Once upon a time, all any organisation had to answer when buying a printer were three simple questions:
Advances in the technology and falling prices have led to new questions and the evolution of the trio above.
Inkjet or laser?
Either. The boundaries between printer types are diminishing all the time. Misconceptions such as “Laser printers are cheaper per page over time” have long been discarded. Manufacturers are investing huge sums to ensure tomorrow’s laser is yesterday’s inkjet, and vice versa.
Mono or colour?
Go for colour. Yes most prints will be black, but ink and toner now contain chemicals to counteract drying out, so even extended periods of not printing in colour are fine. Make sure you get separate colour cartridge slots, not tri-colour cartridges. This way you’ll only replace what you use, minimising waste and saving on cost.
Multifunction or standalone?
Multifunction printers (MFPs) now match the performance of standalone printers, saving on space, wiring and plug sockets. Simply decide what functions you need before researching your options. Remember that most MFPs can’t use more than one function simultaneously; a single machine may be overwhelmed if you have large copying, faxing and printing demands.
Find a balance between available funds and long-term running costs. Cheaper printers will save on start-up costs, but will require more expensive cartridges, meaning higher costs per page in future. Check availability of compatible cartridges (ie ones not made by the printer manufacturer). The existence of these consumables indicates a popular printer and long-term demand – and will also help save on printing costs.
If you buy a printer from a high street store, be aware that when the next upgrade arrives from the manufacturer, not only will your model disappear from the shelves, but the cartridges will too. Check that you can buy consumables online for your machine as well.
Ethernet ports are a given and WiFi capability can up the price of a printer significantly, but there are benefits. It saves on cabling and enables you to position the printer where it’s convenient, enabling flexibility in office and hardware layouts when your business begins to grow.
Ease of installation
Check for user reviews online. Is it a simple plug-and-print model? Avoid printers with unnecessary installation software on CD. This is especially relevant when selecting an MFP, because some not only require you to set up a user profile for each person/PC before you can print, but some demand a separate installation for each profile per printer function.
Make sure your printer has a clear display for error and performance reporting. This is crucial when purchasing an MPF, because more than one function can go wrong.
Look for a front USB port, because this enables you to plug in memory sticks to print documents without the need of a computer.
Estimate your usage needs – is a 200-sheet tray big enough? To avoid the hassle of replenishing paper, check higher capacity trays or the availability of add-on storage trays.
If you want to produce a range of printed media (eg cards, labels, various paper weights), check the printer has trays for separate media feeds and doesn’t rely on a single-sheet manual feed, which can be very time-consuming.
Matt Bird, StinkyInk
It is a well-known fact that ink is now more expensive than gold – and last time I checked not many companies were printing in gold. So how can you minimise your long-term printing expenditure? Here are my ten tips.
1 Separate cartridge slots
Great saving potential lies in simply switching from a printer using tri-colour cartridges to one with individual colour cartridges. You only replace what you use, thereby minimising waste and with ink/toner now containing chemicals to counteract drying out, you needn’t worry about cartridges sitting dormant.
2 Draft print mode
Draft uses up to 50 per cent less ink than the default print mode, with the only downside being a small loss of print quality. It’s a great money-saver and you can easily switch back to the standard setting when printing important or presentation-quality documents.
3 Greyscale prints
Do you need to have colour in all letterheads, text and images? If not, select greyscale in your printing options. This only uses the black cartridge, saving the more expensive coloured ink for important pages.
4 Low ink performance
Some printers will mix all three colour cartridges to maintain printing, even when the black has run out. Check your printer guide. If yours has this feature, you need to monitor black ink levels rigorously to avoid draining your colour reserves at a horrendous rate.
Technology is your friend. Duplexers (printing on both sides of the paper) save not just time and effort, but paper costs too. Even budget-end printers may now include this feature.
6 Print in batches
There are two important factors to remember for each separate print request sent to your office printer:
You will use less power and ink/toner if you send print requests through together, instead of forcing the printer to run numerous start-up and cool-down procedures.
Additionally, certain printers perform print head cleaning every time they turn on, which wastes ink. If your printer manual lists this attribute, either limit how often you turn it off or only turn it on when you need to do groups of printing.
7 Paper quality
Printers have become more tolerant of lower weight (ie thinner) paper, making it an ideal way to limit costs for documents that don’t need a professional finish. Look out for reams of 80gsm paper, as this stock can still give nice prints and good cost savings.
8 Paper settings
Not many people know that their printer’s paper settings can impact their ink usage, and thus your costs. Different papers have varying absorption and dispersion rates, which will be pre-programmed into printers. To confirm your setting matches the paper you’re feeding into the printer, when you select print, quickly take a detour through to “Properties”, locate the “Paper type” option (typically in the form of a drop down or tab) and ensure they match. This will eliminate any ink wastage and help reduce costs.
9 Recycle paper
Make it a habit to check if sheets of paper are blank on the reverse before binning them. If there’s no print and the edges aren’t damaged, you can add them to the printer tray and use for producing draft prints. This saves a lot on cost, as well as being more environmentally responsible.
10 Go compatible
The stereotypical dodgy refilled cartridge vendors have been rendered obsolete by advancements in quality requirements. Compatible (third party) cartridges must now meet stringent testing requirements to be listed on respectable retailers’ shelves and websites – and are of course cheaper.
Matt Bird works for printer cartridge superstore StinkyInk.