Laser vs. Ink Jet Buying Decision

hp-deskjet-810c-printer

Laser vs. Ink Jet Buying Decision: a reader asks…

I have an old HP Deskjet 810c printer that’s finally giving up the ghost and I’m ready to replace it. I really don’t need color printing. As a matter of fact, I probably print maybe 3 pages a month, sometimes more, often less. I want a printer that’s dependable and will print when I need it to print. I’m looking at both laser printers and ink jet printers. Any advice?

There are really two factors to consider when choosing between a laserjet versus inkjet printer. The first is “use-case”. In your situation, you are not printing often at all, and this points to a laser printer being a better choice for your use-case. The reason is that laserjet cartridges use a dry ‘toner’ type of ink which melts when heated to fuse to the paper. Since the toner is dry, it lasts a long time. Years in fact.

hp-ink-cartridges-image-from-hpdotcom

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Inkjet printers use liquid ink in cartridges and that ink flows thorough small pipes and flows onto the paper in micro-droplets from a print head. Ink (like any liquid) will dry out over time, much shorter than the laserjet toner. In the case of inkjet printers, those small pipes filled with ink will dry out and get blocked within a few months. While some printer software includes ‘maintenance functions’ that will activate heaters in the print head to melt the hardened ink, this is wasteful of ink and doesn’t always work.

That means that inkjet printers are best for the use-case of ‘quite often’, meaning several pages per week. Furthermore, inkjet printers come with a black cartridge, and one or more color cartridges. If you mostly print black ink, the color cartridge will dry out. Even if there’s still plenty of ink in the cartridge, it can’t get through the pipes to the print head to the paper.

So for use-case: go with inkjet if you print fairly often, go with laserjet if you print less often.

toner-cartridge

The second factor is cost. This used to be a big deal, but has become much less so. It’s true that laserjet printers generally cost more than inkjet printers, and that toner cartridges for the laserjet printers cost more than inkjet cartridges. But here’s the thing: Laserjet toner cartridges last for thousands of pages, inkjet cartridges last for hundreds of pages. So the cost over time in terms of consumable supplies is going to be about the same. In many cases, the laserjet is often going to come out cheaper when considering the cost of printing per page.
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Speaking of cost, I have my simple three-stage pricing mentality. First, the cheapest printers (inkjet or laserjet) are going to be made of the cheapest materials, and be the least dependable. Second, the most expensive printers (again, inkjet or laserjet) are going to offer great features, reliability and more, but will be so expensive up-front that it’ll be 10 years or longer before they pay for themselves (in reduced operating costs), if at all. So in my simple-minded mentality, I go with the mid-range in terms of pricing. My opinion is that you get the best value and great reliability for a reasonable cost. So don’t buy the bottom of the barrel.

That said, there are some great deals in laserjet printers these days. And yes, for your use-case I’d recommend you go with a simple black & white laser printer. A quick search online shows a number of models priced well below $100. I’d look for one that does automatic duplex printing (front and back, saves paper, which is another of those consumables expenses). Right now I see the sweet spot at between $100-300 for a good B&W laser printer.

Other features you may want to consider is either wireless or ethernet (network) printing capability. That way you needn’t connect a USB cable from computer to printer. This is great for laptop owners.

hp-lj-pro-402dneFrom a brand perspective, most consumers will be happy with either Hewlett Packard, Epson, or Brother printers. They all have good track records in terms of reliability and there are models that give good value. For instance, HP’s Laserjet Pro (model M402dne) goes for just under $200, and includes auto-duplexing. It’s not Wi-fi capable, so just place it near your router and run an ethernet cable from the router to the printer – viola! you have wireless printing.

In the $100-200 range there are plenty of options, but I’d stick with the more well-known brands.

brother-HL-L2300D-laser-printerThere are other, lower-cost alternatives, such as the Brother HL-L2300D printer, only $73, also comes with automatic duplexing. It does not have network or Wi-fi printing though, for under $100 you’re not going to find a Wi-fi/network capable B&W laserjet printer. This is really about the lowest-cost laser printer you can find, so I can’t speak to its reliability or longevity. But something to consider if you’re on a tight budget.

Lastly, if you’re considering keeping your old printer, you should know that the replacement print cartridges are going to run you about $150, much more than the cost of a replacement printer (except for the higher-end models). So consider the amount of extra money you’re going to spend continuing to use old equipment. Newer inkjet printers use different ink cartridges that are much less expensive than the ones you’re using.

One Comment

  1. I have to agree with your assessment of the printers, but allow me to suggest that inkjet cartridges can be refilled to a higher level at reputable re-fillers sometimes more than manufactures new ones and at a fraction of the cost. I have experienced over the years that Costco does a great job and uses quality ink. They also reprogram the cartridges so that the printer does not give a notice that it does not recognize the cartridge.

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