These days, its hard to find a poor printer. Most products on the market today perform well if you successfully match the device with your printing needs. However when it comes to cost-benefit analysis, other factors come into play, including ink and toner costs, electrical consumption, and sustainability, also known as "green" computing. Whether you're looking for dozens of printers or a single, high-volume machine, you need to assess print payment methods as well.
THE REAL COST
For most businesses, printing needs are usually limited to text-based reports, presentation graphics, and some photos. Since consumers are rarely clamoring for gray-scale charts, lets think about color technology, in both the laser and inkjet realm. Laser printers are more economical over the long run due to low cost per page but more often, the price for laser printers that print color is higher than typical inkjet printers.
Consider the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Laserjet CP2020, a $349 single function desktop color laser printer rated for 21 pages per minute (ppm) at a 600 x 600 dot-per-inch resolution. It uses traditional toner cartridges that incorporate the developer unit with rollers and gears. The black toner cartridge delivers 3,500 standard pages and costs $122.99. That works out to about $0.035 per page (calculated by dividing price by page yield). For the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges, each priced at $120.99 but rated for only 2,800 pages, the cost per page (CPP) is somewhat higher at $0.043.
However, most single function desktop inkjets arent built to stand up to the continuous use of a business environment and cost more to run with a higher CPP. That's why their purchase prices are low, often less than $200. The devices are more effective in a less-demanding environment, like a home office or dorm room.
The Epson Workforce 40, a standard single function inkjet printer that lists for $99, is rated for up to 27 pages per minute when printing black-only laser-quality text. Black cartridges are available in three sizes: standard capacity (230 pages, $16), high capacity (390 pages, $19.99), and extra-high capacity (835 pages, $28.49). Cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges are offered in standard (310 pages, $12.34) and high (390 pages, $16.99) capacities. The CPP for high-capacity versions is $0.051 for black and $0.043 for each color. But since color cartridges work together on each page, the cost is about $0.13 (the total cost of all three cartridges divided by the page yield).
Epson WorkForce 40 single function inkjet printer
That's not terrible, but to get better results, you need to use paper formulated for inkjet printers. The cheap copier paper that gets shoved into most lasers is too absorbent for inkjets, resulting in text that often loses crispness. With inkjets, you'll also be replacing cartridges more frequently; so it's important to stock up. Lastly, it's a reasonable bet that youll need to replace an inexpensive inkjet well before a laser one, which adds to the overall cost.
Last year, Kodak created buzz by offering ink at a much lower CPP than its competitors but the strategy scored higher in mindshare than market share. The black #10 cartridge costs $9.99, but the $14.99 color cartridge complicates matters. Containing chambers with five different colored inks, you'll need to replace the entire cartridge when any one color runs out.
Lexmark has also strived to reduce ink costs for office devices. Lexmark launched a nationwide ad campaign this week that boasts it offers the world's lowest black ink cost.
But, both Kodak and Lexmark have moved from single function printers like the above mentioned WorkForce 40. Consumers will need to consider a more expensive all-in-one printer to reap the benefits of cheaper ink from Kodak or Lexmark.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Combining a mix of print, copy, fax, and scan into a single unit has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Though no standard definition exists, in the inkjet world, it's usually called an all-in-one or AIO printer; to the laser crowd it's a MFP, multifunction printer or peripheral printer.
For home offices or small businesses with modest demand, inkjet AIOs can be a great fit. Manufacturers have their own take on AIOs cost, from moderately-priced to more expensive laser quality machines. Let's look at some inkjet models that should give their laser counterparts pause.
Epsons Artisan series has led the move to a sleek, black designer look you wont find with most laser multifunction printers. The $299.99 Artisan 810 features a 7.8-inch smart operator touch panel, sends color faxes, and prints images on CDs and DVDs.
Epson Artisan 810 all-in-one inkjet printer
Kodak's new $229.99 ESP 6150 supports high-speed 802.11n wireless communications and offers two-sided duplex printing standard. The Kodak uses pigment-based inks, the same ultra-fade-resistant technology used in high-end fine-art printers. The HP Officejet Pro 8500 series, available in three models ranging in price from $279.99 to $349.99, features Direct Digital Filing software to help organize scanned documents.
The Lexmark Prestige Pro805, at $199.99, is one of three Lexmark printers compatible with the 500-page cartridge at $4.99 a cartridge. Unlike Kodak, Lexmark, like most other printer makers, uses individually replaceable ink cartridges for each color, in this case, four. Finally, for users looking for a wide-format printer, the $349.99 Brother MFC-6890cdw can print, scan and copy sheets up to 11 x 17 inches while still offering plenty of functionality not typically available on single function wide-format printers.
Brother MFC-6890cdw all-in-one inkjet printer
When it comes to business or commercial environments, laser-based MFPs are more robust. Unlike inkjets, they are built to withstand continuous use and many companies are using them to convert millions of legacy paper documents into an electronic image for easy filing and retrieval.
