Music journalist Grady Smith needed a printer. After leaving New York City and moving to Charlottesville, VA, he found himself often driving to the local copy shop, where he printed, scanned and faxed important documents, such as the tax forms and invoices required by his new freelance clients. It was a system that worked for him.
And then, his car broke down. Not wanting to rely on the copy shop moving forward, Smith bought himself an all-in-one inkjet printer, making him more of an independent professional. “Having my own printer and scanner at home has been an essential part of me being able to get my job done,” Smith says.
Many small businesses overlook the importance of a reliable printer as they scramble to get their operations running. Don’t fall into the trap of repurposing your home printer or buying one second-hand. Today’s printers — whether they’re simple, sheet-fed inkjet printers or high-output, multi-function laser printers — will save you more than just time and aggravation. With improved technologies, newer printers can even save you money. Here’s what you need to know to determine what kind of printer you should buy for your small business.
When people hear the term “laser printer,” the first thing they think of is the price. Historically, laser printers have been more expensive than other kinds of printers, but that’s not as true today. They come in many varieties, including full-color and high-capacity, though most small businesses can get away with using an inexpensive black-and-white version with great results.
For example, Hingham, MA–based The Quarry Restaurant and Lounge develops new menus every day based on the ingredients it sources locally, so “we needed a printer that was going to be able to print multiple copies quickly,” explains owner Julie Leduc. She opted for a new black-and-white laser printer. “We don’t have a lot of time to stand around waiting for an inkjet to just go through one page at a time, so we ended up going with an HP LaserJet.”
Smart choice. Laser printers typically produce more pages per minute (PPM) than inkjets, because they output with toner instead of ink. Toner is a dry powder that’s applied to the paper by a rolling drum that coats the width of the page all at once. Inkjets use ink, which is applied by a print head that zips back and forth across the page. Ink is also wet, so it takes time to dry. These differences are why laser printers roll out pages much more quickly than inkjets do.
While replacement cartridges for laser printers are typically more expensive than those for inkjets, they do output many more pages before needing to be replaced. The amount of pages a cartridge will output is known as “page yield” — be sure to compare the amount of pages that replacement cartridges will print, as well as the toner’s cost, before you invest in a laser printer. In the long run, replacement toner cartridges will end up costing you more than the printer originally did, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your business’s buck when you buy your printer — and over the years you own it.
Meanwhile, inkjets may take more time to produce a printed page, but their output can be astounding. By combining the right print settings on your computer with paper designed to hold the ink in certain, specific ways (like photo paper and card stock, for example) you can output professional level-looks for pennies. Of course, printing at a higher quality will still cost you (because doing so typically uses more ink, and inkjet cartridges output far fewer pages before needing to be replaced), but the tremendous versatility these machines offer — whether it’s just a splash of color on a logo, or a 5-by-7 inch, full-color photograph — can be priceless for a small, cost-conscious business.
For instance, if you have a business like Smith’s, an inkjet may be the perfect fit. Easy to install, Smith’s printer came with a range of embedded technologies, like touchscreen controls and wireless connectivity, which used to be premium features but are now commonplace on many models. And Smith’s favorite feature — its tiny footprint on his desktop — is one that laser printers still can’t match. “It’s very compact. The size of it is about the size of a sheet of computer paper, which for me is perfect,” he says. “If you push in all of the various slats and trays, then it’s just a perfect little rectangle, and it’s really portable that way.”
For other small businesses, especially those that prefer digital to hard copy, inkjets are great investments because they tend to be less expensive than laser printers, and their replacement cartridges also come at a fraction of the price. The trade-off there is that inkjets print much more slowly (meaning they have a lower PPM), and their cartridges have lower page yields. But inkjet technology is improving all the time, and today’s machines are much more efficient than they were just years ago.
The secret of most small businesses’ success is employing hard-working staffers who can wear many hats. Likewise, all-in-one printers, also called multifunction printers, can perform many different tasks, like printing, scanning, copying and faxing, and they come in both laser and inkjet varieties.
For instance, though Seattle-based Rocket Heart Records has partnerships with designers, distributors and record-pressing companies, at its heart the company is just two people. And because of this, owner Colby Blanton literally puts a lot of stock in his single all-in-one printer. A vinyl-only record label, Rocket Heart prints a lot of promotional materials in house, and having a printer that can handle various graphical demands, as well as different kinds of papers and card stocks, is essential. “I knew from the get-go that we needed a networkable multifunction printer, one that could handle scanning, copying and printing in color,” Blanton says.
All-in-one printers, like the Canon Maxify, are popular because they can do a bit more than just the basic printing, scanning and copying. Blanton wanted a machine that could handle double-sided printing, be linked to his office’s computer network and print wirelessly. “I’m a huge fan of being able to scan into the cloud and print from my phone,” he explains. “I’m often mobile, and having the ability to have everything I need wherever I am at was a huge bonus.”
If there is a downside to running an all-in-one printer, it’s how big and powerful it is, according to Blanton. “We are a small business, so every penny counts. With a printer this large, I’m worried about how much of a draw on the grid it might cause.”
Really, what matters most when buying a printer is picking one that’s best for your small business. Before you shop for one, take stock of how your organization will use it — from double-sided printing, to cloud-stored scanning, to simply outputting a black-and-white contract — so you don’t go wandering down the wrong road.
If you’re making a list and checking it twice for your small business, organization tools should be at the top of your wish list. Here are six to consider.
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