Seven steps to choosing the best printer

Is there a science to selecting the right business printer?

This week I have watched a client struggling to buy the right printer and I realized he had been working on the basis of asking for a quote rather than asking for advice.

Printing in house is a requirement that will not go away so long as we want to see images on paper, and it presents your business with the hidden issues of cost (upfront and ongoing) and quality. Getting it wrong will absolutely have an impact on your bottom line AND your stress levels.

There are seven key factors to consider when purchasing a business printer:

> Cost of the device (either upfront or over a lease term)

> Cost per page (or consumption of ink/ toners)

> Speed of job completion

> Capacity of output (“duty cycle”)

> Finishing features (collating, stapling, double-sided print)

> Quality of the printed matter

> Reliability (support, maintenance, down time)

Given we expect our printers to last for three to six years, an upfront saving will not result in the best economic outcome from the purchasing decision. The ideal approach is to look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

TCO brings in all seven elements noted above and puts a value on them over the useful business machine’s useful life. For example, the cost per page (i.e. If the toner is 50 cents per page, then the cost of printing thousands of pages a year is a big deal!), maintenance cost, the quality and compatibility of the driver software and the cost of maintaining drivers on the network (typically the IT management cost).

Cost per page is typically calculated at 5% of total ink usage, so if you are printing lots of photographs or large colour brochures with background colour the price per page could blow out very quickly. It’s a complicated area, and there are entire articles written on the formulation of cost per page calculations, so I won’t go into all that here.

In an office environment with multiple staff connected to a networked printer, the capacity or duty cycle of the printer becomes important. In my experience it is best to have central large-scale printers with high duty cycles and good maintenance to ensure continued functionality and performance. These also tend to offer the best first page out speeds and the best multiple page speeds. Smaller personal printers may be good for the finance or HR departments but the cost and speed need to be assessed against the need for privacy in having a dedicated machine.

Consider also the finishing features e.g. having a printer that can fold, staple or collate can save hours of manual input on larger jobs for events or marketing runs that are done in house. Also, what size paper trays will you need and how many? Is 50 sheets of paper enough or should it be 1000 sheets of A4 and 50 of A3?

Under the broad heading of print quality we can address the type of printer. Is it for black and white text only or colour or in house printing of glossy brochures? There are many different things that can be done with a printer these days and failing to look strategically and build the right business case may limit your abilities in the marketing department resulting in further costs if outsourcing print jobs becomes necessary. The type of printer selected and the quality of the device selected determines quality of output.

Keep in mind that outsourcing of high capacity or high quality work every now and then may be cheaper than buying a larger printer. However, printing a few thousand brochures a year in house may save you enough money to justify an upgrade that saves you many cents on each page you print for the other 20,000 pages a year that get printed.

Printer types include; ink jet, laser jet, business laser or multi-function. If it is multi-function, features such as fax, network, print, copy, black and white, colour, collating, stapling, etc, are all considerations at the purchase point.

So you must know your facts for the buying decision:

> How many pages do you typically print a month? i.e., the “duty cycle”.

> How many people will connect to the printer?

> What formats do you print in?

> How much of your printing needs to be colour?

> What quality of output do you need?

> How many pages a minute is reasonable for this printer?

> Will it be network connected?

Then select a reputable brand so it does not break down just after you stocked the stationery cupboard with a year’s supply of spare toner for the thing.

With larger scale printers and photocopiers it is worth considering a managed device with a fixed cost per page that includes consumables and services during the life of the contract as it improves reliability, removes cost risk and simplifies your business management. Large companies have been doing it for years for good reasons.

So the answer to my opening question is ‘Yes, there is a science to selecting the right business printer.’

Of course, like all other decisions in IT, if you can’t figure it out talk to an industry expert who can take the guesswork out of it. Don’t expect your friendly retailer at a stationery supplies or electrical goods store to know the difference between a business grade printer and a domestic one. They are very different and buying the wrong printer will waste your time and money and drive you nuts when you need that proposal printed out for the next big job.  Therefore, my advice is to get informed based on your strategic needs and don’t focus on the upfront cost of the machine.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.

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