Tapping into the colour craze

Tapping into the colour craze

Splashing out and printing in high-quality colour — while still having the ability to print high-speed black and white — is an elixir for a new segment of the business market and it has become a reality thanks to slashed prices and slimmer models from a handful of vendors.

No longer restricted to the desktop publishing realm, large enterprise and government, ordinary business offices — particularly in the SMB and SOHO space — are taking a shine to the technology. These users want savings over the long term as well as speed and top quality prints.

Indeed, the recent emergence of models at a range of price points — there’s wider acceptance of models in the $900-$1300 range — is driving demand in new segments, senior account manager at market analyst firm GfK, Stuart James, said. Colour lasers are moving from value (corporate dealer/VAR) to volume (mass merchant/independent retailer) channels.

Affordable laser colour has landed, James said, and it was no longer restricted to the realm of inkjet printers.

IDC said the inkjet market was feeling the squeeze thanks to the increased push on colour lasers.

Today, colour lasers represent 11 per cent of the Australian market, but James expects that to bulge to 20 per cent by the end of 2005.

“In terms of units, this represents a ten fold increase in the size of the colour laser segment over the next three years,” he said.

The volume sales of monochrome page printers, meanwhile, would take a dip downwards, James said, gradually declining to -1.3 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2002 to 2005.

“Traditionally the domain of general business users, graphics professionals and specific vertical markets, the colour laser today is accessible via any Web browser,” he said, “allowing remote printer management over even the largest networks to provide enterprise quality at a more affordable price and thus becomes an attractive proposition to small business owners needing to satisfy their colour output requirements.”

The days of outsourcing print jobs are winding down. In-house printing is now more attractive — particularly in small office environments and in select verticals such as real estate, Fuji Xerox business development manager, Paul Harman, said.

“Real estate generally outsourced all print jobs, but now lasers are offering them the benefits of in-house and in real-time,” he said.

Techno wizardry and the SMB

There were several factors driving the advent of affordable colour, which was slated to become more of a reality in the next 12 to 18 months, James said.

The home digital entertainment trend, combined with reliance on the Internet, was a factor driving the colour craze in SOHO and SMB arenas.

“Because of the home digital revolution, a lot of business products are filtering down to the consumer,” James said.

Colour inkjets had traditionally been very popular in the home, while monochrome was the norm at the office, Harman said.

“Mum and Dad had colour at home, but then black and white at the office — but now that’s changing to the point where we see colour lasers in both areas,” he said.

SMB and SOHO buying patterns were shortening and printers are considered disposable, according to James.

“Certainly in the business space, after years of economic turmoil, 2004 is the year business will redeploy printer hardware, particularly colour lasers,” he said.

Technological improvements were also fuelling market demand, James said.

“Key improvements and development in both colour laser engines and print paths,” he said, “have enabled end-users to harness greater colour throughput with no loss of quality at a fraction of the previous cost.”

Additionally, the advent of single pass technology was a hot focus area for Fuji Xerox, Harman said.

“Single pass lasers are able to put toner down on the page in one pass,” he said.

The other option, meanwhile, is multi-pass lasers (four-pass devices) which take a monochrome laser printer and add colour to it.

Brother’s Nawa said while single-pass was superior to multi-pass, it was typically more expensive.

“Single pass can print in colour at the same speed as black and white,” he said. “You don’t need to go through four cycles.”

Increasingly attractive

James said single-pass colour lasers accounted for 35 to 40 per cent of the Australian market — and were increasingly attractive because of the increased engine speeds.

Indeed, the advancements mean colourful times ahead for SMBs and the SOHO arena — and once single-pass prices come down, more SMBs will jump onboard.

“Single-pass is four times quicker and so is becoming attractive to SOHOs, SMBs who are ramping up their colour requirements and need faster machines,” James said.

Calling SMBs a category of attack, Harman said vendors were repackaging products and driving down prices targeted at SMBs.

“The $5000 colour laser was out of the ballpark for many SMBs, but now there’s affordable colour,” he said.

“For the first time, there’s the promise of colour at a competitive cost, high speed and good quality without degradation of functionality.”

Enhanced security features, Harman said, were also attractive to SMBs, whereby users could track print jobs (via job accounting) and access Web-based network management.

“An IP restriction capability allows only certain users to have access to the product,” he said. “Not everyone and their dog needs to be printing.”

The company is also working with Adobe to provide better colour output. Along with this, SMBs need to consider the cost of consumables and maintenance. Price per page was the big consideration, said James. Colour lasers offered a higher yield across its lifetime than inkjets.

Managing director and president of Konica Minolta Printing Solutions Asia, Stuart Drysdale, said pushing the colour laser into the SMB and mid-corporate range — along with multi-function devices — was the main company focus for the next 12 months.

Drysdale said colour laser volume sales were dramatically increasing, offering users greater cost savings in terms of cost per page than inkjet printing.

The company has rolled out gear, the magicolor 2300W, that is comparable to many black and white workgroup printers at 16 pages per minute in monochrome as well as four pages per minute in full colour.

