By Dave McNally, Product Marketing Director, Dell Imaging, EMEA

Printing remains a crucial part of any business’s day to day activities, making the decision on which printer to buy an all important one. Whether companies are looking for duplex capabilities, speed or cheap running costs, there are a range of factors for small businesses to consider when purchasing a company printer. To make the process easier, we’ve prepared a list of considerations, along with some useful hints and tips:

1) What are your printer requirements?

Mono or colour?
It’s much cheaper to print in black and white than in colour, so if possible, you may find it best to stick to this option. If you are mostly printing word or text documents, black and white may well suffice, however images and photos are normally preferable in colour. If you need the flexibility of both, you could buy a colour printer and set restrictions when printing.

Laser or inkjet?
Aside from the cost considerations (see ‘Cost’ below) there are other factors that you may want to consider: inkjet printers can be smaller, so may be better suited if you have limited space. Laser printers are much faster, something that will be important if you plan to use it regularly or for larger print jobs. Inkjet printers tend to be better suited to printing photographs as they produce more vivid colour, whereas laser is best option for printing sharper looking text.

Cloud/mobility capabilities
With businesses becoming increasingly reliant on the cloud or on mobile devices you may want to consider a printer which enables printing directly from the cloud, or from a smartphone or tablet (via Near Field Technology for example), or even from USBs and SD cards. Not only will this streamline the printing process within the office, but it will also make flexible work policies easier to implement and ‘printing on the go’ more viable.

Security requirements
There are various technologies that can help keep data safe – some multifunction printers (MFPs) for example, come with in-built features such as secure mail boxes to alleviate the risk of leaving sensitive documents on the printer, card access control and additional software to ensure that your documents can be printed securely on any connected device on the network.

Environmental issues
When purchasing your printer, look out for those which are Energy Star qualified, meaning that they are energy efficient. Some manufacturers also offer recycling services for old cartridges or printer parts.

Printing costs
At first glance, laser printers can appear more expensive; not only are the printers themselves typically higher priced, but the average laser ink cartridge costs between £60 - £120 compared to the average inkjet cartridge, which comes in at around £15. However when you consider that a laser cartridge will print anything from 1,500-30,000 pages, compared to the 200 pages that an inkjet printer, it will quickly demonstrate how the long term costs of an inkjet can mount up.

Duplex capabilities
Duplex capabilities enable you to print automatically on both sides of the paper. This is a great way to reduce the amount of paper used, therefore limiting cost and environmental impact, but depending on your printing needs, it just may not be suitable.

Occasional use or continual work flow?
How often you plan to use your printer will help you decide which of the above features you really need. If you have a continual workflow for example, a laser printer which is much faster and cheaper in terms of running costs, would probably be the best option. If you a photographer who requires high quality colour printing, a professional inkjet printer would be worth considering.

Multifunction capabilities required?
As well as printing you may also need scanning and photocopying capabilities; a multifunction printer (MFP) which includes all three is the most efficient and cost effective option. Some MFPs also include security options as well (see ‘Security requirements’ above).

2) Is it even necessary to purchase a printer or will a printing service suffice?
If you are a particularly small business or if you only print on an occasional, non-urgent basis, buying your own printer may not even be necessary and you could consider using a printing service instead. Likewise, if you require particularly large volumes, high quality or an unusual format, a printing service might fit your needs better.

3) Life span – thinking about your overall IT strategy and printing needs over time
A printer is an investment, just like any other piece of equipment or technology. Before making a purchase, it would make sense to consider your wider IT plans for the coming years. Do you plan to integrate cloud technology for example, or will tablets become more dominant in the workplace? (See ‘Cloud/Mobility capabilities’ above). In addition, you should think about whether or not a particular printer will integrate easily into your network and if you have a suitable individual on hand to service and maintain the machine?

4) Can Managed Print Services help?
If you are worried about managing your printing costs or maintenance and want to limit the impact that this has on your in-house IT team, you could consider using Managed Print Services (MPS). Smaller businesses could also think about a basic print service, which will enable you to pay for printing on a pay-per-print basis, charged either monthly or quarterly.