The laser printer launched in the early 1980s as the personal computer became more integrated in the workplace. Today, these once costly devices are available in a wide range of models and price points that address a company’s printing requirements as well as its environmental concerns.
Over the past few years, laser printers have become more affordable. A quick online search for laser printers or a visit to an office supply retailer reveals that there are many products to choose from for less than a couple hundred dollars. In fact, while the fundamental technology of laser printing has pretty much stayed the same - the use of a laser and the electrophotograhic method to print a full page at a time - improvements in manufacturing have lowered costs for consumers. Color laser printers, which were introduced in the mid-1990s, are also based on traditional monochrome techniques with additional specialized technology to apply color to paper.
Innovation in this product segment, like improvements in speed, usability, and efficiency continue to thrive.
Not only do laser printers align more with traditionally lower cost ink jet printer competitors, but small and medium-sized businesses are more likely to buy a monochrome, color or multifunction laser printer than they were a few years ago.
A closer look
What’s so special about laser printing?
Compared to ink jet printers, its only competitors, laser printers have long been considered business-class technology valued for superior quality and speed, and known as workhorses for enterprise printing. While ink jet printing, a technology that propels droplets of ink directly onto the medium, works for in-house document printing, inter-business quality printing requires laser technology.
Business marketing materials and graphics are better suited to laser printing while ink jet technology is regarded as superior for printing photos. A recent enhancement to color laser printing includes the introduction of chemically grown polymer toners formulated for smaller size and uniform particles for better color print quality.
According to industry experts, two notable trends in today’s laser printer market are the shift from monochrome to color and the shift from single function printers to multifunction laser printers.
“We’re seeing more purchases on the color front as prices come down,” said Larry Jamieson, director of hard copy industry advising service at Lyra Research in Newton, Mass.
Businesses can purchase color laser printers for about $299 and devices can be found for $149 to $199. Monochrome laser printers run about $149 or sometimes under $100 on special deal purchases.
In terms of printing, low-end laser printing costs go up as print quantity goes down. This cuts both ways; the higher the cost of the laser printer unit, the lower the cost per page, assuming a company prints a lot. On average, monochrome per page costs run about $.03 and $.10 per page for color.
By contrast, the cost per page of ink jet printers, is $.01 or less for black printing and $.06 - .08 for color. “Lately we’re seeing a move by manufacturers to lower cost cartridges and more business-oriented ink jet printers,” Jamieson said, adding that business customers are noticing.
However, when it comes to print speed, laser printers are typically two to three times faster than ink jet printers. According to industry watchers, advertised printer speeds are mostly accurate.
Laser printing speed has changed dramatically over the past few years. From four pages per minute (ppm) for a personal monochrome laser printer then to 17-35 ppm (monochrome laser printer less than $500) today. Several years ago, a workgroup monochrome laser printer churned out 8ppm while today’s workgroup device kicks out 30-35 ppm.
“Many businesses use networked monochrome workgroup laser printers dispersed throughout the organization for general correspondence that doesn’t require color,” said Robert Palmer, director of the digital peripheral solutions consulting service at InfoTrend in Weymouth, Mass. For color printing, laser printers dominate in the workplace.
Color laser printer speed continues to improve. A few years ago, a workgroup’s color laser printer speeds were 12-25 ppm for monochrome and 4-20 ppm for color. In contrast, a similar workgroup color device today has speeds of 25-35ppm for monochrome and 20-35 ppm for color.
Color laser printers use one of two methods for printing: single-pass or multi-pass technology, which refers to how many times the drum rotates to put color on paper. In single-pass technology, all four toner cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) are put down in a single pass. Multi-pass devices lay a single color in each pass, increasing printing time. More single pass devices are showing up in the market today.
Multifunction laser printers are also infiltrating retailer’s shelves. Online retailer Newegg.com reported that more customers are looking for multifunction devices and that manufacturers are responding.
“The monochrome laser all-in-one device, and heavy duty single function monochrome laser printers, are popular in the SMB market,” said Bernard Luthi, vice president of marketing, merchandizing and Web management at Newegg.com.
With products available under $500, small businesses are cleaning up personal printer sprawl with multifunction laser printers that also copy, scan and fax. According to industry watchers, multifunction laser printers are faster, offer cheaper cost per page and simplify fleet management. While there may be some variation on low-end multifunction devices, industry experts report more robust models rival single function printers.
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