[IMGCAP(1)]I’ve covered printers and MFPs (printer/scanner/copiers) here before. But they were for individuals or small offices, and none of them that I talked about cost close to a thousand dollars.

When it comes to an office with more than just a few users, this class of printer may not be the best choice, even if you have one on every employee’s desk. True departmental or enterprise-class MFPs can cost upwards of $10,000 or even several times that amount depending on speed and features.

MFPs have been around for about 20 years, but unless you’ve been around for a while, you might not have been aware that they evolved from office copiers. For many years, laser printers and office copiers were separate things, even though they may have incorporated similar technology—an electrostatically charged photoconductive drum and oppositely charged toner made up of Iron Oxide (i.e. rust) and a binder.

One of the first machines to incorporate both functions was the HP 5SiMopier. Mopier stood for “multiple original copier.” You sent one copy of an original file to the Mopier, and it could print multiple copies from that file. Doesn’t sound like much these days, but it was a big deal back in 1996. There’s a really funny Mopier commercial on YouTube, “It does everything but cut the lawn.”  A lot of people and vendors in the print and copier industries laughed at Hewlett Packard. But while HP doesn’t sell Mopiers any more, it sure does sell a lot of MFPs.

I wanted to use this month’s blog to explain three terms—duty cycle, monthly recommended volume, and Managed Print Services (MPS)—that you might want to keep in mind when shopping for an office printer or MFP.

One area people often get into trouble when examining specifications is understanding Duty Cycle. Generally, this specification is given as a single large figure. For example, the HP Color Laserjet Pro M277dw gives this specification as “up to 30,000 pages” and gives monthly recommended page volume as 250 to 2,500 pages.

Does this mean that you can you print 30,000 pages in a month? That’s three cases of paper, 10 reams to a case. You probably can, but the printer is almost certainly going to be useless after a month or two of that kind of printing. For the most part, “Duty Cycle” is a useless specification. If you ever get close to it, the life of the device will probably be measured in weeks.

The “monthly recommended volume” is a more realistic estimation of how you should use a particular printer/copier. Keep in mind that if you consistently print at the top end of the recommended volume, the life of the printer or MFP is going to be considerably shortened.

The third important term you may have thrown at you is “managed print services” or MPS. This is all the rage in the office printer/MFP market. With MPS, the dealer leases you the device for a set period of time, and you are billed a set amount for the device and a fixed fee “per click”. A “click” is every time you print or copy a page, and double-sided pages are billed as two clicks. Generally, with managed print services, monochrome pages are billed at a lower cost per page than color pages. Of course, this is an oversimplification of MPS, which also often includes print management software to help control what is printed, who can print, and whether a document is printed in monochrome or color, as well as analysis of your print requirements to try and get the best fit between what you need and the equipment the MPS vendor supplies.

For a practice that does a lot of printing, MPS can reduce print costs, and most MPS plans include a stockpile of supplies, so you generally don’t have to run out at 9 p.m. on a Friday night to Staples to pick up a toner cartridge. Hewlett Packard actually offers something similar in concept on a number of its inkjet printers called the “instant ink program.” With this program, you pay a fixed monthly fee for a set number of pages per month and HP makes sure that you always have ink on hand. If you go over the number of copies in a month, you get billed at a per-page rate for the overage (sort like most auto leases). And if you don’t use all the pages in a month that you paid for, the unused pages roll over to the next month and are added to your fixed monthly number of pages (similar to a roll-over data cellular plan).

The point of all this is that the obvious choice is not always the best one. You’ve heard it before, and will hear it again countless times in the future, but the best way to get a good fit, whether its clothes, software or hardware, is to first know what you need. A printer or MFP may be priced attractively. And buying/leasing one big printer or MFP for a group of users may feel counterintuitive, especially since the movement in recent years has been a printer on every desk. But counterintuitive or not, a bunch of inexpensive units may not be your best fit.

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