Printing and copying has come of age in the workplace and moved into the mainstream of everyday business communications. Proposals, presentations and internal reports are being created and reproduced in colour to communicate messages more persuasively and with greater impact.

Users can make costly mistakes if they simply buy on price. A number of factors should be taken into consideration when purchasing a colour printer/ copier, writes Marianna Gdanis is colour division product manager for Minolta South Africa.

1 – Total cost of ownership: Running costs make up the majority of the expense of most printers. Over a three year period, only 6% of the total cost of a typical desktop printer will come from hardware, while 94% will come from consumables such as ink, toner, paper, imaging cartridges and fusing units.  For example, an apparently inexpensive inkjet printer can cost tens of thousands of rands over a three-year period.

2 – Buy or rent? Buying equipment outright is no longer the best financial policy. Renting a digital colour copier/printer not only provides a natural upgrade path, but also offers significant savings over a three-year period. An organisation that buys the latest digital colour copier/printer with the fastest, most advanced software and an array of useful features may find that the device is almost obsolete in three years’ time and equivalent equipment may be offering twice the speed and even more advanced features at a radically reduced price. When renting, be aware of the rental escalation trap – make sure your rental is not based on a 15% per annum escalation. This is a common way to offer “cheaper” rentals, but only for the first 12 months.

3 – The right supplier and after-sales service: We all like to feel we are getting a good deal, but the value of the device lies only partly in the product.  It is possible that more than 70% of the costs paid to a chosen supplier relate to technical service charges. Once a connected colour copier becomes part of your office, the real cost is when it’s not working. A good supplier has to support all traditional copier-technologies, have the latest software and firmware-upgrades, advise on loading drivers, understand how the customers want their products to be integrated into their network, understand colour-management, and have ongoing access to consumables and technical support. Suppliers offering the cheaper deal make cutbacks to survive and the customers ultimately pay the price. Maintenance contracts need to be examined carefully as quoted costs often include quarterly escalations (which are not mentioned at quote stage) and do not include fuser units, transfer sections or even drum units. In addition, some suppliers include coverage clauses i.e. the costs quoted are limited to 20% coverage. Should users exceed this coverage, they are liable to pay additional costs. All-inclusive maintenance contracts are the best way to go, but make sure they have no quarterly escalations, no excluded items and no coverage clauses to surprise you.

4 – Controlling access: Having made an investment in colour, the protection of your investment from “non-commercial colour volume” is an important consideration for businesses. Buyers should look for copy track functionality, which offers each user or department their own account code. Each account can be set up to restrict access to the device by limiting or prohibiting the number of colour or black and white pages copied, printed or scanned. It also allows the device to be controlled and monitored and the customer to allocate costs to specific cost centres where necessary.

5 – Impact on network: Organisations need to consider the impact of the colour device on the network. Large colour print jobs on normal laser or inkjet printers can slow the network down considerably. Some multifunctional devices allow businesses to print highly complex jobs at full rated engine speed. By using the hard disk drive for spooling, the network can be freed up to accept and queue jobs for printing, even it it’s already processing and/or printing other jobs at the time. In addition, multifunctional devices offer colour scanning, which means very large colour files can be moving across the network or mail server. Users need to identify if the product supports new file formats like Compact PDF, which produces file sizes a fraction of a normal PDF, which have minimal impact on network performance.

6 – Quality of image

Today there are many suppliers of “hybrid” or “colour-capable” devices that do not offer the best colour quality, but are designed to offer black and white and occasional colour with a distinctly lower quality output. Be aware that you do not have to pay a price premium to have access to “full” colour technology and black and white in one device. No-one has to settle for “hybrid” quality devices. In Also note that the media or paper used will influence the output quality and most devices produce better quality images on glossy paper, which is costly. It is therefore best to ‘test’ the quality of the prints on standard bond paper, which will provide a cost-effective solution in the longer term.

7 – Ease of use: For businesses to communicate effectively in colour, all users should be able to print and copy as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Display panels should be designed for simplicity and operating procedures should be easy to follow. Check whether the paper paths are short and easily accessible so that if a misfeed occurs, it is easy to clear.