For a workgroup — two or more networked computers in an office — a basic monochrome laser will serve well as your standard printer for day-to-day needs. In comparison to inkjet printers, lasers tend to be better suited to high-volume office printing, and most types of business will benefit from the speedy output of the laser printer. This type of printer is well suited to such standard office printing jobs as letters, cover sheets, meeting notes, and handouts.
The cost of printers is frequently given on a per-page basis to reflect the expense of such replacement supplies as ink. Thus the cost-per-page for most laser printers is lower than that of inkjets. Lasers cost more than inkjets to start with, but supplies are cheaper. Inkjet printers, on the other hand, are cheaper out-of-pocket but make up for that with ink that is much more expensive.
In addition to being fast and inexpensive to operate, laser printers are durable — their so-called "duty cycles," or the capacity to steadily turn out large numbers of pages, are generally higher than those of inkjets. Lasers are built to handle volume; they’re optimized to print faster and to print steadily without breaking down.
If yours is a typical office, printing a typical number of pages per month, you will be well served by the following configuration, which represents a middle-of-the-price/feature range for mid-sized workgroups, and will cost between $500 and $1000 depending on the vendor.
Printer type: monochrome laser
Pages per minute: 30-50
Number of paper trays: 2 (so it can hold more paper without refilling)
Paper tray capacity: 650-1,000 pages (total)
Duty cycle: Never mind! Pick a model in the middle of a particular vendor’s duty cycle range (this could be between 60,000 and 200,000 pages per month. Yes, the number is vastly larger than the amount your office would really print.) Read more about this occult part of printer spec in "How to Ignore the Duty Cycle."
You may not need the paper capacity and high printing speed today, but this is a basic configuration that should allow you to add several users to the printer network and rely on the printer over two or three years.
How Many Printers Does Your Office Need?
Do you need more than one printer? How many people can share a printer? Vendors and salesmen generally won’t give you a standard ratio of users to printers because it’s the overall volume of work, not the sheer number of users, that will limit the printer’s ability to get everyone’s job done. This is why vendors ask you to estimate the number of pages you’ll print each month – the monthly print volume figure takes into account the number of people who will rely on the printer as well as the type of print jobs those people will send to the printer.
You can choose to divide your monthly print load across multiple printers, and this may be convenient for people spread out across a big office. On the other hand, since the cost per page generally goes down with the bigger (and faster) models, you might get better cost savings connecting a large group to one robust printer.
Here are some factors to consider in deciding how many printers your office needs:
- Degree of Use: Certain groups, such as sales or engineering, might tend to use the printers more heavily than other groups, or need their printouts on shorter deadlines. They might need their own printer just to handle their projects (and to keep them out of everybody else's hair).
- Proximity: Distribute printers so that no one has to walk far to retrieve their printouts, even if that means buying an extra printer.
- Executives: It can sometimes be handy, not to mention politic, to provide personal inkjet printers on the desks of key executives. HR might want its own printer to maintain privacy and control over employee records.
Networking, Paper Size and Other Printer-Selection Criteria
After you make decisions about the color option and the optimum workload, a few other considerations will help you refine your printer search.
Are you sharing the printer? If more than one person will use this printer, you’ll want to be able to network it. Look for "networking" as a feature on the printer you want to buy. Such printers can be plugged directly into your network as if they were PCs.
If you have a Macintosh network, just make sure the box includes the right type of connector and software "drivers" for Macintosh; most do.
Most networked printers connect directly to the network using an Ethernet connector. There are also wireless networked printers, good for locations that are hard to connect by wire to the rest of the network. There are also ways to connect a printer to a PC and install software or hardware to turn the computer into a "printer server;" but details are beyond the scope of this guide. For an example, read about how you can use Red Hat Linux to set up a print server to allow multiple computers to access a non-networked printer.
The more sophisticated network printers come with both the hardware and software to automate the network set-up process, so you don’t have to know about IP addresses or creating a port on your network operating system in order to get it up, running, and shared. Look for terms like “network-ready” or “built-in print server,” indicating that plugging the printer to your network will be automated (or close to it).
For easy administration of your network printer – changing the printer’s setting or checking error messages when something goes wrong – look for a network printer that offers the admin functions on a Web page. This remote administration function saves you having to fiddle with the LCD panel on the printer itself.
A network printer sold as a “departmental” or “large workgroup” solution can also provide fancier features for printer admin, such as access controls and reporting capabilities. You can also get this admin. capability with a separate “print server” device. For example, HP’s Web Jetadmin lets you turn off color printing capabilities for specific users on the network; it also tracks consumables usage (i.e. how much toner the printer uses) and gives predictions on cost and timing for replacing your consumables; it can run reports to identify the users who print the most, or who prints the most color jobs. Many of the bigger business printers will have these reporting features – the color lasers or solid ink printers for businesses are made to allow administrators to control the cost of printing. An extra feature that might come in handy with networked printing is private printing. It’s a way of making sure that no one else picks up a sensitive document that you send to the shared printer. You can designate a print job to be handled as private printing, and the printer will require a PIN to be entered on the front panel before it prints your document. This function requires extra memory, so printers with this function will have hard drives to store the documents until you’re ready to receive them.
What’s the largest paper you’ll print? Printing tabloid paper (11x17) or other sizes bigger than legal (8.5x14) often requires a special paper tray. Some printers let you expand to add special paper sizes later by buying the appropriate paper tray.
How many dedicated paper trays would you like? Most business printers come with two paper trays, in addition to a manual input slot. A second or third input tray can be used to hold other paper types and sizes, such as larger paper or envelopes. You can also just use the extra trays to hold more regular paper, saving you from having to refill the paper trays so often.
Want to print on both sides of the paper? Printers that can print duplex (first on one side, then running the page back through and printing on the other side) costs a lot more, but it can save paper, which pays off in the long run if you do a lot of printing. Duplex also lets you create reports that are thinner and more convenient to handle and seem more professional. With some printers, you can add duplexing capability later.
More memory? You can add RAM to higher-end printers, which can be espeically important in networked printers so they can more easily handle multiple print jobs from various PCs, taking the data feed and freeing the PCs to go back to work. Some printers actually use hard disk drives to store print jobs, and also to store additional fonts and forms, and to enable private printing. "Document management" multifunction printers have all kinds of additional features for manipulating and massaging documents, and thus benefit from the storage capacity of hard drives.