-site warranty

$1,099

Small office, home office and corporate home office markets

Epson Stylus Photo R2400

 

A3+ inkjet printer designed for fine art reproductions, commercial quality photographs and design proof printing

UltraChrome K3 ink set and a 1-inch wide, multi-layered piezo print head, 8-cartridge system

Light-fast colour—75 years on enhanced matte paper; and over 200 years on enhanced matte paper for black and white.

Print speed, black, 6.5ppm; colour, 6.5ppm; photo 8 x10-inch, 80 sec+.

$1,499

Businesses needing commercial quality photos and design proof printing

Ricoh Aficio SP 8100DN black and white mono laser printer

 

45ppm with fast duplex printing

22-second warm up and first print speed of 6.0 seconds Optional 3,550-sheet paper capacity

Ability to prevent unauthorised access to confidential documents by storing them in memory and releasing them only when a password is entered

Compatible with most network environments

Duty cycle of 250,000 prints per month

 

$5119

 

Businesses needing high volume, high quality mono printing

FujiXerox Phaser 7760 colour laser printer

Prints colour up to 35ppm, and black and white up to 45ppm

First-page-out-time as fast as 9 seconds for colour. 

Maximum paper size: 12.6x 18-inch and banners. 

Automatic two-sided printing

1200 x 1200 dpi resolution plus photo mode

512 MB memory and 40 GB hard drive

Standard input capacity is 650 sheets

Network compatible

Maximum duty cycle up to 150,000 pages per month

 

$11,548.90

Businesses needing high quality and consistent colour printing