Printing on paper is still a basic office function for any business, and it’s not about to go away. Bill Bennett introduces the latest generation of ink-jet printers.
Screens may rule our lives, but almost everyone in business still has a need to print on paper.
Last year IDC Research asked office computer users how often they needed to print. About two-thirds of the respondents answered: ‘very frequent’.
IDC defines this as “between daily and three or four times a week”.
Printing is not something restricted to stick-in-the-mud older people. A surprise in IDC’s research was that young people, who grew up in a digital world, print longer documents than their older counterparts.
Despite decades of talk about a paperless office, printers are not about to go away. They continue to sell in large numbers: the world’s printer makers sell about 25 million a year.
While printer sales have fallen a few percent in the past two years, they are not dropping as fast as PC or tablet sales.
You don’t see the rapid technological change found in, say, smartphones, in the printer business. Printer hardware companies refresh their models every few years. Yet it is not unusual to see a printer that’s been on sale for three or four years still sitting on retail shelves.
Likewise, most people don’t upgrade their printers as often as other hardware. In round numbers business users tend to replace mobile phones every two or three years. Sometimes they upgrade when their mobile contract expires.
Others use their smartphones so much they wear out in two years.
Laptops get refreshed roughly every three to four years. Less if they get a battering, longer if they stay in good shape.
Desktop computers can last a little longer because replacement components help extend their lifespan.
In comparison, you’ll often see printers up to ten years old, even in well-heeled companies. No doubt there are older ones still out there in the wild. Many people are happy to go on using their existing printer as long as it works and they can get replacement ink or toner.
The one major factor that forces people to get a new printer is when they can no longer source up-to-date driver software for their computer.
We may hang onto old printers longer than is wise. Printer technology may not move at a cracking pace, but today’s models have advantages when compared to those that are, say, more than five years old.
Modern printers tend to have better ways of communicating with networks. While connecting a printer to a network with an Ethernet cable is often best, almost every modern printer now has a wireless option. Today wireless printing is reliable. It can be easier to set up than in the past. Not so long ago wireless printing was, as they say in the computer business, ‘plug and pray’. Now the devices are smarter and the interfaces needed to set-up connections are much better designed.
Consumables – cause for complaint?
One of the biggest complaints people have about ink-jet printers is the cost of ink.
Ink is expensive, but the cost per printed page is often reasonable. Like many things, ink is cheaper the more of it you buy at once. If you don’t print often, then paying extra per page can work out as a relative bargain over the life of a printer.
That’s because there’s a lot of advanced technology in a printer. It cost a lot of money to develop, but printer makers tend to sell their devices at something close to cost. They get their money back from ink.
If you buy a more expensive printer with big cartridges, they can dry out before you’ve used them up.
One way of dealing with this problem are inkjet printers that do away with cartridges. Many of the latest models have tanks which you fill with ink. The cost per page is cheaper than cartridges and there’s the benefit of less waste ending up in landfills.
Another advantage is that you are far less likely to run out of ink when there is an important document to print.
Epson says its EcoTank printers (the name is a clue) are good for the environment. They hold enough ink for two years of printing at normal rates. Instead of cartridges there are four ink reservoirs. Each has one of the four ink colours and you fill them yourself from small squeezy bottles.
EcoTank bottles cost NZ$20 each. If you run out of, say, black, faster than yellow, you only need to buy one refill. Epson says a bottle is good for up to 4500 pages printed in black and 7500 printed in colour. That’s enough for 90 pages a week – plenty for most small businesses. The cost works out at about ten cents a page, not counting the initial cost of the printer.
Epson’s L565 EcoTank printer is now about two years old, but is still a current model.
It handles printing and scanning, making it a good choice for a small office or home office.
If you still send and/or receive faxes, it can handle the job – although you should take a long hard look at why you’d bother with faxes in 2017.
At 485 x 225 x 380mm, the L565 doesn’t take up much room; at a pinch you could sit it on your desk next to your computer. There’s built-in Wi-Fi. Connecting is as easy as choosing the network and entering the password on the numeric pad next to the printer's display.
There are also Android and Apple apps so you can print from a phone or tablet.
Squirting ink into the reservoirs is not difficult, although it’s a challenge doing it without getting inky hands. The stains take a day or so to disappear even with regular handwashing. Therefore you might want to use latex gloves for the job.
The L565 costs $500, which is two or three times what you can pay for a similar cartridge model, but you get two years’ worth of ink. For many people that’s all the ink you’ll ever need.
Even if you’re a modest print user, you can expect to come out ahead over two years and from then on printing gets even cheaper.