Ted on Tech

Printing for accountants: Commercial or small office?

I do a lot of printing. Considering how much time I spend in front of a monitor, I was surprised when I recently printed a history sheet, which shows me how much printing I've done, on the Epson WF-6590 that’s been my mainstay network printer for the past year and a half. While 23,000 images aren’t all that much for a small practice to generate, even when they are doing document management, it is a considerable amount of paper to push through a typical home office multifunction printer in a relatively short period of time.

Part of this paper madness is that I often have to do multiple iterations of large reports to check the layout in what will be the final version submitted for a client. For example, I just finished up a project that required a 135-slide PowerPoint slide deck, to be delivered in paper and electronic formats. Each iteration of the deck had to be printed four times for the team I was working with to go over, edit, and update. And we probably went through close to 20 versions before we were satisfied with how the deck looked and what was presented.

Granted, not every project results in that kind of paper output, but I still seem to edit better with hard copy rather than just on the screen. So, it looks like, at least for the immediate future, I’m still going to be buying my paper by the case rather than the ream.

Over the years, my network printers have all been models meant for small offices or possibly a modest workgroup. And all of these models were (or are) available for purchase at retail. But recently I realized that many users would probably benefit from going somewhat upscale, and skipping over the retail offerings for a commercial-duty printer or MFP purchased or leased through an office products dealer.

Doing so offers a number of benefits that aren’t available with the retail store models. One benefit that I’ve talked about here before is the availability of managed print services. Not every office products dealer offers these plans for every printer or MFP they carry. But if the dealer you choose does offer such a plan, it may be worth considering, as it pretty well fixes the cost per page for your printing.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of going through an office products dealer is the type of printers and MFPs they offer — commercial grade, rather than retail grade. There are some considerable differences, which may make a commercial-grade device an attractive alternative to running to the nearest Best Buy or Office Depot.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that they are just built to take much more punishment. This is often reflected in the published “duty cycle” specification. Many office-oriented MFPs or all-in-ones that you can buy at retail have listed duty cycles of up to 15,000 or 20,000 pages per month. And, if you look closer, the small print shows a recommended monthly maximum of a few thousand pages at best. Running any printer/MFP at anywhere near its maximum duty cycle for any length of time is going to kill the device in short order.

Epson WorkForce Pro WF-C8690

A step up

While I really haven’t run my current MFPs at anywhere near a full duty cycle, I’ve recently had the chance to test an entry-level commercial MFP from Epson, the WorkForce Pro WF-C8690. You won’t find this model in any retail store; It has to be purchased through an authorized dealer who will also provide support if you need it. The base model, which is what I have, has an MSRP of $1,499, so it’s not a casual purchase.

But then again, it isn’t a casual device. For one thing, it’s built like a tank compared to the typical all-in-one or MFP you’ll find in an office supply store. It was shipped to me on a pallet, and even when unpacked weighs in at almost 80 pounds. This isn’t going to sit on a corner of your desk, or even on many printer tables. I have it sitting on an old metal printer cabinet that was made to support a device of this size and weight. In many office environments, you would also acquire the optional extra paper drawers and base so the MFP would be a free-standing model about waist-high. For many users, the extra paper drawer or two would be a good idea in any case, as the standard paper drawer has the capacity for only 250 sheets, which is somewhat sparse for a device with the capabilities that this has. With the extra drawers, you can load up to 1,830 sheets of paper, great for long multiple-copy print jobs like generating copies of an audit report for a board meeting.

And aside from being much larger than the MFP it’s replacing in my home office, measuring 23.2 x 35.5 x 22.1 inches, it’s also very fast (24 pages per minute for single sided, 16 PPM double-sided and 34 PPM in draft mode). The WF-C8690 uses four of Epson’s PrecisionCore printheads, so the output quality is excellent.

One of the reasons the MFP is so large is that it’s an A3-size printer that prints on up to 11x17-inch paper from the drawer and up to 13x19-inch paper from a second paper feed. That means I don’t have to switch over to one of my large-format printers to print a large spreadsheet or Gantt chart.

What I also really like about the WF-C8690 is the capacity of the ink cartridges. The standard cartridges have an ISO yield of about 2,500 pages for the black cartridge and 1,500 for the color cartridges. To be honest, that’s nothing remarkable. But the available XXL cartridges have ISO yields of 10,000 black pages and 7,000 color, a real advantage when you are doing a lot of printing. The large touch control panel is easy to understand and use, and the setup was fairly quick, requiring that the drivers and utilities be downloaded from Epson’s web site. Another feature I like is that Epson has really stepped up its game with its scan utility, making it much more capable and intuitive to use, though the same utility is available on less expensive models as well.

The WF-C8690 has a listed duty cycle of up to 75,000 pages a month, though, as with other printers and MFPs, putting that much paper through the device is kind of foolhardy. Still, it’s not hard to image running a case of paper a month through the MFP. And while the purchase price isn’t inexpensive, many practices will easily be able to justify the WF-C8690 or a similar model from another vendor.