Printer Pricing: An Inkjet vs. Laser Smackdown - Page 2

By Drew Robb | Posted February 27, 2008

One color laser example is the HP Color LaserJet CP3505, which starts at $699 and includes the HP In-House Marketing Resource Center software package. SMBs can use this to produce high-quality marketing materials in-house.

But the business world remains leery of the cost associated with color lasers. Despite the availability of cheaper color lasers and lower costs per page, monochrome lasers continue to dominate the market with 55 percent of total sales, according to Lyra Research.

“A persistent monochrome mindset remains in most enterprises,” said Cortney Kasuba, an analyst with Lyra. “Office workers tend to reserve printing in color for special occasions or specific event-driven print jobs.”

Such reticence is understandable. A Lyra survey found that few employees are aware of the price of color copies. Three quarters thought color copies were either the same price or no more than twice as much as black and white. Only seven percent knew the actual truth – color is about four times more expensive.

Accordingly, the big vendors continue to roll out monochrome gear. HP has the LaserJet 1020 as a big seller while Samsung offers the ML-1630. Brother and Ricoh have released similar tools. Most of them print at 20-to-30 pages a minute and carry a relatively low price tag– some less than $300.

“The cost of laser is definitely coming down, but SMBs should be aware that it costs more to print in black-and-white on a color laser,” said Ken Weilerstein, an analyst at Gartner. “Further, SMBs should be aware that it costs a good deal more to print on a personal inkjet than it does to print on lasers.”

He feels that perhaps a small operation can get buy by giving each employee their own inkjet. But once you get to more than a handful, this becomes very expensive. It is better at that point to introduce shared laser printers.

Corral the Chaos

Weilerstein pointed out that many SMBs could be suffering from printing chaos due to rapid expansion. As your business gets larger, what do you do? Take a quick trip down to Office Depot to buy computers and personal inkjets for new employees. You end up with a wide range of gear from different manufacturers. This leads to a supply headache as you have to restock a bunch of different cartridges – which is a lot more expensive than buying a networkable inkjet or a laser printer.

“There is a 10-to-30 percent savings opportunity through printer and vendor consolidation,” said Weilerstein.  “Dealers can probably advise SMBs on how to get the best deals and what kind of equipment would meet their needs.”

In general, though, he recommended buying more expensive equipment. The maxim appears to be that the pricier the printer, the cheaper the ink. SMBs, then, should find the sweet spot based on the amount of printing they do and the type of hardware.

Companies that need high-volume, high-quality printing require a top-of-the-line color laser, perhaps with a monochrome laser added to handle routine printing needs and lower overall costs.

SMBs with more modest requirements should buy a mid-range color laser – or even a monochrome laser for everyday printing and an office inkjet for color. Both printers should be capable of being networked – and obviously bigger shops would need additional printers.

For small outfits, it’s hard to beat a cheap monochrome – but keep an inkjet around for occasional color needs.

Weilerstein lays out the cost picture roughly as follows (for companies that have organized their printing scheme): Monochrome laser costs about two-to-three cents per page (about half that is for consumables, the rest for hardware). Color laser printing runs 10 to 15 cents, and a personal inkjet is about double that price.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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