The lure of colour

There was on stand-out theme that gripped the printer industry during 2005 – business in colour.

Vendors right across the spectrum were trying to make the case for the widespread replacement of teh traditional workhorses of office printing – mono laser printers – with their colour equivalents. And they were convinced that demand was well underway.

“Colour printing now plays a pivotal role in business,” says Graham Long, commercial director at HP’s imaging and printing unit. “Businesses of all sizes are telling us that colour printing is no longer a ‘nice to have’.”

Some businesses more than others. Marketing departments at all almost all businesses which have made extensive use of external ‘print shops’ for high impact collateral are keen to take at least some that colour printing in-house. But within other professions – such as estate agents, public relations and entertainment industry companies – the option of quickly being able to produce high-quality, colour documentation is compelling.

The reason vendors are confident there is an even wider market stems from the ability to take colour laser printers right down in price. Why wouldn;t an organisation buy a colour laser that was as cheap as a mono?

The reason is simple: the price has been brought low because there is a lot more money to be made on colour supplies.

Just ask Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahey. She says Xerox is “making colour printing more affordable and easier to use for businesses of any size,” predicting a doubling of the digital colour market over the next 3 years. And there is evidence to back up those demand predictions: the company’s colour revenues are already growing at 18% and now represent 29% of its total revenue.

Printer sector watcher Info Trends estimates that by 2009, 37% of all printing in teh US will be in colour, up from 13% of all pages printed during 2004.

However, there is another reason for Mulcahey’s enthusiasm – and that of much of the rest of the colour lobby. “Revenue and gross profit from colour pages are five times greater than black-and-white pages,” Mulcahey recently told investors. “With less than 7% of Xerox pages on colour devices the growth opportunity is huge.

The rise of colour presents a dilemma for those in control of print budgets and who have historically relied on mono lasers. In any move to colour, should they be looking at inkjet devices with their low cost of printer engine and higher cost of consumables; or colour laser machines that have a longer life expectancy, but a larger upfront cost.

According to Info Trends, inkjet technology accounts for over half of all imaging equipment currently in use in the US. By 2009, this will have risen to over 70% of products in the installed base. However, the sector analyst predicts that demand will be highest for single and multi-functional colour laser printers, with growth of 53.7% and 49.3% respectively, over that 2004-2009 period.

Tom Primett, marketing manager at Sharp Electronics, is seeing the same pattern: “Manufacturers of high-speed [20ppm plus] colour multifunctional printers [will] replace the huge installed base of colour inject MFPs, printers and smaller colour laser printers that have dominated sales over the last three to four years,” he predicts.

Laser colour is much more cost-effective than inkjet for volume output, he says.

And cost will be the decider when businesses make the switch to colour, adds Matthew Clark, product marketing manager at Samsung UK which sells systems that range from £180 colour laser machines to a £16,000 MFP.

“Colour laser printers are definitely starting to challenge the colour inkjet monopoly in the small business and home market,” he says. With a cost per colour page of around 10p per page compared to 50-60p per page on an inkjet, there seems no competition.

However, mono laser printing is still 1p to 2p per page, and businesses need to look hard at how they manage their colour printing – restricting its use to certain groups or times – before they switch their whole printer estate to colour.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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