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Here are some quick notes to help you decide which is the best printer for you. It is written largely with consideration of laser printers, but can easily be used for any type and even to compare types. It is not a comparison of specific printers.

Table of Contents/Steps

What Are Your Requirements?

Firstly, seperate what you really need and what you would like. This is easiest to do on two separate sheets of paper. Put the list of what you would like away until the final decision needs to be made, when you use it to decide between two equally matched printers.

Some basic considerations;

Then post, fax or email your list of requirements to resellers, suppliers, etc and ask them what printers they have that match these requirement and their prices.

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Purchase Price

Do not make a decision on purchase price alone!

From the above, you will get back a pile of waffle, very little of what you need and hopefully some prices. You will be able to cull many of the printers offered because they clearly do not meet what you need.

Alternatively, this will have been a useful learning exercise and you will now better understand your requirement and can redraft them and resend them.

When you have a number of printers that clearly meet your needs, you are ready for the next step.

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There are some rough rules of thumb around that say that dot matrix printers are purchased on the printer price, inkjets should be purchased on the consumables price and laser printers are half and half.

Basic consumables are ribbons, inkjet cartridges and laser toner. You need to obtain the price for purchasing these at regular intervals. Do not use the cost from the local weekend markets or for buying 100 at a time.

You want a source of good, reliable and fresh stock. Dot matrix ribbons slowly dry out, even in plastic bags. Inkjet cartridges can dry out or clog up and toner can settle and not flow properly.

How many you keep in stock depends on usage and time to replace. A home user might not keep any in stock, but pick one up next day on the way to and from work. A business user might also need to allow for the time it takes the boss to authorise the purchase order and may need to consider courier delivery charges as part of consumables cost.

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Basic Home Comparison

There are three considerations in a basic comparison such as a home user might make; media, purchase price and consumables cost.

I haven't said anything about media because in most cases it will be the same for all printers. The problem is when you need special media and certain printers only work with certain specific media, e.g overhead transparencies, photgraphic print paper, t-shirt transfer paper. If this is why you are buying the printer, then you will need to add this into the calculation.

We carry out the comparison on the estimated cost to print a page. So you add;

When added up, these will give the cost for each printer to produce a page of output. so long as your printer meets quality of output requirements, the lowest cost/page may be waht you need.

Media coverage or the number of pages/consumable can be a hairy figure to track down. Ask for pages at 5% coverage. It is almost a defacto standard and refers to the amount of ink on a white page of text at normal, dense printing. Remember that this figure only applies for text printing, so do not expect this on lasers printing heavy graphics or inkjets doing photos.

If you can not get a stated coverage, buy elsewhere or don't buy the printer. A good laser printer has an internal counter and this can allow you to establish a bechmark figure for your use, to track the real usage to ensure you are getting what you paid for and to look for early signs of failure.

Printer life will vary with use, location, care, throughput, model and brand. Some basic guidelines for average economic lifetime are 10 years for dot matrix, 2-3 years for inkjets (1 year for mobile, 2 year home, up to 5 years for bigger, business printers) and 5 years for a laser. These are general guidelines. Feel free to make your own choice, but remember you are looking at AVERAGE lifetime, nt the exceptional long life printer that someone claims.

At home, inkjet printers usually stop working because of dust, power spikes, spills and drops. It is then usually cheaper to junk it and buy another one. The same can apply to cheap laser printer.

Usage - this is a critical consideraion and only experience can tell how many pages you will print over the life of a printer. You will have to make an estimate based on your computer usages pattern. If you have a computer that is mainly for internet surfing and occassionally you print occassional pages, then a reasonable estimate might be 1 page/day (average figures remember), so you will print 3,652 over the life of a dot matrix, 730 over the life of an inkjet printer, or 1,826 over the life of a laser. Conversely, you might be a constant writer who posts long letters to correspondents and you might be averaging ten pages a day.

For the home printer user, you have enough to make a sound decision.

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Total Cost of Ownership

If your are in business, you have have to make every minute count as not only do you have the banks, taxation and creditors wanting to be paid, but you may have staff who still want to be paid whether printers are working or not. So not only are you interested in the cost to buy and run this printer, you are interested in the cost of keeping it running as much as possible.

You need to consider the Whole Of Life costs associated with having this printer. You have the capital cost of purchase, the expense of consumables and the likely cost of repairs to consider.

Estimation of reapir costs are a very hard area. You can not trust the salesman and it is hard to find a repair place that will be candid and truthful (because they may get supplies cut off).

In years past, when engines were relativly few and models only changed slowly, you could get a feel for which engines were best (canon SX = wonderful) and thus which brands and models to consider. All you can do these days is a best guess and try to weed the duds out within the warranty period.

However, assuming a reasonable quality printer,you can make some good estimates of the likely service and repair costs that you may encounter over the life of the printer.

