How to Choose a Business Ink-Jet Printer

In our last post, we recommended that you invest in a fast B&W MFP (or all-in-one [AOI]) laser/LED-array printer for the bulk of you office printing.  For the sake of economy, we also recommend that you limit your use of color printing and consider an ink-jet printer for your color needs.  If you remember, we stated our belief that the only persons who actually need color are your customers and your employees that need to proof documents before they are delivered to your customers.  This means that most small businesses can invest in a low-cost and reliable color ink-jet printer for their business-color needs.

Choosing the right printer from the hundreds available can be a daunting task.  Some of the usual considerations include:

  • How much does it cost?
  • How is the image quality?
  • How fast does it print?

In this guide, we are looking for ink-jet printers that are suitable for business use.  Although this can generally be determined by the aforementioned and “feeds and speeds,”  there are other considerations that you should make that will help you choose an ink-jet printer that is most suitable for your business.

First, let’s consider some common business-color applications:

  • Color correspondence with company letterhead and logos
  • Newsletters with business-color graphics and photos
  • Brochures with business-color graphics and photos
  • Microsoft PowerPoint hand-outs for those important presentations
  • Sales collaterals such as hand-outs and “leave behinds”

Most of the above are relatively low-volume applications that any business-class ink-jet printer should be able to handle.

Next, let’s consider key features and functions that you should look for in order to get the most out of your business ink-jet printer:

  • Maximum media size of 11” x 17” (A3 or ledger) – Eliminates the need for any other A3 printers in your office, allowing you to use a lower-cost A4 printer with a maximum media size of 8-1/2” x 14” as your primary printer.  Makes the printer suitable for printing brochures or small signature booklets with a 8-1/2” x 11” (letter) size when folded in half.
  • Maximum media capacity – The more media a printer holds, the easier it is to print higher volumes due to less downtime and user interaction.
  • Ease of maintenance – Ideally, a printer should hold 500 sheets of media in its main tray, and paper drawers should not have removable covers, corner separators or spring-loaded ramps that the user must contend with.  Ink cartridges should be high-capacity and easy to load.  Both of the aforementioned minimize user interaction and downtime.
  • Duplex printing – A must to conserve media and portray a “green” image to your customers.  Keep in mind that depending on the printer type, duplex productivity my be hampered by an ink that has a slow drying time.  Consequently, gel and solid-ink printers usually enjoy a productivity advantage over liquid-ink printers.
  • Number of ink cartridges – There should be an individual cartridge for each ink color.  Printers that use a single multi-color cartridge almost always force you to change the cartridge even when there is ink left for the two remaining colors.
  • Network interface – Quite simply, a network interface offers superior productivity and printer monitoring and management, and also makes it easy to share the printer with selected users on the network.
  • Image quality – Most ink-jet printers can produce stunning image quality on expensive photographic paper, including eye-catching brochures printed on coated stock.  Although these are not common business applications, it should be a consideration.  This also means that for the most part, you can ignore specialty printers that have six, seven or eight ink colors unless you have applications for specialty photographic work and/or color matching.  Also note that virtually any ink-jet printer can produce image quality that rivals that of any color laser printer.
  • Cost of operation – Thanks to the ISO 24711 test method for determining ink yield, you can now compare the advertised ink-yield from the various printer manufacturers.  Consequently, it is relatively easy to compare the cost per page for various printers.

Here’s the formula to obtain the cost per page of an “average” print that has a page coverage of 20% or 5% page coverage per color:

cost per page=(black ink price/black ink yield)+(cyan ink price/cyan ink yield)+(magenta ink price/magenta ink yield)+(yellow ink price/yellow ink yield)

Finally, here are some ink-jet printer strengths and limitations you should consider when you compare ink-jet printers to color laser printers:

Strengths    Limitations
Low Price No Finishing Options
Superior Image Quality Slower Duplex Print Speed
Wide Variety of Media Types Inferior Sunlight Fastness
Image Permanence Smaller Media Capacity
Low Energy Consumption Lower Ink-Cartridge Capacity
Easy Maintenance
Small Footprint
Cost Per Page

Still not convinced?  Do the math:

A3 Business Ink-Jet A3 Color Laser/LED
Estimated Price $400 $2,400
Color/B&W Print Speed 21/24 26/32
Color Ink/Toner Cost Per Page* $0.07 $0.12
Color TCO @ 500 pages/mo. $2,500 $6,000
Color TCO @ 1,000 pages/mo. $4,600 $9,600

*Estimated Cost Per Page does not include the cost of ink-jet print heads, or the cost of laser/LED-array waste toner receptacles or laser/LED-array maintenance kits that may be periodically required.

Fortunately, Wirth Consulting’s next Head2Head Comparison Report on A3 ink-jet printers will save you the math and research, and help you make the right decision by providing performance ratings, Cost Per Page (CPP) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!
Terry Wirth

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