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Most offices can cope with a multi-function device that can scan, copy, fax and print. Look for models that are not overly complicated and have an automatic (and reliable) 'duplex' function to save paper, save space and minimise paper tray refills.
This is a great function in theory; stuck in traffic, need to print - there's an app for that'. However, cheap printers can't hold much paper or ink and tend to jam, get clogged more often, so choose with one good paper tray capacity and always read customer reviews and check the 'page yield' stats before buying non-original refilled cartridges.
If you don't like to gamble, choose branded, high-capacity cartridges that can be easily recycled by the original manufacturer.
The top printer brands refill their cartridges or use recycled content and they provide a simple toner/cartridge take-back scheme. Non-brand refills or "re-manufactures" may seem cheaper, but often have a lower page yield and are less reliable - which can be very costly. Ethical Consumer Magazine claim that many manufacturers have fitted their cartridges with ID chips to render remanufactured cartridges as being incompatible. For some printer manufacturers, up to 70% of their revenue comes from the sale of consumables. Despite this, +/- 23% of cartridges used in Britain are re-manufactured and many now come with a guarantee.
Although individual ink cartridges take up more space and use more packaging and resources, you usually end up printing one colour more than the rest so they will generally last longer. However, Ethical Consumer Magazine points out that colour laser printers can have up to nine separate consumable items (four colour toners, an OPC belt or drum, a developer unit, a fuser unit, fuser oil and a waste toner bottle). Sometimes the OPC drum is located inside the toner cartridge - when the toner runs out, the whole lot needs to be replaced. This adds considerably to the running costs of the printer and produces large amounts of waste. So always look for a model where the two are separate.
If you don't print colour and frequently print high quanitites, you have a well-ventilated office and you're good at switching equipment off when not in use for long periods, consider a laser printer. Heating the fuser (to 180oC) takes time and requires up to 70% of a laser printer's power consumption. Energy consumption per page falls considerably with volume. It is generally much lower than inkjets at high volumes, but much higher at low volumes. Laser printers produce small amounts of unpleasant ozone and draw more than 7 times the power of an inkjet, and more than 4 times the power of a PC, in active mode, and 2 and 3 times the power respectively when in sleep mode. Toner ink is however much easier to remove than inkjets during the recycling process.
If you don't print very often (and nowadays there's less and less reason to do so) then consider a good quality inkjet. Inkjet printing is a mechanical process, consuming more energy than a laser every time a page is printed. Inkjets are more energy-efficient than lasers in standby mode but still consume more than a PC. Considering that inkjets start up much faster than lasers it's worth switching it off completely whenever you're not using it. On the negative side, paper recyclers struggle to remove inkjet ink from post-consumer waste paper, resulting in poor quality pulp.
Look for 'Energy Saving Trust recommended' or 'ENERGY STAR rated' labels. Good printers will also have the German "Blue Angel" and the very best will be honoured with the more rigorous "Nordic Swan". Both ecolabels share common criteria such as: maximum power consumption levels, modular design to facilitate repairs and recycling, a proportion of plastic and metal parts must be recyclable and labelled.
Overly complex feeder systems are painfully slow and are prone to paper jams, especially when in double-sided (duplex) mode, so choose carefully or your cheap duplex printer may just be a waste of paper and time.
Laser printers tend to print simple black text documents quicker and better. Inkjets are catching up in terms of quality, speed and affordability, but check the price of any special paper needed before buying a bargain inkjet.
If you've currently got an expensive laser printer churning out hundreds of pages a day, perhaps you should actually be looking for a good quality monitor so that you can read more on screen, print less and get by with a cheap new inkjet printer instead.