Read between the lines

Buying a printer may seem like a no-brainer, but making the wrong decision could cost you more than you might realize.

The number-one mistake small businesses make is purchasing inkjet printers – a consumer technology, says Vince Londini, research analyst with London, ON`s Info-Tech Research Group. When there are only two or three people in a company, signing a lease contract with Xerox may seem a bit ridiculous, but inkjet technology will cost much more over time than a workgroup laser printer.

A laser printer uses toner cartridges (it heats the toner with a laser). While the toner cartridge might cost you between $50 and $100, you only have to change it every 5,000 pages or so. An ink cartridge for an inkjet printer costs $20 to $50, but you have to change the cartridge every 100 to 200 pages. While lasers generally have higher resolution than inkjets, some of the newer inkjets have a glossier print quality suited for printing photographs (but if you’re printing a lot of photos, the cost of the cartridges will become a consideration).

Where there are few employees or low usage, an inkjet printer will probably do a good enough job, says Londini. “But we pretty quickly cross a line around 10 employees, at any kind of normal usage, where you want to be looking at something you’re not going to get at Best Buy.”

It pays to benchmark your current usage and focus on eliminating the highest-cost printers. Then figure out your goals. Could you function with a centralized group printer? If you’re printing 50-page documents every hour, speed is going to be a factor. Almost every enterprise wants some colour, but colour costs can easily spiral out of control, says Londini. Colour management is another consideration, and some printers have built-in controls that limit colour usage on the network.

Seek out suitors

Next, identify your options and start talking to vendors. As a small enterprise, you don’t necessarily have to go through the request for proposal (RFP) process, but come up with a list of three or four critical factors, such as cost, speed and number of printers.

Colour is great at conveying a lot of information quickly and can be important from a selling and marketing perspective, says Jean-Paul Desmarais, marketing manager of business printing with Mississauga, ON-based HP Canada. If you’re in a business like real estate, photography or fashion design, you want to convey a photographic-quality image, so an inkjet printer would be the best solution. If you are conveying general office business communications, such as PowerPoint slide sets, image quality is not as important. In this case, laser printers are a better fit, since they can scale to higher speeds and throughputs than inkjets generally can.

If you’re just printing out invoices, mono is probably sufficient, says Paul Patterson, marketing manager for Lexmark Canada in Richmond Hill, ON. But if you’re an advertising agency and want to make presentations to potential customers, doing something in mono may not get the message across.


There is another reason for considering inkjets: mobility. Wireless inkjets are the latest in printer technology and a good option for employees who need to print on the road.

The lease-versus-buy decision will primarily drive negotiations with vendors. A large device shared between 15 to 20 employees becomes mission-critical, since those employees are all depending upon that one device as part of their workflow. In that scenario, the idea of having the hardware, consumables and service contract all wrapped up into one monthly bill is compelling.

“There are false economies in buying the least expensive piece of hardware because the more robust hardware, which has a higher purchase price, has larger consumables,” said Desmarais. “Because it has a higher-capacity cartridge, the cost per page is lower.”

Until now, however, actual page count per cartridge has been hard to gauge because every manufacturer has a different way of measuring it. Fortunately the ISO recently approved a standard that defines the method for determining ink cartridge yield for colour inkjet and multi-function printers. This makes for a more realistic comparison between different printers.

If you look at the car industry, for example, safety standards for airbags are consistent. So it makes sense to bring that same consistency into the printing realm – comparing apples to apples. This can only be a good thing for customers, said Patterson, since they’ll now have a consistent view of cartridge yield across various product lines.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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