Today’s challenging economy makes buying a printer a major business decision. Before you purchase that printer you so desperately need, be sure that you consider these top issues:
- Do you really need Monochrome or Color?
How you will use the printer is a major deciding factor. For instance, if you plan to print internal accounting data, monochrome may be all that you need. If you plan to present printed information to clients or the public, you will generally make the best impression and more easily make your point with the use of color. Today’s printer manufacturers have reduced the cost of color to be almost the same as monochrome. If the printer is shared and you fear abuse, many of today’s color printers have capabilities (thru hardware and software) to restrict how much a group or individual may print in color.
- What kind of interface do you need?
Interface refers to the way your printer connects to your workstation. If the printer is to be shared or expected to handle large files (10MB or larger), an internal network printer card is the fastest and preferred method (100BaseT is the best. A gigabyte card is a waste of money since you cannot drive a printer any faster because it has to RIP the data first). For personal or single workstation use when a network is not available, connecting the printer via USB results in faster output than a parallel connection.
- What resolution is necessary?
Resolution is not necessarily the key to the final quality of your printed documents. A printer’s resolution indicates the maximum number of dots per inch (dpi) that it will print. Manufacturers would like you to think that more dots results in a better image. While this is true to some extent, the type of toner and paper you use, as well as how the dots are placed, all have an impact on image quality. Your application should dictate the necessary resolution for the printer. If you are printing text and numbers most of the time, then high resolution buys very little. If images will be part of your printer’s requirement, then resolution becomes a factor. For high-end graphic printers, you need to know if the printer performs “auto-registration” in order to maintain print quality and whether the manufacturer provides software that will allow you to adjust the color curves if needed.
- How much speed do you need?
The speed of any printer is usually rated as the number of “pages per minute” (ppm). Generally, the higher the ppm rating is, the higher the price. However, manufacturers rate the speed at the lowest quality level—usually draft. In a postscript printer that means that, if a document is sent to the printer requiring 20 copies of the same page, it would print copies 2-20 at 20ppm. The first page will take longer due to the amount of time that the printer needs to convert (referred to as RIP) the postscript file into the printer’s language. Remember, if you duplex (print on both sides of a media) or use the high resolution (photo) mode, the print speeds will reduce by more than ½. Equally important is the printer’s processor speed. The higher the MHz rating speed (for example, 500 MHz), the faster the first page will print out. There is a misconception that more RAM always means faster throughput, but this is not necessarily so. Above a certain RAM level, throughput does not increase. Changing how the file is configured (i.e., embedded images, image types, compression) will greatly affect throughput.
- What is your cost per page?
The average life of a printer is three to five years. The cost of supplies over the life of the printer is a huge cost when compared to the initial printer purchase. The real cost lies in the cost of the consumables for the printers and the number of consumables. It is not usual to spend more than 3-5 times the cost of a printer in three years. A general rule of thumb is that the cheaper the price of the printer, the higher the cost per page to print. You will want to check the yield—the number of printed pages from a single ink cartridge—because the lower the yield, the more times you are taking an employee away from regular work to service the printer. If you print 1,200-1,500 pages per month or have heavy color coverage, then you might want to think about investigating a pay as you print business model.
- How easy is care and support?
Test how hard it is to change the toner cartridge. Can anyone change the toner? It seems like printers are always in “out of toner” syndrome when you need to print a rush project. The second highest cause for printer down time is the lack of cleaning and routine maintenance. The manufacturer’s printer provided software is a way to help monitor printer performance to reduce downtime. Is the printer menu intuitive? Can you use your workstation browser to check the printer status? Since most printer manufacturers’ maintenance agreements do not include preventive maintenance like cleaning the printer or user application questions, find out what kind of support is provided. Can you get assistance over the phone without waiting forever? While many maintenance agreements promise a response within 24 hours, they also consider a return phone call as a response. In reality, you shouldn’t expect that a tech will be on site until a day or two after you call, especially if parts are required. Matter of fact, most companies will do whatever they can to fix the printer over the phone rather than dispatch a tech for on site work so you should be prepared to spend time on the phone. A language barrier has become a problem with many manufacturers’ support lines. In addition, most charge for the phone support help unless your machine is under warranty or a maintenance contract. Printer tech support people are usually of little help with application issues and just refer you to the applications help desk. Many local resellers have much more relaxed support policies. The most important consideration should be to investigate the level of support prior to purchasing because you are sure to have printer issues at some point that will require help.
These six issues are not meant to serve as a complete list of the factors that you need to consider when buying a printer. Your own circumstances will dictate additional considerations. Nevertheless, these are basic issues to examine as you make your decision about purchasing a business printer.