A buyers’ guide to printers for business

Growing Business guides you through the colourful new world of printers


Despite rapid movement towards a paper-less office, as a business it is likely that you will continue to need to print documents and it is important that you choose the right printer for the job. 

The good news is that printer prices have fallen considerably in the past five years and there are a plethora of affordable options to choose from. On the downside, because many different models will have hidden costs, so it is vital that you take the time to research and understand the small print before you buy.

Speed and quality are probably the most important factors, while colour is the fastest growing printer segment driven by a combination of falling prices, faster speeds and demand for in house colour printing. While colour was once a luxury, the new breed of printers cost less to run with cheaper consumables such as colour ink cartridges and falling costs per page. Expect to pay around one pence for a black and white page, and five pence for a colour page.

Choosing the right printer for your business is critical – and complicated. Prices range from the deceptively low entry-level price of simple inkjet printers for as little as £50 (although these are renowned for punitive running costs with low cartridge page yield and high ink replacement costs) to £1,000 for a top of the range laser printer. Laser offers faster print speeds, high-quality black and white, as well as colour printed documents, and competitive laser consumable costs, including the added benefit of individual colour and black cartridges.

Printers for business use

There are two types of printers which are commonly used by small businesses – laser and inkjet. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Laser printers are generally more expensive than ink jet technology printers to run if you use infrequently, but much more cost effective to run if you have to do a lot of printing.

An inkjet printer is fine for home-use, but for any busy working office they are not a cost or time effective option as replacement ink cartridges can be expensive.  In choosing a printer you certainly get what you pay for. Higher prices will buy you features such as:

  • faster print speeds
  • higher print quality
  • network connectivity 
  • sophisticated paper handling.

You should carefully consider the following when choosing a printer:

  • running costs
  • speed 
  • connectivity 
  • quality
What do you need?

It is always worth assessing your current usage by conducting a quick print audit of average pages printed per month, A4 or A3 requirements, and colour usage. Take a long-term view and consider the potential growth of your company. Expect to allocate one printer to every eight to 10 users, with faster products in departments such as marketing and sales that produce lots of presentations and mailings. If you are outsourcing work to copy shops, it is now usually cheaper to bring these jobs in-house, especially for printing stationery and tailored promotional brochures. There is less wastage and no limitations on print runs or penalties for small orders.

While colour printers dominate the market, you will not want your staff running off colour documents or images without controls. Make sure that your new printer has good administrator features so you can limit colour usage, either by user or group, or even by document type. These features are available on many models and are designed for use by laymen, as opposed to IT specialists – an important point to consider.

Colour and mono

Colour printing has remained popular, although the day-to-day printing needs of most businesses is still likely to be in black and white. The printer vendors are obviously keen to push colour as it increases their margins on consumables, but remember that the best business printers do offer mono and colour simultaneously. It is also possible to disable the colour on a printer if you do not need colour now but want to future-proof your purchase.

3D printing

3D printing is undoubtedly where the future lies. While the cost of purchasing the latest technology in 3D printers is high, as new technologies develop costs will certainly come down.

Speed versus quality

Laser produces a high-quality finished product at the best speeds. Inkjets may look like a cheap alternative but beware the exorbitant consumable prices, as these will eat up your print budget.

Key points on your printer shortlist should be ease of use, total cost of ownership translated into cost per copy and taking into account consumables, print quality and speed. There is nothing more frustrating that setting up a new network printer only to find that users are waiting ages to collect documents. Falling prices mean that you should be able to pick up a good quality laser printer offering 24 pages per minute for around £119, while a top quality business printer running at up to 42 pages per minute costs around £800.

But remember that speed has to be balanced with quality; test out a selection of frequently printed colour documents and look out for clarity and crispness of the text and sharpness of colour. Consistency of colour output is another great measure of a printer as you will not want long print runs fading out midway through a job.

Other considerations 

Buying a printer is rather like buying a car – you can go for the base model with no extra features or spend your entire budget on a fully specified model. Likewise with printers, the entry-level models will do the job, but at slower speeds with lower yields per cartridge, leading to higher running costs. Paper tray capacity will be limited and are expensive to buy as extra options.

