To use your business computers effectively, you are likely to purchase a variety of accessories. Printers, scanners, digital cameras and projectors can all be useful tools to make computers more useful.
1. Types of printer
Of all your computer accessories, a printer is the one you are likely to use most often. Most printers work with PCs and Macs and are compatible with all common operating systems.
Laser printers are best for text, large print volumes and networked use
- Even the cheapest laser printers will produce good quality, crisp printouts.
- Laser printers have low running costs and are best for most businesses.
Inkjet printers can produce vibrant colours and good photographs
- Inkjet printers excel at printing photographs. They are not well suited to general business use.
- They are usually cheap to buy initially, but running costs are high.
- You may wish to keep an inkjet on hand for occasional photo printing.
Unusual printing requirements may require a different type of printer
- Dot matrix printers are often used in warehouse and point-of-sale situations. They are old-fashioned, but tolerate dirty or dusty conditions well.
- Plotters can be used to print banners, posters and signs at large sizes. They generally use the same technology as inkjet printers, though are much more specialised and expensive.
2. Laser printers
Unless you need to print lots of photos, a laser printer is almost certainly the best option for your business.
Speed is important, so consider how much printing you will be doing
- Small laser printers are suitable for businesses with one to three people using them. They typically print at up to 20 pages per minute (ppm) and are designed to produce 1,000 to 5,000 pages per month.
- Heavy-duty lasers are suitable for larger networks. Some laser printers are network-ready; others connect to a print server. These large laser machines will print up to 50ppm or even faster.
Even the cheapest laser printer will produce high quality text
- Print quality is expressed in 'dots per inch' (dpi).
- In general, a higher dpi is better, although as figures can sometimes be misleading, it is best to compare sample printouts.
- Text should be printed at a minimum of 600dpi. Most laser printers will offer at least 1,200dpi.
You also need to consider whether you need to print in colour
- Colour laser printers are more expensive than mono (black and white) ones, but still affordable. Colour printing also costs more per page.
- Most colour lasers will produce acceptable quality. For text, look for at least a 600dpi resolution. For photos, look for 1,200dpi or more and view test prints to check colour accuracy.
- A colour laser is the most effective way to do large volumes of colour printing.
- For occasional colour printing, you can supplement a mono laser printer with a colour inkjet printer. This can be most cost-effective because it discourages employees from printing in colour unnecessarily.
Paper handling is important if you print in reasonable volumes
- All laser printers can print on A4. You will pay more for an A3 model.
- For a medium-volume printer, look for a model which can hold at least 500 sheets of paper.
- Some printers have multiple trays, so you can load different paper, then select which you want to use.
- You will have to pay extra for a printer that can produce double-sided printouts automatically (called 'duplex'). As double-sided printing can halve your paper costs, it's well worth considering.
- A manual feed makes one-off printing onto labels or envelopes easier.
You will normally want to connect the printer to your network
- If you only want to print from a single computer, you can connect the printer directly to it.
- Some laser printers come with a network connection built in. You can connect these directly to your network, so all your computers can share the printer.
- You do not need additional hardware to use a network-ready printer, but you need to install printer driver software onto each networked computer.
- If your printer does not have networking built in, you will need a print server. This is a computer on your network which centralises print jobs.
- It's generally easier for small businesses to buy a network printer, rather than having to set up a print server.
3. Inkjet printers
Inkjet printers are suitable for low volume or occasional printing. They produce excellent quality photographs.
Inkjets produce good quality text and excellent graphics
- An inkjet printer can produce crisp text and very high quality images and photos.
- Inks are usually water-based and can be smudged.
- Most inkjets print on A4. You will pay more for an A3 model.
- Inkjets generally have a single paper tray, though more expensive models may offer multiple paper options.
Inkjet printers are most suited for use with a single computer
- Print speeds are slower than laser printers.
- Running costs are higher, making inkjets unsuitable for medium and high volume work.
Inkjets are cheap to buy, but calculate the running costs carefully
- Many manufacturers sell the printers at a loss, and make the money back on ink cartridges.
- Unbranded cartridges can be cheaper, but the quality is not always as good.
- Look for a model with separate cartridges for each colour. Otherwise, you will have to replace the entire cartridge, even if just one colour runs out.
