How to choose the perfect printer for your SMB

Make sure you get the right printer for your needs

Samsung laser MFD

Note: Our choosing a business printer feature has been fully updated. This article was first published in November 2012.

The paperless office has continued to be conspicuous by its absence. Indeed, using paper in an office environment seems to be as popular as ever. Even with the ability to digitise any paper document, the printed word remains a stubborn component of office life.

So, your business needs to have a printer, but which type do you choose? Of course, as with a lot of business decisions, the choice you make will be highly subjective. As no two businesses are the same, their printer needs won't be the same either. To start off with, you have a choice of three broad categories of printer:

1. Inkjet printers

As their name suggests, inkjet printers use liquid ink that is squirted at the paper to create the image. Inkjets have continued to develop their capabilities and are today the most versatile printer your business can buy. Whether you need to print office documents or high quality photos, there's an inkjet printer to suit your requirements.

2. Laser printers

For many years laser printers were too expensive for small business or home use, but today they are compact and affordable. The big advantage of laser printing is speed. Using dry toner the capacity of the toner cartridges is many more times that of a typical inkjet cartridge. Businesses that need to print large quantities of documents quickly should choose a laser printer.

3. All-in-one printers

Also known as Multi-Functional Devices (MFDs), these printers have a built in scanner and fax capability. For small businesses that need a compact printer yet want to integrate scanning and fax as well, MFDs are an ideal choice.

Some businesses may also have specialist printing requirements. If your business needs to print larger documents, A3 paper (297 x 420mm, or 11.7 x 16.5-inches) printers are available. And most inkjet printers will be able to print via memory cards. Lastly, a wide range of printers are now wireless, which means they can print from desktop PCs, tablets or smartphones via your company's Wi-Fi network.

HP Officejet Pro X576dw
The HP Officejet Pro X576dw MFP is a workhorse printer for small businesses

Printer choice

With so much choice it can be difficult to make the right decision. If your business doesn't need any speciality printing such as large page sizes, the choice basically boils down to inkjet or laser.

Speed

In a busy office, no one wants to wait around for their work to print out. Here the laser printer has a clear advantage. If you print most of your documents in black and white, laser printers can achieve 60 pages per minute (PPM) with some workhorses exceeding that.

Quality

The type of printing your business needs to do will guide it to the quality of the output that is needed. Inkjets have improved massively over the last few years, but for many, lasers still have the edge on quality. If your business needs to print customer presentations, then a laser will give you crisp text and graphs. That said, photography will have a more natural look if printed on an inkjet.

Workloads

How many pages your business will churn out each month is the workload or duty cycle as it's also called. Printers have mechanical components, which have a lifespan. Look for a printer workload that matches the average number of pages your business needs to print each month to avoid breakdowns and a drop in output quality.

Networking and security

Laser and inkjet printers have been converging with many now offering high speed Ethernet connectivity or Wi-Fi. If your business needs to print sensitive documents, some printers will queue these until a PIN is entered into the printer by an authorised user.

Features

Many small businesses are looking to do more with less to reduce their costs. Here an MFD is the perfect solution. To ensure your MFD meets the needs of your business, follow this checklist:

1. Can the machine your business is considering handle the capacity needed?

MFDs come in all shapes and sizes. Many are aimed at the domestic market. Look closely at the stated capacity and match this to your business workload.

2. How important is quality of scanning and printing?

Many of the latest MFDs use print technology that was, up until a short time ago, only found in high-end laser printers. Look at samples of print and scanned output before making your choice.

3. Is fax capability needed?

Fax is far from a dead communications medium, with many large businesses still needing it. Look at the fax capability of the MFD, which today is likely to use the cloud as well as direct dial to another fax machine.

4. Will your company need to manage sensitive information?

Access to the features of an MFD should be controlled with PIN numbers or passwords. Also, ensure that the MFD only prints the required copies to ensure data security. And think about whether the USB port should be disabled.

5. Does your business require remote printing?

With the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), printing from mobile devices is fast and efficient. Look closely at the apps that will use the MFD to ensure these connect securely.

The careful assessment of your organisation's printing needs will lead you to the right printer with the capabilities you require. With a number of factors to consider, balance these to create a list of needs, which you can then use to match to your perfect printer.