Windows meets the region’s print experts to discuss what you need to know about buying and using the best printer for you.
Amr Hassan, general manager, HP IPG Middle East
Bittu Mattam, product manager, inkjet printers,
Canon Middle East
Dan Smith, office products manager, Xerox Middle
East and Africa
John Ross, general manager, OKI Middle East
Khalil El-Dalu, general manager, Epson Middle East
Mohammed Addarrat, channel and SMB manager, Lexmark International.
WINDOWS: Let’s start with the basics and advise Windows readers what factors they should consider when buying a printer?
Ross: “There are many points to consider but the first one should definitely be: what is the application? In other words, what do you want to print? Next, what is the budget? Running costs are an obvious issue but these can be extremely complicated and more often than not the cost of running a machine is higher than most people think.”
Mattam: “According to a recent survey carried out in Europe, first time printer buyers primarily want a good value printer – that’s the standard. But once you start using a printer and explore the benefits and options, quality becomes more of a concern. The survey found that one in five users change their printer once every six months and that of those going for a second printer, the number one concern is the quality of the printers on offer.”
Smith: “The thing that’s becoming more of a driving factor is that people are becoming aware of what is called PDL, which stands for Printer Description Language. Namely, do you want PCL or do you want Postscript or GDI? A GDI product is driven by your PC, so your PC has to be fairly beefy in terms of its processing power, because all the job processing will be done by the PC before being effectively pushed out to the printer. PCL however is a language that is portable, but not as portable as PostScript. PCL sits in the middle, on the majority of printers, and Windows is generally very familiar with PCL. Adobe’s PostScript however is ultimately portable so you can effectively create a PostScript file, squirt it down to any printer and it should theoretically come out the same.
“In these terms, it all depends on what you are buying for. If you are a graphic artist or someone who works in the marketing department you are probably going to go for PostScript-enabled colour printer; if you are a home user you are probably going to go for a GDI entry-level mono printer. It is an interesting dynamic. Most people would think the buying decision is purely driven on price but that’s not the case.”
Hassan: “Consumers should start with identifying their actual needs. Some users might print ten pages maximum per week, others will like to do more digital photography printing. The very first point that we encourage all our sales people and dealers to ask is what are a particular customer’s needs.
“From that point, we go through different features. It’s more about print quality and speed, mobility, networking and wireless - in addition we ask questions relating to what type of space you have. All-in-ones for instance provide a very good deal for consumers needing a device that prints, copies, scans, e-mails and faxes.”
WINDOWS: How important a consideration these days is print resolution (dots per inch)?
Ross: “A lot of end users assume that the higher the number, the better the print quality, which is not necessarily the case. For example, to print 1200 dots per inch (dpi) with each dot just touching but not overlapping then the maths is as follows: Convert one inch to mm - that’s 25.4mm. To get 1200 dots into that space without overlapping them means that each dot must be 25.4/1200 = 0.021mm (or 21 microns across).
“Now, how large is the dot size produced by the light source within the printer? In a typical laser printer this is around 60 microns across (three times larger than required) and an Oki LED dot is about half that size at 34 microns. This means you can get a high quality print at a lower resolution as the print is finer and clearer.”
Mattam: “All printer vendors now standardise at around 4800 x 1200dpi. This is the current standard, but it’s only the base factor. What’s more important is the high-end print resolution, in our case 9600 x 2400dpi. So far I haven’t found any other vendor that can match this resolution. We don’t stop at that either as print resolution alone doesn’t give you the whole story – it’s also about the quantity of ink falling on the printer. Once ink falls from the nose, the size of an ink droplet determines the sharpness of the image and influences what ink wastage and overlap occurs. This size is defined via picolitre size. The norm is a 1-5 picolitre size, but one picolitre is the best; the combination of 9600 dpi and a drop size of one picolitre leads to as high a resolution as possible plus the most accurate droplet size.”
WINDOWS: How can a potential buyer assess the ongoing cost of ownership of any machine?
Smith: “There is an interesting dynamic around this. If you actually look at the cost of owning a printer, your upfront costs are actually minimal. But if you assume that you are going to keep that printer for three years, the cost to you is linked to toner, parts and so forth. People understand that now. If you are a business user, you are also going to look at something to do with service delivery - if we use example of a graphic artist, the printer is business critical tool. They have to be able to output. Therefore you are going to want some kind of support contract; you are going to want to know whether your printer is calibrated - those types of things. The value adds a reseller can give and these will also drive you to the channel of purchase as well because the value add concept is really where channel excels. If you are just looking at using it to print out a couple of web pages at home or maybe directions on a map, then you are not going to be worried about those kind of things.
“As for the total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation, Xerox – as most vendors do – does subscribe to the ISO standard for mono laser yields. There is also one for colour laser machines in the process of being developed. What’s important to mention however is that the yield only gives an indication for the user. You still have to understand the dynamics of page coverage, the way you are going to use your printer. The ISO standard simply gives a base level that everyone can work from.”
Hassan: “We have identified five steps to help business customers optimise their imaging and printing network. First, assessing the current machine fleet and monitor the different types of usage. Account departments say might do large volume printing, but only in black and white. What about printer management? Confidentiality and security might be important, but not colour. If printing e-mails, colour isn’t necessary, but if printing presentations, then colour might be, but maybe limited to some users.