Along with this, touting the benefits of key colour enhancements — such as using polymerised toner to help pictures become clearer — was another priority.

Using wax within the toner eliminated the need for fuser oil — a messy consumable in colour laser printers, Drysdale said.

“Today, we’re bringing out these technologies in preparation for the next generation of colour lasers,” he said.

The company was also working on pictbridge technology, Drysdale said, which would allow for direct printing of digital imaging.

“You take a digital camera via USB [plug it into the slot in the colour laser] and it will recognize the digital camera format.”

Currently, printing digital pictures suited the inkjet market, but this would change over the next year as laser technologies improved and were able to offer better quality, Konica Minolta’s marketing coordinator, Robert Steers, said.

“Now laser printers can print at 9600 x 600 dpi and can offer up to four times the amount of colour depth compared to two years ago,” he said.

Brother, meanwhile, was pitching its zippy speeds and networking functionality, its Australian managing director, George Nawa, said.

The company has rolled out the HL-2700CN which prints 31 pages per minute in black and white and eight pages per minute in colour.

GfK’s James agreed and said that the Brother HL-2700CN printer offered “blistering colour output speeds along with standard networking” where users could manger the printer on the network or Web browser.

In addition to networking, vendors were feature stacking and offering better paper handling options, and higher pager per minute outputs thanks to mightier engines, James said.

Consumers also need to consider amount of memory, paper handling, paper size, interface and networking options when choosing a colour laser, he said.

Nawa said improvements in terms of colour matching capabilities was another reason to consider the laser.

“Black and white is simple, but to produce good quality colour is advanced,” he said.

And while some vendors use GDI technology — where the machine depended on the PC CPU to process the print job — the Brother printer offered full processing power built-in, Nawa said.

Lexmark, meanwhile, was pitching colour saver technology, which allows users to adjust toner density on graphics, while still maintaining the integrity of the text, said Graham Kittle, general manager, enterprise, corporate and government, Lexmark A/NZ.

Users were considering colour lasers, Kittle said, because it enhanced the paper communication process, playing a huge part in all types of business applications including complex documents and graphics.

Other document enhancement tools to consider include mailbox, stapling, and wholepunch, added Stephen Bell, product marketing manager, enterprise, corporate and government, Lexmark A/NZ.

Improved visibility

Vendors were attempting to move into the SMB market with gear that offered high quality output, higher margins and improved visibility of the total cost of printing, James said.

“There’s some very aggressive posturing by vendors to get on the crest of the colour laser wave,” he said.

The top vendors inhabiting the low-end of the market were Brother, Konica/Minolta, Epson and Canon, James said.

Realising the time was right to attack the low-end of the market, vendors were offering resellers and mass merchants full support to sell more affectively, rolling out special promotions and training sessions.

“In a market where vendors are virtually reinventing the wheel in an effort to increase market share, the colour laser offers the best opportunity for tapping into the market’s value share,” he said.

With greater competition from mass merchants and independent retailers [in part because of price drops], resellers needed to differentiate and brush up on education, Ingram Micro’s business manager for volume products, Ettore Alterisio, said.

And while Alterisio saw the big growth area for Ingram in next 12 months coming from colour lasers, he said resellers needed to get colour laser savvy.

“The biggest challenge with colour lasers is educating end-users and resellers about how affordable the products are and how they compare to inkjets,” he said. “With costs coming down, they are now a more value added solution to the channel.”

An Ingram education program was now in the works, Alterisio said.

Training would consist of helping resellers pitch solutions to the SMB market (including running comparisons with inkjets), and highlight market positioning and tips on the benefits of laser speed and functionality.

“Resellers can look to bundle a value-added solution — adding networking functionality and accessories, along with specific software features (for example, helping users control large print runs) — to SMB customers,” Alterisio said. Lexmark, meanwhile, is helping resellers pitch the TCO factor to SMBs — and touting the right-fit or print-on-demand mantra, “meaning only paying for what you need,” Kittle said.

“Seventy-five per cent of all documents are printed, so why pay for expensive A3 or all-in-one devices when you need to print,” he said.

The company is set to launch its C510 model into the market in mid May.

As part of this and other colour laser launches, Lexmark was training resellers on the concept of intelligent colour through a coverage estimator tool.

“Through consultation, we talk about the value of colour and the research done on improvements in work performance,” Kittle said.

“We help the customer [through the reseller] better understand what colour is costing them.”

For resellers interested in peddling the Fujitsu Xerox line, Harman said training on the benefits of single-pass versus multi-pass tech­nology was dished out.

“Many SMBs are unaware of what they require,” he said.

“They know they need to print and want colour, but are unsure about the flexibility of the product and its uses.”

As such, the company was educating resellers on solution selling, covering topics such as speed, the running costs and TCO, point-of-sale, as well as details on paper stock (multiple trays) and paper handling, he said.

Konica Minolta’s Drysdale said the company was educating resellers on printer and toner usage, paper costs, paper handling (duplex, single-sided), workgroup set ups, networking options and selling opportunities.

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