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PRINTING – Inkjets challenge laser printers for the office crown

Andy Johnson, Head of Product Management at Brother UK, explains why the office is no longer the sole domain of laser printers

Ten years ago, if you were choosing a printer for the office, chances are it would have been a laser. Back then, inkjets didn’t make sense for commercial use: the print quality wasn’t as good as laser; running costs were significantly higher; and the printers themselves were mainly built with non-professional consumers in mind. Today, that has all changed, and for all but the most heavy-duty applications an office inkjet is well worth considering.

Laser printers have long been built with business use in mind and, as such, their toners are able to deliver very high print volumes between changes. Until relatively recently, the output from inkjet cartridges was measured in hundreds rather than thousands of pages – not a problem for the home or occasional user, but impractical and expensive for any high-volume application. Today, office inkjet cartridges can deliver 6,000 pages or more and, as a result, per-page print costs and frequency of consumables replacement are broadly comparable between laser and inkjet devices.

Another reason why laser has traditionally dominated the office space is print quality, with inkjet prints suffering from a reputation for smudging and rapid fading. Advances in ink technology mean inkjets can now achieve laser-like print quality, especially those that use pigment inks, as is increasingly the case with units designed for enterprise applications.

Even with these advances, inkjets are available at a lower initial cost than laser equivalents, making them an attractive option for buyers looking to save money, especially those with less intensive printing requirements.

Environmental credentials
One area where inkjets shine is in their environmental credentials. Although both inkjet and laser printers have become more energy-efficient as technology has advanced, it is an unavoidable fact that the laser process is fundamentally more energy-intensive.

The fuser in a laser printer, which heats up toner particles and fuses them to the page, runs at very high temperatures – normally upwards of 200°C – and keeping it hot takes energy. That’s why fresh printouts from laser units are warm to the touch – they’re literally hot off the press.

Inkjet printers don’t have these hot parts, and the difference this makes is clear to see when you compare the energy consumption of Brother’s flagship printers. While the MFC-L9570CDW colour laser printer uses 580 watts when printing, the MFC-J6947DW from Brother’s business inkjet X-Series uses just 29 watts.

Some businesses will be more concerned by this than others. For those with the most intensive printing needs, where energy costs are of less importance than high volume print output, a laser printer will still be the right choice. But for those looking for environmental gains by cutting energy consumption and perhaps reducing their use of hard-copy documents, moving to an inkjet could be the right choice, especially when the reduction in waste from smaller, simpler inkjet consumables is taken into account.

Another benefit of dispensing with a hot fuser unit is that the printer does not need time to heat up after a period of inactivity. This might not be an issue in a busy office where the printer is working all day long, but for units that are used less frequently, the first-page-out time will be faster with an inkjet. This can be very noticeable for a user who only prints occasionally but wants the document immediately when they do.

Designed for business
Inkjet printers’ increased suitability for use in commercial environments is reflected in the design of the printers themselves. Many now feature enterprise-oriented features, including wireless and wired networking capabilities, touchscreen interfaces and NFC readers, as well as multiple paper trays that allow users to choose A5, A4 or A3 printouts at the touch of a button.

Robust security features like anti-intrusion detection, end-to-end encryption and password-protected secure printing are also now available, reflecting the need to protect data at every stage of the process in today’s business environment.

Altogether, it’s fair to say that inkjet printers have well and truly graduated to the world of work. Not only do they no longer look out of place in the office, in many cases they have supplanted laser printers and emerged as the clear choice.