Check out the processor speed as this is vital for converting data into a format suitable for printing. The faster the processor the better the printer will cope with complex print jobs. Some low-end machines still use the Windows GDI (graphic driver interface) system, so that the PC does the bulk of the processing. This is a cheap option, and not suitable for office demands.

The bigger the hard drive the faster your printer will be able to handle print jobs, improving productivity. It is also possible to save regularly printed documents on the hard drive, such as expenses forms or location maps, or quick retrieval and printing.

Another must-have for most businesses is network printing, which is often not available on cheaper models and this is something that is essential for any office set-up, however small. Wireless printing is an alternative for smaller office workgroups.

A great cost-saving feature to look out for is duplex or double-sided printing that can slash your paper bills considerably, not to mention help the environment. Energy saving features and better power consumption are also features to look out for, as these will help to reduce your electricity bills and are also less damaging to the environment.

Hidden costs

The capital cost of printers may be relatively inexpensive but the cost of consumables, maintenance and hardware plays an important part in budgetary decisions. Estimates suggest that 40% to 45% of total cost of ownership goes toward hardware servicing and consumables, and 55% to 60% is down to manageability and reliability.

You should expect to spend anything between £299 and £6,000 for a colour laser printer, depending on the size of the workgroup, range of features required and print speeds. When you need replacement cartridges you can save money by buying high capacity toner cartridges – these print nearly twice the number of pages and cost about 20% more than a standard cartridge, a significant upfront saving.

As prices are squeezed and printer prices continue to fall, vendors will rely increasingly on consumables to maintain profitability on printer sales. To keep costs down, negotiate a bulk price agreement on cartridge replacement costs, buy online or consider one of the new vendor-run packages that offer cost-per-page packages similar to copier contracts, where users pay a fixed sum per month for the whole package.

Major players

HP dominates the printer market with nearly half of UK sales and is the favoured brand offering a range of products covering all budget levels and speed requirements. HP grew by 19.5% in the last quarter of 2010, unlike Dell which struggled to keep its market share and only grew by 11.5% during the same period.  It has a large dealer network and the products are also widely available on the high street and online.

While Epson previously dominated the top end of the market, it has been overtaken by relative newcomer Acer which grew at 13.5% in the fourth quarter of 2010. Xerox, Dell, Oki, Lexmark, Canon, Kyocera Mita, Konica Minolta, Brother and Samsung all sell business printers, with most of these vendors looking to launch 3D products in the future. 

Warranties and maintainance

The industry-norm is a one-year vendor warranty on printers covering parts and typically engineer response within 24 hours. Most manufacturers and dealers offer extended two, three and four-year warranties offering different levels of support. These have to be bought within 90 days of the original printer purchase. Maintenance can be a real bugbear for printers and remember that you have to use all the original consumables and parts to maintain cover.

The Xerox two-year extended on-site warranty ranges from £199 to £259 and the HP Care Pack Services warranty next day on-site response costs £65 for a one -year package.

Alternatively, there are independent service companies and prices range from £100 to £250 per model per annum for an eight or four-hour response time. Expect to pay hourly rates of up to £50 per hour and a minimum call-out of £55 to £80 for one off repairs. Consider what IT skills you have in-house that could reduce, or increase, the number of call-outs you’ll make.

How to buy 

Dealers and resellers offer a great starting point for a printer purchase as you can review a selection of manufacturers’ products under one roof. Some manufacturers sell direct to businesses but they often focus primarily on enterprise customers. Dell sells the majority of its business online but has started some direct sales to business customers.

If you are looking for bargains, try online computer and peripherals web stores such as amazon.co.uk and Pricerunner.co.uk, and on the high street multiples such as PC World Business and Comet will offer you the opportunity to test the printers first hand.

CHECKLIST: BUYING ADVICE

1. Bear in mind the total cost of ownership Do not go for a cheap printer without considering the cost of consumables

2. Buy a model with separate consumable cartridges for each colour so that you can replace on an as-needed basis as opposed to wasting under-used colours. Look out for high-capacity toner cartridges

3. Compare the current monthly cost of printer consumables, support and maintenance with the new printers

4. Consider whether a contract based on page output can save money

5. Make sure that you can control colour usage on all devices

6. Buy the best processor available within your budget to keep productivity levels as high as possible. Also check the warm-up time is as fast as possible

7. LAN connectivity is essential for networking

8. Check maintenance contracts and any warranty limitations

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