Does your small business need a multifunction (print, fax, scan, copy) unit or not? Should you go with an inkjet or laserjet? If you have a very small number of people, does it pay to buy a network printer?

These are the types of questions that can stall a buying effort before it’s even begun, but they are important. It’s definitely worth taking some time to consider your true printing needs before making the buy. The upfront costs may be low, but if you make the wrong choice, you’ll pay through the … well, through the cartridge.

We spoke to representatives from both Lexmark Canada and Canon Canada to determine which situations call for which types of products. Here are three tips to choosing the right printer for your office.

  • Multifunction or not: Both experts indicated that for small businesses, multifunction units can very often handle SMB printing requirements. Scanning units and fax capabilities built into multifunction devices today are more than up to the tasks of convenience faxing and scanning, says Hugh Dyke, director of Lexmark Canada’s Consumer Printer Division. “So we suggest really looking at those units first.” Another advantage is simplicity. If you have no IT department, a single vendor — with a single product and a single number to dial for warranty or support — will be more appealing than four. Cost also plays a part, adds Mark Phillips, assistant manager, product marketing, Imaging Systems Group, Canon Canada. A multifunctional unit will have considerably lower operating costs than a separate printer, copier, and fax machine. It will also take up a lot less space in the office. But if you need a specialized scanner because you work with graphics or do in-house production of high-volume marketing materials, you will need a big flatbed scanner. “Or,” says Dyke, “if the fax machine is a major communications centre for your business, inbound or outbound with either your customers or suppliers,” a multifunctional unit might not work for you.
  • Should I network?: SMBs must consider their total monthly volume of printed pages when making the decision to move to a higher-end networked printer or copier. According to Phillips, a small business of only two or three people might generate thousands of pages a month and warrant a high-end printer. But a business of 25 or more users may only generate a few hundred pages per month, which would not warrant an investment in the same high-end printer. You can share non-networked printers through a Windows, peer-to-peer environment, but it can be inconvenient and disruptive. If you are only connected to your co-worker’s PC (which is connected to the printer) you can print but you will use the power of the other PC to do so — and it can slow that PC down dramatically. Consider where users are physically working as well. Do you really want them going up a flight of stairs or walking long distances to pick up pages at a centralized network printer? Dyke says given the prices of entry-level network printers these days (which he pegs at as low as $179 for networked monochrome laser printers, $49 for inkjets, $149 for an inkjet all-in-one and $549 for a networked colour laser), it may make sense, even for as few as two people.
  • Laser versus inkjet: This is probably the toughest puzzle to solve, since each business user is different. There’s no magic formula, but Dyke lists three primary issues to consider. The first is budget: you have to determine what you can afford. The second consideration is your need for colour documents. Some businesses are satisfied with printing only black and white internally, and they could get by with a monochrome laser. But many businesses have adopted colour documents for external business and marketing communications. Monochrome won’t do. Third, the old question of print volumes must be considered. Ask yourself how many pages a month you anticipate printing. All printers have a duty cycle. Inkjet printers typically support between 3,000 and 5,000 pages per month. Good laser printers typically are rated for in the area of 25,000 pages a month or more, says Dyke. But that’s not all. For long-term savings Dyke recommends SMBs look for printers that support high-capacity inkjet cartridges or high-yield laser toner cartridges, because these will generally deliver lower daily operational costs. “And if you’re in the inkjet camp, I would look for products which have cartridges that include both the print head and the ink tank in one integrated unit.”

Hugh Dyke is director of Lexmark Canada‘s Consumer Printer Division.

Mark Phillips is assistant manager, product marketing of Canon Canada‘s Imaging Systems Group.

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