Several years ago, business owners had limited choices for affordable printers. Inkjets and monochrome laser printers ruled the growing business printing market. If you wanted color, inkjets were your likeliest option (color laser printers were hefty in both size and cost) although they had their own issues when it came to performance and reliability.
But the world's changed. And you, the entrepreneur with many jobs to do in little time, are indeed the beneficiary. Not only do you have more choices, you also enjoy lower prices, excellent reliability and higher quality.
Today, even the definition of "printers" has changed. Now when you wander down the aisle at your local office supply store, you see printers with functions like faxing, scanning, collating and copying. And even on very affordable units, automatic document feeders are available that allow you to lay 25 to 50 pages on the feeder, push a button and walk away--while it reliably copies, scans or faxes unattended.
With prices for inkjet printers starting at $49, laser printers at $99, do-it-all multifunction machines at $149 and even color laser printers at $499, your current choices are amazingly diverse. Because models change frequently, the following overview focuses on the range of options that boost your productivity enormously and is not a model-by-model review.
1. Laser printers. Pros: You'll get the fastest, highest quality printing with the lowest cost per page. Con: They're more expensive.
2. Inkjet printers. Pros: These are the least expensive, have the lowest cost per cartridge purchase, and can easily print black-and-white or color. Cons: Unfortunately, they have a higher cost per page, they're slower to print, and the ink cartridges run out more quickly.
3. Multifunction machines. These can include some or all of the following functions: printing, faxing, scanning, copying, collating and automatic document feeders. You can choose between inkjet or laser in the printing function; inkjet units cost less. Earlier models tended to jam; savvy users avoided them because if one component broke, you were down while it was being repaired. Fortunately, reliability has greatly improved, and I now support the purchase of multifunction machines.
4. Dot-matrix impact printers. Pros: These are great for multipart forms and can handle extra-thick stock. Con: They can be noisy.
5. Single label printers. These amazing machines make you wonder, "Why didn't someone think of this a long time ago?" When you're invoicing a customer and want to print a label, clicking just one or two keys will make the label printer's software spring to life. It recognizes the name and address on your screen, and then immediately prints a perfect label. Specialized labels are available for package shipping, postage, presentation covers, videotape cases, CDs, file folders, audiocassettes, visitor and employee identity badges, convention name badges, and many more applications--including printing photos and bar codes. These thermal printers, which occupy a small footprint on your desk, give even the smallest office a noticeable productivity boost and enhance your office's organizing efforts.
Printer manufacturers have discovered the real money isn't in the sale of the machines anymore; it's in the ink cartridges. It's the same lesson King Gillette, inventor of the safety razor, proclaimed over a century ago: The profit isn't in the razor--it's in the blades.
That's why your decision to purchase any printer should include an analysis of your consumables. Manufacturers want only their cartridges fitting into their machines, and they discourage customers from refilling the used cartridges from independent suppliers.
The good news is, however, that there are some reliable refilling suppliers; the bad news is there's no independent assessment available to warn you of the bad ones. And one bad cartridge can mean a lot of hassle--and even machine failure--because the ink can really foul up the printer's insides.
Before using an independent ink refilling (called "recharging" for laser cartridges) supplier, check with friends and associates who've had prior experiences. The savings can be significant, particularly if you go through a lot of these cartridges.