Looking for a printer without the problems of finicky ink.
June 21, 2009 9:36 PM   Subscribe

[MomFilter] Looking for a reasonably cheap, reliable printer (for printing text) for an iMac. Leaning towards laser as the experiences with inkjets have been that bouts of little use lead to still full, yet dry and thus worthless ink cartridges.

Looking for a printer for my Mom's iMac. She is wanting to print up a bunch of stories she has written, so the printer will only be used for text.
(No need for color, an attached scanner, or anything else)

She's had two cheap inkjets in the past where they were cheap to buy, but then you got gouged on the ink cartridges. These printers would up being a bit like "disposables" or white elephants—either getting gummed up after a while, or she'd not print anything for a month or two by which time the ink would have dried up or otherwise stopped working.

Fellow MeFites, do you own or know of any reasonably cheap (both pre- and post-sale), reliable b/w laser printers that you can recommend out there? Also, am I correct in guessing that laser toner has a longer "shelf life"?

Or, if lasers are too spendy, do you own or can you otherwise recommend an über-reliable inkjet that, say, you can just buy black ink for, and you've never had gum up or dry up on you?

Thanks all!
posted by blueberry to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, a laser printer is exactly what you mom needs. Cost per page, it doesn't get any cheaper.

I've recently used this little Samsung ML-2510. It's not a fancy printer by any means, but at 24 ppm it really spits the paper out. (It can also be found a lot cheaper than at NewEgg if you shop around.)

Does your mom need double sided (duplex) printing? If that's the case you need to do a lot more research and buy used. I just bought an older HP 4100dtn for $140 shipped on ebay. It's a monster, complete overkill for the home user, but it does duplex, connects to my network, and will probably be the last printer I ever buy.
posted by wfrgms at 9:43 PM on June 21, 2009

Oh, one other thing... the HP LaserJet 4 series printers are absolute tanks and can sometimes be found for next to free at thrift stores and office surplus stores.

Rebuild kits are cheap as are toner refills. If you're not worried about speed, and if you come across one for a good price, snatch it up.
posted by wfrgms at 9:46 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay... absolutely one last laser printer related item: toner refill kits actually do work really damn well. I just topped off two different small laser printers before re-selling them. A complete toner cartridge would have cost $50 to $70 bucks. The refill kit was $12 and good for 3,000 pages.

The point is that even if you wind up with a used laser printer than needs toner, it you can fill'er up for cheap.
posted by wfrgms at 9:51 PM on June 21, 2009

Best answer: Definitely go laser. I bought my Mom a cheapo Brother 6-7 years ago (under $200), it's used one toner cartridge and has had zero problems. Couldn't be happier with it.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:54 PM on June 21, 2009

I love my HP laserjet 1012. I've had it for about five years with no problems.
posted by HeroZero at 9:54 PM on June 21, 2009

Yes get a laser. Inkjets are totally unnecessary today, for everything but high-end photo printing. Consumer inkjets — the ones with the expensive, disposable cartridges — are a technology that needs to be driven out into the desert somewhere, forced to dig a hole, and shot.

I've used a Samsung ML-2010 with my Mac; it was great at first, but since I bought it they stopped releasing Mac drivers. The last time I reinstalled them, I had to get them from some support site in Australia (where they apparently forgot to remove them), or mess around with CUPS. Not cool.

A friend bought a Brother laser, which was Mac-friendly and worked really well, but died in a totally unrepairable way after about a year. That might just have been a bum unit, but I still thought it was crappy. If you want an inexpensive printer that's the brand I'd probably look at, though. They seem to take drivers and compatibility more seriously than Samsung. (They have supported Linux drivers too.)

Personally I have a huge beastly Xerox Phaser that I bought at a surplus auction, that I suspect may literally have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. (Or at least sold at an estate sale.) It works over a half-dozen widely supported network printing protocols, seems to eat cheap generic toner cartridges without complaint, and allows easy replacement of all consumable components (toner, drums, belts, etc.). I'll never own a "consumer" printer again; they're garbage compared to ones intended for commercial use.

So if you have access to a way to get surplus commercial printers, that's what I'd get. If you don't want to go for a big Xerox (I went that route because I wanted color duplexing), some of the older HP LaserJets are decent. I set up a LJ 2200DN for my mother a few years back and, as far as I've heard, it's ticked along without any problems. Before buying any printer I would google for replacement toner — if there aren't dozens of suppliers selling compatible cartridges, drums, and other consumables, I wouldn't touch it. And I'd get a networked one (preferably one that uses PostScript) rather than a directly-connected USB or parallel-port printer, since at least in my experience they're a lot less flaky and less reliant on crappy vendor-supplied drivers.

If getting a "real printer" isn't an option, I'd probably look at the Brothers, and then finally at the Samsungs (if they've fixed the driver-availability issue). But I'd really try hard to get a well-made printer that's used before getting one that's intended for consumers and essentially disposable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:12 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to recommend the Brother HL-2140 Personal Laser Printer. I bought one for my mother, and it was so reliable (and the output so good) we bought one for ourselves as well. Here's a link to the 158 positive reviews on the Staples site; here's a link to the 81 positive customer reviews on Amazon. Reviews on both sites give it an average of 4 stars.

