Small-business printing took a couple of unique turns this year: First, Google announced plans for Google Cloud Print, which will be built into the coming Google Chrome operating system and would allow any web-connected imaging device to crank out documents from any PC or mobile device. Then, FedEx Office announced that it is rolling out 12,000 new networked printers in its retail stores to support direct printing from smartphones and cloud imaging.
Meanwhile, printer makers are hustling to show off their web-ready imaging devices that will meet the needs of small businesses. Here are our picks for business printers that should rock the cloud.
Epson WorkForce 610 ($199)
What gets this printer on the cloud imaging list is not only its blistering print speed of 38 pages per minute, but also its Wi-Fi networking and impressive set of PC-free printing options. Besides PC-less printing of photos, the 610 supports several direct-print options for digital files. If you do it right, you can keep your business collateral stored on your printer and then print things such as brochures, cards and envelopes with one touch as you need them. That's pretty slick.
Canon imageCLASS MF8050Cn ($499)
Canon does a great job here with legit laser print color, a full suite of fax and networking options and a professional user interface that even the technically challenged can manage. Don't ask the 8050 to make lots of copies: It cranks out a feeble eight pages per minute. But the 8050 has remarkable scan-to-USB functionality, where images can be mastered to portable jump drives. For a street price of less than $500, what's not to love?
Lexmark Pinnacle Pro901 ($299)
Here's a sales hook: a black-and-white ink jet replacement printer cartridge that's just $5. But that's not why Lexmark made the cut. The company has done a great job integrating smartphone app-like features into its 4.3-inch touch-based interface. Called myTouch, the technology lets you create one-touch shortcuts for your most popular print jobs.
HP 9250c Digital Sender ($3,199)
This workhorse is an enterprise-level document scanner that can digitize a mind-boggling 55 black- and-white pages a minute (3,300 pages per hour) and ship the content directly over any small-business network. When printing steps onto the cloud, businesses facing a mountain of office paper could find the 9250c the way to turn that useless pile into real business information. Keep this unit on the radar.