The paperless office has been one of the holy grails of office automation for decades; however, in spite of all the advances in computer technology and electronic information exchange many businesses still have a need to print forms, receipts, promotional literature, and other business documents. Fortunately as with computers themselves and other peripherals, printers have steadily declined in price over the years while improving in features and performance. Even so, with the wide variety of available models and features in the printer marketplace how does a business owner decide which printer to buy?
Evaluate your Printing Needs
As with any piece of office equipment buying a printer starts with an evaluation of needs. How much printing will you be doing? Printer duty cycles are specified in pages per month (ppm); generally speaking the more expensive high speed printers are designed for heavier workloads and have higher duty cycles. What kind of printing will you be doing? Black and white text only? Color? Text or Graphics? Photos? Do you need to print from the cloud or from wireless devices? How much space do you have? With multiple paper trays and document feeders some printers weigh in excess of 50 lbs and have a large footprint.
If your business also needs fax, scan, or copy capability a Multifunction Printer is probably the best solution. Multifunction printers are the “Swiss Army Knives” of office machines, saving space by combining several office functions in a single unit. Note that while a multifunction printer can do many things, it does not necessarily do them all well, for example, if you need high resolution scanning you will need to purchase a standalone scanner. The remainder of this article still applies to Multifunction devices as they are basically regular printers with a scanning unit and fax modem added. Typically a manufacturer will market both a basic printer and a multifunction printer using the same print engine.
Connecting your Printer
If you are printing from a single PC the printer can be directly connected via USB or if your office is wired for networking the printer can be attached to the network (see Printer Networking). If you want to print wirelessly from Wi-fi devices such as iPhones and tablets then a printer with a wireless interface is best. If you need printing from the cloud or from mobile devices make sure your printer supports technologies such as Google Cloud Print or Apple AirPrint. If you need to share a printer between Windows and Mac computers see How to Set Up Printer Sharing.
If you plan on printing documents on a regular basis automatic duplex printing capability is a must. Duplexing allows printing/copying of two sided material which cuts paper usage in half and gives a professional look to your documents, however duplex printers are more expensive.
Laser printers use a statically charged rotating drum to pick up particles of toner to print on paper. Lasers excel at printing text and are generally faster, more reliable, and more expensive than inkjet printers, although the line has blurred in recent years as inkjet printers have improved in speed. Laser toner cartridges have larger capacity than inkjet tanks and so require refill/replacement less often. If your printed output is mostly black and white text, monochrome laser printers are an inexpensive, fast, and reliable solution (color graphics are rendered in shades of grey). Color laser printers can do an adequate job of printing color graphics and photos but cannot match the resolution and image quality of an inkjet printer.
Inkjet printers use tiny nozzles to squirt ink onto paper and as such are capable of printing at very high resolutions, making them perfect for printing color graphics and photos. Some are designed specifically for color photo printing on glossy paper. If your business needs high quality color graphics or photo printing an inkjet printer is the solution. Note that if you have the space and budget a two printer solution might be ideal. For example, if you do a lot of text printing and have only the occasional need to print photos a laser printer and an inexpensive inkjet photo printer could suit your needs.
Some manufacturer quoted print speeds are measured under ideal conditions and can be wildly optimistic compared to real-world usage. The ISO (International Standards Organization) has published a standard for measuring print speed in ppm (pages per minute). Look for the ISO ppm number when comparing print speeds between printers.
Printing Costs - Ink/Toner Replacement
Unfortunately in the case of printers, manufacturers have compensated for the reduced margins on printer hardware sales by raising the cost of consumables such as ink and laser toner. In some cases replacing the entire toner/ink cartridge set for a color printer can exceed the cost of buying a new printer – in effect making the printer a throwaway device. Many printers are now equipped with “low” toner or ink level sensors that render the printer inoperable when a single toner cartridge or ink tank is low. If you plan on regular use of the printer check the replacement or refill costs of ink/toner. Inkjet tanks are typically good for a few hundred pages of printed text (more expensive models can last up to almost 1000), whereas high yield laser toner cartridges can yield over 10,000 pages. While expensive to purchase, a high yield laser toner cartridge may actually have a lower cost per page. Before buying a printer try to find out the cost per page from the manufacturer’s specifications or from online reviews.
Inkjet tanks can be refilled at refill depots or you can purchase a refill kit and do it yourself. Some laser toner cartridges can also be refilled; kits are available on eBay and from other online vendors. Do-it-yourself refilling of ink tanks or laser cartridges may save you money but is typically messy, unpleasant, and not for the “mechanically challenged”. Some office supply stores offer exchange credit for empty ink and toner cartridges.