Printer Pricing: An Inkjet vs. Laser Smackdown

By Drew Robb | Posted February 27, 2008

The last time we waded into the inkjet-versus-laser printer debate, we advised our readers to dump their inkjets and move to monochrome (black and white) laser printers. Our advice stemmed from the high costs of consumables (i.e., ink) over the lifetime of the printer, due primarily to the inflated price of inkjet cartridges.

Since that time, we've seen plenty of developments with the potential to change the printing paradigm. The Eastman Kodak Company is leading the change with the release of inkjets with cheaper inks. Several other vendors have followed suit, including HP and its line of small business inkjets that significantly increase the amount of pages per cartridge and slashes overall costs. Further, color laser prices have fallen to a point that makes them much more inviting.

So which type of printer makes the most sense for the average small business?

Inkjet Revival

Inkjet printers are the easy choice. You can pick one up for $50 – and in some cases vendors give them away with other hardware. But that’s just the beginning of the total cost picture. Ink is very expensive – $20 to $40 for cartridges that print only a couple of hundred sheets.

Kodak changed all that last year with the EasyShare 5500 all-in-one (AiO) which can print, scan, copy and fax. It retails for $199.99 and prints up to 32 pages per minute in black and 30 pages per minute in color.  With black cartridges at $9.99 and color at $14.99, that’s savings of up to 50 percent compared to similar inkjet printers.

“The Kodak EasyShare 5500 All-in-One Printer is ideal for a home office or small business,” said Steve Marzio, business manager for inkjet systems at Kodak. “Business owners can print crisp documents and lab-quality photos without worrying about breaking the bank.”

When the Kodak printers came out, an independent testing company called  QualityLogic conducted tests comparing the EasyShare 5300 with printers from Brother, Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark. Kodak won out in terms of price/performance. QualityLogic followed this up a few months ago by comparing the EasyShare to several European models with similar results.

“Kodak's ink pricing has certainly been a shift towards lower cost of ink per page,” said Dave Jollota, president of QualityLogic’s imaging test solutions group.

The other vendors haven’t taking this lying down, however. Epson has slashed ink prices. Brother, Canon, HP and Lexmark have all released more cost-effective and small business-friendly inkjets. HP has also created a line of inkjets designed more for the small office than the home. The HP Officejet Pro L7000 All-in-One series starts at $299

Larry Trevarthen, director of worldwide SMB marketing for the HP LaserJet business unit says that customers in a home office or a small business environment will find that the Officejet Pro is faster than color lasers, and it delivers professional color quality at half the cost per page.

Most analysts dispute his statement about inkjet costs, however (see below).

Laser Amazers

HP doesn’t just sell inkjet printers. It has an extensive line of lasers, too. So how does it determine which is right for a specific customer?

“Small businesses should assess their printing environment to determine which technology is most appropriate for them,” said Trevarthen. “They should assess their printing needs based on performance, print quality, affordability, networking, supplies yield, intervention rate [how often you have to handle a problem] and remote management.”

He suggested that companies with some kind of IT support may prefer laser technology as it provides the highest duty cycle, lower intervention rates, and it's durable on all media with the best print quality overall. While both HP ink and laser printers are networkable, lasers can be set up on larger, more sophisticated networks. They also have higher-capacity supplies, more robust remote monitoring and are more suited to higher volume printing.

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