How to Choose the Best Printer for Your Business

The classic laser business printer continues to sell surprisingly well, but the best printer for your business might be inkjet, laser, LED, or solid-ink; and it might be a multifunction or single-function model.

How do I decide; what do I need to spend, how much speed to I really need, what will it cost to run this new printer (ink/toner, maintenance kits, etc). Usually the lower the price of the printer the more it will cost you on ink.

Inkjet, Laser, LED, Solid Ink…They’re All Good (or Better)

Color laser or LED printers may seem like the natural evolutionary step forward from monochrome models, but the transition is happening slowly. One major reason is that color printers cost more to buy and resupply; as a result, businesses must manage access to color printing to avoid overuse or misuse. Another significant factor is photo quality: Most laser and LED printers struggle to print smooth-looking images.

Superior photo quality is only one reason that inkjet printers are worth considering for many businesses. Various office-ready models can deliver competitive speed and print quality, too. Media flexibility is another selling point, as some models can print on specially designed canvas, iron-on transfers, or even CD/DVD media. Check out our top-ranked models among single-function inkjet printers and multifunction inkjet printers.

Solid-ink printers, available only through Xerox, use a unique technology that melts waxlike blocks and then squirts the semiliquid fluid through tiny holes in a printhead onto paper. Unlike toner and ink cartridges, the ink blocks use no plastic packaging, and therefore impose less of a shipping, storage, and environmental burden. Photo quality is about the same for a solid-ink printer as for a laser or LED printer: adequate, but not quite as good as for a typical inkjet. This technology is worth considering for a small office or department that wants something faster than an inkjet, but less complicated than a color laser or LED printer.

Fit the Printer to Your Office Size and Volume

How much output do you need on a daily/monthly basis; a few hundred print out, thousand, hundred thousand. Are you the only person who will be printing to this printer, multiple people, do yo need wireless printing and what are you actually printings; advertising, large research reports, etc.

A simple way to evaluate the print volume you need is to ask yourself how often you want to refill the paper tray. For most people the answer probably is no more than once a day, if that. Track your paper usage for a few days and look for a printer whose standard input tray exceeds that average daily volume by a smaller or greater margin, depending on how often you want to refill the tray. Another rule of thumb is to keep your volume well below the printer’s specified monthly duty cycle. This number represents a maximum stress-test level, rather than what the printer can handle comfortably on an ongoing basis.

How Much Speed Do You Need?

Your anticipated print volume also helps determine how much engine speed, processing power, and memory your printer should have.

It’s wise to take engine-speed specifications with a grain of salt, as they may not reflect your usage pattern. Nevertheless, they provide some indication of what the printer could accomplish under optimal conditions. A printer with an print output speed of less than 20 pages per minute will probably be pretty slow; a range of 20 ppm to 40 ppm is adequate for most offices; and a speed greater than 40 ppm is ready for higher-volume use (and such printers are priced accordingly).

Host-based printers lack their own image-processing power. Instead, they depend on a connected PC to handle the job for them. For any printer that has a dedicated processor, the higher the megahertz (MHz), the faster the machine can receive, interpret, and print a job.

The number and size of expected jobs will dictate how much memory your printer should have. A typical amount for a business printer can be anywhere from 64MB to 256MB. Higher-end models have room for expansion.

Paper-Handling Choices Abound

The printer you choose should offer the paper-handling capabilities appropriate for what you do now–and it should be expandable to accommodate subsequent growth. Some entry-level business printers have a standard input capacity of as little as 150 pages, which may suffice for a small, low-volume workgroup; unfortunately, most such models aren’t expandable. The more typical minimum capacity is 250 pages. Some printers provide a slot or secondary tray for feeding envelopes and other thicker media, or let you add input trays or feeders at additional cost. If you feed more than one kind or size of media regularly, having a dedicated tray for each type will save you time and aggravation.

Automatic duplexing (two-sided printing) is a feature to seek on your next printer. Using this feature can slow print jobs somewhat, but the money and trees you’ll save by halving your paper usage are likely to outweigh any time lost.

Is there a kind of document that you’d like to be able to print but currently can’t? Modern printers can handle envelopes, labels, and index cards virtually trouble-free, thanks to straighter paper paths on most inkjets and some lasers, and to manual-feed slots that bypass the toughest turns on others. High-end laser printers even offer special feeding and finishing units for collating, stapling, and stacking envelopes or postcards. A wide-format printer lets you print in a larger size than the typical letter (8.5 by 11 inches) and legal (8.5 by 14 inches) dimensions.

Single-Function or Multifunction?

If all you do is print your own documents, you might not need a multifunction printer (MFP)–sometimes referred to as an all-in-one. But if you want to digitize paper-based files or share documents with other people, you can use an MFP to make photocopies, create electronic images of documents, and store or send them via e-mail. MFPs for business should have an automatic document feeder (ADF) for simpler scanning of multipage documents.

Though MFPs appear to be the wave of the printing future, they have some limitations. If your office is very busy, forcing a single machine to juggle everyone’s printing, copying, scanning, and faxing demands could overwhelm it–and frustrate your users. Also, if you have a long-term need to scan hundreds or thousands of pages of documents, a dedicated document scanner with its own ADF will simplify that job considerably.

Ink and Toner Costs: Do the Math

Forget the initial cost of your printer or MFP: Over time, you’ll exceed its price in replacement ink or toner supplies. To ensure that your consumables costs are in line with what your budget can bear, research their pricing carefully. A good rule of thumb is that the lower the printer’s sticker price, the higher the price of its ink or toner. Our printer reviews provide details for each model, but you can calculate the relevant figures yourself by follow the simple steps enumerated below.

If you’re thinking about refilling ink cartridges to save a dime, check out our “Portrait of a Serial Refiller” series, which details options at Costco, Office Depot, and Cartridge World.