Your printer just died and you’re ready to run out to the nearest Business Depot and buy the first one you see. But there are so many options: Inkjet or laser? Monochrome or colour? Single-function or multifunction?

Think about what you actually need, right now, and in the future. And consider

the cost of consumables such as toner, ink and paper, as well as the total cost of your printing infrastructure.

If you take a step back and consider the total cost involved — not just the sticker price of the printer — you’ll be better off in the long run, says Michael Hyjek, senior analyst of Canadian customer segments with IDC Canada. If you’re unsure, turn to a trusted advisor, consultant or reseller for advice.

When deciding what type of printer to buy for your business, there are a few fundamental questions you need to answer. What documents am I printing today? What will I be printing in the future?

Look at your printing requirements for speed, advanced paper handling, and colour, says David McGlashan, marketing programs manager for small and medium business with Hewlett-Packard Canada.

Are you printing mainly text and spreadsheets? Are you printing colour documents such as sales and marketing materials? If not, is this something you’d like to do in the future? Do you need features such as two-sided printing or stapling and stacking?

You also need to figure out how much you’re actually printing. Specs on printers are broken down into duty cycles. If you’re printing more than the recommended duty cycle, the parts will wear out faster and the printer will require more servicing. If you print 5,000 pages per month, don’t get a printer with a duty cycle of 500 pages per month or you’ll end up paying a lot more on maintenance.

Also consider how you’re using colour in your business communications (if at all) and how you’ll use it in the future. You might be concerned, however, that if you start using more colour, your consumable costs will go through the roof.

“The perception is that it’s going to cost them a fortune in razor blades,” says Bill Fournier, senior market analyst with Evans Research Corp. For the most part, though, that’s a misconception. While the cost per page for colour is more than monochrome, in reality, you’re not going to be using a lot of colour for the average business document.

However, costs could spiral out of control if your employees are printing colour pages off the Internet. You might have to institute controls on the network of what employees are allowed to print, or educate employees to go to their printer menu and hit “grayscale” before they print off the Internet (or set the printer default to grayscale).

But you don’t have to jump into colour with both feet. While colour lasers support a higher print volume and create the most durable printouts, a low-cost colour inkjet is a good option if you’ve never had colour in your office before and want to take that first step, says McGlashan. But colour lasers will eventually come down in price and become a more viable option for SMBs.

Right now, the majority of SMBs are running networked mono laser printers, says Fournier, while inkjets are mainly being used to provide colour in certain departments. Smaller businesses are using high-end inkjet multifunction printers (MFPs) that combine a printer with photocopier, scanner and fax. But most of the low-end inkjet MFPs are too slow for a business environment, he says, and are predominantly consumer-oriented products. Consider inkjets for individual and departmental use where speed isn’t an issue.

But deciding on a printer doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Most likely, you’ll need a mix of printers, such as a high-speed mono printer for text documents and a colour inkjet for low-volume marketing collateral. Being proactive and determining what mix will work best for your business could save you time, money and hassles down the road.

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