“Secondly, figure out how much your current infrastructure costs – in terms of the hardware, supplies and maintenance. There is also the cost of space – if I put a big machine occupying a big space, and centralised, then there is the cost of time of people getting to this machine - this would be an indirect cost. The goal is to develop a strategy to optimise the whole fleet – what’s the optimum numbers of printers, what kind and where should they be?
“Thirdly, develop a strategy to optimise these devices, then fourthly, get exactly the right devices in place. Last but not least, manage these devices continuously. We get into this with our enterprise customers, but we also give the same messages to SMBs - start your business with networked devices, to get the best productivity in place and be well placed for the future growth of your business.”
WINDOWS: A key element of a user’s ongoing printer cost is the price of consumables, but what does your firm actually class as a consumable? Is a laser drum for instance a component a user can buy off the shelf and replace themselves?
Addarrat: “This depends on the model of printer – for us, most lasers consumables are the toner and photo conductor (which has the same life span as ten cartridges). Most users can change the photo conductor – they just buy it and slot it in. With some models, this is part of the toner; it all depends on a product’s positioning. For products that are high volume models, when a user changes the toner, they also change the conductor.”
El-Khalil: “In business terms you’re looking at the cost of toners and their yields. You also have the transfer belt, photo conductor and fuser unit – in total five or six elements depending on the product. With our belts, as an example, you’re talking about a lifetime of 150,000 pages, whilst toner yields vary from 5-15 thousand pages. We mention cost per page calculations in our brochures. For example, with our photo printers we give an indication of how many prints you can manage before the ink runs out.”
Ross: “Most toner based printer manufacturers quote the life of their consumables using a 5% print page density - i.e. each page has 5% of each colour printed on it - and they quote a consumable’s life in thousands of pages. This leads the user to assume that by dividing the cost by the life gives a cost per page regardless of print page density – this is not true.
“For example, a consumable claiming a life of 4000 pages at 5% and costing $60 gives a cost per page of 1.5 cents per page, but this is toner cost only; most machines also require a replacement fuser, transport belt and other consumables over their life. We treat all these as consumables. These are sometimes hidden by vendors as a ‘maintenance kit’ and not apparent to the user. Even if we assume only the price of toner, then what happens if the amount of toner used is doubled? The life of the toner is halved and the cost goes up from 1.5 cents per page to 3 cents per page and so on.
"If the customer is printing a lot of colour then they really should start to look at the difference in running costs between more expensive to buy machines with higher capacity toners against lower priced products with low capacity toners, as the capital outlay can be recovered very quickly by choosing the former. Ultimately knowing how a machine is used will lead to a view of how much toner will be printed.”
Al-Khalil: “For business users there is the toner, plus we have the transfer belt, photo conductor and fuser unit; there are five to six elements in total; it depends on the product."
Addarrat: “The answer depends on the model of printer – most lasers consumables are the toner and photo conductor (the same life as ten cartridges). Most users would change photo conductors themselves. With some models, this is part of the toner… it depends on product positioning. For products that are high volume printing, when they change the toner they change the conductor."
WINDOWS: What tips should readers follow to run their machine as economically as possible?
Addarrat: “Consumers should move use all the tools that come with their printer. Every Lexmark for instance includes a CD-ROM with not just drivers plus a whole suite of apps on there. There are lots of features to help the consumer enhance their print quality and save ink, such as the software detecting what degree of page coverage you’re attempting, the type of print you want to output, and therefore the amount of ink to use. Our higher end products also include document and remote network management printer tools. The higher up you go in printer, the more features you get.”
Al-Khalil: “There are some hidden costs – the inkjet printer heads in Epsons last the life of the printer, but with some vendors you have to replace the head after the second or third ink change. If you’re going to change the cartridge six times a year, this has to be figured in. With Canon and HP, they change and replace the heads with some certain models. If the print head and ink come together, then when you buy ink you actually buy the head too. With some models, they’ve said you ‘only change the ink’, but then after two or three you have to also change the printer head.”
WINDOWS: What do your printer warranties cover and how do these differ to the support offered by resellers in the form of service contracts?
Addarrat: “With standard inkjets and entry-level lasers it’s a year warranty - return to point of purchase. With higher end business products, it’s one-year on-site.”
Al-Khalil: “Our warranties are typically one-year, return to base for consumers, while with business customers it’s on-site. Both types of buyer can also buy what we call ‘Cover Plus’, which gives an extra two years of coverage. The price of this depends on the product – the prices are in UK pounds on Epson.co.uk.”
Smith: “You are going to get one-year warranty on your machine, then our extended warranties usually vary from one or two up to three-year extensions.
"The value add that you can get from the channel is speed of delivery of that Warranty service – the quality of delivery – because the engineers are trained by your printer’s maker."
WINDOWS: How useful and important is wireless connectivity for buyers here in this region?
Al-Khalil: “Ethernet card and WiFi wireless are now important. For the last eight months, people have been talking more and more about wireless – being able to just print wirelessly from a laptop is just so handy.”
Ross: “The benefits are fairly obvious - portability, ease of use etc. - but the drawbacks can be a lack of security and a reduction in your initial print speed as the exchange of data between printer and host is intensive."