Laser Vs. Inkjet
Choosing between laser or inkjet printers has long been a major decision point in selecting an all-in-one. The new products change that dynamic.
Laser, however, is still the first choice for monochrome printing, Wegiel said, which continues to be cheaper than inkjet. Monochrome laser offers the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) when factoring in cost of supplies.
While color laser toner cartridges have relatively high page capacity -- and last a long time compared to most inkjet cartridges -- they can cost as much as $100 each. For a $500 printer, the cost to replace all four toner cartridges (red, green, blue, black) almost equals the cost of the printer itself, Wegiel noted.
"There was a lot of sticker shock for small business buyers. So now the Pro inkjet machines have really targeted that category," he said.
Total Cost of Ownership
Cost-per-page, which will determine TCO, should always be a prime consideration. It's sometimes not easy to calculate based on information in vendor marketing materials. It might take some digging or asking questions to get the information needed.
Even then, Lichner noted, comparing specifications across vendors may be like comparing apples and oranges because not all of them test the same way.
The real cost-per-page will also vary from company to company, he said, depending on a few variables, including the type of printing -- mostly draft-quality text or mostly high-quality color with images -- and the volume of printing over a given period.
"A number of questions need to be answered," Lichner said. CDW sales reps will ask customers those questions and help them figure out which product will deliver the best TCO, he added.
In fact, small businesses can figure out approximate cost-per-page and TCO themselves with a little effort. You need three pieces of information: page capacity of cartridges -- often, as noted, requiring some digging -- plus cost of cartridges and expected volume of printing.
Even if the cartridge page capacity specification is not uniform across all vendors and products, it provides some basis of comparison. Cartridge prices are available from vendor or reseller websites.
Divide the cartridge cost by page capacity for each cartridge and add the amounts to calculate total cost-per-page; then multiply by the number of pages you expect to print.
If you can't be bothered to do that, at least check to see if the printer -- if it's an inkjet -- can be loaded with high-volume ink cartridges. Higher-volume cartridges almost always deliver lower cost-per-page, Wegiel said.
Another rough guide is the price of the printer. "The higher priced the machine," he said, "the more likely it will deliver lower cost-per-page. But I would stress 'in general.'"
Small Business Printer Brand Preference
Resellers like CDW and Staples are naturally careful about not appearing to play favorites with suppliers, but tacitly admit that brand can be a guide to printer quality.
Hewlett-Packard remains the market leader in both laser and inkjet all-in-ones for small business, Wegiel noted. "And you can't get to the point of owning half the market if you don't stand behind your products. So HP is solid."
Canon and Epson have traditional strengths in imaging and both offer all-in-ones with superior image printing capabilities. Epson has also gone after the small business market with its WorkForce Pro line.
"Epson has done a pretty good job establishing itself as the clear number two [in inkjet]," Wegiel said.
On the laser side, Brother holds the number two position, he added. "They offer a great value proposition, good features and good overall economics. They're a pretty good contender against HP."
All of which is not to say that small businesses risk buying a bad printer by choosing a Lexmark, Samsung or Brother inkjet, Wegiel stressed.
But as Lichner noted, small business customers tend to buy brands they've been satisfied with in the past, which makes it difficult for the next tier of makers to wrestle market share from the leaders.
Other Small Business Printer Considerations
There are a few other selection criteria to consider. Duty cycle -- the vendor's estimate of the average number of pages before the printer wears out or requires servicing -- factors into TCO, Lichner pointed out.
Printer speed is important in high-volume printing environments, or where big jobs that can monopolize a printer -- documents with a large number of pages, for example -- are commonplace.
Choosing a printer with more memory or adding memory will also speed processing of jobs with a lot of pages or a lot of images.
Small businesses that want to buy as green as possible should be heartened by the fact that the top manufacturers have done good job of reducing their carbon footprint in manufacturing and shipping, largely by reducing raw materials and packaging, Wegiel said.
Lichner advised environmentally-aware companies to look for printers with an auto-on feature that significantly reduces power drain when the printer is not in use.
Both advised small businesses to start by analyzing their needs and to always focus on total cost of ownership rather than being seduced by low-priced models.
Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte
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