Choosing Printers for the Office

For many small businesses, when it’s time to add or replace a printer in your office it’s easy to just go to an office supply store and buy whatever’s on sale. It’s also almost always a mistake.

It’s worth doing at least a little research when you’re purchasing technology items, particularly for items that you expect to last or that use consumables – specifically printers and fax machines. Because of the use of paper, toner or ink and possibly maintenance supplies, the up-front purchase price of a printer or fax machine is only a very small part of the total cost you’ll pay over several years of ownership. There may also be a surprisingly significant difference in setup costs between different pieces of equipment if you’re paying a third party to set up equipment and get it working for you.

This article leads off a series of occasional articles on purchasing printers for your office with a quick overview of some of the issues that I’ll examine in more detail in future articles.

Obviously the most important item is compatibility. If a printer that you purchase won’t work with your existing systems, it’s a waste of time and money dealing with it. While this isn’t a problem for most small companies, it might be an issue if you’re running unusual systems or are trying to use low-end consumer equipment with business-grade servers and operating systems.

Second is required features. Will you just be printing? Do you need to be receiving faxes? Scanning? Color or Black & White (and how much of each?)? Will this device be replacing your copier as well?

Beyond basic compatibility and features, it’s important to consider the cost of owning and using your printer. While a low-end printer is less expensive to purchase, if you’re printing more than 100-200 pages a month you’ll likely end up paying more for it over just the course of two years. For significant mismatches, such as a low-end printer being used for 1-2000 pages a month, you may end up paying thousands of dollars more because of the higher cost of toner or ink. It’s very important to have an idea of your print volume and needs and the cost of materials.

An issue seldom considered is installation cost – not physical installation (though if you purchase something 3 inches higher or wider than your available space then that can be an issue) but software installation. Regardless of whether you’re doing it yourself or paying someone like me to do it, you’re going to need to have drivers installed and your systems communicating with your new printer. If you purchase a printer that’s a poor fit for your existing systems, you may end up spending more time or money getting your printer installed and configured than you would’ve spent on a more suitable printer.

All of the above are very general, which is why I’ll be going into more details on each in future articles. I may recommend specific printers or manufacturers, but my general focus is going to be on determining what you need rather than on suggesting specific solutions.

To close this out I’m going to make one strong suggestion: When deciding on a printer you should always get one with networking support unless you’re working with a single PC and will never be using that printer from any other system. Printers with wired or wireless networking support may cost a few dollars more ($10-100 depending on model & overall printer cost), but built-in network support is far superior to networking added later with an external adapter and will almost always cost less than adding that adapter later. I’ll cover this a bit more in the future when talking about features.

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