Printer Buying Guide: Technology Checklist

Your guide to choosing the best printing hardware and services for your small or medium business

Every enterprise owns, and regularly replaces, printers, copiers, multifunctional products and fax machines. The problem most face is not too few choices, but too many. How do you even begin to select the right one?

Here, in part two of Computerworld Australia's guide to buying a printer for the enterprise we present a checklist of the latest terms and technologies used in enterprise solutions to guide buyers when shopping for printers for their small or medium business.

See part one: Printer Buying Guide: FAQ

Smart MFPs

Smart multifunction products (SMFPs) have an open system architecture and can be programmed to perform custom functions by third party software providers, an organisation’s IT or the MFP manufacturer. SMFPs can be integrated with office and enterprise applications, such as document management systems (DMS). SMFPs generally have a consistent user interface, work well on the network and increasingly are designed around open industry standards. Gartner advises buyers to assess the programming platforms on MFPs and consider choosing between custom software and existing packages from vendors. Providers include Canon, Lexmark, Ricoh, Toshiba and Xerox.

Solid-ink print devices

A solid ink print device uses proprietary printing technology from Xerox that ejects a molten resin-based ink, using an inkjet process to image a page. The high-colour density inks produce vivid colours on a wider range of media than electrophotographic printing or a convential thermal inkjet. Xerox implemented this technology in office printers and high end MFPs. In February 2011 the company announced beta testing of a high speed production press that leverages the same technology the Xerox Production Inkjet System. Gartner says solid ink technology offers several advantages over competing technologies and can be considered a stable and viable technology for office and graphic arts output.

Because the ink is supplied in wax sticks, there are no additional consumables to install or replace, thereby reducing the operating costs usually associated with laser technologies.

High speed colour inkjet printing

High speed colour inkjet technology enables printing of more than 150 letter size pages per minute (ppm) using stationary print heads. Multiple banks of print heads are used to print colours individually or in combination to produce process colour images. This technology can produce compelling communications at high speeds with low cost, making it practical to create targeted and highly relevant direct mail campaigns to individual recipients. Gartner says its ideal for transactional, direct mail and book publishing applications.

Serverless printing

Serverless printing is peer-to-peer printing over and Internet Protocol address. With serverless printing, dedicated print servers can be freed for other tasks. The cost savings on servers is outweighed by the added difficulty of managing the printer fleet without the server. This type of printing is generally adopted by small organisations for its ability to save costs. It is sometimes used for thin clients, but mostly to accommodate printing from business systems such as Oracle and SAP and legacy mainframes and midrange computers. Gartner says serverless printing is feasible for an organisation with one to 49 users. Larger to find it too cumbersome to install print drivers locally on each and every node, which is what serverless printing entails. Providers include HP and Xerox.

Laser printers

Laser printers are in widespread use across the enterprise and are extremely popular. This is because a laser printer can produce high quality text and graphics at rapid speed. As with digital photocopiers and MFPs laser printers employ a xerographic printing process with the image produced by the direct scanning of the laser beam across the printer’s photoreceptor.

Over the page: LED head technology

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LED print head technology

Light-emitting diode (LED) is an electrophotographic technology in which aligned arrays of LEDs are used to expose the print drum. In some printers, the LED is used as the printing head. The LED print head structure is simply formed with the LED array, driver integrated circuit, printed circuit board and rod lens array. Using LED print head technology, printers can be made smaller for lower cost and with noise free operation. The density of the LED array determines the print resolution, and the LED array quantity determines the printing speed. Users are already able to choose LED printers/MFPs. Gartner says to consider LED printers/MFPs for a small color print device. For users with production printers, Gartner says consider devices with LED print head technology when physical size and print quality are important decision criteria. Providers include Brother, Casio, Dell, Fujitsu, Kyocera and Oki Data.

Pagewide-Array office inkjet printing

Pagewide array printers (PWA) feature a fixed inkjet print head that spans the full width of the paper path. As paper passes beneath the print head, the full width of the paper is imaged in one operation. This allows pages to be imaged at a much higher speed than in conventional inkjet printers, which move the print head back and forth across the width of the paper. PWA printers can match the printing speeds and monthly volume of laser printers. Providers include HP, Lenovo and LG.

3D printing

3D fabricating technologies have been available since the late 1980s and have primarily been used in the field of prototyping for industrial design. More recently, the 3D printing quality has increased, and printer and supply costs have decreased to a level that broadens the appeal of 3D printing to a wider range of businesses. Gartner says this technology is ideal for educational institutions for use in engineering, architectural courses and the creative arts. Providers of this technology include 3D Systems, HP and Z Corp.

Printer Fleet Management Suites

Printer fleet management suites embrace all the functions needed to actively manage the entire office printer fleet. These suites may follow either a traditional software business model or a cloud approach and include identification and tracking, policy administration, network management interface, status monitoring, chargeback and pull printing. Gartner advises buyers to match their printer fleet management decisions to their overall printing strategy. These suites are usually used in large organisations with more than 1,000 employees but they are expanding into midsize firms with 500 to 999 staff as well. They help organisations exercise better control over their printing and reduce spending by up to 30 per cent. Vendors in this space include Canon, HP, IBM, Ricoh and Xerox.

Erasable Paper Printing Systems

An erasable paper printing system prints information on either treated or plain paper with the capacity to erase the information from the paper, or for the information to disappear from the paper after a certain period, allowing the paper to be reused quickly, simply and often. Economical and environmental pressure on printing and paper consumption has reignited interest in less-wasteful paper printing solutions. Gartner said this technology is still a far way off from widespread use but is definitely worth monitoring as it has the potential to significantly reduce paper consumption.

Tomorrow: Printer Buying Guide -- Shopping Checklist