Schools use MFPs to print bubble sheets for administering tests which they and route to test-scoring software and the student information database. Similarly, hospitals use MFPs to scan physician orders, log them and route to pharmacies where prescriptions can be filled immediately. Banks and even military recruitment offices use MFPs to scan birth certificates and other personal documents into secure electronic document management systems. Documents are then indexed for easy searching and retrieval.
HP, Lexmark, Brother, Xerox, Samsung, Canon, Konica Minolta, Panasonic and others offer color and monochrome MFPs starting at about a few hundred dollars.
Panasonics DP-MC210S1 is a 21 page-per-minute color laser MFP that merges printer, copier, fax, and scan capabilities into a single compact unit. Like many MFPs, it includes a 50-page automatic document feeder (ADF), a 3.6-inch color LCD display that simplifies operation, and a slot for SDHC cards that allows users to print from their own flash media though some businesses may be weary of employees taking advantage of this feature. The DP-MC210S1, which retails for $1,999.99, includes two paper drawers for a total input supply of 770 sheets. Similarly, most of Lexmark's MFPs feature a front-panel USB port that allows user to plug in their own flash drive and print graphics files and PDF documents.
For less demanding environments, laser-based MFPs are available at much lower prices. HP's Laserjet M1522 monochrome-only MFP, recommended for environments that print up to 2,000 pages per month, is priced at $399, and also features a 50-page ADF. For $1,599, the monochrome HP LaserJet M3035 delivers 35 ppm and 6,000 recommended pages per month. The HP Laserjet CM2320nf, at $599, has print speeds up to 21 ppm and prints color. Of course, you can spend more if you upgrade the paper capacity a nd print to the maximum monthly duty cycle of 40,000 pages.
HP Laserjet CM2320nf multifunction color laser printer
Lexmark's monochrome X204n is just $254, offering a 30-page ADF, scanning directly to email, and 24 ppm printing. Bump up to color with the X543dn for $599 and get two-sided duplex printing standard, a huge benefit when it comes to reducing paper consumption. For those with color-matching needs, it supports Pantone-calibrated color. And in an interesting marketing twist, Lexmark guarantees not increase the U.S. toner cartridge price found on Lexmark.com.
PAY AS YOU GO
Another key factor to consider is how you want to pay. Many businesses follow the traditional payment method: they purchase printers from the manufacturer, add multi-year maintenance agreements, and then buy their own paper and toner cartridges. However, there's a new alternative to that model: pay as you go.
In pay-as-you-go plans, often referred to as "click charges," businesses enter into long-term leases with the printer manufacturer, or another third-party provider, that includes maintenance services. Under click-charge plans, manufacturers monitor installed printers online and then bill customers for paper and toner use.
Aside from increasing efficiency, the remote distributed fleet management arrangements offer other significant benefits. For businesses with overburdened IT departments or help desks, they can outsource every aspect of printer administration to the manufacturer. And for businesses that require employees to enter PIN codes to submit print jobs, they can track usage to the employee and file type level. No doubt the accounting department will love that.
Like leasing cars, leasing printers is simple. When the lease is up, you can trade the entire fleet of printers for newer models. It makes sense that leasing and outsourcing fleet management have become more popular over the last few years.
EASIER BEING GREEN
John Ikerd, Professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, once wrote that sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising opportunities for the future. Its not just about society and the environment, he observed, its also inescapably about economics.
How do we know sustainability and business are intertwined? A few years ago, 87% of Fortune 1000 CEOs said that sustainability is important to a company's profits. The study reveals that it's not just good for your conscious to go green; it's also good business practice.
In fact, one of the easiest ways for corporations to save money is by updating their printer fleet. They dont have to modify software applications, network infrastructure isn't impacted, and IP addresses can stay the same. Other than installing new printer drivers, which can often be done remotely to avoid visits to individual desktop and laptop computers, replacing printers is a breeze. For a business with thousands of printers, the simplicity of going green has many immediate benefits.
American office workers use about 12,000 sheets of paper per year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Thus, businesses with 2,000 employees burn through 26 million sheets in a year. MFPs and AIOs aim to reduce that amount, but only if people take initiative to use two-sided duplex printing. That alone can cut paper usage by up to half. Another economical printing technique is shrinking page images to print two-up or four-up on each side of the sheet. Duplex the pages and one sheet can replace up to eight.
Beyond printing fewer pages, today's printers consume considerably less electricity than their predecessors of a decade ago. And they are designed for easy disassembly when it's time to recycle plastic and metal parts.
Printer use for home and business is very different. In business environments, the robustness offered by monochrome and color laser models is valuable. Going with high-yield or, when available, extra-high-yield toner cartridges can help drive down CPP and reduce recycling commitments. And today's printers, more compact that those of yesteryear, consume less electricity, generate less heat, and print faster.
But for smaller businesses or large offices with small workgroups, an AIO office centric inkjet printer can be more than adequate since manufacturers have increased print speeds, offered laser quality features, and have brought down their CPP.
Consumers should examine their current fleet and decide what features they use on a daily basis, an approximate monthly duty cycle, and a budget. As most manufacturers offer a business model, be it an inkjet or a laser printer, it will be easy to find a good fit.
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