Printer – which one for a small office?

by Angus Jones

After buying a computer for your business, probably the next thing you will buy is a printer.  A printer can be bought for as little as $35 but is unlikely to meet your needs.  Maybe you have had a printer before and you just don’t know what you should consider next. This guide will help you understand your options and help you make your decision.

A printer is a machine that will recreate an image or text from a computer, usually on paper.

WHY do I need a printer?

You will need a printer if you want to reproduce a document or print an invoice or maybe even produce a brochure or photograph.

Yes, you will need a printer but really the question is do you need a colour printer?

If you plan to print or photocopy a lot it may be worth considering a Photocopier.  See our essential guide on photocopiers.

WHAT type of printers are there?

The first thing you need to know is that there are mono (black and white) printers or colour printers. 

  • A mono printer will allow you to print in shades of black and white. They can be cheaper and possibly smaller.
  • A colour printer will also print in mono if you wish it to but any printing in colour can use up to 50% more ink than mono driving up the cost per page.
There are 2 dominant printing technologies:
  • Inkjet
    • Advantage
      • Cost less
      • Better photo-quality printing
      • Smaller in size
      • More versatility
    • Disadvantages
      • Ink costs more (cartridge not ink tanks)
      • More cleaning required
  • Laser
    • Advantages
      • Better suited for larger print volumes
      • Unlike inkjet, it does not use print heads which can clog
      • Faster printing
      • Less maintenance
    • Disadvantages
      • No photo printing only standard paper
      • Colour quality can be lower
      • Tend to use more electricity
Is a printer just a printer? No, it can be more and will be cheaper than buying separate devices:
  • Single function or Standard is just a printer
  • Multi-function or all-in-one is a printer, scanner, and copier.  Some models may even allow you to send a fax. They are typically more expensive.
Share a printer

You can connect a printer directly to your PC but if you will share with others you can do one of the following if the printer supports it: (Be sure to see our essential network guide)

  • Wi-Fi – connected by Wi-Fi to a wireless router
  • Ethernet – connect by ethernet to a router
  • Smartphone – you can print from your phone via Apple Airprint  or Google cloudprint
  • Memory card – physically insert a USB stick or memory card containing the documents you want printed
If your business has a requirement there are specialist printers including:
  • Large format printers – prints on very large rolls of paper to produce CAD drawings or posters
  • 3D printers – uses plastic to create 3D models
  • Photo printers – designed especially to produce high volume quality photos

HOW should you choose a printer?

This will be based on your expected needs and you should consider:

Cost of ownership – This is represented as a cost per page.  Most vendors (manufacturers) will quote a price, which will enable you to compare models.

Cost of ink – the cost of ink and toner will be most likely be more than the cost of buying the printer so it is key to making a wise decision.  A cheap one is most likely to have the most expensive ink. Ink Jet printers with ink tanks have changed the equation with reasonably priced ink bottles that can refill an ink tank. The counter to this is the ink tank style printers are more expensive upfront to purchase.

Quality of printing – An indication of quality is a measurement called DPI or Dots per Inch. This allows documents to be printed with a very fine resolution.

Speed – If all you print is 1 to 2-page documents speed is not really a concern. If you print large documents then speed is important and you should probably consider a laser printer. Note that speed does depend on the type of document you print with a text document being faster than a full-page colour picture.

How much you print – each printer will have a monthly duty cycle which refers to how many pages a month a printer is designed to print.  This is not speed but a measure of how long the printer will last based on the volume it prints a month.

Paper size – A4 paper size is the standard in Australia for printing.  If you need to vary from this the cost of the printer will go up.  The next most common sizes are A3 which is 2 x A4 and A2 which is half A4.

Manual feed – makes it easy to print envelopes or letterhead

Tray size – This tray holds the blank paper.  The more you print the larger tray you should have.  Multiple trays allow different size papers or letterheads to be loaded to save a time consuming manual feed.

Multifunction – Great to have if you need to scan or print as discussed above.

OCR – Optical Character Recognition. A neat function that allows a document to be scanned and turned into a text document that can be edited.

Network – Make sure your model choice will connect to your network if you have one.

Service and Support – Most printers do not get repaired unless you have an expensive one.  However, support is important and the vendors’ commitment to supporting printer firmware (software) and its compatibility with PC software changes.  It is not unheard of for a printer to stop working until a vendor releases new firmware.


In your print properties (setting from the print pop up box) you can select toner saver or draft, this will reduce the quality of the print but save you money on ink or toner.

Printing double-sided or duplex will not only save you paper but save on storage if you are printing a document to file.

Look for a solution with either an ink tank for inkjet or high yield toner for laser printers which will reduce your printing costs per page.

Small Business Answers has recently trialled the Epson EcoTank Photo ET-8500 which use 6 colour inks compared to the standard 4 colours. The six inks mean higher quality photos can be printed with a more accurate colour range. One set of ink bottles can print up to 2,300 high-quality photos or 6,700 pages in black and white or 6,200 pages at a lower cost per page. We found the photo quality to be excellent whilst also being able to do your normal office printing. Assuming you want to print photos and your printing volume is not enormous this is an excellent choice. The unit does not have a large paper feeder which would limit you if you print high volumes.

SUMMARY – Quality Printer

A printer is a necessary tool for small businesses. A cheap one may cost you more because of ink. Consider a quality brand that is designed to handle the volume of printing you plan to do allowing for growth.  Colour and multifunction will increase the price but give you more flexibility.

Our sister publication GadgetGuy has reviews on suitable entry-level printers.

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