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Color Laser vs Inkjet Printer

If you are in the market to buy or replace a color printer, you should always consider the Total Cost of Ownership or TCO and compare the overall cost of printing with a color laser printer vs. an inkjet printer.

Although inkjet printers are initially much less expensive, laser printers offer a much better value over time because their toner cartridges are only slightly more expensive, and last between three and 10 times longer. Most small business owners often look to low-cost inkjet printers to solve their printing problems, not taking time to thoroughly compare printers and costs!

Inkjet Cost Myth

Inkjet printers, although very inexpensive to purchase, often have a very high cost per page for cartridge supplies. It’s not uncommon for inkjet cost per page analyses to work out to be $0.25 to more than a $1 per page.

Be sure to consider all of the costs when you attempt to compare printers!

For a relatively low volume of 50 to 100 pages a month, the supply costs aren’t too bad! But, if you decide or need to print 200 to 500 pages a month, the cost becomes pretty high! Consider that $0.25 X 200 pages = $50, supply costs must be factored in as you compare printers.

Laser Printer Cost Advantages

Consider that an entry level business Color Laser printer can be bought for less than $250. If one uses the same cost comparison method, the cost is less than $0.16 per page. ($231 street price divided by 1500 sheets = $0.154 per page).

The savings become even greater when the costs of the printer and subsequent high capacity replacement toner cartridges are used and factored in over a 3 year period. (the considered useful life of a laser printer!) The use of high capacity toner cartridges can lower the costs even more! ($231 divided by 5000 sheets = $0.046 per page)

Be sure to consider all of these issues when you start to compare printers.

Technical things to look for when choosing a printer!

As you might guess from their technical differences, inkjet and laser printers cover a wide range of capabilities and cost. Laser printers typically use a laser to produce an electrically charged image on a drum, roll it through some toner and then fuse the toner to the paper by using heat (just like a copier machine). Inkjet printers, spray ink directly onto paper which then must dry. Both types of printers have their appropriate use, but you can draw enough conclusions to effectively compare the two technologies.

When comparing printers, consider the following:

Cost Per Page

Roughly, the cost of the toner or ink divided by the number of pages provided before replacement of the cartridge is required! Total Cost Some printers require users to regularly replace print heads, fuser drums and so forth. Others include these with each toner or ink cartridge. Consider both of these items when comparing cost per page figures.

  • Speed
     Speed is expressed in pages per minute (ppm). Relevant for higher use printers, or long documents (at 3 ppm, a typical low-cost inkjet speed, a 30-page document would take about 10-15 minutes to print). Note that most inkjet printers have several speed and quality settings so compare these features appropriately.
  • Memory
    Printers with low memory (or no memory as is common in inkjet printers) may have trouble printing pages with lots of graphics, or be slower when printing multiple pages. Many inkjet printers DO NOT HAVE BUILT IN MEMORY and depend on the computer to provide printing memory, thus resulting in slower printing.  Most Laser printers usually have built in memory to efficiently handle high speed printing tasks!
  • Duty Cycle
    Represents the number of pages a printer can handle per month without breaking down. 20,000 pages per month is considered business quality printing! Be aware that manufacturers can and do manipulate these numbers! For example, the number of pages per toner or ink cartridge is typically provided assuming 5% coverage. This means that ink only covers 5% of the page. While this may be true for a text-only letter, a full page photo or mixed text and graphics will have far higher coverage, providing only a fraction of the expected number of pages (by comparison, an entire page of black would be 100% coverage).

Other Points to Consider

  • An idle inkjet printer (not used for a week or more) often results in dried-up ink cartridges that must be replaced.
  • Laser printers are far more forgiving. They can sit idle for months at a time without deleterious effects.
  • Laser cartridges are recyclable; ink jet cartridges are generally considered a disposable item.
  • If printing more than 300 pages per month, you should consider a heavy-duty business-class printer.
  • Most inkjet printers are not easily nor affordably serviced; replacement is often more cost-effective.

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