A disproportionate amount of issues that our clients raise are due to printer problems. Even in the modern world of cloud-based files and electronic communication every business still needs to print from time to time. And, despite dreams of paperless offices, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
However, many of you will have experienced ‘printer frustration’. This may be where you tear your hair out as you try to find a non-existent paper jam. Or you may have installed a brand-new print cartridge, but the printer still says it needs replacing. You may even have experienced the phenomenon where your PC and printer just simply stop talking to each other. These are all common issues, but why do they occur?
To understand the route of printer problems, you need to understand a bit about the business models of printer companies.
You get what you pay for
Ink jet printers are cheap. Like seriously, stupidly cheap. You are paying less for the printer than it is worth. There is some serious technology contained in the humble printer, but they are often sold at cost, or even as a loss leader. But why would the manufacturer do this?
Across the entire printer market place the manufacturers look to make their money on the supplies. This is especially true at the lowest entry point, which is why cartridges for the cheapest printers on the market tend to be the most expensive. It’s also why manufacturers ‘recommend’ you use their supplier.
You can, of course, use the cheaper aftermarket cartridges that are available. However, whilst these might save you money in the short term, they can cause many printer problems such as quality issues, or shorten the life of the printer.
A further reason for the low purchase price is that the unit is designed to fail, meaning you’re expected to go out and buy a new one every 2-3 years. It’s essentially a disposable item that wears out, like car tyres or light bulbs.
But profit may not be the only reason why manufacturers ask you to buy their supplies.
The technology is not always in the printer
In order to keep manufacturing costs, and therefore the purchase price, down the technology may be contained in the cartridge NOT the ‘box’. Most two cartridge printers (e.g. black and colour) have the print heads on the cartridge. Those with separate cyan, magenta and yellow cartridges will tend to have the print heads built into the machine.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both setups, the best choice will depend on how you use the printer, and how much.
Going back to the use of cheaper non-manufacturer produced cartridges, in some cases these will not work at all. The printer will identify them as non-OEM and ask you to replace them. This is certainly the case with HP printers. So, you simply cannot use the cheaper cartridges.
Choosing the right printer for your business
So, we’ve established that the poor build quality of ‘disposable’ printers is the root cause of many printer problems, but what can we do about it?
You need to start by buying the correct printer in the first place. This may seem simple but when you can get a HP Deskjet from Currys for £30 people often go for the cheap, quick option rather than really considering their needs.
The first, and most important question, is how much are you going to print? If you only print a few pages a day then an inkjet will probably suffice, if your volume is higher, then a laser might be the best choice.
Devices often quote a ‘duty cycle’ giving a monthly maximum and recommended figures. Make sure the device you buy is capable of handling current and future needs.
The cost of laser printers has reduced dramatically over the past few years. Whilst a toner cartridge for laser printer can seem expensive, they print a much higher volume than an inkjet cartridge, so price per copy is often lower.
Even a colour laser can be purchased for under £200. However keep in mind that print resolution might be low at that price point so if you’re printing lots of pictures then this might not be the right choice.
Feel the need for speed?
Another consideration will be speed. Lasers are generally much quicker than inkjets. As a rough guide a printer with an output of less than 20 pages per minute will be fairly slow, a range of 20ppm to 40ppm is adequate for most offices and 40ppm plus is for higher volume users.
Paper handling capabilities are another thing to think about. How often do you want to be filling the paper tray? Some entry level printers have capacity levels of 150 pages; typical levels are more likely to be 250 pages whilst more expensive units have capacities of 500 or 600.
Need more than just printing…….
Multi-Function Printers (MFP’s) or All-In-Ones, also provide things such as copying, scanning, faxing, duplex, hole punching, optical character recognition (OCR) and so on.
If any of these features are something that you would use on regular basis then it might be worth considering an All-In-One. However, a dedicated machine will do any of those jobs better than a multi-function machine. So if you scan hundreds of pages every week then you are going to want a dedicated scanner. We’d also recommend thinking about dedicated machines as the business grows. A single machine juggling everyone’s printing, copying, scanning in a 20+ person office is going to cause frustrations.
Automatic duplex is probably one of the most useful features. Whilst it will slow printing, the money (and trees) you’ll save by halving your paper use will outweigh any time lost.
Networking Your Printer
The printer network. The arch nemesis of the IT professional. The good news is that things are getting better. The bad news is that this is still the cause of most recurring printer problems.
Updating your system often causes issues as the manufacturers drivers should update automatically following a Windows update. However, this is often not the case, so a manual update of the drivers is the only solution. After every Windows update we brace ourselves for a raft of ‘I can’t print’ incident reports. The trouble is we never know which printers are going to have a problem; and it will often be different ones with each different update.
With such a massive range of devices available from numerous manufacturers it is difficult to offer a comprehensive guide as to how to fix a network printer issue.
The first and most obvious things to check are that the printer is plugged in, connected, turned on and has paper. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often simply powering on solves the issue! Check the unit for any error messages and codes; these can include paper jams etc. And, before calling support, we would always recommend restarting the printer AND the computer you are trying to print from.
Managed Print Services
Managed Print Services, or MPS, provides a business with devices, consumables and support in a single package for a monthly cost. The printers are not owned by the business and are usually replaced every 3 years or so. Cartridges are supplied as and when needed. The device will report use back to MPS provider and cartridges are sent out automatically. This can be a good way of getting a high value device for a low monthly cost. Cost is usually based on the number of copies/prints produced. The support provides worry free ownership. However it is generally only suitable for higher volume printers and large offices with multiple devices.
The 30-Second Guide
Low Volume Users – Choose an inkjet if there is only you or just a couple of people in the business, or where volumes of printing are really low.
Single Function V MFP – Choose an MFP if you need the other features it provides, but not if you’ll use those features more than you’ll print.
Total Cost of Ownership – Work out the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Purchase price is usually dwarfed by consumables so research cartridge cost and print volume.
Laser is usually best – For most businesses a laser printer offers the best TCO and the best compromise between quality and affordability.
Lots of staff, multiple devices and large print volumes? Consider Managed Print Services.
How We Can Help
As part of our Managed Services contracts we look after ALL of your devices including your printers. That means if you’ve got a printing problem you’ll have somebody to call to fix it!
We can also supply and install printers, you could even spread the cost of a better device using Hardware-As-A-Service.
Finally we have contacts within Managed Print Services and can introduce you if you think this will be the best solution for you.
If you’d like to find out more about the solutions that Your IT can provide please call 0115 8220200 or fill in our Contact Form.