How to choose the perfect printer for your SMB

Running costs

One of the main concerns with printers is that after their initial purchase price, what will the ongoing cost be over the lifetime of the printer?

For many businesses the cost of ink for their printers is often an afterthought, indeed if this is considered at all. For decades the printer (inkjet printers in particular) have been berated for the high cost of printer ink. Manufacturers cite high R&D costs as the reason, but businesses have understood for several years that ink costs will be high to compensate for the low cost of purchasing the printer itself.

Various schemes have been tried over the years with HP Instant Ink being the latest. Here a compatible printer – for businesses the OfficeJet Pro 8610 all-in-one is a good choice – will automatically order more ink via post to ensure it never runs out.

You enrol your printer and set a subscription level based on the number of pages a month you will be printing. The system is flexible enough to allow businesses to begin at a low subscription rate and up this as print volume increases.

As the cost of replacement inkjet cartridges remains high, the market for unbranded cartridges has become widespread. Should your business use unbranded ink? The inkjet printer manufacturers have used various techniques to stop this practice with the most common being the addition of a microchip to their own legitimate cartridges that the printer reads before accepting the new replacement ink.

The quality of the ink and the attached microchips can be an issue for some printers. Research by Which indicated that it's really a trial and error exercise with some users having little or no problems with unbranded cartridges, with others reporting their printers rejecting the cartridges completely. If your business is looking to save some money on cartridges, it seems you will have to simply try a few from unbranded sellers and see which work. It's worth a try though, as they can cost half the retail price of branded inks.

For several years it has been possible to retrofit an inkjet printer with a refillable ink tank. The ink cartridges in the printer are replaced with new cartridges that have a pipe running to a large external ink tank for each ink colour, which can be refilled.

Epson EcoTank

The new EcoTank printers could resolve the problem of costly ink cartridges for many users

EcoTank solution

Using this system is frowned upon by the printer manufacturers, which is why Epson has launched EcoTank. The new range of printers have external ink tanks that can be refilled with larger capacity ink bottles. For businesses the Epson ET-4500, 4550 and WF-R4640 are MFDs that should serve most needs.

The initial cost of the printer is higher than you would expect, but Epson claims you'll have two years' worth of printing from the supplied ink. New bottles of ink have a capacity of 70ml (the average ink cartridge is less than 10ml in most cases) and cost around £8 (about $11, AU$16) making this system highly cost-effective if your business has a large workload. The system is aimed at the home user initially, but small businesses can equally make use of EcoTank to gain more control over their ink costs.

Your business needs to have a reliable print service. Assessing your printing needs will guide you to the right type of printer with enough capacity. Running costs remain an issue with the persistent high cost of branded inkjet and toner cartridges, but your business could investigate whether EcoTank is the answer.