Choosing a business printer can be a daunting task. There are so many different types, ranging in price from under $50 to over $1000. How do you know you’re buying the right type? Which one is going to last the longest? Why do some printers cost so much, and how do you know when you actually need to spend a little more? Here's a start to answering all of these questions.
Inkjet vs. Laser Printers
The first major decision to make is between the two main printing technologies: inkjet printing and laser printing. Inkjet printers use cartridges of liquid ink that is forced through a nozzle onto the paper, whereas laser printers use dry powdered color that is “fused” to the paper with heat.
The only thing inkjet printers really have going for them is that they’re cheap, at least up front: The purchase price of an inkjet machine is typically lower. Aside from that, there’s not really a good reason to go with an inkjet printer. Laser printers outperform inkjets across the board, both in long-term cost savings and in quality.
- Laser printers are typically 3 to 10 times cheaper per page you actually print, depending on the specific model. This savings is significant, and will quickly pay off the initial additional cost of purchasing the machine.
- Laser toner cartridges have a much higher “page yield,” meaning less time wasted changing cartridges.
- The ink tubes in inkjet printer cartridges have a tendency to clog easily, rendering them ineffective and requiring early replacement. Laser printers do not have this issue.
- Laser toner cartridges do not expire, whereas inkjet cartridges typically last a few years, and if opened must be used immediately. If they aren't used frequently, they dry up; this can happen easily to your color cartridges if you usually print only in black and white. Dried up ink cartridges further add to the cost of inkjet printers.
- Laser printers are many times faster than inkjet printers. Typical inkjet printers can only put out around 6 to 10 pages per minute, whereas entry-level laser printers boast 20 to 30 pages per minute. Higher-end models can clock in at 60 pages per second or more! This isn't just useful for those who need to print a lot—waiting a whole minute for a short document to print can just be a drag.
There is one special scenario when you may want to consider an inkjet printer: for printing photo-quality full-color images. This isn’t to say that laser printers can’t produce nice-looking color images—they can—but a purpose-built, high-quality inkjet photo printer will still have the upper hand. However, consider how often you will really need to print high-quality photos. There are numerous alternatives for occasional photo-printing needs, including local stores like Walgreens and online services such as Snapfish.com that allow you to order prints exactly as you want them and have them delivered to your door. Unless you are a professional photographer or designer, a laser printer is probably your best bet.
Color vs. Black & White Printers
Color printers can print black and white documents too, so why would you want to consider a printer that doesn't have the ability to print color? Aside from black & white printers typically costing less, they’re far more simple from a mechanical aspect. This leads to them being more reliable, since they have fewer parts to potentially break down or malfunction.
Consider how often you will need to print in color. Many printer users typically print a lot of black and white text documents and only occasionally really need color printing. If you’re a home user, you may want to consider the alternatives above in the inkjet vs. laser printer section for when you occasionally need color printing.
For users who print a lot of black & white text documents but want the capacity to print color documents in-house, consider purchasing both kinds of printers for your office. You’ll be able to better match the “horsepower” of the printer to the actual volume of printing you do, which lets you reap the cost savings of a black & white printer for those pages that don’t need color.
Single Function vs. Multifunction Printers (MFPs)
Single function printers just print. Multifunction printers typically print, copy, scan, and fax. So why would you want to consider a single function printer other than the initial cost savings? Like the "Color vs Black & White" example above, simpler really is better in terms of reliability. Fewer parts mean fewer things to go wrong.
But what if you do want the print, copy, scan, and fax functions? Consider how frequently you use those functions. I like to consider it like the kitchen gadget that supposedly does everything: It may get each job done, but it’s certainly not going to do it as well as a device built solely for that purpose. If your company does a lot of scanning, consider buying a separate scanner. Standalone scanners are typically much faster,and being a simpler device should also be more reliable. Need to fax? Consider using online faxing services such as Hellofax.com, which don't require a dedicated fax machine (or phone line).
Many business would certainly find the value in having a single device to take care of all these functions, however. If that's the case for your business, just don’t skimp on the quality of the all-in-one multifunction that you buy. Also, consider an extended warranty or service plan that covers all maintenance.
Price Point: How Much You Should Spend
Now that you’ve arrived at the exact type of printer—or printers—you want to purchase, how do you know whether you need the $150 model or the $750 model? Aside from features, there are some important distinctions that make some printers cost more than others.
The first and foremost reason that printers command a higher price is the volume that they’re built to handle. This is arguably one of the most important specifications to consider, yet it is often overlooked by shoppers.
It is typically referred to as the “duty cycle” in the printer’s specifications page. The duty cycle is not the same as the "monthly recommended volume," although it’s similar. Both address how many pages your machine is designed to print. Technicalities aside, just keep in mind that you should be buying a printer with a duty cycle rating at least 10 times the number of pages you typically print in a month. If you don’t, you may end up throwing far more at your printer than it was designed to handle—which can cause frequent breakdowns or premature failure.
Printers with higher duty cycles also typically have larger toner cartridges, meaning fewer “replace toner now” messages and less frequent stops to order more supplies. As an added bonus, larger cartridges typically have a much lower cost per page.
Connectivity: USB vs. Ethernet vs. Wireless
Printers that connect to your computer via USB cable common for home users, as well as small businesses where you only need to connect the printer to one computer. However, many businesses want multiple users to be able to use a printer (or multiple printers, like a black & white and a color machine). While a USB printer can be shared, it’s really not the best way to get the job done. That’s where “network printers” come into play.
Having a network printer allows you to easily print from any computer on your network. With network printers, you have the choice of Ethernet (wired into your network) or Wireless (connected to your network using WiFi). If possible, you always want your network devices to be wired (Ethernet). There are just too many things that can go wrong with wireless devices, which ultimately lowers their reliability.
Some users just want to be able to print. Others may find some of the various extra features of the higher-end printers beneficial. Here’s a brief list of some of the features you may want to consider.
- Display screens & buttons – Inexpensive, sub-$100 printers often lack any kind of display and have very few buttons. This makes setting them up and operating them much less intuitive, and if anything doesn’t work just like it should, troubleshooting can be a pain without an informative display.
- Paper input and trays – Some printers allow you to add on multiple paper trays. This is useful if you commonly use different types of printed output materials, such as colored paper, envelopes, or printable checks.
- Cloud features – Some printers can integrate with online document archival services or allow printing from any internet-enabled device, even those outside your office (allowing you to print from home or your phone).
- Duplex printing – If you want to be able to print double-sided (front and back), make sure you get a printer with a “duplex” printing feature.
Dymin Systems can help you choose the perfect printer for your home or business. Come into our Urbandale, Iowa, showroom to look at our wide selection of new and refurbished computer equipment, including all types of printers. We'll help you figure out what you need and what the best computer solution is for you.