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How to Choose the Right Printer for Your Office

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In choosing a printer for your office it is prudent to weigh several factors. These factors can be simplified into the following questions

1) How do the printers under consideration stack-up over the long term?
2) Do the capabilities of my chosen printer actually align with the needs of the office?

By now, the ‘dirt-cheap printer / ridiculously expensive ink cartridge’ marketing strategy should be common knowledge among the general population, and certainly among business owners. To wit, many printers are designed and priced to illicit a knee jerk consumer buy response. It is revealing to note that it is not uncommon for the included ink cartridge (or toner cartridge in the case of laser printers) to run dry in a matter of weeks. Such painfully obvious ‘planned obsolescence’ does not negate the fact that you need a printer, but it does highlight the relevance of a long term approach to printer-purchase decision making. In any event, for the sake of simplifying the follow-on illustration we shall assume that the new printers in question are equipped with fully loaded cartridges.

Now, let’s address the aforementioned questions by creating a typical printer purchasing scenario

You just located the inkjet printer of your dreams… it’s just what the office needs. It is loaded with features and costs a mere $99… sold! But wait, not so fast. You know enough to ask and you are subsequently informed that the printer in question contains a cartridge which produces, on average, 3000 printouts before requiring a replacement. Furthermore, each replacement cartridge costs $40. The package of standard quality inkjet paper you plan to use for this printer costs $6 for 250 sheets. This means that, over the life span of the cartridge, you will need 12 packages of paper at a total cost of $72. You note that business is brisk down at the widget factory and that your office is burning through roughly 50 pages of printer paper per day. At this rate, you figure that the ink cartridge will run dry in 2 months. Thus, while the initial cost of the printer is only $99, the periodic usage cost is 72 + 40 = $112. Hmmm. Therefore, at the rate your office uses paper, the true cost of this purchase over the span of 1 year (which is about how long you figure this tinker-toy machine will last) is 99 + 112 x 6 = $771. And, you surmise, 1 year from now, when the printer inevitably malfunctions, a new printer will need to be purchased. Hmmm. That’s a perpetual yearly expense of $771 for a supposedly $99 printer.

When you inform the printer salesman of this rough cost analysis, he smiles and mentions that there is a black & white laser printer on sale for $150, that the toner of this printer lasts for 6000 sheets, and that the replacement toner costs $60. He leans over and whispers, “Between you and me, this is the better deal in the long run.” Hmmm… time for another analysis. The laser printer paper costs $8 per 250 sheet package. Thus, after 6000 sheets the total paper cost will be $192. At the same office paper usage rate, you will need to replace the cartridge ever 4 months. Hence, the periodic usage cost would be 192 + 60 = 252. After one year, the total cost of the purchase would be 150 + 252 x 3 = $906.

So there you have it, the color inkjet printer costs $772 over the span of 1 year while the black & white laser printer costs $906. Stupid salesman! Yet, you do note that the laser printer is able to output paper at twice the speed as the inkjet. Furthermore, while the inkjet has the look and feel of a tinker-toy, the laser printer seems sturdy… it might last 3 or 4 years. And, the more you think about, the office has almost no practical use for color print-outs. You can’t remember the last time anybody needed a photo-quality color deliverable. Finally, there’s Super Star Bobby… your highly prized and indispensible office assistant. He’s mentioned a few times lately that he really would like to have a speedy printer.

In the end, you decide to get the black & white laser printer, figuring that its longer lifespan will eventually make it cheaper than the inkjet printer, that it will keep Bobby happy with its impressive output speed, and that the lack of color will have no negative impact on the office deliverables.

Hopefully, this scenario highlights the fact that, in many cases, initial purchase price is but one of many considerations worth pondering when comparison shopping for printers. Additionally, the particular usage requirements must be weighed along with long term considerations such as, cartridge life, cartridge cost, paper cost, and functional capabilities. Finally, never forget to weigh the intangibles. To wit, Super Star Bobby’s happiness and continued employment at your widget factory may hold more weight than all other cost analysis considerations combined.