The classic monochrome 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 you decide which technology and function level are best for your business? How much can you afford to spend? Take time to think about what you print, how much you print, and whether you need extra features or room to grow. Remember to check the cost of consumables to make sure your ongoing costs will be bearable.
The Cheapest Printer for the Job
Of course, you don’t want to spend more than you can afford. But before you commit to buying the cheapest printer you can find, let’s examine what “cheap” really means, and why the cheapest printer may not be the most affordable printer.
The business model used by most printer vendors works like this: The lower the initial price tag of the printer, the higher the cost of replacement ink or toner. As a result, the only person likely to benefit from a low-cost printer with high-cost consumables is someone who prints very little, and thus stretches out the time between replacements as long as possible. Unless you are among the sparsely printing few, you would do well to check a printer's ink or toner costs before you buy, to avoid budget-busting surprises later. For a how-to, consult this guide to doing the math to determine ink and toner costs.
Inkjet, Laser, LED, Solid Ink...They're All Good (or Better)
Choosing a machine for its underlying technology is less problematic than it used to be, as differences in speed and output quality have narrowed. If you normally print plain text-letters, spreadsheets, documentation-with nothing more graphic than a simple logo or a few straight lines, a monochrome laser or LED printer should suit you just fine. The consumables for these printers tend to be the cheapest around, too. See our Top 10 Monochrome Laser Printers chart for a ranked list of our top-rated models.
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. Check out our current favorites on our Top 10 Color Laser Printers chart.
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. Because solid-ink printers compete most closely with lasers and LEDs, you'll find our top picks in this color laser chart.
Fit the Printer to Your Office Size and Volume
How much output do you need your printer to print-a few sheets a day, dozens, or hundreds? Are you the only person who'll be printing, or will your coworkers use the machine, too? To avoid getting stuck with too much printer or too little, you have to figure out which features are relevant to your needs.
Choose a personal inkjet or laser printer only if you'll be its only user and you plan not to print more than a few dozen pages a day. The machine will be slow; it will lack useful features such as automatic duplexing (two-sided printing); and it will likely have pricier consumables. USB is the typical connection type, but wireless is a forward-looking feature worth considering.
For a printer that multiple people will use, ethernet networkability is essential for easy sharing. Wireless networkability can be useful with smaller workgroups, but its speed and reliability tend to vary.
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.