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Colour or Black and White?

Some background information

In the past colour copying and printing was the realm of reprographics departments, large organisations and copy shops. This was primarily because the machinery was very expensive to buy and run, and consequently any work produced on it was expensive too. However in the past few years colour has become much more affordable to everyone. This has come about through advances in production techniques and technology that have allowed smaller compact units to be produced at a fraction of the price, thus creating new markets for those with smaller budgets. Considerations with the new breed of colour laser machines is that not all colour machines are equal especially with the A3 A4 copiers. With the new breed of colour machines comes new categories. The main categories are black & white, full colour, pantone colour, business colour and smart colour. To help define these categories see the points below.

  • Black & white or monochrome: As it suggests the output is black and white only. These copiers/ printers are usually cheap and reliable; they are also capable of higher output volumes and speed compared to colour.
  • Full colour: This usually means the copier or printer is capable of producing full colour photographic quality output.
  • Pantone colour: Is a term used to say that the output colours on the document will accurately match those on a specially calibrated computer screen.   Some of the myths about pantone colour matching.
  • Business colour: Machines in this category are capable of full colour output, but won't produce photographic quality prints. These machines are aimed at businesses so they can produce colour output for reports and presentations. Their main advantages are low initial purchase price and low running costs compared to a full colour system. However the output is usually surprisingly good with pictures being of a good quality.
  • Smart colour or colour enabled: This is one of the new breeds of photocopiers that is essentially a black and white machine that is also capable of business colour or full colour depending on the particular make/model. These machines are usually designed to cope with a workload of 80% black and white and 20% colour.

Points to consider about colour copiers and printers:

1. Although some machines are relatively cheap to buy they are still relatively expensive to run, colour is usually 5 times more expensive than black and white output.

2. They are not usually designed to produce the same amount work as their black and white counterparts.

3. If the machine breaks down they can be expensive to repair.

4. The low budget machines can be cheap to buy because they are deigned to be cheap to produce, this basically means more of the internal components wear out more quickly and need to be replaced. Don't buy one if you intend to put thousands of pages at a time through it, as running costs will soon overtake what you save on the initial purchase price.

5. Toner and consumables tend to be expensive because there are more of them required to print a page. In fact the colour process requires 4 toners compared to 1 for black and white.

6. Business and smart colour mid range to high-end printers and copiers can provide the best of both black and white and colour. With reasonable pricing and low running costs they can provide great value for money if you need both colour and black and white in reasonable quantities.

7. It is always worth checking which type of colour (business or full) that any particular model will produce and the associated running costs. As makes and models vary in their output it is advisable to get some colour output from any photocopiers that you are considering. You may find that a cheaper business colour copier/printer produces more than adequate output.

Questions you need to ask:

1. How much colour output is really required?
2. How much can be in black and white?
3. What is the cost of a full set of replacement toners?
4. How many colour pages will the toners produce?
5. What other consumables like drums and transfer belts are required, and how many pages will the produce before they need replacing?
6. Can you have a sample of the colour output (get a print of a document you already use)

What it all means

Using colour is now much more affordable, but black and white laser copying and printing is still by far the cheapest way to go. With significantly lower running costs a mono page is still the best value for money, so copy and print in mono as much as possible. As most modern colour laser copiers and printers will allow you to produce documents in black and white, it's worth finding this option and using it when possible to help reduce running costs. NOTE: check your machines driver or control panel settings to make sure that it is set to black and white output.

Black and white (or mono) laser machines have much lower running costs, better reliability and are cheaper to repair, worth remembering when looking at the long term costs.

The best way to use colour, especially with low-end budget laser machines is to only use it when required, don't just use it to pretty up your day to day output because the cost can be quite significant in the long-term. In fact the most costly part of any copier or printer (colour or black and white) is its running cost, the part most people don't notice. It can cost you many times the initial purchase price of the machine in running costs over its working life, and that can mean thousands.

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