Laser monochrome still popular with big business

We are inundated with information, and as a rule it’s in colour.

Whether it’s data from the Internet or bills in our mailbox, individuals prefer to see print-outs in colour, said Gary Jarosz, director of marketing for printer systems at Xerox Canada Ltd. in North York, Ont.

Because of this, many Canadian organizations are looking to incorporate colour into both internal and external documents, but statistics still show they are not buying laser colour printers in large numbers. Not yet at least.

According to Toronto-based IDC Corporation (Canada) Ltd., 1998 printer shipments surpassed those of 1997 by 16 per cent, to 1.7 million units.

IDC’s Canadian Quarterly Printer Tracker report indicates that Q4 shipments alone accounted for 595,238 units. Of those, inkjet printers accounted for 82 per cent, laser monochrome for 12.9 per cent, dot matrix for 4.4 per cent and others, such as thermal, solid ink, laser colour, line printers and monochrome jet printers accounted for 0.7 per cent. Overall, large-size organizations purchased 54,380 units, or nine per cent of the total.

According to Maureen Mottonen, vice-president of hardware research at IDC Canada, the majority of activity in the Canadian printer marketplace is driven by inkjet colour, usually purchased for use in homes and small offices. The secondary driver is the laser monochrome segment, dominated by mid- to large-size companies.

While companies are looking toward the use of colour printers, Mottonen said, “right now in the short term you can expect to see monochrome (dominate).”

The main reason for this is cost. Not only is initial purchase price a limiting factor, but also the on-going cost of supplies. Right now, Mottonen said, large organizations are looking for high reliability, higher throughput volume, low maintenance in terms of service requirements as well as low cost to operate.

However, “as price becomes less cost-prohibitive, you will see more use of [colour laser] technology,” she said.

According to Jarosz, large organizations will move toward colour technology because they are looking at documents in a different light. Many businesses have begun to view documents as the “primary communication vehicle” whereby they are able to gain another “potential moment of truth” with the customer, Jarosz said.

With this new perspective, companies are looking to make the most of the one-to-one marketing opportunity presented by documents such as invoices and bills. This one-to-one contact with customers requires more customized and personalized documents. According to Jarosz, research indicates that the use of colour on an invoice or statement adds to the communicative value of the document.

The problem is that colour laser printers are still relatively expensive and therefore less attainable, he explained. For many, the solution is provided by highlight printing and monochrome laser printers which offer quality and flexibility.

“[Monochrome lasers] achieve world class uptime and availability and they have the best print resolution and registration.” In addition, they also offer greater flexibility, with the ability to support multiple data streams, connect in multiple environments and use multiple stocks in different styles and sizes, he said.

Michael Moore, world-wide product marketing manager at Tektronix Inc. in Toronto, which specializes in solid ink printers, said the trend is definitely toward colour capability.

“What people want is colour capability, the next step in technology and capability that would give them an edge. But it’s a question of what they feel they can afford and what the price performance value proposition is for the printers,” Moore said.

“We concentrated on colour, but we recognized that colour was going to still be somewhat of a specialty kind of printer as long as people were only looking at it for things like presentations, overhead transparencies and that sort of thing.”

That is not the case anymore. Now, Moore said, a definite shift toward colour is expected because of a broadening of applications like personalized statements, adding colour to invoices and word processing documents as well as the desire for in-house printing.

Jarosz said the need for in-house printing is increasing because organizations realize they must continually redefine the way they relate to their customers. Buying pre-printed stock does not allow for the continuous change this requires.

According to Moore, “we’re seeing this shift, and we believe we’re at the beginning of…a pretty significant expansion in the use of colour in the day-to-day office.”

Also, Moore said, colour printing costs are falling. Whereas prices ranged from $10,000 to $15,000 for a colour laser printer a few years ago, they are now becoming more competitive in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. And although colour inkjets are relatively inexpensive, they are a less effective alternative for the work group because they are slower than laser printers.

According to Jo Allan, market development manager at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., the Internet is also pushing the adoption of colour. Not only is the volume of available information increasing, but the way in which it is received as well.

Moore agreed. “People are used to getting their information off the Web more nowadays and that, of course, is in colour. It would be hard to imagine trying to use the Web and have it be black and white pages. So people are used to getting their information in colour (and) when it comes to the printed page, they’re going to want to do the same kinds of things.”