Print for less

If your business’ printers are not being chosen and managed carefully, then you have an opportunity to save some serious cash. Windows Middle East examines how you can tighten the reins…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  December 2, 2006

|~|SMB-Print-for-less---m.gif|~|Mono machines require just one black toner pack to be replaced (every 20,000 prints for example), compared to four packs for a colour machine (cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or CMYK).|~|Analyst firm Gartner estimates that companies spend between 1- and 3% of their revenue on costs related to printing and other output functions such as copying, faxing and scanning. US-based resource management solutions vendor Pharos Systems meanwhile explains this outlay a different way, reckoning that the overall document output costs of an organisation each year can be calculated by multiplying the number of employees it has by US $2000. Whichever you phrase it then, one thing is certain: printing is a major, and often overlooked, organisational cost. Luckily, the amount your company pays to print can be reduced. If we apply Pharos’ calculation and a business with ten printer users, say, can reduce its ongoing print costs by 25%, that’s $5000 instantly saved each year (and just think how much of a difference to that business five grand could make). Principal analyst at Gartner, Malcom Hancock, reckons this kind of saving is perfectly achievable. “Depending on the size of the organisation and the complexity of products, if it manages these products effectively then it can save between 10- and 30% of its print costs,” he says. “This has been born out in practice from our discussions with customers and vendors, in fact at the SMB level this saving may be slightly higher because firms often print a bit more, per user, than enterprises.” The right machine for the job First off, it’s crucial to buy, own and run the most relevant printer for your company, or a team within it. And as far as purchasing this hardware goes, knowledge is key - both in terms of what offerings are out there and how and what your users print each month. The first thing to work out is the actual type of machine - or machines - you require: inkjet or laser? monochrome (black and white) or colour? To this end, your first assessment should be how many pages a machine will need to churn out each month. “The buying decision primarily depends upon what kinds of documents you’re likely to produce and in what volumes,” says HP Middle East’s enterprise business and sales manager, Thomas Valjak. “This print volume drives whether you should be looking into a low-end, mid-range or high-end product.” Print volumes refer to the number of prints output per month, a figure likely as high as thousands of pages. The exact volume produced will vary depending upon the group of users using a printer; a marketing team for instance might not print a great number of prints, but a high proportion of what it prints might be colour that is output at high resolutions, whilst sales and admin teams might print higher numbers of black and white text documents. Therefore before you can begin making any kind of educated printer buying decision, this volume information is essential: question one to answer is - how much does your team print per month? And in relation to a forthcoming question, what proportion of these prints are currently output in colour? Also, an idea of the average page coverage of printed materials will bear you in good stead. The software apps detailed later in this article - and quite possibly the print management program supplied with any current laser printers your firm might have - can help you figure out your company’s - or team’s - output details. Know your numbers Once known, this data is a key factor in choosing the best-suited printer for your business. If your team is very small (two or three users), has some need for colour or photo printing, and at the time of purchase money is too tight to mention, then a single inkjet machine - attached to one PC - could well be the way forwards, particularly a model that a manufacturer has designed specifically for business use. On the plus side, such a device will cost you less than a couple of hundred dollars, its photo output (on photo paper) will be impressive, and it will offer flexible printing as far as output media is concerned (different sized sheets, envelopes, labels, even CD discs). On the flipside, it will cost more than its laser counterpart over the long term (as ink cartridges generally last less time than laser toner packs and aren’t cheap to replace), plus its print speeds will be slower. To get the most bang from your buck over time, choose a model with single-colour cartridges rather than multi-colour tanks (so that you only buy the new ink you need) and if possible buy an inkjet with a LAN Ethernet connection to enable future network sharing. At these micro-, macro- or small-office levels, multifunction devices (MFDs) that can print, copy, scan and also fax have rightly grabbed market share in recent years, with inkjet models selling particularly well due to their low initial cost. If one device is likely to serve your whole company for the foreseeable future and copying is really a necessity, an MFD might be an inspired investment. If your monthly print output runs into the hundreds or thousands of prints however, laser printers are capable of a lower average cost per print, which over time can make a huge difference to the ‘% of revenue’ print cost discussed earlier. The first question is simple: does your business, or a specific team within it, need to print in colour? You can assess this by examining the results of the print audit discussed above, which we strongly recommend you carry out, and comparing these details of who printed what to your real business needs. (Colour reports for instance might look very impressive, but if they’re only to be used internally rather than in front of clients, are they really crucial?) There are two reasons the colour question deserves thought: not only does the difference in cost between mono and colour printers one run to a couple of hundred dollars or often more, but in terms of their crucial ongoing costs, mono machines