Inkjet or laser?
March 20, 2007 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy a laser printer or an inkjet for my home office?

Having recently set up shop as a freelance translator, I'm currently on the market for a decent printer. Budget and cost per page are an issue, so I had assumed I would have to go for a smallish B&W laser printer. However, I keep coming across good reviews of the latest office inkjets, and it seems like some models with individual ink cartridges are actually pretty competitive efficiency-wise.

Essentially, I need something for light office use (say 20 to 100 pages per day, mostly text and spreadsheets) that won't break the bank. A built-in scanner and/or Ethernet port would be brilliant. Colour would be quite useful, but pretty much all colour laser printers are way over my budget, and I'm hesitant to buy an inkjet if it's going to make my cost per page explode.

My question, as you can image, is threefold: is the cost per page gap between inkjets and lasers as wide as it used to be these days? Are the new inkjets really usable in a home office environment? And finally, do you have any recommendations of specific models in the 100€-to-200€ range?

Thanks in advance, Hive Mind!
posted by doctorpiorno to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
At that volume the laser printer is the clear winner.
posted by caddis at 3:43 AM on March 20, 2007

I really don't think that ink-jets are as reliable as companies make them out to be. If you really want your bang for your buck and you don't care that it takes 10 minutes or so to print your 100 pages go find you an old HP laserjet. I have a Laserjet 5P and it's super reliable, and I go thru at least 10 reams of paper before I have to change the toner. I don't have to worry about aligning cartridges -- cleaning nozzles. Get a laser. And be careful when looking at the Brother laser printers. They have 2 consumables, the drum and the toner cartridge. Oh and you can find them for like 20 bucks.
posted by bigmusic at 3:57 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser, absolutely.

I used a very reliable, small Samsung that was about 90€ and is now even less: the Samsung 1210. An excellent choice if you use Windows or Linux. (It won't work with Mac OS X except via generic drivers that cause graphics problems.)
posted by sparrows at 4:05 AM on March 20, 2007

Get a cheap Samsung laser, and a cheap Canon LIDE scanner. Inkjets are far more expensive to run than lasers, and not that much less expensive to buy than Samsung's low-end laser machines.

If you think you need an Ethernet port just to be able to print from multiple computers: you don't; just connect to any one of your office machines with a standard USB cable, and tell that machine to share the printer to the rest of your LAN. As long as that machine is on (doesn't have to be logged in, just switched on) you should be able to print from anywhere.

The only situation where an inbuilt Ethernet port is necessary is if you don't have a machine you can leave on during office hours, or your printer is more than 5m as the cable flies from the nearest computer.
posted by flabdablet at 4:06 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser! Inkjet is a technology that absolutely needs to die.
posted by knave at 4:11 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser, for sure. If price is a consideration, seek out a used older HP laserjet. We've got four HP Laserjet 4's in our office that have been around for at least 10 years, and they still work like a charm.
posted by gwenzel at 4:46 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser! Inkjet is a technology that absolutely needs to die.

Why would you say that? While I'd agree that laser is the way to go in this scenario, laser cannot match the quality output that an inkjet will provide when printing photos.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:57 AM on March 20, 2007

My main reasoning is because of the factors of cost and frequency of failure. The ink cartridges are short lived, and if you don't print color often, you still end up replacing the cartridge often. Finally, it's cheaper and far easier to just print photos via Snapfish (or similar), and the output quality is better than inkjet. (Calibrated printers, quality paper, etc.)

For the office or home, B&W laser generally meets every need except photo printing, and in my humble opinion, inkjets fall flat on photo printing as well.
posted by knave at 5:08 AM on March 20, 2007

...laser cannot match the quality output that an inkjet will provide when printing photos.

And you can't beat the price of,,, etc etc on printing photos. Before brick and mortar photo labs processed digital prints, the inkjet was the way to go. Now it doesn't make any sense to go inkjet.

Yes, I'm a bitter former inkjet owner. I bought a super-whiz-bang photo-printer two years ago, and it did well until it ran out of blue ink. It won't even print black and white unless all the ink cartridges are up to snuff, and no local retailer carries the cartridges for my printer anymore since the manufacturer released super-whiz-bang+1 printer with yet another cartridge format.
posted by voxpop at 5:09 AM on March 20, 2007

Older HPs are generally better than newer ones. A reconditioned Laserjet 4 (or one without a ton of use) can last for ages, and the toner is really cheap. Laserjet 3s are built even better, but I don't think they went to 1200dpi until the 4 series, which is a major quality improvement.

Toner is not the only cost in running a laser. You will occasionally have to replace the photo-sensitive drum, which is a couple hundred bucks. Your overall cost per page will be very low, but once in a great while you'll have that large expense. You'll also have to either replace the rollers or pay to have it done occasionally. The parts are about 10 dollars, but you'll probably want to pay for the service call to have a tech do it, as it's a bit fiddly from what I saw. You'll know it's time if you start having paper-jam problems.

