Buying a new printer for your business may seem like a daunting task. But answering a few basic questions about your needs before you buy will help narrow down your choices considerably.

In other words, because every company is different -- the type of business, office size, number of employees, and so on -- the printing needs will also vary greatly from one office to another.

"Different businesses will have different needs when it comes to print quantities, expected quality, speed, features, paper types and even size of the actual printer," says Justin Joseph, spokesman for Canon's printer division.

"For example, a realtor's home office may print hundreds of Web pages each day with photos of properties. For such a business, print resolution will be very important," Joseph says. "On the other hand, a law office may spend the majority of the day making copies, scanning documents, and printing briefs. For such a business, speed is just as important as the ability to multitask."

With this in mind, consider the following a simple guide designed to help you make an informed purchase.


The first question you need to ask yourself is how many pages do you expect to print on a day-to-day basis? If you're a small, virtually paperless office, then you might want an inexpensive inkjet printer to start until your business (and printing needs) grow. If you print out more than 100 pages a day, then invest in a laser printer, which offers a low per-page printing cost but will cost you more initially.

B&W or color?

If you only need to print out crisp black and white text, then you should consider a black and white laser printer (often referred to as a monochromatic laser printer). They cost a little more than an inkjet printer, but print pages faster and enjoy a lower per-page printing cost over time. For color, an inkjet is the more affordable solution (many under $100 even offer "photo lab" quality prints). But replacement cartridges will be costly (often a third of the price of the printer itself). A color laser printer will cost more initially, but they're faster than inkjets and don't require as many costly ink cartridge replacements.


When shopping for an inkjet or laser printer, you'll notice a PPM rating for each choice, which stands for Pages Per Minute. The higher the number, the faster it can spit out pages. Therefore, an inkjet printer with 37 PPM is better than 28 PPM. Higher-end office printers offer between 80 and 100 pages per minute. Be sure to read both the black and white and color PPM rating, as they will differ (B&W being the faster of the two).

Print resolution

The higher the print resolution, also referred to as "dpi" resolution (dots per inch), the better your prints should look, especially when it comes to photos. A rule of thumb is as follows: 300 dpi printers are fine for general-purpose text; 600 dpi is ideal for higher-quality text and graphics; 1,200 dpi is for photo-quality prints, while 2,400 dpi is what you want for professional photo-quality applications.

Size, functionality

Where you'll be using the printer may affect what kind of printer you buy. Entrepreneurs who travel often may prefer a portable inkjet printer for late-night presentation preparations in the hotel room (instead of using the business center). If you have a small office, you might opt for an all-in-one "multi-function" printer to save space because it also serves as a copier, scanner and sometimes a fax machine. Have four or five PCs at your office? It may be ideal to invest in a network-ready printer so all employees can print remotely to one printer over the LAN.

Bells & Whistles

Finally, your specific needs may call for a printer with specific features. Not all printers can automatically print on both sides of the paper, nor do all have collating functionality (arranging the pages in precise order before binding). Some companies may need film and negative scanning capabilities out of their printers, while others may need to print on paper much larger than the standard letter- (8.5 x 11-inch) or legal-sized (8.5 x 14-inch) paper. Other companies may need a printer that can print labels, receipts or business cards. And then there's the number of input trays: the bigger the tray (or more than one tray), means more sheets are ready to be fed into the printer.