April 29, 2000
If multiple users share a printer over a network or a
switch, and it is used heavily for black and white printing,
a laser printer is usually the best option. But, because
laser printers usually prohibit color printing, many times
it can be useful for an office to use a laser printer for
general black and white usage, and an inkjet as the color
printer when needed. An inkjet printer is also completely
adequate in a small office or for a single user.
The advent of
digital technology and the
Internet brought promises of a "paperless office," but in
reality, paper consumption has actually increased in our
computer age. Printing technology has become sophisticated
enough to give you the power to publish high quality materials
without ever having to visit your local Kinkos.
printer confronts the buyer with an impressive array of
acronyms and jargon. Navigating your way through dpi,
ppm, and duty cycles can be an exercise in stamina and
patience. To simplify things, MindPride provides this outline of
what you need to know in order to make an informed decision.
How to Judge A Printer
The days of the dot-matrix are over, and print quality has been
increasing steadily in the last decade. The most common gauge
for a printer's quality and detail is the
resolution, measured in linear dots per inch (dpi). The
higher the dpi (i.e. the more dots that a printer can fit within
a square inch), the higher the resolution, and the better the
print quality. A 300 x 300 dpi (commonly referred to as 300 dpi)
printer prints 90,000 dots per square inch. Similarly, a 600 dpi
printer prints 600 x 600, or 360,000, dots per square inch.
everyday black and white printing
everyday black and white printing with graphics
upper limit for laserjet printers
high quality graphics,
quality - may require special paper to achieve promised
It used to be that laser printers consistently outpaced inkjets
in the print quality category. Now, both types of printers have
sufficient quality for most common printing tasks.
Waiting for the printer is a modern office pastime. While it may
be fine to let a printer crawl through a printing job at home
(where you have time to watch grass grow), minimizing that wait
is integral for nonprofit offices, especially when the printer
is shared by multiple users. There are a number of things that
affect the overall speed of a printer:
A printer that fires out pages at blazing speed after warming
up for a couple hours is not particularly impressive. It is
always important to find out how long it takes a printer to
start from a "sleeping" state.
Pages Per Minute (ppm)
The second speed concern is the number of pages per minute (ppm)
that a printer can output. Laser printers are usually the
leaders in this index of speed. Most laser printers will print
at between 6 - 24 ppm, while anything over 8 ppm gets
expensive in the inkjet
It is important to consider that a printer's ppm rating is
based on text documents. Sometimes, printers that perform far
above average when printing black text do not do nearly as
well when confronted with graphics. Graphics printing is
usually dependent on the printer's
memory, but there are a number of variables that play into
this speed. When buying a printer it is always a good idea to
try printing a number of different documents (graphics, text,
combination of the two) on it before making a purchase. A
online publications (CNET,
etc.) perform these tests for you if you are buying a printer
online or through a catalog, and you do not have the option of
playing with the printer before purchase.
Endurance and Cost of Ownership
Approaching a printer purchase can be very similar to buying a
car. After getting over how impressive the speed, look (or
resolution), and cost is, a buyer needs to start thinking about
the endurance and the overall cost of ownership. A speedy
Porsche may look good in the store, but what happens when you
need to find a part in the middle of nowhere? Likewise, a Yugo's
up-front cost may look great on paper, but how will it look in
two years when it no longer runs?
The cost of ownership of a printer can be very difficult to
determine, but there are some important questions to consider
that may help:
What is the printer's duty cycle?
Usually expressed in pages per month, the duty cycle is the
workload that a printer has been designed to handle. A light
duty printer will not be able to handle the strain of working in
an office with heavy-duty needs. Many people purchasing printers
look for the cheap cost up-front, but the total savings may not
be substantial if a replacement is required every year.
What is the cost of supplies?
Inkjet and laser cartridges can run anywhere from $20 - $200.
Considering how much new ink cartridges, drums, etc. will cost
before purchasing a printer is extremely important. Many
manufacturers will make a printer's cost lower by cutting
corners that make supplies expensive. For example, color
inkjets generally give you three separate ink cartridges: one
for each color. That way, if one color runs out, you simply
replace that color. However, some companies still make color
printers with a single ink cartridge to hold all three or four
colors. This forces the user to buy a new cartridge when one
color has run out, even if all the other colors are full.
What is the availability of supplies?
A printer with no ink is not a particularly useful printer.
Printer cartridges can be notoriously hard to find, and it is
extremely important to find out where supplies can be
purchased when buying a printer. Some companies are better at
this than others, and the best bet is to go with a company
that gives you the most reasonable answer.
What is the printer's compatibility?
A printer should be adaptable to the needs of an office.
Availability of drivers, networkability, and
cross-platform capability are important considerations for
some offices. A lot of printers run extremely well on a
Windows platform, but do not do nearly as well when confronted
with a Macintosh. While many printers can handle multiple size
papers, many others do not handle anything other than a
standard 8 1/2" X 11" sheet. If you need envelopes or
irregular paper printed, it is important to make sure that a
printer can handle it.
Inkjet vs. Laser
Competing for the office desktop are two different printing
technologies: inkjet and laser. Below is a quick guide to give
you the basic information on both types of printers:
Cost: $100 - $500+
Resolution: 300 - 1200 dpi
Speed: 4 - 8 ppm
Inkjet technology has been around since the early seventies, and
it is only now becoming a viable office printing option. While
there are many patented inkjet technologies, all inkjet printers
operate by squeezing heated ink through a syringe-like needle on
to the paper.
- Relatively high print quality at an affordable price
- Usually print color
- Tend to be slower
- High maintenance costs (cartridges need to be replaced
- Not usually designed for heavy duty printing
Inkjet printers have become the standard for producing color
documents, brochures, and photographic reproduction. They can
carry a high maintenance cost in offices with high printing
demands or in a shared environment. The cartridges tend to need
replacing far quicker than with laser printers, but this may not
be a problem in an office with lower printing needs or when used
on a stand-alone machine. For small offices and single users,
inkjet printers provide high quality printing at an affordable
Resolution: 600 - 2400 dpi
Speed: 6 - 24 ppm
Laser printers have held on to the office market for the past
couple decades because they produce high quality documents
quickly. Laser printing technology is similar to a photocopier's
except that a laser (surprise, surprise) is used to reproduce
the images, as opposed to a light.
- High quality
- Lower maintenance cost (cartridges/toner lasts longer)
- Tend to be faster
- Color printing is usually an expensive option
- Higher up-front cost
Laser printers still lead inkjets in the heavy duty, black and
white printing category. While they may be a more expensive
initial investment, laser printers are designed to carry much
lower maintenance costs over the lifetime of the printer. They
usually print more pages per minute than their inkjet rivals,
and they offer features (multiple paper feeders and output
trays) that allow for high volume printing. They are a necessity
in a networked/shared office setting.