Other than those maintenance items, those units just last and last, and are overall probably the cheapest way to do quality black and white printing at home.

If you can, get one with a network port and Postscript. I think the letter suffixes for those is -MP; I'm not sure why it's M and not N, but I'm almost sure that's correct. The 4MPs are awesome workhorses with excellent quality, and should serve virtually any need you might have.

For a scanner... buy a cheap combo inkjet and never use the printer part. They sell the printers for little or no profit, with the expectation that you'll buy the super-expensive ink. So if you just don't buy any, you can get a decent scanner for very little money.
posted by Malor at 5:14 AM on March 20, 2007

Remember that laser printers pump out significant fumes that aren't entirely pleasant or healthy. In a small home office this could be a major factor, especially if you go for some of the older "workhorse"-style printers, as recommended above, which are commended for larger open-plan workplaces.

If all you're going to print is black text, or even just coloured line art, then an inkjet is great. Find yourself a source of budget recycled cartridges, rather than paying top-whack for the manufacturer's own.
posted by humblepigeon at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2007

There were millions of HP Laserjet 4's produced, and they remain serviceable, relatively high volume workhorses. I purchased a used HP LJ4 MP, with duplexer, PostScript SIMM, Ethernet interface, and 12 MB of memory for $125 last year. The duplexer is particularly useful, as it permits creation of documents printed on both sides of the page, without manipulating the print files and rehandling the page stack manually. And the PostScript cartridge and Ethernet card allow vistors to use the machine over WiFi connections, from Windows XP, Macs or Linux machines, with relatively straightforward setup on their machines as a remote Internet protocol printer, after I just give them the local IP address for the printer (drivers for this popular printer are supplied by Windows 2K, XP, Vista and Mac OSX, plus CUPS on any UNIX platform). Actual page count was 54,612 pages, practically nothing for this class of printer. Similar deals abound on eBay daily, or you can buy from a refurbisher (although you may need to find one in your area, as this link to a Stateside refurbisher is provided for example only).

But you may also want to get an inkjet machine as soon as you can afford one, to do color printing. Many business documents have at least some pages with color requirements, be they photos or charts and graphs. Here in the States, many small entrepeneurs who live near Kinko's store locations, use Internet printing to FedEx/Kinkos to handle printing and distributing documents with color requirements, and it can be a very efficient means of delivering finished product to customers. In your area, you might investigate other private companies abilities to do similar outsourced docuement printing and delivery, as an alternative to maintaining your own color and photo printing capability, which can become quite expensive and time consuming for small volume operators.
posted by paulsc at 5:32 AM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

As for what model to get, they're all much of a muchness, unless you're photo printing. But get the most expensive model you can afford. Buying budget inkjets doesn't pay off. The manufacturers have a weird pricing model whereby you pay peanuts for the printer, but then pay massive amounts for the cartridges. This can be negated by buying recycled/refilled cartridges, but the printer itself won't last much beyond a year because of cheap components.
posted by humblepigeon at 5:47 AM on March 20, 2007

Inkjets are absolutely worthless, steaming piles of hucksterism wrapped in technology. Lasers are cheaper, last longer overall, and last longer in between significant failures. Per page, their total cost is significantly lower. The only reason you'd use an inkjet is to print a photograph. And the only reason you'd want to do that instead of going to just about ANY store (CVS/Walgreen/Rite-Aid/WalMart/etc., etc.) is if you need to be able to print deliverable proofs in an instant and don't have time to go to ANYWHERE else to have them printed for pennies. And you pay for that privilege.

The entire inkjet market is a racket: like Gillette and shaving, they give away the printer and make their money on the ink, which doesn't last very long, tends to clog, and is slow as molasses to boot.

Get an old HP LaserJet 4 or 5 and be done with it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:49 AM on March 20, 2007

"Remember that laser printers pump out significant fumes that aren't entirely pleasant or healthy. ..."

All LaserJet 4 printers (and most later models of competitive laser printers) include a PowerSave feature, which is accessible from the front panel. PowerSave cuts power to the drum heater and the high voltage power supply for the drum, whenever the printer hasn't run a print job in the last 15 minutes (or other configurable delay). This saves electricity, and stops generation of the very minor amounts of ozone theoritically produced by the high voltage supply to the imaging drum when a laser printer operates. The printer will automatically come up from PowerSave when presented with a new print job, and return to PowerSave mode automatically, once the power down delay elapses. It takes about 10 seconds to come up from PowerSave, as opposed to about 45 seconds to power up from a cold switch on, since the printer doesn't run self test when coming up from PowerSave mode. This is most useful in a multi-user office setting, where print jobs are being submitted randomly by different users all during the day, as it allows the printer to adapt its power use to actual printing requirements automatically.

