From the March 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

If you're still trying to connect every single workstation to its own printer, it's high time you considered the advantages of networking. From pooling resources and saving money to ensuring that everyone's work flows faster, hooking all your PCs up to a network has become a must for today's tech-savvy entrepreneurs. And with numerous workgroups now sharing files and applications, adding the right printer (or even two) to the mix has become increasingly important.

The sharing of one or two printers (rather than each person having his or her own) doesn't just open up space on everybody's desks, but also cuts down on purchasing and maintenance costs. One way to put that savings to good use is to apply it toward the purchase of a high-quality printer, so that everyone on the network is able to produce documents with a professional look, and your company will always put its best print forward.

A speedy, sturdy monochrome laser printer is the best option to consider when choosing a network printer. Sure, those under-$100 network inkjets sound tempting, but they lack the long-term duty cycles of lasers. In fact, some inkjets have a machine life of only 75,000 pages before they need to be replaced, compared to the near-infinite machine life for a well-maintained laser.

Lasers print the sharpest, crispest images--and the high-end ones do so at dazzling speeds. While low-end models costing less than $600 average about 12 pages per minute, you can find premium-quality network lasers that print 40 ppm in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Most entrepreneurs opt for a printer priced between $400 and $700, says Larry Jameson, a forecasting analyst with Lyra Research Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.

A word of caution, though: Manufacturers' claims about their printer speeds rarely take into account printer warm-up delays or the time it takes for your PC to communicate with the printer. This means clicking on your print icon won't necessarily translate into instant printing. Timesaving features to look for: a printer with an instant-on fuser, and a job-status feature that can monitor printing jobs from your computer so you know when they're completed.


Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for 10 years.

How To Choose?

Speed, operating costs and available features are three factors to consider when making your purchase. Since laser printers are all based on the same imaging technology, speed--not quality--sets them apart. Naturally, the faster the printer, the higher the price.

How can you decide whether to buy a low-end or a high-end laser? First, determine how many pages per month your network group normally prints. Then determine how quickly your group will need them. Most networking groups consisting of five or six people work well with 17 to 24 ppm. A standard workgroup laser printer producing 17 ppm averages between $1,000 and $1,500. Add the cost of replacing toner cartridges to the equation, and you get a good idea of the total cost of ownership.

Next, figure out what features are most important to your business. Do you often print on both sides of single sheets of paper? If so, duplexing should be on your list of required features. How many reams of paper does your business use in a day? If you're networking several PCs to one printer and you print long documents, you'll want extra paper cassettes. While most printers come with at least one paper tray, optional trays are available, provided there are additional slots to hold them. Extra paper trays prevent the tedium of having to continually refill the cassettes.

Need to Know

Although laser-printer prices continue to drop, print speeds keep getting faster. Five years ago, 8 ppm was the norm for your typical monochrome laser printer. Today, the speed has doubled for the most popular models--and for a third of the price, too.

Because economy of operation is important for small businesses, a monochrome laser makes for a good choice since it's cheaper and faster than its color counterparts. When you crunch the numbers, monochrome laser printers cost less than one cent per page compared to the 10 cents per page you'd pay for color. However, if your workload requires producing multiple originals (also known as "mopies"), it would be cheaper to purchase and use a color laser printer than to pay an outside printing company for color copies. But if you only occasionally need color printing, then a budget-conscious solution would be to purchase both a monochrome laser printer and a color inkjet.

Netting A Printer

Just about all the network lasers now on the market are compatible with the Ethernet networking protocol. Some printers are sold as "networkable," meaning they come with a network card slot and can be attached to a network. But keep in mind you'll also have to buy a $500 networking card if you choose one of these models. "Network" printers, however, come with built-in chips and don't require cards. The lesson? Make sure when you hit the stores that you pick a "network" laser printer rather than one referred to as "networkable."

For a good example, check out the QMS Magicolor II Desklaser (see chart for complete details). It prints up to 16 ppm (4 ppm color) and outputs at a resolution of 600 x 600 dpi. The price tag ($2,080) may seem a bit steep, but if you make lots of brochures or catalogs, gaining the high-quality output of a laser printer will not only improve your business's image, but it will save you money in the long run.

How difficult is it to hook up your entire network to a printer, you might ask? Well, each individual PC doesn't connect to the actual network laser printer itself, but via a specialized cable instead. This conduit, sometimes called a "backbone," shuffles the data back and forth between workstation computers, your server and the printer. As long as your network is up and running, it's not much of a stretch from there. It's more a matter of attaching the right cables to the right connectors. Most network laser printers come with installation guides on CD-ROM disks that give you step-by-step instructions for installing the printer management software and drivers. If not, your vendor can help.

Little Extras

Today's network laser printers offer many special features. For one thing, they're approaching crossover status with copiers. "Copier features, such as duplexing, stapling, collating, offsetting and sorting, are finding their way onto laser printers," says Jocelyn Eisenberg, a product marketing manager for Xerox, whose Docuprint N40 model has menu options for edge-to-edge, watermark or fit-to-size printing. Another recent innovation saves time by placing a blank sheet of paper between sets of transparencies to keep them separate.

Other handy features include the ability to send printing job commands via the Internet while on the road (allowing documents to be printed on your office printer) and "walk-up wireless" printing via infrared receivers. To print from a peripheral with an infrared beam, such as from a PDA, simply point the device at the printer's infrared receiver and start printing.

Paper-handling features are more versatile than ever on today's laser printers. Now you can print labels, envelopes, ledger-sized documents and transparencies on a wide variety of stock thicknesses. Once you determine the kinds of media and paper sizes you and your staff will use, plus your monthly volume, you can find the right network laser printer to meet those needs.

The Catch

Yes, there are drawbacks to buying a network laser printer instead of one printer for each PC. If your one and-only breaks down, printing for the entire office will come to a screeching halt. To prepare for such a scenario, level out the load with an inexpensive inkjet or a low-end laser. (Either one will get you through until the original printer is fixed.)

Another disadvantage is having to line up printing jobs, but you can overcome this by matching the print speed and duty cycle of one or more network printers to your office workload. Also consider space: Unlike the small footprints of desktop printers, network laser printers have large and bulky paper cassettes--sometimes on both sides of the printer--that require lots of elbow room.

PC Lingo

Before you go out and buy that network laser printer, make sure you know the terminology:

  • Duplexing: printing on both sides of a single page
  • Duty cycle: capacity for the number of pages that can be printed in a given time
  • Ethernet: a networking connection standard
  • Infrared port: a transmitter/receiver that enables peripherals with built-in infrared beams to communicate with the printer without cables
  • Security bin: a lockable tray in which to receive "for-your-eyes-only," confidential documents
  • Usage profile: print job and condition status, such as "Low Toner."

Contact Source

Lyra Research, http://www.lyra.com