require just one black toner pack to be replaced (every 20,000 prints for example), compared to four packs for a colour machine (cyan, magenta, yellow and black; CMYK). The cost prices of colour lasers have fallen, alongside those of mono models, by around 50% in the past five years. At present for example Epson’s colour lasers in the UAE start priced at around AED 1570 (US $470). “This price will buy you our Acculaser C1100, which offers a 25ppm mono print speed, 5ppm colour print speed, plus it's a networkable device,” says Epson Middle East’s general manager, Khalil El-Dalu. Hand in hand with such increasingly low entry-level prices, many printer vendors are also pushing the usage and flexibility of colour printing in order to make colour laser models the ‘norm’. “If a finance department will mostly be printing accounting info, then a monochrome machine might be adequate,” explains Valjak, “but account statements with positive and negative values could also benefit from colour, to show money owed in red for instance, plus if they output graphs or charts then colour also makes sense); in fact, we do see many areas where colour makes a lot of sense.” Xerox’s Dan Smith raises an additional point. “Companies also need to look at not just printing costs in terms of laser versus inkjet, but also the hidden costs, in that they may be sending marketing materials say outside to be printed, either to copy shops or printers. Sometimes businesses ignore the fact that these costs can be quite high themselves. Some colour printer users in this case might want to consider buying higher end machines that have specific features for printing booklets, brochures and marketing materials, and do this printing in-house.” Competitor Oki’s general manager for the region, John Ross, is keen that business buyers still feel they have a choice however. “There are those users who are not yet 100% of the way there on committing to colour output,” he says, “which is why we brought to market the C5600 and C5700 series printers. These offer an attractive entry level price, fast monochrome and colour printing, and low-cost standard colour toners, whereas on the C5800 and C5900 units we have faster colour speeds and high-capacity colour toners. This allows the user to make a choice.” It may be stating the obvious to say that you and only you know whether colour printing is truly required by your team right now, but do keep an eye on the future. Colour prints might not be essential at present, maybe because your colour output is produced by a third-party print shop or your marketing agency, however if this is likely to change - if you decide to recruit in-house marketing staff for instance - then a colour laser machine could potentially work out cheaper than having these prints produced outside your office. Lining up the contenders Once you know the type of machine you’re after and have your crucial monthly output data to hand, you can start seriously comparing models from different vendors. A printer’s initial purchase price is one thing, its ongoing costs are another. The prudent business buyer will pay more attention to a unit’s overall cost of ownership (COO), as if a machine lasts a few years this will easily be the higher figure over time. The most basic calculation used to compare and contrast a printer’s COO is based on: the number of monthly prints it’s built for (also called its monthly ‘duty cycle’); its toner ‘yield’ (how many prints its toners are designed, on average, to produce); and the cost of its replacement toner packs. Let’s say your business will be using one network-connected monochrome printer to produce approximately 10,000 prints per month. First, shortlist the printers available that fit this mono, LAN-ready bill (from HP, Epson, Xerox, Oki etc.), then examine their quoted toner ‘yields’. Then ask a retail store or reseller for the best price of a replacement mono toner pack for each and then calculate the cost per month based on how many pages your firm is likely to print. This mono example is particularly interesting because most manufacturers - including the four we spoke to above - are all subscribers to the ISO/IEC 19752:2004 standard for measuring monochrome laser printer toner yields. This standard effectively levels the playing field when it comes to comparing yields, as it means printer vendors run exactly the same tests when calculating their figures - equating to roughly 5% paper coverage across various print jobs and environments. (A colour version of this standard is also in the pipeline.) Be sure however to also factor in page coverage differences, between what you print and what vendors print to come up with toner yield figures; if your firm’s average print coverage is 10%, because you have a marketing manager who prints out lots of brochures, that’s twice the coverage vendors use to calculate their toner yield figures, so bank on getting through twice as many toner packs and paying twice as much. “Usage profiles are very, very important when you’re looking at what something is going to cost you,” explains Dan Smith, Xerox’s office product manager for the Middle East and Africa. “The best example is a mobile phone or car; the purchase price might be very attractive, but if you have to drive many miles and buy lots of petrol, or travel and have to make a lot of foreign calls, then it’s your usage profile that actually accounts for the majority of the cost. That's what users should be doing - looking at the number of pages printed, when they are printed and for what reason, at what time, whether there is significant duplication. That will then allow you to multiply your cartridge yields by pages printed and come to some sort of cost of ownership figure.” More to consider When calculating your organisation’s overall cost of printing however, toner consumables and inkjet cartridge costs are only one part of the equation for there are other expenses too, starting with paper. ‘The most important thing is choosing the right paper for the right application,’ says Smith, “Standard business bond is fine for mono printers, however there’s little point in trying to economise on something that will be customer facing.” Asked whether buying the cheapest paper going is a sensible choice for standard in-house