Or you could, you know, just turn the power off to the printer when not printing, by the easily reached front panel switch. :-)
posted by paulsc at 5:58 AM on March 20, 2007

If you need color, then a B&W laser isn't much help.
If you need ink that won't bleed then most inkjets won't help.

I agree most inkjets are crap, especially the cheap ones.
I second going for recycled lasers. I got 2 Lexmark 4039's out of the trash once. A customer of mine was throwing them out 'cause they were, like, obsolete. Still going strong 50,000 prints later. Check out a local Computer Barn or whatever.
posted by MtDewd at 6:29 AM on March 20, 2007

Find yourself a Samsung ML2010. I've had mine for about a year and am very happy with it. I've printed about 50 pages a day (M-F) and I've replaced the small starter cartridge once (fairly early on). I did all sorts of research and for the price you won't find a better deal. It doesn't produce any icky smells, it's not too noisy. Crisp, clean text. On the few occasions that you need color you can go to a copy/print shop.

I don't agree, at all, with humblepigeon. A cheap laser is better than a high end inkjet almost any day.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:48 AM on March 20, 2007

just in case you haven't figured out the consensus:

get a laser printer. I have a cheap Samsung that I print to from both linux and windows machines. Works dreamy.

Inkjets are crap.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:54 AM on March 20, 2007

Consider an MFC so you get a fax in the same package as well. Good for sending back all those signed contracts.
posted by mrbugsentry at 7:22 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser. If you are buying new, and if you want networking, then buying the printer manufacturer's ethernet adapter is, for some reason, many times more expensive than any other option: you could buy a network hub that has a built-in print server for much less. Or buy a standalone print server from one of the many network-gadget companies. Or, of course, you could enable printer sharing on a host computer.

I'm using an HP 1320, which I'm quite happy with (I think it's a little above your price range). It's not as robust (and may not last as long) as my old Lexmark workgroup-grade laser printer, but it's faster, quieter, smaller, does double-sided printing, and doesn't gag on some of the weird documents that my old printer did (I'm also a translator, and the old one took forever to print Japanese). I've got it tucked away in a closet, hooked up to my network through a Synology NAS box that also acts as a print server.

If you decide you need color printing in the future, you can get an inkjet for that specific purpose (or wait until they're included as premiums in boxes of breakfast cereal), but for everyday printing, you're better off with a laser.
posted by adamrice at 7:37 AM on March 20, 2007

If I hired someone to do a job that required a printed report of any kind and they sent me something done on an inkjet I would seriously question their judgment.

The best inkjet in the world is still identifiable to the experienced eye. Add to that the fact that they are deceptively expensive because of cartridge costs and there's no reason to own one for business printing. Get a laser.
posted by phearlez at 8:40 AM on March 20, 2007

The "golden age" of inkjet passed a long time ago. After working support for the past ten years or so, well, frankly, I have come to loathe ink jet printers. Multiply that by ten for any multi-function device.

(Although, I have one inkjet at home, an HP 930 series that's not bad, but it's strictly for small color items. It is rarely used.)

For my own use, laser printing is the only reliable way to go. I had a Lexmark postscript laser printer for about three years. What a piece of junk that sucker was. I tossed it in the middle of my wife's printing of her PhD thesis and went down to CompUSA and bought the cheapest HP laser printer on the shelf (it didn't even have a Mac OS compatible icon on it, because initially they didn't make a driver for it - solved that by using the driver for the next number up in that model series then and it worked fine - Apple stepped up during various upgrades and the driver for the printer showed up in one of the minor point OS upgrades). My wife printed her thesis on it and I print tons of stuff on it now. Its been the best printer I have ever owned. (LaserJet 1020)

My suggestion is to get what you need for the job you need to do. If you need to scan a lot, get a scanner with a paper feed. If you need to print a lot of text, get a laser printer. If you need to fax a lot, get a cheap fax machine. The upside to multi-function devices is that they are cheap and take up a small footprint. The downside is that they are cheap. And there's a chance that if you lose one thing on it that the rest of it will be functional, but there's an equal chance that if you lose one thing you lose them all.

The current HP series of multi-function devices are notorious for their mult-sheet paper feeds dying after about a year of use.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2007

Nthing laser, but also expanding on what Malor said about the maintenance and parts for the laser. I bought a reconditioned Minolta a few years ago, and I love it, but...

The downside is that some strange part will wear out at an inconvenient time and the thing will not print until I address that. Print drum. Toner collection bottle. Who knows what.. Then I have to order a replacement part from QMS-Minolta or eBay and use a "backup" inkjet printer until it the replacement part arrives.

