I wanted to try a printer more suitable for heavy use than the usual £50 inkjets. A huge box arrived with Lexmark's latest colour laser printer.
Set up was simple: read the instructions, insert the disk, connect to electricity supply and press 'Print'.
Connecting the Lexmark C540dW via USB to a PC took 10 minutes. Wireless or network installation would take slightly longer. After 11 seconds of warm-up, it whirred into life and I was printing colour pictures and black and white documents swiftly.
This model is a workgroup-level laser printer with lower operating costs than some cheaper inkjets. And the laser technology allows rapid printing of longer print runs. It will print duplex (both sides of the paper) and is enabled for Wi-Fi.
With 1,200 x 1,200 black and white and colour resolution, it provides crisp mono pages and soft, slightly pastel colour tones.
Colour prints are less crisp than inkjets, although careful calibration does provide sharper results.
Lasers excel at multiple copies. Most of our office printing is in smaller runs, but our practice pamphlets would rapidly exhaust our inkjet cartridges.
It is hard to ascertain what printers really cost per page, and irritating that refills for a £50 inkjet printer cost more at, I calculate, several thousand pounds per gallon, than the printer.
Lexmark's laser prices per page are not the lowest around (see box), but I was surprised that the black toner (at £43 a time) signalled it needed replacing after printing off less than 500 sides of practice pamphlets.
Lexmark states its 'extra high yield' cartridges at around £125 to £132 each provide 6,000 standard black and white and 4,000 colour pages. And the C540dW's claimed speed of up to 23 pages per minute means that your QOF patient mail shots or double-sided practice pamphlets will not take all day to run off.
A hefty 150-page booklet with many coloured charts took me about 13 minutes to print, and I watched bemused as the double-sided pages zoomed to and fro.
The printer sat on a footprint about the same size as our desktop prescription printers, and ran smoothly and reasonably quietly.
Testing it made me realise we did not know how much we actually spend on in-house printing. I concluded that for photo-quality prints the cheapest option is a photo lab.
For black and white text, mono lasers are cheapest. For 100s of multi-page colour reports, offset litho at your local print store is the most economical. But for saving staff time on downloaded books and manuals; on multiple runs of practice pamphlets and handouts in colour - or even visiting cards - a colour laser printer comes into its own.
- Dr Cembrowicz is a GP in Bristol.
Cost per page