- You need special coated paper to print photographs at the best quality.
A scanner allows you to convert printed documents into digital form.
An ordinary 'flatbed' scanner works like a photocopier
- You can scan text, graphics and photographs. Some scanners can handle other media, like transparencies, slides and negatives.
- The scans are stored on a computer rather than being copied onto paper.
- Scanners allow you to archive printed documents like contracts and invoices. You can also digitise photographs for use online or in presentations or scan documents and send them by email.
- Most scanners are compatible with PCs, Macs and most common operating systems. They generally use a standard USB cable to connect to your computer.
When choosing a scanner, consider how frequently you will be scanning documents
- If you only plan to scan single page items infrequently, a basic flatbed scanner will suffice.
- For very occasional work, you may be able to get away with using a scanning app on your smart phone.
- If you will be scanning multi-page documents, look for a scanner with a document feeder. This allows you to load several pages at once.
The quality of scans is measured in dots per inch (dpi)
- Look for a scanner offering at least 1,200dpi.
- Manufacturers sometimes quote inflated dpi figures. The 'optical resolution' figure is the one that counts.
All-in-one devices and 3D printers
An all-in-one device combines several functions into one piece of hardware
- They typically include a printer, scanner, fax machine and photocopier.
- They save space and usually work out cheaper than buying each device separately. However, you may only be able to use one function at a time.
- If the device breaks, you are likely to lose all functionality while it is being repaired or replaced.
- The cost of all-in-one devices varies depending on their features and capacity.
3D printers allow you to create objects by building up layers of material
- 3D printers usually build objects using plastic.
- Engineers and designers sometimes use 3D printers to create cheap prototypes.
- 3D printers are increasingly used to create products that are sold. They can be used to produce niche items, such as aeroplane components or prosthetics.
- As the technology improves, applications for 3D printing are likely to broaden.
5. Digital cameras
A digital camera allows you to take photographs and store them on a memory card
- You can copy the photos to a computer and use them online, include them in literature or print them out.
- Digital cameras have many business applications. For instance, they are ideal for taking product shots or staff photographs.
The resolution of photographs taken by a digital camera is expressed in megapixels
- With more megapixels (MP), the image resolution is higher. A 5MP image can be printed up to about A4 size. To print at A3, you need at least 9MP.
- Other factors affecting the quality of an image include the size of the camera's sensor and the quality of the lens.
- Online images are shown at a lower resolution, so the number of megapixels is less important.
Another important item to consider is the camera's zoom
- A good zoom gives you more flexibility when taking photographs.
- Make sure the camera has an optical zoom. A digital zoom simply crops the image and blows it up, reducing the quality.
- Most compact cameras have at least a 3x zoom. A 16x or 24x zoom allows you to get very close to the action.
When budgeting for a camera, remember that you may require extras
- You will almost certainly need memory cards to store your photographs on.
- Additional batteries are useful.
- A tripod makes low-light photography easier. It can also help you take photos of products and people.
Smart phone cameras are very capable
- Smart phones have excellent cameras built in. They can be as good as - or better than - many mid-range digital cameras.
- Unless you are taking photos for inclusion in brochures or other marketing materials, a smart phone may be all you need.
Projectors are used to display large images on a screen
- You can connect them to your computer and use them for presentations.
- Some projectors can also be connected to DVD players and other sources of video.
A projector's brightness is measured in ANSI lumens
- The higher the number, the brighter the image.
- Look for 1,200 ANSI lumens for a projector that works well in a dim room, 2,000 for use in a normal office environment, and 3,000 for use in brighter light.
You should also check a projector's resolution
- The resolution is how many pixels make up the image the projector creates.
- The native resolution figure is most important. The higher this is, the more detailed the projected image.
- If possible, get a 'Full HD' projector. This will be able to project images in high definition.
Make sure your projector has the correct input ports
- These let you connect your laptop or other equipment.
- Most projectors use a DVI or HDMI port to connect to computers.
- Older projectors may use a VGA connection.
Test a projector before buying
- Check the image quality and brightness in the conditions you will be using the projector.
- Consider the size and weight of the projector. Will you be taking it to meetings?
- Find computer accessory reviews at expertreviews.