A Modern Guide to Multifunction Printers

The phrase “paperless office” was first coined way back when Gerald Ford was president. Since then, electronic information and communication has displaced much of what we used to do on paper, but dead tree documents still play a big role in most offices. That’s why a good small business multifunction printer that can print, scan, copy, and fax remains an indispensable piece of equipment for almost any small business.

With multifunction printers costing as little as $100, the next time you’re in the market for one you might be tempted to pick up an attractively-priced model on sale at the office superstore and call it a day. That can be a mistake and cost you lots of money and lost productivity in the long run.

Don’t let that happen to you. Read on to learn about the important factors you should consider when choosing your next small business multifunction printer.

Print Technology

One early and fundamental choice you’ll have to make is whether to go with inkjet or laser technology. Inkjet printers cost less to buy than lasers, but they’re almost always more expensive to own due to the relative high cost of liquid ink. As a rule, laser printers produce higher quality text and graphics output than inkjet printers (though these days the quality of some inkjets can rival that of a laser), but when it comes to photos, inkjets have the edge. Laser printers also typically print faster than inkjets, though there are some exceptions to that rule.

Paper Handling

If you want to minimize the amount of hands-on interaction that you and your employees must perform at the printer, it’s important to get one whose paper handling capabilities are a good match for your office. 

For example, most printers have a multi-function input paper tray that can accommodate multiple sizes or types, but not necessarily at the same time. In an office where several people do different kinds of printing, this causes lost productivity due to time spent manually switching paper, or even lots of documents mistakenly printed on the wrong paper (which increases cost). Consider a printer with at least two or maybe three input trays (additional trays may be standard or optional, depending on the printer) to ensure that you have multiple paper types at the ready simultaneously.

Small business multifunction printers

If you do a lot of scanning and/or copying of multiple-page documents, an automatic document feeder (ADF) is a must. The good news is that many—perhaps even most—multifunction printers have an ADF these days. But consider an ADF’s paper capacity too, because if you regularly need to scan 40- or 50-page contracts, a 20- or 35-page ADF obviously won’t cut it.

A printer with automatic duplex (two-sided) printing is also a smart choice. It can cut your paper costs by 50 percent, not to mention halve the thickness of any documents you might have to store in hard copy form, which comes in handy when filing space is at a premium. Be advised, however, that not every printer that supports automatic duplex printing has an ADF that can scan both sides of a page.  

Cost of Consumables

The price you pay to buy a printer isn’t nearly as important as the printer’s ongoing cost of consumables—the ink or toner and, to a lesser extent, paper. This is where the true cost of a printer lies.  

To determine how much a printer is likely to cost you over time, take the price of an ink or toner cartridge and divide it by its vendor-quoted page yield to calculate the cost per page. For example, if a black ink cartridge costs $30 and yields 600 pages, then the cost per page is 5 cents. If it’s $25 and 800 pages, then it’s 3.1 cents. Keep in mind that color printers will have at least two and possibly four to six cartridges in all, and you need to do a separate calculation for each one.

Calculating your cost per page is hardly an exact science, because vendor yield claims are based on a standardized set of pages that don’t necessarily reflect your particular mix of printing.  If a vendor says a cartridge is good for 600 pages, you may or may not get that many out of it, but figuring the cost per page is still a useful way to broadly compare the ongoing expense for two devices.

Think of it in terms of car mileage: if a car is rated for 30 MPG, you may not see that given the way you drive (leadfoot!), but you can be reasonably sure that you’ll see better mileage out of that car than you will from one that’s only rated at 25 MPG. (Optional reading: detailed explanations from HP about how the company comes up with page yields for its inkjet and laser printers.)        

And here’s a caveat when it comes to buying ink that applies across all models. Most vendors offer both “high capacity” and cheaper “standard capacity” cartridges, and the latter always, ALWAYS cost more per page because they typically provide something like half the ink for two-thirds the price. So unless cash is really tight, avoid the lower capacity cartridges—they are the definition of penny wise and pound foolish.

Conversely, most printer vendors offer ink/toner twin-packs that cost a bit less than two cartridges sold separately. Unless you print so sparingly that the extra cartridge will sit on a shelf for years until it’s no longer viable, this is the most cost-effective way to buy ink or toner.

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