List is $119. Staples has it for $99 w/free shipping (first link). Amazon has it for $73 and change w/$12.82 shipping, but they list Adorama Camera as the seller, and based on previous experiences buying electronics from NY camera shops, that sounds like some unnecessary drama.

There also seem to be refurbs out there for ~$60, but I'd buy a new one if this is for your mom.

Comes with a toner cartridge but not a USB cable (weird, but it uses a standard USB A/B device cable, so add another $5-$10 for that...unless you already have one, which most people do).

Consumables: Uses the Brother TN-330 toner cartridge, which is $56 through Staples. Brother claims 1500 sheets per cartridge, which doesn't sound like a lot, but for a personal printer is actually a reasonable number. We've had ours for a couple of years and I don't think we've had to change cartridges.
posted by mosk at 10:14 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got a b&w laser Brother printer for about $85 a couple of years ago and I've been exceedingly happy with it. I'm in a fiction writing program so I print out a LOT of pages and I only a few weeks ago got the 'low toner' warning, which, thanks to a helpful comment on Amazon, I fixed with some judiciously applied masking tape. It works just fine with my Mac mini running Tiger.
posted by sugarfish at 10:15 PM on June 21, 2009

Just a note on the topic of HP LaserJets: don't bother buying one if it doesn't have a JetDirect (Ethernet) card installed. On many printers these were optional features. They're not impossible to find by any means, but no reason to make more work for yourself.

Some older models might have AUI or ThinNet connectors on the JetDirect card; I'd avoid these. However as long as they have modern RJ45 Ethernet and support PostScript or PCL, even if the flavor of Ethernet is only 10BT, there's really no reason why it ought not connect fine to a modern machine.

When in doubt, you can generally look at the JetDirect card's model number and google it to get the exact networking specs.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:22 PM on June 21, 2009

I really like my Brother HL-5250DN. It has a duplexer, which has saved me so much paper (and money). Mine was refurbished, cost about $160 on Amazon, and came with a one year warranty. I've found Brother's tech support helpful when I've had to go through the learning curve for a laser printer. Other than learning where a laser printer jams (which is different than an ink jet), I have had no problems with my printer.
posted by oceano at 10:27 PM on June 21, 2009

The low-end Samsung laser printers (ML-2010, ML-1640) are cheap to buy and work just fine. New toner cartridges cost about a hundred bucks and give you 3000 pages, so printing will cost you something like three and a half cents per page if you buy genuine; less if you use refills. Samsung cartridges include the imaging drum, so the only thing you could conceivably stuff up with a refill is the cartridge you'd be replacing anyway.

HP makes decent little laser printers, but their Windows driver software and Windows installer software have caused me endless grief. Can't speak to the quality of their Mac software.
posted by flabdablet at 10:47 PM on June 21, 2009

Brother's HL-2070n. Ethernet. Black and white laser. Small, and convenient. Been using it for at least 2 years now. Probably more.
posted by I-baLL at 11:01 PM on June 21, 2009

Best answer: I also recommend the brother line of low-end laser printers. I have the 1170w which is wireless! It requires a little bit of tech savvy to set it up, but once it's done, you just jam it on a shelf or in a cupboard across the room. No cables!

I got mine for about $80 on amazon.
posted by Aquaman at 11:41 PM on June 21, 2009

Nth an older laserjet 4 or 5P - they are built like tanks and the toner cartridges last for years under light useage. As for connecting them to newer macs - you can get a whatever to USB cable and they work just fine. I have a HP laserjet 5P connected to an airport extereme and it works no problem. I bought it for 20 bucks 5 years ago, printed about 10k pages and am on my 3rd toner cartridge.
posted by bigmusic at 1:13 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: Nthing the Brother HL2140. They also make an Ethernet version. However you probably won't need it with USB printer sharing turned on your Mac can share it to other computers on your network. The sad part is the toner refill will cost 1/2 the price of the printer. It comes with a 'starter' toner cart that although is labeled 330 it seemed to print fewer than the 1500 pages advertised. There are a number of toner saving print settings in the Mac's printer driver.
posted by Gungho at 5:52 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: I have one of the Brother models, the older HL-2070N, and I love it. If there is any possibility of having more than one computer, go for the network one. The newer models are the HL-2170W (network/wireless) and the HL-2140 (non-network).

I was in the same scenario as your mother, where I had an inkjet but it wasn't used enough to stay working. Haven't had the same problem at all with the Brother, and I'm still on my first toner cartridge a year later.
posted by smackfu at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2009

Seconding HeroZero's HP Laserjet 1012. I haven't had one single problem with it, and I paid like $95 for it. I don't print much and have never had to buy a cartridge.

This is it's most recent incarnation.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:09 AM on June 22, 2009

I've got the HL-2140, and my house is entirely Linux. I've got it hooked into an HP JetDirect standalone print server, but the USB and parallel ports worked just fine too. It is truly an awesome printer for the price.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2009

Seconding the HP Laserjet 1012. Small, efficient, reliable, cheap. I think the current model is called the 1020.

That being said, if you happen upon a free/v.cheap LaserJet 4 and are even remotely mechanical, you can get cheap parts-kits from www.fixyourownprinter.com. They even come with installation videos! The LJ4 series are indeed tanks, and the only thing you'd have to worry about is boring the printer to death. ;-)
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your suggestions.
We ended up getting her a Brother HL-2170W and so far it's great.
posted by blueberry at 8:41 PM on July 22, 2009

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