One of the major developments over the past year has been colour and the ability from most of the major players to help high volume units have colour integrated as part of them. Previously colour was quite a specialist thing and also quite a pricey thing, and I think most of the major manufacturers have got a colour offering that is of sufficient quality and speed to be attractive to the central reprographics department or high volume environment. This has quite substantially opened up the argument against decentralisation, because the market had generally started to trend towards a decentralised approach at the turn of the 21st century but I think certainly the last 12 to 18 months has seen people start to reconsider the thought of having a centralised facility because it can now offer the scope that was taken over by decentralisation.

Traditionally if somebody wanted colour the only real option was to go out and buy a small personal laser printer or departmental laser printer and fit ten to fifteen units and pay through the nose for toner. Now with a little extra investment you can have a centralised resource and that’s helping to bring a lot of the work back into the print rooms again.

For the first time we can economically manufacture colour toner in sufficient volumes to actually have some economy of scale, so that can be passed onto the end user in terms of running costs.

What we’ve seen a shift in the market towards is people generally using more colour. What used to happen is the toner markets would manufacture, for the sake of argument, 100 parts black for one part colour, therefore the cost of manufacturing colour was relatively expensive. What’s happened now, is that we’re seeing a huge adoption of colour whether it be colour in the office or in the print room, generally speaking colour devices are becoming far more popular. That’s meant that the manufacturing ratio is now closer to 30 colour parts for every 100 black parts – that means that the economies of scale have shifted and colour toner can be priced more competitively.

FIERY Controller
If we have a proprietary Ricoh print controller it tends to get labelled as office colour, if it has a fiery rip on it, it tends to get labelled as a dedicated colour machine.

The proprietary controller is really designed for office applications. It’s easy to use you can store regularly used settings, you can print your job and when your job comes out that’s the end of it – it doesn’t hold any information on the print controllor for resubmission, it’s calibrated in a simple manner which is easy for a lay-person to do. On the hand you’ve got the Fiery RIPS, these are far more sophisticated in terms of the facility they offer and therefore general office use it would probably be overkill where somebody just has a powerpoint presentation or an excel spreadsheet and they want it to come out of the printer looking the same as it does on screen. With a Fiery print controller you’re able to have a lot more control over how the document looks when it’s printed in terms of preparing it for going onto some other kind of finishing processes. Such as a booklet maker or glue binding. You wouldn’t be able to get that kind of control from a proprietary print controller.

For ricoh and lanier’s point of view it’s really down to what print controller it’s got on it that makes it more appropriate for a particular application. Having said that, there will always be the crossover, the office user who’s particular application demands something more sophisticated and there will always be the print centre that just needs straight forward printing of powerpoint files. But generally speaking it’s more down to how it’s marketed rather than the engines are different or they use a different type of toner, although the chemical toner is generally better quality as long as you’ve got a decent laser beam. It’s not going to be that long before all the machines use a fairly similar chemical style toner.

Buying advice
Look at who’s providing the service and most importantly what resources they have locally, so if we’re honest as a company Lanier has got very good service nationwide, but we know there are certain geographic areas in which we excel just because we’ve got a good critical mass of machines. What you don’t want to do is pick a business partner who is very competently capable of servicing mid-range machines and you’re the only high end customer and therefore every time they come and see your machine, yours is the only one they’re looking after so everythings kind of first time for them with you. It’s key to not just picking a good national partner but looking at a micro level what they do locally, who their engineer is locally and possibly even meeting with the engineer before you go ahead.

Perhaps the most important thing is to see what support your potential provider is going to give you to help promote the new products and services that you’re going to acquire from them.

When we took over the print room in Stirling council we spent some time with them looking into how they could promote their new services to their potential clients. They could then draw upon the experience of other people who had installed similar things and actually then promote it to the best possible capability rather than just making the investment and starting from scratch.

It’s important to ensure that IT are involved in whatever project plans are taking place right from the start, whether that’s an external company or an in-house IT department. It really is crucial particularly from a buying point of view to make sure you don’t go halfway down the road particularly if it’s got unique software attributes only to find out that IT are concerned with its integration.

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