Business Printers: Inkjet vs. Laser

By Drew Robb | Posted May 19, 2010

Color inkjet printers utterly dominate the printer market. While Herbert Hoover once promised a“chicken in every pot and a car in every garage,” most small businesses have bought into the marketing campaign of “an inkjet on every desk.” And it could be costing them a fortune.

“The ‘razor and blade’ scenario remains alive and well in the printer business -- if you buy the cheapest printer, you are likely to tie yourself in to the most expensive OEM supplies,” said Jeremy Shulman, vice president of operations at ReInk Technologies, a reseller of remanufactured ink cartridges under the Vibrantink, Cartridge Technologies and A2Zink.com brand names.

The printers themselves are often quite cheap. But it’s the cost of the refill cartridges that comes back to bite you. According to Andrew Lippman, a senior analyst at Lyra Research the worldwide printer cartridge replacement market (inkjet and toner) is worth more than the printer hardware market. Cartridges amount to about $72 billion annually.

Business Printers: Page Yields

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as HP are talking up the page yields of their latest wave of inkjets. HP, for example, recommends that SMBs choose the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless All-in-One printer ($279).


“It allows users to wirelessly print professional color documents for up to 50 percent less cost per page and energy use than competitive laser printers,” said Jeff Walter, HP outbound marketing manager. “And with multifunction capabilities, users can print, scan, copy and fax all from one device.”

He claims the following rates for replacement cartridges:

  • HP 940XL Cyan Officejet Ink Cartridge: $25.99 (approx. 1,400 pages)
  • HP 940XL Magenta Officejet Ink Cartridge: $25.99 (approx. 1,400 pages)
  • HP 940XL Yellow Officejet Ink Cartridge: $25.99 (approx. 1,400 pages)
  • HP 940XL Black Officejet Ink Cartridge: $35.99 (approx. 2,200 pages)

Note that you need to buy four cartridges -- one black and three different color models for a combined cost of more than $100. But those numbers (1.6 cents a page for black) are hard to believe based on page rates that ranged three to 10 times lower only five years ago.

If the above numbers pan out, the Pro 8500 might just give a monochrome laser a run for its money. Based on 50,000 copies a year, printing cost works out to about $1,000 – if you only use black ink. And that’s just not a realistic if.

Another point to consider is that the HP Pro 8500 doesn't have an integrated print head, so that becomes another consumable. You need two print heads for it, both retail for $59.99 and HP doesn't provide any data on their lifespan.

Lexmark also touts a Multi-Function Printer (MFP) for SMBs – the Pinnacle Pro901 for $299. Cartridges cost $4.99 for black and $17.99 for each of three colors for 500 or so pages.

The key here is whether or not you can do a high volume of printing in monochrome only without using up the color ink in the process. If so, and the page yields are realistic, this could be another viable model for an SMB. 500 sheets for $5 is pretty good, but if you actually spend another $54 for the color ink, the allure disappears.

Note that the software in these printers is notorious for using maximum ink and maximum color. Years ago, we tried to set monochrome-only printing on an inkjet and set it at draft quality (using the lowest amount of ink). But it consumed far too much time to set it up this way for each document and otherwise immediately defaulted to high ink usage and high quality as the norm.

Other business inkjet options are available from Brother, Canon and Epson.

Laser Monochrome Printers

There are lots of monochrome laser options for SMBs, and they're more affordable than ever. Let's look at a few of the options.

Replacement toner for the HP LaserJet Pro P1102w ($149) costs $67.99 and prints an estimated 1,600 pages. The HP LaserJet P4014 printer ($899) has replacement cartridges priced at $172.99 for about 10,000 pages. Whether these page count estimates are realistic or not, the rule of thumb has always been that toner yields more than an inkjet cartridge.

And here at least, we have an apples-to-apples comparison of HP estimates. If you print at high volume, there comes a point where it's clearly cheaper to go for the HP P4014. Once you get to 25,000 pages, the economics start to favor HP's more expensive model.

When you consider that a laser might easily last you five years, it means even at somewhere north of 5000 pages a year (100 pages a week), the more expensive printer will probably cost you less over its lifetime than an inkjet.

Let’s do the math again: 50,000 pages a year (1,000 a week or 200 per business day) would cost about $1,800 for printer and toner based on the page rates for the P4104 laser. The P1102w would cost about $500 more.

Of course, the laser drum (holder for the cartridge) has to be replaced maybe once during that 25,000 period. But that is probably compensated by the fact that inkjet hardware is a lot less durable than a laser. Note that these numbers are worse than the HP Officejet Pro 8500, which is hard to believe.

Bear in mind, however, that the Officejet Pro consumes color ink too, which causes the total cost to leap from a little over $1,000 to more like $4,000.

Other monochrome laser possibilities include the Lexmark E260d at $199. Brother and Canon also have a selection of monochromes.

Shulman recommends that SMBs with heavy printing demands go higher-end. The Lexmark T650 series, he said, retails for around $1,200, prints 32-60 ppm and accepts toner that yields from 7,000 (starter) to 32,000 (high yield) pages.

[The Lexmark T650 printers] “are so good that Lexmark licenses them to Dell, IBM, Toshiba, Source Technologies and Standard Registrar,” said Shulman. “They are a must-have for any company doing serious printing such as medical records, insurance and billing companies.”



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