Add a Little Color to Your Business

Why are fire trucks red? Why do police cars have flashing lights? Why are the double lines on a two-way road yellow? To call attention to themselves.

Your business documents could get more attention if they were in color too. We visualize most things in the digital world in color. Monitors, PDAs, and even most cell phones are all color-enabled devices. But when it comes time for us to print, we go back to the world of black and white. For many businesses, color printing means going to a local commercial printer to print a special project. But having your own color printer might be more efficient and cost-effective for you.

As with most high-tech equipment, the prices for color printers are coming down; many models are available for under $1,000. A few weeks ago Lexmark sent me their latest color printer, the C510 ($700). Using this color printer day in and day out for the past few weeks has opened my eyes to the world of in-house color printing. Going color is an added expense, but the benefits make it worth your consideration:

Look better:

Does color influence your business decisions? Say you’re looking to buy the services of an in-office water vendor. One vendor’s brochures and documents are in black and white. Another vendor sends you a packet of literature in vivid color. Which one catches your eye? You can almost taste the water when you look at the color brochure.

If you are influenced by color presentations, your prospective clients, partners, and customers probably are too. Everyone you deal with will look at your business documents and your business with a fresh perspective when you present printed documents in color. Using color while your competition is still submitting black-and-white proposals may give you an edge.


There’s nothing more annoying to me than trying to read a stream of numbers and graphs in black and white. Data presented in color is so much clearer and easier to read and understand. Over the years, I’ve printed out reams of graphs and spreadsheets in black and white. Now that I routinely see these documents in full color and use shades of blue, pink, and green in a complex (or simple) spreadsheet, the numbers jump out with clarity and are so much easier to grasp.

Save time & money:

Instead of going to a commercial printer for small print jobs, you can save yourself time and money by printing color documents yourself. You will not have to worry about closing times, unexpected costs, drop-off and pick-up schedules, or last-minute changes that might need to be made. You and your staff can print from the comfort of your office.

And there’s a financial upside:  Let’s say you need to make a 10-page handout for 50 clients. Kinko’s charges 89 cents per page for color prints. That would cost you about $445. If you do this once a month, you’re spending roughly $5,340 a year. At that cost, you’d have nearly paid for a color printer in two months. And this does not include the cost in time and effort to get the document to Kinko’s and wait for it to be printed.

However, if you need to print longer documents that require complicated binding (more than a simple staple or paper clip), it would be best to use the services of a commercial printer. Heavier usage of your color printer would mean replacing ink cartridges and other parts more frequently, which would eat into your cost savings, not to mention the time spent binding, sorting, and creating the printed documentation.

Downside: Replacement costs add up

While the Lexmark C510 costs $700, the printer takes four-color cartridges that cost about $99 for a standard cartridge or $170 for a high-yield cartridge. Do the math, and you can see that buying replacement color cartridges can be expensive (figure about 15 cents per page including the occasional costs of replacing the drum, fuser, and transfer mechanism), especially if you print a lot.

Mix and Match

Even if you buy a color printer for your office, it may not replace commercial printers, but will supplement them. Printing 100 pages of a document with spots of color is perfect for your in-house color printing. However, printing 50,000 color copies of a 20-page document each month for a business conference would not be practical. For large print jobs, it is still probably cheaper and easier (sorting and binding alone might be a headache) to use a commercial printer.

One economical solution is to use two printers. I have a black-and-white laser jet that I use for most of my printing needs. However, I can easily print to the Lexmark color laser printer when necessary.

Don’t be afraid to mix black-and-white and color documents. For example, at times I print the front page of a document in color and the other pages in black and white. This enables me to have an eye-catching document, but still be economical.

Ink Jet versus Laser

Many of you probably already have color ink jet printers, if not for your work then for your children. While these color wonders are inexpensive—some cost as little as $50—make sure your business documents don’t look cheap. The quality of the prints from ink jet printers may be good enough for internal use, but they’re not good enough for clients and business associates.

Another difference between a color ink jet and laser jet is speed. The laser jet prints much faster than the ink jet. If you don’t want to spend your time staring at the printer, go with a laser jet.

Printers under $1,000

You can get started with a low-priced laser printer (under $1,000) like the Lexmark C510. (More expensive color lasers will print faster and have more features.)

You’ve been printing in plain black and white for so many years, why not consider purchasing a color laser printer and start putting some life into your client proposals and special customer letters. Color printing might give an added boost that your business—and recipients of your business documents—could need.