Printer Guide for eCommerce Businesses
Picking the best printer for your business
There are two peripherals that no eCommerce seller can do without: printers and scales. Here we look at the available options for each, and how to select one that’s right for your business.
There are three popular categories of printer for eCommerce businesses: inkjet, laser and thermal.
Inkjet printers are the most common printers for home use. You probably already own one right now. They use the little inkjet cartridges that are notorious for being highly priced. While good for simple print jobs, using it as the main driver of eCommerce printing tasks gives light to some advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of using an inkjet printer:
- Inkjets usually support full-color printing (whereas full-color printing is usually a high-cost premium feature for laser printers).
- Inkjets are inexpensive. Entry level printers can be purchased for under $100.
- Inkjet print quality is usually high.
- Inkjets are multi-use. They can print packing slips and shipping labels.
- You probably already own one.
Disadvantages of using an inkjet printer:
- Slow print speed: The pages per minute (PPM) rate of inkjet printers is typically low, especially compared to laser printers and thermal printers if you are mainly printing labels.
- Starts inexpensive, and gets expensive fast: Because inkjets typically require proprietary ink cartridges, replacing cartridges can be expensive. Also, the page limit for ink cartridges is typically much smaller than that of a laser printer, which can usually print thousands of pages before its toner cartridge needs to be replaced.
- Shipping label stock for ink jet and laser printers can be expensive when compared to thermal label rolls.
Shipping label stock for ink jet and laser printers can be expensive when compared to thermal label rolls. Inkjet is great for businesses just starting out. Lower shipping volume means you can print black-ink shipping labels and colored-ink packing slips from one source.
Laser printers are the most common printers for office use. They’re usually big and have large toner cartridges that don’t need to be replaced as often as inkjet.
Advantages of using a laser printer:
- Fast print speed: Laser printers typically have higher PPM ratings; this is especially true of black-ink-only models.
- Toner (ink) capacity is significant, typically allowing thousands of pages to be printed per refill. While toner cartridges are more expensive than inkjet cartridges, a laser printer’s price per page is typically lower.
- Multi-use: You can print pick lists, packing slips, and shipping labels with a single printer.
Disadvantages of using a laser printer:
- Color is typically a premium feature for laser printers and if you want color for packing slips, it can increase the initial printer cost.
- While a laser printer’s average cost per page is lower than an inkjet’s, it’s still higher than a thermal printer.
Laser printers print faster and are a better investment than inkjet if your volume starts increasing; however, laser printers share many of the weaknesses that Inkjets do. As a long term solution, laser printers are superior to inkjet models, despite higher initial costs.
Thermal printers are typically designed for one specific function (in the case of shipping, that function is printing shipping labels). There are two types of thermal printers: Thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers. Thermal transfer printers transfer images from a thermal ribbon (analogous to the ribbon in an old-fashioned typewriter) to the paper; direct thermal printers require no ribbon because they create images by applying heat to special paper which has a heat-sensitive coating.
Advantages of using a thermal printer:
- Ink and paper costs: While thermal transfer printers require the purchase of thermal ribbon rolls that are analogous to ink or toner refills, they are significantly less expensive than the ink or toner required to achieve the same number of printed pages. Direct thermal printers require thermal paper, which is typically less expensive than purchasing an equivalent number of shipping labels for use in laser or inkjet machines.
- Durability: Because they have one function and are designed for business use, thermal printers are typically heavier duty and designed for longer service cycles than similarly priced inkjet or laser printers.
- High print speed: Thermal printers are optimized for one function and print on rolls as opposed to sheets of paper, allowing them to attain higher throughput rates and quicker paper-reload times. In many cases the thermal printer’s roll of paper also lasts longer than a bin of sheets in a similarly-priced inkjet or laser printer, allowing it to go longer between paper refills.
Disadvantages of using a thermal printer:
- Thermal printers can’t print general-purpose documents.
- Thermal printers generally require a higher initial investment, especially for higher-quality models.
- Thermal printers have some compatibility issues with specific operating systems (for example, they’re not always OSX-supported).
Choosing the best printer for your business depends on your business size, how long you’ve been running your business, and if the long term benefits of each specific printer starts to make more sense to your bottom line. Compare each printer with where your business is at and you’ll be able to make an easy decision on which type is worth the investment.
Related Articles & Resources:
- Shipping Supplies Guide
- Bar Codes Scanners for Shipping Guide
- Shipping Scale Guide for eCommerce
- View ShippingEasy printing features
- Learn more about ConnectEasy browser printing option