It might seem like a simple enough task, but buying a computer printer for your office could be an intimidating endeavor.
Before you purchase a machine you'll need to ask yourself a few questions first. For example, should you opt for a laser or inkjet? Color or black and white? Do you need collating or duplex functionality, large paper trays, or wireless networking? What about an all-in-one solution that can also scan, copy, and fax?
Naturally the features you'll look for depends on your specific needs, company size, office environment, and budget.
This is what the experts suggest that you consider in features for your next office printer.
All-in-one units are popular with consumers, but whether or not you should you pick one up for your business depends on your requirements, says Steve Hilton, vice president for small and mid-sized business and enterprise research at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group.
"All-in-one printers are a great idea for small businesses with limited faxing needs -- lightweight, small, and fairly reasonably priced, they afford small businesses a lot of functionality for the money." But you might have to sacrifice some performance with these multitasking units, says Hilton. "Offices with heavy faxing requirements should have dedicated machines," plus standalone copiers tend to have more features and handle large volume tasks better than a multifunction unit.
Andy Walker, executive producer of Butterscotch.com, a technology-focused video and downloads website, agrees with Hilton. "Multifunction machines are useful especially when paired with a laser print engine -- and good when space is an issue in a smaller office -- but the idiom 'jack of all trades, master of none' applies here," Walker says. "All the functions -- print, fax, copy, and scan -- are in one handy machine but each tends to perform at a mediocre level relative to their standalone counterparts."
Laser vs. inkjet
The choice between inkjet and laser depends on your company's needs. "Inkjet produce cheaper color output and great for photos, if you are willing to wait for a slower print process," says Walker. "Laser is good for fast high volume printing and professional print quality business output." Most small businesses should have at least one color laser print in-house to meet its needs, Walker adds.
There are other (less popular) printing technologies, too, such as dye-sublimation or thermal wax printers. But most businesses chose either inkjet or laser printers for office use.
Less is more
If your small or mid-sized business is watching its budget, be more selective about what's being printed out. According to Xerox, office workers throw away 45 percent of documents within 24 hours of printing them.
"In addition, if you want to save a little money, make sure you print in black-and-white mode," adds Hilton. "Those color ink cartridges need to be replaced quickly, therefore save color copying for your marketing or creative literature or other customer-facing work."
Also, if you want to save cash and help the environment, use both sides of the paper, which is often referred to as "duplex printing." Therefore, choose copiers, digital printers and multifunction devices that can print on both sides of the paper, and add duplex as your "default" mode.
Walker says another "must-have" feature in small business printers is an LCD screen, and the reasons are two-fold: "You can preview what you are printing to avoid wasting ink, paper, and time, plus you can see actual useful troubleshooting tips as opposed to cryptic flashing lights."
Depending on the size of the company and office space, network connectivity can be quite useful so multiple employees can print from any computer in the office. To remove clutter, wireless connectivity, opposed to an Ethernet connection, is preferred by many businesses, but this feature will likely add to the cost of the unit.