Printers for your business

The ins and outs of picking the right printer for your business -- whether you need black and white, colour or a multifunction device.

The fundamental technologies behind office printing haven't changed much over the years. Laser printers still deliver crisp text and graphics at top speeds, and they are less expensive to operate than inkjets. Inkjets offer low-cost colour printing, but they are slower than lasers, and the cost of ink cartridges and paper can quickly add up. Overall, the output quality is better, print speeds are faster, and prices are lower than they were a few years ago, which means that you have many great choices for business.


Black and white
In the world of black and white, around £250 gets you a laser printer for a small workgroup. Although similar to personal lasers, these printers can crank through 8 to 13 pages per minute (ppm), and they have larger paper trays. You'll find printers in this category from major vendors, such as HP, Lexmark and, most recently, Dell. Other vendors with products in this market segment include Brother, Kyocera and Samsung. The best way to share a printer such as this is to connect it to a machine that's always on (your server, for example) via a USB or parallel port and share it through the Windows printer-sharing system. Many models also offer an optional Ethernet card for direct network printing. For heavier-duty printing needs, you'll want to consider a true workgroup printer such as the Xerox Phaser 4400N. Not only do these printers give you roughly double the speed of a high-end personal printer, they typically include built-in Ethernet support for direct network connections and multiple paper trays. If your office is constantly bogged down with people waiting for print jobs to finish, moving up to a workgroup printer, which costs about £750, is the way to go.

Colour
For limited colour printing, any good-quality inkjet should suffice. Avoid using an inkjet as your primary printer, though, since the quality of the output still doesn't match that of laser printers and even plain-black ink consumables tend to be more expensive than toner cartridges. The market is also flooded with sub-£100 inkjets, which you should avoid. But having a colour printer can be a godsend for avoiding expensive trips to a print shop to make colour copies or print one-offs of your latest Web site design. You'll find models at several different prices from Canon, HP, Epson and Lexmark. Insist on a printer with a separate black ink cartridge and, for highest-quality prints, look for a printer that supports six-colour printing. Also keep in mind that there are now several colour laser printers that cost just less than £1,000, most notably HP's Color LaserJet 2500, making them viable for small businesses.

Multifunction devices
Lastly, if you're looking to save desk space by consolidating your printer with a scanner, a copier, and in some cases a fax machine, a multifunction device is a great alternative. Models are available with either colour-inkjet or laser printing, depending on your needs. Invest in a model that's based on a copier design, with a glass flatbed for scanning books and magazine, instead of a pass-through design more akin to that of a regular printer.