In this day and age, we are all trying to either reduce our carbon footprint or doing away with the cost of excessive paper use. However, it is inevitable in business to have printed materials: be they brochures, cards, training manuals or informational documents. It’s also important to have a printer ready for when we need physical copies of signed documents, or if you want to see how a design translates to print. How do you choose the right printer for the job?

What are the printing solutions available on the market? Let’s find out by examining some of the options.

Inkjet Printers

Many people already have a personal printer at home, and it’s likely that it is an inkjet printer. Inkjet Printers use cartridges of liquid ink that is sprayed in tiny, precise little dots out of a series of nozzles onto the page (or other printing surface). Inkjet printers cost much less than laser printers and are very compact, easily fitting in small workspace, so they are a good choice for personal home use and for small business. Also, inkjet printers offer a wide range of generic printing options: black and white or coloured documents, printing on paper, printing transfers or stickers, et cetera. Photo printing is often better on an inkjet printer than on  other types of printers. In short, an inkjet printer is an all-around solution. On the downside, inkjet printers are notoriously expensive to run. While buying the printer hardware may seem like an absolute bargain, over time you will find that the cost of ink cartridges makes them a very pricey option. Therefore, inkjets are best suited for people who only do very small amounts of printing.

If you think you need an all-round, reliable printer that fits on top of a personal desk, and you don’t plan to be printing a lot, but you do print a lot of different things, then an inkjet printer is the way to go.

Laser Printers

If you think you are going to have to print large amounts of documents on a regular basis, consider getting a laser printer, or an LED printer which is more or less the same thing but with different internal workings. Laser printers use light beams and static electricity to work their magic. As paper passes over a “drum” (more like a roller), a laser beam “draws” the images to be printed in static electricity on the drum. The static electricity is used to stick a powdered toner (colors) onto the drum, which then rolls the images onto the paper, and a heater fuses the toner in place.

Laser printers are generally much faster than inkjet printers and can handle high volumes of printing. There are both black-and-white and colour models available. The quality of black and white printing done on laser printers is sharper, and the cost of printing a page is significantly lower compared to printing on an inkjet printer. Laser printer speed, and their ability to economically print large numbers of pages, make them perfect for small to medium offices.

Thermal Printers

If your business involves selling bulk products at retail, then you definitely should consider thermal printers.

Thermal printers use heat to print on a specialized fabric (called thermal paper). Generally, thermal papers are relatively inexpensive, but there are also highly specialised thermal papers including self-adhesive labels, waterproof and weatherproof labels, and even cardstock. These papers come in rolls, which allow them to be continuously fed through the printer.

However, thermal printers are not general-purpose: what they do well – printing continuous stock – they do very well. They are not really useful for printing documents or signage, and almost all only print black-and-white. In addition, thermal printers tend to be a little bit more finicky to set up than an inkjet or laser printer.

Thermal printers are perfect for printing barcode labels, tags, and for printing business receipts at the point of sale.

What to buy?

Before getting a printer ask yourself, “What sort of printing do I need to do?” If you’re planning to print the occasional letter, small sign or photo, then by all means purchase an inexpensive inkjet printer from a retailer such as Officeworks or JB Hi-Fi. On the other hand, if you are planning to print mostly documents, manuals and colour signage, which is how most offices use a printer, then go for a laser printer.

If you plan to print heavy papers, self-adhesive sheets, or signage, definitely look for a laser printer where the paper remains mostly flat as it passes through the printer (these are called ‘straight pass’ printers.) These types of printers tend to be heavier, larger, and quite a bit more expensive than lasers where the paper curves around to land in the top tray. But the extra dollars are worth it in terms of functionality and reliability.

Another consideration is whether or not you wish to scan documents and send and receive faxes. For only a few dollars more, it is quite easy to get an inkjet or a colour laser printer which has “multifunction” features. This means that the device is not only a printer, but also a scanner (like a photocopier) as well as a fax machine. If you do decide to purchase a multifunction printer, I would strongly suggest that you get a scanner which has a “continual feed” capability, which means that you can simply put a stack of paper into a tray on the top of the device, and each and every page will be scanned in turn. This is a wonderful capability for quickly digitising tax records!  Another benefit of a multifunction printer is they can also replace the traditional photocopier in the office!

Another option to consider is “duplex” printing. In plain English, this means the ability to print automatically on both the front and the back of a page. On the surface this may just look like a way to save paper. However it has another benefit: the ability to print booklets. Most printers that have the capability to perform duplex printing can also automatically print the document in such a way that the pages can be simply folded and stapled down the middle to form a brochure or small book. This is really useful for proposals, or on-the- spot brochures.

Finally, some new printers – in particular the laser printers – have built-in wireless connections. This means that you can simply put the printer in your office, and it will connect to an available Wi-Fi network. However, don’t be fooled that this will always be an easy task: setting up a printer still involves installing drivers and potentially messing with your network settings. You will need to read the manual. The real benefit of wireless printers are that they can be put anywhere you want in your office, without having to worry about network cables. They can be a real advantage in nurseries.

Finally, I should mention that when you shop for printers it is very tempting to go for the cheapest model. However, this can be false economy. With inkjets, the real cost of the printer is almost always in the ink cartridges that you have to continue to buy. The laser printer’s long-term costs will be in the toners. Therefore, before you buy a printer, have a long hard think about how many pages you are likely to be printing in a year, or two years, or even three, and then calculate how many ink cartridges or toners you would need to buy over that time to print that many pages. Toners and ink cartridges will have the number of pages they can print indicated on their packaging. Armed with that information, you can calculate how much the printer is likely to cost you over that period of time. And that, is the real cost of the printer.