YMMV. HP parts are probably more generally available locally, but your Office Depot or Staples might not have the more peculiar brands or parts.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:49 AM on March 20, 2007

Join freecycle--people give away printers all the time.
posted by Martin E. at 9:02 AM on March 20, 2007

Laser jet toner is expensive, but you'll be replacing it far less than you would with an inkjet & the quality of the prints will be better. Inkjets aren't really good for doing the quantities you are looking at.

In other words, I zillionth the suggestion of laser.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:34 AM on March 20, 2007

Consider a color copier that you can print to...
posted by thilmony at 9:46 AM on March 20, 2007

I've had very good luck with low-end Brother (HL-2040) and Samsung laser printers (using USB), using third-party toner refills for both. They're kept off until we need to print. A built-in scanner is tempting, but ads a point of failure. If I needed to make copies often, the reduced hassle might be worth the risk.
posted by dws at 10:11 AM on March 20, 2007

For 20-100 pp. per day, laser is the only choice. Inkjet printers use tiny ink cartridges and eat you alive with the toner cost. Also, inkjet ink smears when a drop of water gets on it. You can't afford to have documents look messy for your clients.
posted by KRS at 10:46 AM on March 20, 2007

I bought a used Samsung ML-1710 for $60 CAD, and I really like it. It's fairly small and prints nicely. Even though it's one of the cheapest lasers out there, I still think the output looks nicer than what you'd get out of an inkjet. Nobody I know who has one actually LIKES their inkjet.

Get the laser. Love the laser.
posted by benign at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2007

You may find this PCWorld article helpful. In one paragraph, it states: "You can use yield information to calculate per-page costs, which can be useful in determining what your printing costs for different printers would look like over time. Laser printer toner cartridges may cost a lot more than ink jet cartridges, but their higher yields make per-page costs lower."
posted by Lynsey at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2007

Cheap and cheerful Samsung (the 1210 mentioned above). At least three years old, light use, still goes fine. Never a single problem or even a paperjam. The previous cheap HP jammed all the time. I'd avoid low-end HPs.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on March 20, 2007

A laser printer like the HP 1020 is really all you need. Sturdy, small footprint, reliable, inexpensive.

I personally hate inkjets. They are slow and the quality isn't as good as a laser unless you get a really expensive one. For printing photos, you're much better off doing KodakGallery or the like.
posted by radioamy at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2007

I have a Samsung ML-1610; purchased at a salvage/surplus store (Mardens, if there are any Mainers out there) for about $80 back a few years ago. It's been totally reliable ever since. I'm on toner #2. Works fine with my Mac OS X machine, too.

Be aware that a lot of the inexpensive laser printers come with 'starter' toner cartridges that only have enough carbon (or whatever) in them for about 300 pages. But replacement carts will have enough for 4x if you find that you seem to be getting a new toner cart for the printer you seemingly just bought, read the small print; you may have gotten a lightweight cartridge.

If you want color laser, I've noticed the prices are really dropping right now. There are color HP Laserjet printers at the local BJs for less than $300 I think. No idea what the TCO is like on one of those (I wonder whether as people move from ink to laser, the same sleazy sales practices will follow, viz. razors and blades with the printers and high-priced supplies), but you might want to think about it. Color is pretty nice to have. Almost addictive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:14 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I definitely also recommend picking up a used old HP Laserjet. I'd steer clear of any of ther brand new models -- the old ones were really solidly build and are workhorses. Also steer clear of the L machines, ie 5L or 6L like this beast -- these are notorious for paper feed issues.

I'm currently using a Laserjet 5 that I picked up for free from my last job, and it's been going strong for years. Hardly ever have to change the cartridge too -- think I've done it once in the past 5 years.

There *have* been some cheap color laser deals posted on places like fatwallet, so also keep your eye out there if you're looking for a cheap new color laser. Keep in mind here though that if you print out a lot of color pictures you will go through toner a lot faster and the color toner is relatively expensive compared to the black stuff.
posted by reptile at 8:09 AM on March 21, 2007

Sorry, meant to link here: fatwallet.
posted by reptile at 8:10 AM on March 21, 2007

I've owned a couple of inexpensive Samsung laser printers over the last five years and I've been very happy with them. A new toner cartridge/drum costs about $60-$65 and it usually lasts about 2500 - 3000 pages, which is typically 3-4 years of use for me. That's a LOT cheaper than buying ink cartridges. Plus the thing will spit out the first page in about 10 seconds and do about 20 pages per minute.

The one I just got can be hooked up as a network printer and it cost $90 after the rebate. HP is also selling low cost ($125) laser printers now. I suggest going to to see what's available, at what prices, and to read owner reviews.

Use an online service like Snapfish or take your digital pictures to store if you need to have prints made. It's cheaper than buying ink cartridges and paper, and the results are much better too.
posted by 14580 at 12:16 PM on March 21, 2007

My Brother MFC-3220C died today (Machine Error 41. Unplug machine, then call Brother). I Googled the error and got this, so I would avoid buying a Brother.
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