Inkjet Versus Laser Printers

By Drew Robb | Posted May 10, 2011

Updated 5/10/2011

Small Business Computing Compares Inkjet Versus Laser Printers

Back in 2005, we compared color ink jet printers with laser printers and came out overwhelmingly in favor of laser printers for small businesses. In the intervening years, however, it seems the inkjet may have closed the gap. In a few cases, particularly the more expensive business-class inkjets, they may even have cheaper lifetime costs than laser printers. 

When you do the math, low-cost color inkjet printers typically don't fare well. In fact, they may cost you a whole lot more than you realize.

"What the manufacturers of these printers don't fully explain to consumers is the true cost of ownership of a low-cost color printer," says Jeremy Shulman, vice president of operations at ReInk Technology, a reseller of remanufactured ink cartridges under the Vibrantink, Cartridge Technologies and A2Zink.com brand names. "The general rule of thumb is that the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the disposable costs for refills and so on."


While the printers are almost given away, the refills bring in a fortune for the large printer original-equipment manufacturers (OEM). According to Lyra Research, the worldwide printer cartridge replacement market (inkjet and laser toner) is worth more than the printer hardware market. Cartridges amount to about $72 billion annually. HP alone makes about $15 billion on printer cartridges. Lexmark makes about $3 billion on printer cartridges, about 70 percent of total company revenue.

The worldwide laser printer and multifunction printer (MFP -- copying, printing, faxing and scanning) shipments are about 23 million units a year at a cost of $40 billion. Worldwide ink jet printer and MFP shipments, on the other hand, exceed 80 million units but the hardware cost is only $10 billion. The big profits are clearly in inkjet cartridges.

Shulman gives the example of a $55 inkjet model with black ink costing $19. But with a yield of 170 pages per cartridge, the bills quickly add up:

Seven pages a day times 300 days equals 2,100 pages -- an ink bill of $235.60 per year. If you own the printer for three years, the cost of cartridges comes to more than $700 or about 13 times the original cost of the printer. Other cheap inkjet examples, said Shulman, could bring the printing bill to more than $1,000 for three year's worth of printing.

Of course, seven pages a day is a conservative estimate -- many SMBs businesses print a lot more. Let's say your company prints 50 pages a day, 300 days a year. Using the above example, that equates to printing 15,000 pages annually. At that same rate, your annual ink cartridge bill would total $1,596.

And it isn't just cost that conspires against ink jets. They typically don't print pages as fast as laser printers, although some recent high-end models are catching up. They can also be a major hassle. It is quite common to be inundated with cartridge-error messages when the cartridges are perfectly fine, or have the machine suddenly go crazy and spit out gobbledygook in an endless stream. The printers are also set up in a way that makes it difficult to minimize the amount of ink they use. It appears they're designed to make you use more ink than you need to with no way to default to "draft quality."

New Brand of InkJets

But there are signs that inkjet technology may be maturing. HP for example, recommends that SMBs choose the HP Officejet Pro 8500 Wireless All-in-One printer, an MFP that costs about $300. An initial run was free of the usual inkjet annoyances and glitches. It was fairly fast and a little quieter than the usual inkjet.

“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's outbound marketing manager. “And with multifunction capabilities, users can print, scan, copy and fax all from one device.”

HP 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)


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