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In-house color: Big expense or bigger opportunity?

The latest generation of printers and multifunction devices makes in-house, on-demand color the economical — and safe — choice for important communications

Color is king when it comes to communication and comprehension — just look at the numbers. Industry research shows that color improves information recall by up to 60 percent compared to monochrome output and raises brand awareness by 70 percent. But there’s a rub — using commercial print shops to produce brochures, reports, marketing collateral and signage may come with hidden costs and other significant risks.

Nevertheless, some enterprise managers remain overly cautious about broadly deploying color standalone and multifunction products (MFPs) in their organizations. The fear: Unmanaged costs will dilute the return on investments for in-house, on-demand color.

Fortunately, enterprise managers have new options for taking control of in-house color resources and closely managing expenses. Combine this with a steady decline in hardware costs, and today’s best color devices deliver a host of business benefits that make in-house color the communications choice for a growing number of enterprises. The keys are understanding the business case for this strategy and then identifying best-in-class color printers and MFPs that can deliver the highest returns.

Positive returns

The business case for in-house starts with a comparison of total cost of ownership for in-house color versus commercially printed materials. Factors to consider include the downward trend in prices for color printers and MFPs, which continue to decrease with each new generation. Also factor in hidden costs associated with commercial print jobs. To receive volume discounts, customers typically must purchase a minimum print run, which is practical primarily for high-volume jobs. However, most general-business and marketing collateral items require smaller volumes, which means enterprises may pay for more than they need if the work goes to an outside vendor. Unnecessary charges can quickly balloon actual costs and distort the value of per-page rates that initially look attractive. With in-house color, enterprises print only what they need and avoid excess fees.

Color MFPs provide another financial advantage. They reduce the need for separate monochrome printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines, which, in turn, reduces capital investments for hardware and operating expenses for service and maintenance of multiple devices.

Commercial printing comes with risks

Cost isn’t the only consideration with color printing. Enterprise managers must also investigate the business and legal risks associated with stockpiling printed materials resulting from large commercial print runs. For example, regulatory issues arise if a bank employee inadvertently distributes out-of-date loan-rate information by grabbing an old brochure from a storeroom. Enterprises mitigate this risk by printing collateral on-demand and in limited quantities. The cloud further assures accurate content. Whether in a private, public or hybrid cloud configuration, enterprise administrators can store the latest information in a central location that’s easy to keep up to date. When a loan officer at branch bank needs a brochure for a client, he or she downloads the current information from the cloud, confident that everything is accurate.

Decisions about in-house and commercial color also hinge on which option best supports the fast pace of today’s business activities. Lead times from commercial printers may be too long to accommodate the latest promotions or trade shows. Materials also may contain errors and require time and effort to route them to the right department when they arrive on the loading dock.

The bottom line: To accurately compare the effectiveness of in-house color and print-shop rates, look beyond high-level per-page estimates to detailed and realistic TCO analyses and other practical considerations.

Best-in-class technology

There’s a lot for enterprise managers to like about in-house, on-demand color printing. But to achieve a full return on their investments, administrators need printers and MFPs that take advantage of the latest innovations. State-of-the-art controls top the list. To help managers enforce policies about who is authorized to print in color, the devices should offer the ability to assign authorizations by department, job title, application or file type. In addition, managers should have the option of imposing time-of-day restrictions. The marketing staff, for example, may access color resources during normal business hours, but not after hours, which eliminates the risk of the devices being used for photos or other personal content. Output quotas are another effective control – each department may be allocated a set number of color pages to print each month, but once the limit is reached, devices produce only black-and-white output.

For added oversight, managers should choose solutions with tools for monitoring color output by workgroup, department or division to track usage volumes and gather chargeback data, if relevant.

To keep this wide range of controls from becoming overly complex to manage, the best solutions support administrative control from a central server that enables managers to push corporate policies uniformly to devices throughout the enterprise.

Output options

Because color quality is essential for promoting a professional image and enhancing brands, leading printers and MFPs provide Pantone calibration and support for other industry standards. Users should also be able to key-in custom color formulas when it’s necessary to tweak colors to adjust for differences in how light reflects off various types of media. Named color replacement and RGB replacement enable organizations to create substitution tables by entering a unique CMYK recipe to create any color they wish. Some vendors offer this via expensive third-party controllers; the best options provide this free within printers and MFPs across all price points. RGB replacement also makes sure Microsoft Office documents print consistently on any device on the network.

Other important features include the ability to handle multiple types of media, ranging from standard and coated paper to card stock and specialized materials, such as vinyl label stock for industrial drums. A selection of finishing options, such as binding, stapling and three-hole punching, will also ensure that in-house print operations can accommodate most enterprise needs.

A foundation for the future

Thanks to the latest innovations in color printers and MFPs, enterprise managers have fewer and fewer reasons to send jobs to commercial print shops. In-house, on-demand color printing can not only be an economical choice, it also assures organizations that their color printed materials will achieve the highest levels of effectiveness from a business and risk standpoint.


To learn more about the benefits of today’s leading color printers and MFPs, please visit Lexmark at

This article brought to you by UBM