While technologists keep touting the advent of the paperless office, researchers estimate that organizations still are spending between 1% and 3% of corporate revenue on printing business documents alone, according to Lexmark International Inc., a Lexington, Ky.-based manufacturer of printers.

That being the case, agents, carriers and other insurance operations need to pay attention to how their printing dollars are spent to ensure maximum value from what could be a sizeable investment. Smart decisions about printing equipment and supplies can save money and enhance productivity, experts say.

Office products researcher Lou Slawetsky, president of Industry Analysts, Rochester, N.Y., says printer buyers need to begin by taking a careful look at their page volume, because “theres an inverse relationship between the cost of a printing unit and the cost-per-page to operate it.” Thus, higher-cost printers are more likely to benefit companies with high-volume printing operations due to their relatively low per-page cost.

“Its a pay-me-now or pay-me-later situation,” says Slawetsky. A basic inkjet printer costs “next to nothing” to buy and may even be offered free with some new computer systems. The cost of printing with such a unit, however, may be 8 to 9 cents per page in black and up to 25 or 30 cents per page in colorwhich is relatively high, he says.

If your printing needs are relatively light, such a unit may make sense for a small office. Slawetsky warns, however, that inkjet cartridges will dry out if not used frequently, making the cost-per-page “astronomical,” since the cartridges are “really, really expensive.” Where offices dont print often, he recommends printing a color page at least once a week, “just to keep the inkjets clear.”

While basic inkjet units utilize two cartridgesone for black and one for colorslightly more expensive units use one cartridge for black and one for each primary color. “If youre doing a lot of color,” says Slawetsky, “as page volume increases, separate cartridges mean you will only replace one color that runs out, instead of the entire color spectrum, so cost-per-page drops.

“The problem with inkjet cartridges,” he notes, “is that when you replace the cartridge, you also replace the print head, which makes cartridges relatively expensive.” For a step-up in price, however, units can be purchased with user-replaceable print heads that may last for “30,000 to 40,000 pages, which for most people is the life of the printer.” If the print heads need replacement, the process is relatively easy, he adds. Meanwhile, users need only replace the ink, instead of an entire cartridge.

The cost of this kind of inkjet output “is almost comparable to the cost of laser-printer output,” which is traditionally less expensive, he explains.

Moving up in price to laser units (from about $500 for a color laser printer), if youre not sure whether to go with a monochrome (black output) or color laser printer, the choice should be color, says Slawetsky, because the difference in price is not great. Per-page cost for black printing “should be less than youre paying now for your older printer,” he notes, because costs of consumables have dropped overall. Cost-per-page for printing can be determined by looking at the stated yield of the laser toner cartridges and dividing that figure into the cost of the cartridges. The target should be to pay between 8 and 10 cents per page when printing in color, he adds.

David Zaslaw, financial industry director for Lexmarks Printing Solutions and Services Division, points out other advantages of color printing, noting studies demonstrate that readers pay attention to messages 82% longer when color is used and that “color increases recall by 60%.”

Possible printer add-ons include automatic duplexing (printing on both sides of a sheet of paper), extra paper sources and capacity, and finishing operations such as automatic stapling, says Slawetsky. Where outside agents or other visitors using laptops may need printing access, wireless printing units provide such capability as long as the laptop is within 100 meters or so of the printer.

A newer technologysolid ink”offers all of the advantages of inkjet and none of the disadvantages,” according to Slawetsky. “Theres no bleed-through [of the ink to the other side], which can happen with normal inkjet. Its relatively fast and theres no speed sacrifice when youre doing color.” Monochrome per-page costs with such units may be as low as 1.5 cents, with color printing costs as low as 7 to 8 cents.

Total cost of ownership should be an extremely important part of your decision in purchasing a printer, states Zaslaw. “The initial price of the device is just part of the whole picture when it comes to printers. In fact, over the life of a printer, its acquisition accounts for only 5% of the total cost of ownership; 45% will be spent on operating costs and 50% on support cost.”

In the end, however, less may be more. “The best way to save money is to examine your workflow processes and see where you can print less,” says Zaslaw. “Processes such as scanning more documents to e-mail and utilizing electronic documents and forms whenever possible can make a significant difference in the amount of money you spend on printing.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, December 3, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.