For small and midsize businesses looking to buy a color laser printer, theres good news: Several new models are available, and prices have plummeted this year.
The bad news? With all the options, picking the right printer can be daunting for many SMBs. Finding the right combination of speed, quality, service and price is akin to solving a logic puzzle.
Color laser printers are still more expensive initially than inkjet printers but, for the most part, are less expensive in the long run because laser toner is cheaper than ink. And for small businesses that only occasionally print in color, fast color printing is not the utmost concern. But for those companies without in-house IT shops, on-site support can be a key feature.
"Most smaller-sized businesses dont have an IT department, and often the customer is the owner of the business, and one of the things they may or may not understand is IT," said IDC analyst Keith Kmetz in Framingham, Mass. "Any support they can get can go a long way."
On-site support was one of the main reasons the Virginia Employment Commission was willing to pay IBM more for rebranded Lexmark International Inc. printers.
"We needed full coverage throughout Virginia—we have offices all the way to the Tennessee border," said Solomon Wilson, an IT buyer for the VEC, based in Richmond. "IBM offered on-site maintenance, whereas some of the other, smaller companies couldnt."
The VEC uses the printers to produce handouts for special promotions run by its 40 field offices across the state, but it still farms out its bigger color printing jobs.
Wilson said another reason the VEC opted for IBM printers was that it had already bought IBM servers and felt safer buying from a company with which it had a good relationship.
Hewlett-Packard Co. has its own customer base and two decades of experience in the printing industry—both were factors that led Hornblower Yachts Inc. to buy HPs color laser printers, said Daniel Hitson, systems manager of Hornblower, in San Francisco.
Hornblowers relationship with HP and the "availability of qualified support staff" also were key factors, said Hitson. Hornblower uses the color lasers to create mock-ups of brochures for its customers, said Tim Patrick, a graphics designer in Hornblowers marketing department. Once the design is approved by the customer, Hornblower farms out the final product for mass printing.
For businesses that want to produce color marketing materials, such as brochures or pamphlets, two-sided (duplex) printing can be an important feature. "Duplexing is really essential for the kind of materials Im creating," said Dod Bateman, a real estate agent with Re/Max International Inc., in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Ease of use is also key for many smaller shops, which is the reason one small business decided to try Xerox Corp.s solid-ink (resin stick) printers, said Stan Feingold, president and founder of ScrapSmart, in Rochester, N.Y. ScrapSmarts seven employees use two Xerox Phaser solid-ink 8400s to print some 50,000 scrapbook pages, inserts for CD/DVD cases and presentation materials each year. "I was tired of shaking toner cartridges," said Feingold. "With the solid ink, you just stick it in—its like crayon."