The Confusing World of Printers: Know Your Priorities Before You Purchase

Over the last few days I’ve been trying to help someone decide the best printer for their home office. Their current NEC printer worked just fine with Windows XP, but when they upgraded to Vista, the drivers no longer worked. Isn’t hind sight always perfect?

We stopped by Sam’s Club, browsed and ran through the digital shelves of the major printer vendors to see what was available. There is SO MUCH, in fact TOO MANY choices available, which made buying the “right printer” for them, a bit difficult. However, what has helped us is to prioritize what is more important to them.

For them, we narrowed down the following “musts”:
Laser is a must. They do not want a slow (although many ink jets are quite fast) printer nor do they want to run out of ink every month and fork over $30 for one or more new cartridges. Laser toners last much longer – often hundreds of pages or more.

A multi-function printer would be a “nice” option, so at least they can scan external documents from time to time.

Finally, color would be desirable. They don’t use color often, but from time to time printing in color would be a “plus”.

Between HP, Lexmark and Xerox, the brands are quite similar. Dell and Canon are not first on my mind for printers, but we’ll have a look at them as well, before they make their final decision.

Ironically, today I installed a Canon Pixma MX850 (it’s an older model that Canon sent me to review some months ago, but I only got around to it recently due to some technical issues on my side).

Its menu options are clear and easy to use. The paper trays are relatively small, but the 31 PPM (black) and 24 PPM (color) is acceptable for an ink jet. Since my home office is a wireless jungle, and this printer is not, I had to connect it via USB to a computer.

Overall, Canon’s MFP line, based on my experience with this unit, is solid. I have not thoroughly tested the printer for color quality, but it looks pretty good to me. Modern printers print pretty good color no matter what kind of paper you use. But the better quality paper you use the better the richness of the color will be. Cost $200

A few weeks ago Xerox released a new MFP, the WorkCentre 5230. It’s black and white (no color), has a large paper tray and prints 30 PPM. The press release reads The Xerox WorkCentre 5230 multifunction printer is designed to support busy work environments that not only need to print, copy, scan and fax, but also require more advanced functionality. The MFP prints and copies at speeds up to 30 pages per minute and has a paper capacity of up to 5,100 sheets to quickly tackle office print jobs. Using the finishing options makes it easy to handle complex tasks like booklet making and hole-punching. Cost: $4,300.

If you’re looking for a printer for a small office or workgroup, Xerox’s WorkCentre should be considered.

What does all of this mean to you?
Whether you are looking for a high-capacity multi-featured system, like the Xerox WorkCentre 4230 or a more economical and simple to use MFP for your home office, like Canon’s Pixma line, you can find pretty much any printer for any need you have.

For example, is network scanning an important feature for you? Is printing a few color brochures, on a strict budget, more important to you?

On September 1, Lexmark will release a new line of all-in-one ink jet printers. Three of them will have web connected touch screens, which can bring in RSS feeds directly to the touch screen. How valuable an RSS feed is to a printer, I don’t know. The entire line of printers will be wireless enabled.

As you can see, between the printers available now and the ones soon to be launched, you’ll have a LOT of choices.

The most important thing is to prioritize what your needs are and choose the printer that best meets your needs.
All the vendors have comparable printers, across competing product lines. If you plan on having more than one printer, I highly encourage you to stick with one brand for all your printers. Having 5 printers from 5 different vendors is not the end of the world, but it’s much easier to diagnose problems, learn how to use the cross over features and order supplies when products are from the same vendor.