2010 was a strange year for the printing world. At time of writing we are 11 months into the year, and while the market has grown and there have been enhancements in printer technology that benefit small offices, there has been no real advance that’s blown the market open.
So what benefits emerged in 2010, and what can you look forward to in the next year?
USB... Ethernet... Pictbridge...Card readers... Wireless support... Internet-ready... The connectivity of printers has gone through the roof, with most of these features now expected as standard for the printer to even sit in our offices.
Full access to the printer’s settings is now available on LCD screens (some of which are now detachable like a tablet PC). With huge attention being paid to usability and functionality of these menus, soon you won’t need anything other than your printer for your entire image and document printing demands.
Start-ups can rejoice. You are no longer trapped between choosing a low-volume laser printer or medium-volume inkjet machine, both with equally high costs-per-page.
A fantastic range of higher volume ink cartridges and inkjet printers hit the market throughout 2010, providing competitive choice for those who print around 500 pages a month. With some ink cartridges printing up to 1,000 pages a pop, for a much lower start-up cost than similar-sized laser printers, the market is well set for even bigger ink cartridges in 2011.
Whether induced by the recession, or manufacturers hiring less inspirational folk, 2010 was a bit of a disappointment.
In the home printing market manufacturers continue to push model after model of identical specifications, with only a few printers being worthy of increasingly demanding consumers. Not particularly inspiring stuff. But the laser printer market was the real disappointment.
“New smallest machine”, “New even smaller laser printer”, “New tiniest-ever colour laser”. Manufacturers seem obsessed with ergonomics and aesthetics, when the market is crying out for a financially viable, low-to-medium volume laser printer. If the printer is good enough, the office will make it fit. Ignore the size and appearance and put some work into performance boys, 2010 was not good enough.
But what of 2011 for the small and medium office environment?
Be prepared for value-per-page to increase as competition and market saturation pushes costs down. Expect a complete redesign of the appearance of small business printers, making them visually appealing and less of an eye sore in the home office. Look out for the rise and evolution of internet-ready printers, opening up your office to a whole host of printing features and possibilities that are simply too numerous to talk about here. With huge implications – not just for internal documents but also how you communicate and present yourself to customers – I would definitely advise you to do your research and watch this space.
1. Remanufactured cartridges void your warranty
Often seen as the greatest barrier to effective third-party cartridge distribution, most people wrongly believe this to be true. Pressure from EU and American trade laws mean it is illegal for a manufacturer to void your printer warranty purely due to the use of third-party cartridges. Look in chapter 50, section 2302 of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act for further details.
2. Remanufacturers only replace the toner
Prevalent in the “drill and fill” region of the market, this leads to poor performing cartridges due to the strain experienced from repeated use. Professional third-party providers replace all worn and damaged components in the remanufacturing process. They are then cleaned and tested to standards approaching the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) stringent guidelines to ensure the quality performance you would expect.
3. Remanufacturers reuse toner in their cartridges
Ignoring the fact OEM cartridges all have different chemical formulations and are thus unable to be mixed, as soon as toner leaves the cartridge and is applied to the page it cannot be reused. Laser printers undertake a complicated series of positive and negative electrical charges to transfer the toner from a cartridge, to a printer drum, to the paper. The moment the toner is ‘polluted’ by particles from the environment such as paper dust, it cannot be reused.
4. Remanufacturers contain lower quality toner
Nearly all OEMs now use chemical toner technology, which provides finer particles in a consistent shape for more accurate printing. Remanufacturers also use this technology, meaning your third-party toner particles are of a similar quality. However, it is true OEM toner can contain more chemicals than remanufactured counterparts, as they are scientifically ‘constructed’ from the ground up for performance in specific printer models. Just remember you will only see their benefits when printing high-resolution images and text onto the original manufacturers paper; often up to double the price of remanufactured options.
5. Remanufactured cartridges can damage your printer
The process laser printers go through to print means the cartridge rarely makes contact with any part of the printer, the only issue is leaking toner. All cartridges lose some toner inside the printer, hence the existence of waste toner collectors within most laser printers. There is still the risk of excess waste through poorly manufactured cartridges, so ensure your supplier is quality tested with a performance guarantee.
6. Returned cartridges to OEMs are all reused
A mere 20% of toner cartridges are reused in the entire market, with OEMs falling behind on this statistic. This is compounded by an InfoTrends study into cartridge remanufacturing, which highlights third-party suppliers collecting 70% more empty OEM toners than the OEM themselves. Furthermore, research highlighted OEMs’ preference to recycle the returned cartridge and use only part of the materials for new cartridges, whilst third-party producers will almost always re-use cartridges once (after inspection and cleaning), saving energy and overall waste levels.
So the bottom line is that you can seriously consider buying third party cartridges in future and save yourself a bob or three.
Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk
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.