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Estimating Service and Repair Costs

If your business is big enough, you can take out a service contract. There are companies around that make their living from providing various levels of service contract. From 24 hours response to almost what is an insurance premium against any cost of repairs, but you ship it to them for repairs. These are usually cheaper if taken out when the printer is first purchased as they allow for the initial warranty period and expected better reliability from the servicing that they will carry out.

Make sure you are clear on exactly what is covered by these service contracts. Response time, onsite or workshop, parts, labour, courier costs (particularly for big heavy laser printers). Once the exact details are clear, you know the total cost of repairs and service you will encounter over the life of each printer and can start to compare apples with apples.

If a printer is critical and you can not afford a 48 hours loss of printing, consider having two indentical printers, or a second printer that will carry over crtitical printing for the critical period.

For smaller business, usually you are after an idea of how much it will cost to get the printer repaired if it breaks down. So you need to look at parts and labour costs. The major part is the drum, which is usually replaced each time you replace the toner cartridges as they are one unit.

Kyocera Ecosys laser printers were the first that I remember as offering this in the smaller printer in Australia. The purchase price of the printer is high, but the cost of consumables is lower as you are not replacing the drum. When comparing these printers to the drum in toner and drum cartridge model, I add in the cost of one new drum as part of the Whole Of Life Expenses. You can usually get a price that includes total cost of replacement (parts and labour) to include in the whole of life cost estimate. Typically, the Kyocera printers were cheaper to run in higher use places.

The Kyocera printers distinguish themselves by having a ceramic drum which is harder to damage, but more expensive to replace. Some other laser printer models that have separate drum and toner, do not have drums of this quality, so you can expect multiple replacements over their life. Usually these are cheaper laser printers and they end up junked after a short life as cost of repairs compared to buying a new, improved laser printer is not much different.

Labour for Repairs may be an issue in estimating the Whole of Life expenses if you are locked into one repair shop for a particular brand/model. If so, add on the cost of a day's labour from the relevant workshop for each printer. Otherwise, you can ignore it in the comparisons.

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Final Comparisons

Okay, you should now have;

You can now plug this into the formula below to derive your comparative costs of producing a page from each printer

Cost          Whole of Life Cost          Consumable Cost
per     =     -----------------     +     ---------------
page           Number of pages             Number of pages
                printed over              printed at standard
                machine life                  coverage


Whole of Life Cost purchase + service contract or repairs estimate
Number of pages printed over machine lifeAverage usage/period * number of periods in life of printer
Comsumable CostCost to buy a unit.
Number of pagesThe number of expected pages you can expect to get at standard coverage.

You now have comparative cost/page figures for any decision you make.

My final word of caution is to ensure that the assumptions I've used on comsumable costs match your consumable usage.

I hope this guide has helped.

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Plan for the Future

Much of my involvement with printers has been in selecting and installing them for larger companies, which tend to look at the now. Home and smaller businesses should also consider the future. A quality printer can last a lot longer if given a bit of care by putting in power protection, good secure dust free location, regular clean ups and quality consumables (not necessarily brand name). It can also continue to provide service well after its economic life has finished.

We are now seeing a lot of cheap, disposable printers on the market. They are cheap because people are buying solely on purchase price. They are disposable because it is uneconomic to repair them. So long as you buy these printer with this understanding, then you will not be disappointed.

WOA's first printer was a 24 pin dot matrix and 16 years later it is still going strong although the cut sheet feeder died. It is still very useful for quick print outs of text and other documents I want to print for a quick read somewhere else. It is also much cheaper for label printing for large mail out jobs we undertake occassionally.

Our next printer was a postscript A4 laser, which has a canon sx engine. Expensive to buy in its time, but consumable costs are very cheap. It is now 10 years old and still going. It is slowly assuming the role of paper recycler as much of it's printing load has been taken over.

It is however the only printer with a straight through paper path so we can do printing on card stock - a handy thing to have. It also is still sufficent for 80% of our printing needs, just a little slow.

Each time we purchased a quality printer that met our specific requirements and we were happy with the printer.

We also improved our printer accessability by placing them directly onto the network. This saved enormous amount of trouble as whenever new systems and servers were being installed, we always had printing capacity.

All of our printers, old and new, are networked, which can be a good economical investment for any company. Printers tied to one machine by a parallel port have one point of failure.

There are some good network printer servers around that allow multiple computers and servers from different operating systems to access the printer. They also allow configuration and testing across the network. WOA has had Linux, Novell and Microsoft NT servers all directly and concurrently acessing these printers.

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The Plug for WOA Services

WOA does not sell printers. Well, we can, we have price lists from various suppliers, but we decline to play the price wars.

What we do is to help you network your printer. We can come in and give you a total audit of your printing situation and advise your company if there are improvements that will help their printers give better service.

We also put individual computers onto your network and train and assist your staff to set these up.
Our skills are in Unix, Novell, NT and Linux. You can contact us at the email address below.

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