business desk   Small Business Helpdesk

Tips & Hints

Choosing an office printer

7 April 2001

The dream of the paperless office is still exactly that: A dream. Most offices need a good printer that is economical to run, reliable and fast. A balance has to be struck between the price of the printer, its running costs and the functions.

Many small businesses fall into the trap of buying the cheapest printer. This is almost always a mistake because the cheapest printers are expensive to run and not designed for office use. Home printers just aren't designed to cope with the workload of most offices.

Inkjet Printers
The cheapest printers available are inkjets and these are usually fine for home use. Cheap inkjets have the advantage of providing black and colour printing at a reasonable price. Some computer deals throw in an inkjet as part of the package.

Printer manufacturers have followed the example of the razor companies who long ago realised it was more profitable to sell the razors cheap and make money from the replacement blades. The cheap inkjets are cheap to buy but tend to need their expensive cartridges replaced frequently. Some people find it is cheaper to give away the "free" printer that came with their computer when the ink runs out than it is to keep using it.

Laser Printers
A laser printer is much more expensive to buy than an inkjet but the running costs are much lower. A laser printer is quicker, more reliable and cheaper to run. If you print more than five pages per day or have a network you will find a laser is cheaper and will last longer than an inkjet.

The drawback with laser printers is that A3 size or colour laser printers are fiendishly expensive. If a business needs to print in A3 or colour occasionally then having an inkjet for those occasions is the best option. Of course, if you do need to print in colour or A3 all the time then the laser is still the better option.

Connecting printers
Printers come with a USB or Parallel port connections and some have a network card option. For new computers, USB is the best way to go particularly if you have other parallel port equipment such as zip drives or scanners. Older computers don't have USB ports and it is important to check the printer will work on the older computer, many new printers need an ECP or EPP capable printer port.

The computer that has the printer attached can be shared with the rest of the network. Networked offices will find it easier with a network card built into the printer or a print server. The print server or network card plugs straight into the network and means the printer doesn't need or interfere with any of the computers.

In summary
All but the smallest businesses should have a laser printer. If you need some colour or A3 printing then a having a cheap standby inkjet is the most cost-effective option. USB is the preferred connection type and a built in network card or print server is recommended for networks. Shopping around for printers and consumables is definitely recommended as the costs vary dramatically between stores. Finally, always keep at least one spare printer cartridge handy because you can bet you will need a new one at the worst possible time.

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