use, the vendors we spoke to are in agreement that this can actually be a false economy. “Reducing paper quality can sometimes be self defeating as lower quality paper tends to have a higher ‘rag’ content, higher water content and a less distinct ‘correct side up’” explains Ross. “When passed through a fuser unit in a laser printer, this can result in low quality and the evaporation of water, which needs to re-condense and can create dust particles inside the printer, which are picked up on subsequent copies.” Duplexing, a.k.a double-sided printing, is also a great way to use 50% less paper and cut your paper cost by half, however that only applies if your staff do it. One option is to set duplexing as your users’ default print option. Component talk Toners and paper aside, the COO waters get more murky when it comes to the other parts of a printer, with vendors far from disagreeing on how these parts should be treated. “There are other components,” says Smith. “With colour printers you also have the imaging drum. Sometimes this is built into the toner cartridge, but mostly it’s not. Really the cost of a print is the toner itself and the imaging drum. Depending upon the exact type of technology, there are other elements too, such as fusers. We tend to consider imaging drums as consumables. They have a fixed life, measured by the number of prints, and they’ll need replacing after this.” Oki’s viewpoint is that the fuser and drum unit are regarded as consumables and they’re priced transparently for the end user business to buy and replace themselves. “The parts we regard as user-replaceable are the toners, drums, the fuser unit, and the transport belt,” Ross states. “We state on our brochures what the lives of these are; the user can then buy these and fit them separately. It's easy to do.” Ross claims that some of Oki’s competitors use a different approach that makes it more difficult for the buyer to really assess a machine’s COO. “With a lot of our competitors’ products, because of the nature of their design this replacement is not easily done by an end user. It needs to be done by an engineer. Therefore they don't classify these components as consumables; they classify them as ‘maintenance kits’. So when other firms do a COO calculation, they only include either a single unit toner and drum, or in the case of some vendors they also use separate drum and toner units, but don’t talk about the fuser units. We tell you what it costs.” Component question HP’s Valjak defends his firms approach, suggesting that such components actually don’t need replacing independently. “One of our key principles is that we offer easy-to-use products. With any HP LaserJet, you have just one part to replace - the toner cartridge - which also includes the imaging drum and the waste box for residual toner. Other vendors have these parts in three, separate, so you end up having to manage more user-replaceable parts. Fusers meanwhile are designed to last the life of the product, so it’s not something to replace. So for entry and mid-level LaserJets, you only have the toner cartridge to worry about, and of course paper.” Other features to consider when making your exact printer choice, whatever the likely monthly output, include: networking capabilities (so that the printer or MFD can be shared between your LAN clients without it having to be attached to particular PC and that computer turned on); ‘duplexing’ (double-sided printing), which can be a valuable paper- and money-saver providing employees use it; and, if large print jobs are likely, plenty of on-board RAM. Oki’s Ross explains: “Everyone understands that if you want to run a complex video game on a PC, you’ll need to buy a good video card that has lots of its own memory and a particular processor that will do all the jobs for you. That’s basically what happens with a printer,” he says. “If you send a management report with a lot of charts and some text, is it actually going to handle that or will it have a memory overrun, throw the page out and print the rest of it on another page? You need the space to manipulate the data and you also need a processor quick enough to do it all.” When printers are in place and users’ PCs connected to these, serious cash can be saved through the use and management of print privileges (in other words, defining exactly which users can print what) and by educating staff on how to use their printer driver software better. On this first point, enforcement of any printer policy you devise, such as only certain departments being able to print in colour, can help cut down both toner and ink wastage, and that of paper too. To this end, most laser printer vendors supply for free software that is simple enough to use and can do the job well. Epson’s El-Dalu explains: “Epson NetJob Tracker is free to customers who buy a network printer from us. This can collate and share information over a network. The management might say, ‘this user is printing only colour, and this other one just in mono’, and they can then change printer preferences for these users based on this decision.” Moving forwards, NetJob Tracker can also be used to who does the most printing and what they print, making future print audits a doddle. Oki’s ‘Print Control’ software offers similar functions; it can log information about print jobs (who printed them, how many pages etc.), and can restrict individual users from printing (giving a set number of pages per week for example, or only allowing a certain user to print in mono). Further, non-vendor-specific applications include Alagus Print Admin and PaperCut Quota, and can be found in the Productivity section of this month's free Windows CD-ROM. On the second educational point, any such teaching is down to the individual business and management. However, do consider this: half an hour or so spent talking your team carefully through how to print in duplex mode (including why this is important) and explaining how to print out web pages without including pictures - in both cases by using printer driver or third-party software installed on their PCs - could end up being time very well spent if it means that they use less ink, toner and paper and so save your firm cash. ||**||

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