Computer accessories for your business

The choice of printers, scanners, cameras and projectors can be mind-boggling. Learn how to narrow it down

A business that doesn’t rely on IT equipment to run is a vanishingly rare sight nowadays. To use IT equipment to its full potential, you are likely to buy various accessories – this guide is intended to help you when purchasing some of the most common one.

In this article, we cover:


What kinds of printer are there?

  • Laser printers. These are normally the best option if you plan to use the printer for day-to-day business tasks; although the up-front costs are higher than an inkjet printer, the running costs are significantly lower.
  • Inkjet printers. Inkjets have a very low upfront cost and are good at printing photographs, but the running costs are extremely high, and they are not at all efficient when it comes to black-and-white printing. For these reasons, they are less suited to business use.

Specialist printers

Inkjet and laser printers aren’t your only options:

  • Dot matrix printers: cheap to run and durable, these are often used to print receipts or lists of goods in a warehouse. The print quality is very basic.
  • Plotters: used to print large-scale colour photographs, flags and large signs. These are very expensive to purchase and run.

What are laser printers?

Unless you are a sole trader or small business that only needs to print a few pages a week, a laser printer is the best option for general business use.

When purchasing, take these factors into account:

Speed

Consider the size of your business and how much printing you will need to do:

  • Small laser printers – Will print at around 16 pages per minute (ppm) and will produce up to 5,000 pages per month. Small laser printers are good for businesses with less than five employees.
  • Large laser printers – These can print up to 40ppm, so are useful for larger businesses printing off large volumes of paperwork.
  • Quality – Quality is defined in dpi, or dots per inch – generally, the higher the dpi, the better. You will need at least 600 dpi to produce legible text, although most commercial laser printers will comfortably produce 1,200dpi.
  • Colour – Colour laser printers are more expensive than their black and white counterparts, so think about whether you will really need to print in colour and how often. Colour printing also costs more. A good idea would be to purchase both a colour inkjet alongside a mono laser printer, so your employees can use the inkjet printer when they need a colour document but will not print in colour unnecessarily.
  • Paper size – All laser printers come with the ability to print on A4; models that can also print on different paper sizes will cost more.
  • Paper volume – Look at the capacity of the printer – if it is going to be pressed into service regularly, find a model that holds at least 500 sheets of paper.
  • Networking – Some printers come with the built-in ability to connect to computers on a network – many now use wifi. If the printer you buy doesn’t have this feature built-in, you will need to purchase a print server.

What are inkjet printers?

Inkjet printers are useful if you want to print off photographs, or if you print off extremely low volumes per month.

Some factors to consider:

  • Quality – Inkjets produce decent quality text, but excel when it comes to printing photographs. Since the inks are usually water-based, they can be easily smudged.
  • Paper – Most inkjets only print A4 – again, you will have to pay a premium for the ability to print in larger sizes. You will generally only get a single paper tray with inkjet printers, except in the most expensive models.
  • Volume – Inkjets are not suitable for networking or large volumes of printing. The output speed is very slow compared to laser printing.
  • Running costs – The upfront cost of an inkjet can be as little as £30, but this is because the manufacturers sell them at a loss, making huge profit margins on expensive replacement ink cartridges. Indeed, many inkjets reject unbranded cartridges altogether, forcing you to use the manufacturer’s own brand.

What are scanners?

Scanners allow you to convert photos and printed documents into digital format, so you can print, store or email them on. Most commercial scanners are flatbed scanners; they are sold both as a stand-alone device or integrated into printers.

Generally, scanners are used in business to create digital copies of important documents, such as invoices, contracts, and receipts. Modern scanners will be compatible with both PCs and Macs.

Some factors to consider when looking to purchase a scanner:

  • Speed – If you only need to scan single pages or small sheafs of documents sporadically, a basic manual flatbed scanner should be fine. More than this and you should look for a scanner with an automatic document feeder.
  • Quality – Like with laser printers, dpi is the measure of quality scanners use. 1,200dpi and up should provide you with good quality scans. Bear in mind that manufacturers sometimes artificially inflate the dpi figures – look for the ‘optical resolution’ statistic on the scanner specification, as this will give you the most accurate indication of the true dpi.

What are digital cameras?

Digital cameras are far more widely used than their film-based variants nowadays. They store photographs as digital files, which you can then print, send or store.

Factors to consider when purchasing:

  • Quality – The quality of digital photographs is measured in megapixels (MP). You will need around 5MP for good-quality full-size printouts – for posters and larger images, it’s likely you will need 9MP or more. Megapixels are not the only indicator of photo quality – lighting, sharpness and other factors all come into play, so your best bet is to read reviews online before purchasing.

Digital camera extras

Some extras you are likely to need:


What are projectors?

Projectors are used to display blown-up images or video on a screen, which you can use for presentations, training and seminars.

Factors to consider when purchasing:

  • Brightness – A projector’s brightness is measured in ANSI lumens; a higher number indicates a brighter image. Some rules of thumb to guide you:
    • 1,200 ANSI lumens: This will work well in a dimly-lit room.
    • 2,000 ANSI lumens: Suitable for general indoor or office use.
    • 3,000 ANSI lumens: Suitable for outdoor or bright environments.
  • Resolution – Look for the native resolution figure – this will signify how detailed the image is. For a widescreen projector, 1280×720 will deliver a crisp, HD-quality image.
  • Input ports – Most modern projectors connect via HMDI or DVI ports, so check your computer has the corresponding inputs and you have all the correct cables. Older projectors normally use VGA.
  • Real-world performance – Try and test the projector in the conditions you will be using it in before buying. Check the projector’s size and weight – will you be frequently lugging it around with you?