Buying guide: printers

For businesses that print highly confidential documents like legal papers and financial details, look for machines that secure print data.

Looking for more IT advice? Post your question here, and we'll get our experts to answer.

Buying a printer can be easy, if you know what to look out for. Read on to find out which printer is best suited for your business environment.

Q. Which printer does the job best?
AIO (all-in-one) office inkjet printers are designed for offices that have fairly low to medium printing volumes, i.e. fewer than 1,000 pages per month, while requiring multiple document processing needs. These printers are capable of printing in black and white (B&W), as well as color; they can scan, fax and have copy capabilities at an affordable price point in one compact model. AIO inkjets help space-strapped offices save precious space, while minimizing the need to interlink the various functions. Offices without IT staff will also benefit from the bundled office productivity software and easy networking capabilities. Additional office-tailored features to look out for are built-in fax functionality, a high auto-document feeder capacity (for sending large fax jobs and for easier copy functioning), high yielding cartridges and reliable machines with high duty cycles (determines the maximum usage performance).

Offices that have medium printing volumes, i.e. about 4,000 pages per month, and a higher number of employees, will gain better value from a laser printer solution. This is because laser printers have relatively faster print speeds and produce professional-quality printouts while costing less per printed page. Look for a printer that prints at about 25 pages per minute and to fully benefit from the laser technology; this will also limit the printing congestion. A strong recommendation is to look for a machine that is not GDI (Graphical Device Interface) or host-based, these machines can slow down a users PC, network and servers. Look for a machine with PCL (Postscript printer languages); printers that feature PCL and postscript will generally print faster, with higher and more consistent quality and not affect the PC or network performance.

SMB Buying Guide

Did you know?
Dots per inch (dpi) is a typical but limited measure of print quality.

Bottom line:
To judge print quality, compare the the printouts by looking at color intensity and how close it is to the original photos.

If there is a requirement for color printouts, invest in a high-end color laser printer. These machines will give more value per color printout than the cheaper entry-level color laser printers. Other factors to consider:

  • High speed in-built processors

  • Color jobs are about four times more complex than B&W jobs. A faster processor means faster printouts.

  • Color and cost management

  • Look for machines with advanced color and cost management technologies, as these tools will help you reduce the cost of color printing and can even tell you the color content of individual colours used in the print jobs.

  • Postscript

  • Look for a machine that is Postscript and Pantone compliant, these features will maximize color output quality and consistency. Postscript will not only improve the color output quality but also reduce the burden on the network, server and workstation PC.

  • USB interface

  • Look out for added features like USB direct printing interface for direct PC-less printing.

For businesses with high volumes, i.e. 5,000 pages and above, a workgroup of users will only benefit from laser technology due to the much lower running costs. If the requirement is mainly for mono printing then look for a printer that prints between 40 pages and 50 pages per minute, the general rule of thumb is the higher the speed of the engine, the more reliable the machine and the lower the running costs. Postscript and PCL are a must in this environment; without this feature, larger print jobs will slow down the network and PC.

If a business or workgroup requires a multifunction printer, look for a machine that does more than the simple tasks of printing, copying, scanning and faxing. Look for a machine that will reduce your running costs not only with a lower cost per page but also a machine that is easy to use and can also profile your business tasks and processes to reduce unnecessary document duplication and improve document and data flow. Look for a manufacturer that will allow you to work with consultants to achieve this simply because most businesses don't have the expertise or the time to do it themselves.

For businesses and organizations with a requirement to print highly confidential documents like legal papers, financial details, and government-related information, look for machines that feature print encryption or IPsec (IP security protocol) to ensure that all print data is secured and to prevent sensitive information from being leaked out.

The running cost of laser printers has always been an important buying criterion for businesses. To properly account for the true cost of the printer, look for a machine with a built-in feature that gives you detailed print usage data. Buyers should also note that different manufacturers rate their cartridge capacities very differently. For example, some manufacturers rate their cartridge capacity based on a lower darkness level setting. Remember to view the detail and darkness levels of the printer in its default setting. A printer that has a print capacity of 2,000 pages with dark, solid and clear print output may print more than a printer that states 3,000 pages as its print capacity and prints in a light and low density output, when set to the same setting.

Q. How do I judge print quality?
Dots per inch (dpi) is a typical but limited measure.

For inkjet printers, look out for things like the ink cartridge and compare the ink quality. Six-colour and ink cartridges with a print head, usually cost more but deliver sharper, cleaner and more vibrant printouts over the life of the printer. This is because print heads have limited optimal life, which is usually the life of the ink cartridge itself. To compare ink quality, compare the printouts by looking at color intensity and how close it is to the original photos. Reported print life is also another important aspect as it tells if the colour prints will fade over time.

For monochrome documents, test-print small text and Asian characters like Chinese to judge sharpness. Make sure the printer supports PCL or Postscript for higher quality and more consistent output. Compare the print jobs by looking for darkness density, clarity and how a printer fills in solids and text.

Q. What else should I look out for?

  • Print speeds

  • Print speed is affected by many factors. Engine speed--typically displayed in pages per minute--determines the maximum page speed the hardware can support. However, the hardware cannot print unless the print job is processed, so the memory capacity and a processor speed will also affect the print speed. PCL and Postscript will also, in many cases, create smaller print files and improve print processing.

  • Ease-of-use features

  • These are extremely important. Features that are difficult to use simply mean that the features will not be used. Select a printer that is easy to set up and use, especially those with more advanced tasks such as obtaining usage data, toner and ink capacity; sending confidential jobs; and being able to save data without the use of PCs for quick data transfer and portability.

  • Cost per page

  • Currently the industry standard is only to measure output at 5 percent coverage (the amount of page covered by ink or toner). However, some manufacturers quote their cartridge yields on only 3.5 percent coverage, while others rate their toners and inks in draft mode. Look and ask for yields and page lengths in normal 600 dpi print mode at 5 percent coverage.

  • Compatibility

  • Compatibility to the computer and server is also important. Look for printing solutions that don't just support Windows to make sure that the chosen technology is portable across other networks and change-proof. Linux and Mac operating systems and servers are growing in popularity; Unix-based servers are also being adopted into many businesses of all sizes.

  • Intelligent document management and dataflow

  • A typical organization can spend between 1 percent and 5 percent of its total revenue on printing output. Look for a manufacturer that can assist in workflow and document flow so as to reduce the printers' running cost. Look for a vendor that can consult with you on how to do this, instead of relying on yourself or someone in your organization.

  • Secure your data

  • Look for a print solution that can encrypt data travelling to and from the printers. Make sure that if the printer features hard drives, it also features security options such as disk wiping to make sure that re-imaging and unsolicited access is nearly impossible. Encryption, physical cable-lock protection are critical to information safely and security.

These tech tips were provided by Minh Tran, marketing manager, Lexmark ASEAN/South Asia.

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